If you want something to change, you have to do something different…

In theory, yes.  Practice? Not often enough.  Everyone is guilty of it.  Doing that something…getting unsatisfactory results…doing it again…same negative result…then, as if we’re expecting some divine intervention, we hold our breath and do it again…

sculpture sculptor art artist

Resumo Ignoramus Perpetuus

Why?  Is it laziness? No.  Is it because we’re not smart enough to try something else?  No. Is it ego? Maybe.…probably.   I’m guilty.  We all are.  I call it RIP (resumo ignoramus  perpetuus). As a small business consultant, I see it all too often.

Welding aluminum is a petri dish for RIP.  If something goes astray, stop welding because it’s not going to go away.  The only thing that will go away is your workpiece.  You have a problem and you need to fix it.

Statistically, if you’re experiencing difficulty, you’re dealing with a contamination problem…the torch, work piece or both.  Once it starts, it quickly turns into both.

Stainless Steel Wire Brush metalwork welding sculpture sculptor art artist

Step 2 - Stainless Steel Wire Brush

Contamination

Sculpture welding sculptor art artist

Step 1 - Cleaning solution

I can’t emphasized the cleanliness aluminum requires.  It’s a whole different playing field than mild steel.  Having a true-tested cleaning liquid and a stainless steel brush are essential.  I use Gold Matrix Industrial Cleaning Fluid by Walter.  Your local welding supply company has their favorite…use it.  A stainless steel brush can be purchased at your local hardware store.  Give your wire brush exclusivity and use it solely with aluminum.  Periodically cleanse it with your cleaning solution.

welding argon flowmeter gauge sculpture sculptor

15-20 PSI

Gas-Argon

  1. Is there a draft in your working area?  I love to weld outside, but even the slightest breeze can disrupt your gas shield.
  2. Sorry…but is it on?  Do you have sufficient pressure?  PSI range for welding aluminum is between 15-20 PSI.  Turning it up beyond that will probably disrupt the shielding process by creating turbulence.
  3. At the onset, get in a comfortable welding position, engage and release your foot pedal for one second to start the gas flow…then re-engage the pedal to start the arc.  This initial step displaces oxygen and creates a pure field before the arc.  Also, keep the torch close to the weld after you disengage the arc to allow post flow of the argon to remain on the weld.

Electrode/Amperage

  1. If either your puddle or filler rod grazed the electrode, it’s contaminated.  Depending on the severity, you can either snap off the end and grind to point or just re-grind to point.  When grinding your electrode, position the electrode so it’s pointing directly at the wheel (lengthwise) and quickly rotate to get an even point.  Angle will dictate weld bead/penetration.  Less angle/sharper will provide a wider bead, less penetration….the reverse for wide angle/more blunt.  For my project, I’m between 45-60°.  I keep a few electrodes handy for a quick switch.
  2. Puretung v. Thoriated?  Personal preference and aluminum thickness.  Experiment.  I use 2% Thoriated.
  3. Confirm AC setting….especially if you’re working on multiple projects or sharing equipment.  You’ll know if amperage is too high/low.   When starting a new project, testing is always wise…saves time, energy and $…and take notes.

Surface/Filler Rod

  1. Fine soot often accumulates during the welding process.   More so when you make frequent stops/go.  Clean the surface with your solvent first and then use the stainless brush.  I also wipe down filler rod with solvent.
  2. Used dedicated welding gloves for aluminum…the newest/cleanest you have.

When welding aluminum, there is little room for error.  Take your time and get in a comfortable welding position.  Preparation is critical.

Settings & Supplies – Welding and Forming Aluminum

 

sculpture sculptor art artist welding supplies tungsten

Test and experiment.

Material – Aluminum Sheet, 1/16’’

sculpture sculptor art artist metal work

Wire makes a great guide over uneven surfaces.

AC Setting – 40-165 @ 50%
Shielding Gas – 100% Argon @ ~18 psi
Note: With thicker metals, a mixture of helium and argon is recommended.  Helium makes the arc hotter and gives more penetration.   Since I primarily use thin metals, I use 100% argon.

sculpture sculptor art artist metal work welding aluminum

Final cutting...

sculpture sculptor art artist metal works metal sculpture

Ratchet straps make great alternative clamps.

Filler Material – Aluminum 4043 (1/16 & 3/32)
Note:  I keep both handy based on gaps.
Torch – #6 cup with Tungsten Electrode, 2% Thoriated Ground Tungsten (rep tip), 3/32
Note:  Cup size is measured in 16ths.  A #6 is 6/16ths or 3/8’’ o.d. With this metal thickness, I find the 2% more user-friendly than Puretung…personal preference.
Cleaning Materials – Stainless steel wire brush and Gold Matrix industrial cleaner by Walter. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Aluminum needs to be very clean to weld.

Tack welding these pieces together helps get the general structure established before making final cuts/modifications.  After final cuts are made, I extend tack welds 6+ inches to help maintain the structure’s integrity when forming/bending.    Ratchet straps are great alternative to traditional clamping.  A rubber mallet is ideal to form these ends closer together for welding prep.

Love at first sight and a lasting relationship…

Love at first sight and a lasting relationship…

Agent Gibbs, NCIS

Yes, that’s my Miller Dialarc HF TIG Welder.  She’s number one on my tool list next to my Hypertherm Powermax Plasma Cutter.   With these two tools of magic, I could construct a submarine in my basement…sorry Gibbs.  TIG welding is the pinnacle of welding.  From mild and stainless steel to aluminum, alloys, brass, copper and bronze, it’s the most diverse and versatile metal joining process available.

Welding Welder Miller TIG Welder Sculpture Sculptor Artist

DynaFlux-PUP Torch Cooling System on top (red)

Why is TIG the best?

  • High quality with control.  Heat Management = Puddle Management = Aesthetic Strong Welds.  With the use of the surgical-like precision tungsten electrode torch, heat regulating foot pedal and hand controled filler rod, it yields strong precision welds.  It’s not only diverse in welding exotic metals, but it’s very versatile in welding different joints (T, Edge, Corner, Butt and Lap joints) at every angled position with little distortion.
  • It’s clean.    No paste, no flux, no slag and no smoke/fumes. No sparks bouncing off the inside of your helmet…just a divine-like glow.  It produces clean, strong and very aesthetic welds.

Challenges?

  • PIGO-What you put in, you get out.  Surfaces/base materials must be very clean – especially with aluminum.  This adds time and tests patience, but it’s good protocol.
  • Expense.  TIG welding is a slower process, so you sacrifice time for quality.  The training, equipment, argon, wattage and supplies are more costly than the traditional, but it’s an investment.  Especially if your goal is to produce superior weld strength and aesthetics.

That’s “why”…more “how” to come…