Yesterday, while browsing some forums for information on welding alloys, I stumbled upon a post that caught my attention. It stated, “MIG (Metal inert gas) welding is a challenging technique that only professional welders can handle. Beginners, especially girls, should not attempt it.”
Personally, I strongly disagree with this opinion.
Now, before you dive into the world of welding, it’s crucial to learn about it thoroughly. However, with the right knowledge and careful preparation, anyone can give it a try, regardless of gender. In this article, I will provide you with a helpful guide on how to weld aluminum with a MIG welder, suitable for beginners and experts alike.
What You Need to Prepare
Before you start welding, there are a few essential items you need to gather to ensure the best results:
The thickness of the metal you’re working with will determine the power requirements of your welding machine.
When it comes to aluminum welding, it’s recommended to use pure argon as your shielding gas. It can be a combination of argon and carbon dioxide (CO2). While using CO2 regulators, you don’t need to purchase new hoses.
The thickness of the electrode wire is critical for welding aluminum. Too thin of a wire can make it difficult to feed, while thicker wire requires a higher current to melt.
The ideal electrode size for welding aluminum is 0.035 inches in diameter (less than one mm). Alternatively, you can use filler metal as a substitute.
Regardless of the material you’re welding, protective gear is a must. Make sure to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Gloves are essential for protecting your hands against flying sparks and embers. Also, never forget to wear a faceplate to safeguard your eyes from the arc.
The Key to Aluminum Welding
Aluminum is a versatile material, but it tends to be soft and requires reinforcement with alloys. Welding aluminum comes with some unique challenges due to its distinct properties compared to steel, such as deformation and heat sensitivity. However, with the right tools and processes, MIG welding aluminum becomes manageable.
When embarking on MIG welding aluminum, keep these crucial considerations in mind.
Tips for Getting Started
- Consider the material thickness: Aluminum can be MIG welded starting from 14 gauge thickness and higher. The maximum thickness you can weld depends on your welder’s output capability. If you need to MIG weld aluminum thinner than 14 gauge (.074 inch), you might need to use pulsed MIG or AC TIG welding equipment.
- Keep it clean: Before welding, ensure the aluminum is thoroughly cleaned and free from any lubricants. Use a stainless wire brush to remove oxide after degreasing. When using a power wire brush, keep the rpms and pressures low to avoid smearing the surface and trapping oxides and contaminants.
- Pick the proper gas: Aluminum, being a non-ferrous metal, requires a shielding gas consisting solely of argon. It is recommended to use flow rates between 20 and 30 cubic feet per hour.
- Choose the right method: Spray transfer is the preferred mode for MIG welding aluminum. It involves the smooth transfer of molten metal droplets from the electrode’s tip to the molten pool. The droplet diameter is smaller than that of the electrode. Spray transfer offers a high deposition rate and efficiency without short-circuiting. Keep in mind that spray transfer generates significant heat, resulting in a sizable weld pool with strong penetration.
- Gun and wire feeding options: Before MIG welding aluminum, select the appropriate gun and wire feeding system. Aluminum wire is commonly fed using a push-pull method or a spool gun. Spool guns, which hold a small pool of wire on a pistol-grip gun, enhance the feeding of soft wires. On the other hand, using a push-pull system, a motor pushes the wire through the liner, making it more ergonomic and ideal for welding away from the power source.
- Optimal filler metal: Understand the aluminum alloy in your base material and the environmental conditions the final product will be exposed to. The most easily accessible aluminum filler wires are ER4043 and ER5356. For advice on the best wire alloys for your application, consult your local welding dealer or aluminum filler metal representative.
Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Weld Aluminum with a MIG Welder
Cleaning Your Aluminum and Electrodes
Before you begin, make sure to clean the aluminum surface by applying a few drops of solvent, such as acetone, or using a wire brush. Use an aluminum feeding kit to feed the electrodes and soft aluminum wire.
Welding Aluminum with a MIG Welder
To achieve the desired results without distortion, consider the following factors:
- Ensure the contact tips have holes that are both large enough for easy entry and small enough to provide electrical contact.
- Use a U-shaped drive roll specifically designed for aluminum to avoid shaving off the aluminum wire.
- Add a non-metallic liner to reduce friction on the wire.
- Keep the gun cable as straight as possible, as soft wire tends to kink due to feeding restrictions compared to steel wire.
- If you encounter any issues with your MIG welder while welding, consider using lubricants for troubleshooting.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum MIG Welding
Similar to TIG welding, MIG welding also has its pros and cons when applied to aluminum. Let’s take a look at them:
- Quick weld deposits
- X-Ray quality welds
- All-position welds
- Requires special equipment
- Difficulties in welding thin aluminum
- Requires good welding skills
It’s Time to Weld Aluminum
Don’t let the pressure of being a beginner or a girl deter you. With the information provided in this article, you’ll realize that MIG welders are quite straightforward to use. Once you know how to weld aluminum with a MIG welder, you’ll be equipped to handle various projects in the future.
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