Well, my next adventure in self-discovery started this weekend. Actually, it started some time ago. Let me explain…
In school, I was the computer ueber-geek, which for the time was kind of a new thing. I first started playing with computers in 7th grade on a TRS-80 Model II in Marshfield. You know me… I was that annoying kid who would take advanced math class, then when we had an exam, finish the test in about 15 minutes, and spend the rest of the class period in the back of the room playing chess against the math teacher. However, unlike the average ueber-geek, I was also capable of working with my hands. Although no where near as mechanically inclined as my dad, some of it was genetic and I found myself drawn to wood-working. I was fairly handy with a wide arrange of power tools and along with computer and math classes, wood shop was also a reason for me to get up in the morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not what you would consider a “craftsman” capable of making high quality wood furniture. But, I do make wood toys, outdoor furniture, games, etc. When I lived in Knowlton, I had a 12’ x 20’ woodworking shop behind the house. When I moved to Wausau, I lost that shop until Mrs. Rent sold her house in Oklahoma and some of those funds went to build a 40’ x 70’ shed on the back of the property. I have blogged about how about 1/3 of that shed (lengthwise) is being converted into a nice wood-working shop.
However, as comfortable as I may be with table saws, routers and compound miter saws, when it comes to working with metal, I am clueless. The closest I come to working with metal is when various woodworking projects require screws or bolts to hold them together.
To be honest, I have no desire to become a skilled metal worker, however I do feel there are some skills that would serve me well to have… one of those being welding.
I have no desire to weld for a living or even for a hobby. However, every now and then a bracket will break on a trailer, or a sign frame will come apart at a joint, and I need to find someone to fix that for me. For small items, I could give them to my dad who knows how to weld, and has access to a welder at his other employer (he works as the head of maintenance for Mountain Lanes as well as working for me as one of my maintenance people). However, for larger projects I normally have to find someone who charges for their services.
Since starting on the shop, I have been on the lookout for a good quality, inexpensive, used welder. When wiring my shed, I ran a couple of 240 Volt drops, in anticipation of one day adding this to my inventory of equipment. I have been watching Craigslist and auctions, and reading about what type of welder is best for what type of welding. I have been trying to understand the differences between MIG and TIG and ARC… and why some welders have gas and others don’t… and the pro’s and con’s of stick welding versus wire feed.
A few weeks ago, I went to an auction because they had a bunch of model airplanes. (That is another hobby I want to get into, and even bought a really nice plane at an auction a while back. However, even though I didn’t pay much for the plane I have, I learned that is quite expensive and probably not the thing I should be learning to fly with, so I have been on the lookout to see if I could get a “deal” on more of a beginner’s model.) Most of those used airplanes when for nearly the cost of new, so I thought that trip was a bust. I was about to leave when the auction moved to a garage I didn’t even realize had stuff in it, and I heard the auctioneer state the welder would be the first thing to go and he would work his way around.
I had about a minute to see that in the corner was this large, red welder. It looked like it was a 240 Volt machine, and even though it looked very old, it also looked in very decent condition. Most of the 240 Volt ARC stick welders I had seen were in the $250 to $400 dollar range. I had brought about $200 in cash with me for airplanes, but hadn’t won any of those. I managed to get the welder for $180. After paying for it, the auctioneer made sure to remind me that the large cardboard barrel went with it. That barrel contained over 200 lbs worth of welding rods, a couple of helmets, chaps, everything you need to get going.
So… the question now became, since I didn’t really check it out before hand, did I make a really good investment, or did I purchase a large, red 400 lbs paper weight? My dad did inform me I got my money’s worth because there was easily a couple of hundred dollars worth of welding rods alone.
After bringing it home, I went to Menards to get some supplies. My dad said that welding in the shed would probably not be a good idea, and the best thing to do would be to roll it (it did have wheels) outside when working with it. One problem though… my 240 volt electrical drops were about 25’ inside of the main overhead door. That problem could be fixed with an extension cord. Of course, you can’t really buy a 50’, 240 Volt, 60 amp extension cord. So while “saving big money”, I got not one but two outlets. I also got one more plug, and a 50’ length of 8-3 wire (which is the same type of wire that makes up the power cord).
So, I got the outlet installed in one of the drops, and plugged the welder in. I turned the switch on and you could hear a fan start turning. Dad said that is what it should sound like, so I turned it off, unplugged it, and then assembled the extension cord. And that how it sat until this last Sunday, which is the first time we had to test it.
I was a little worried because the welder is rated for 60 amps, but I only designed my circuit for 40 amps. I assumed that the welder would only work on lower power settings but at higher power, would trip the breaker. So, assuming it worked, how high could we get the power up before it tripped the breaker?
Dad brought over a bunch of scrap metal he had laying around. I thought we were just going to test it out, however he decided if testing it, might as well show me the basics. It turns out it works really well, better than the one he uses. The highest setting on it is 290. We started out at some of its lower settings and did turn it up to 200 and then 225, which is where he does most of his welding, and no power problems at 225.
And, after about an hour, I now know how to weld. Don’t get me wrong, I am not any good at it, and if I welded two things together, I wouldn’t want to bet if they would stay together. But, I understand the concept of how to lay the bead (knowing how and being able to lay a good one – two different things). We went through 4 or 5 of the welding rods.
The next step will be practice. He brought a small book with him that had some welding basics. He learns by doing but he knows that reading about something helps with my learning. He left the metal pieces with me. I know I need to get a better helmet. This one does the job, but the window to look though is very small, and they make bigger ones. I can’t believe how dark they are. You really can’t see a thing until the weld starts, and then the light from the arc only lights up about a 1” diameter area on what you are working on. It requires some coordination to get the stick near where you want to start the weld, and then flip the hood down to protect your eyes without moving where your hands are. I would flip the hood down and in the process move the end of the rod about an inch or so.
Only time will tell if I will get any good at this new endeavor. Again, I have no interest in taking up metal working as a hobby, but this is a skill that I think can come in very handy from time to time.