I've been looking to purchase a welder for home use -- basically metal
fence construction and various similar thickness projects. Many years ago,
back in high school, we used the old Lincoln AC-225 welders and it seems
that they are a reasonable price, so I'm probably going to get one of them.
I figure that if they could survive the abuse of high school students for
that many hours each day, they can't be that bad. Plus, the price on a new
one is only $269 over at Home Depot.
I would kind of like to have the capability to do TIG welding one of these
days, but I'm not willing to spend that sort of money at present since my
current needs do not require it. A bit of reading has turned up another
type of welding -- CAW (Carbon Arc Welding). From reading the description
of it, it seems to use a similar technique to TIG welding, minus the
shielding gas. It also appears that the AC-225 can do CAW. Has anyone
around here actually done CAW and if so, how do the welds produced from it
compare with what you see from TIG welds?
There are two approaches using carbon arc and I'm not quite sure which you
In the first, you use a contraption called an "arc torch." Many years ago,
a Lincoln 180 amp "buzz box" and a friend had an arc torch which I borrowed
on occasion. It held two carbon rods and an arc was struck between them.
worked well for heating and brazing, but I never tried actually welding
it. Think of it as an electric equivalent of an oxy-acetelyne welding
In the other, an arc is struck between a carbon rod and the base metal. A
of compressed air is then used to blow the melted metal away. This is the
electric equivalent of an O-A cutting torch. The unit I saw was built for
purpose, but I suppose you could drive the rod with a buzz box.
Bear in mind a "small" problem with a 225 amp stick welder... The input
is 220 volts at about 60 amps. So, if you don't have a 100 amp power feed
to your shop, figure in that cost along with the welder. This is why I
buying a Miller 170 MIG welder. I could run it easily off the 30 amp line I
already had to the shop.
I see AC/DC buzzbox welders - brand name, mind you, made by Miller, Lincoln or
Airco - for $150 or less in my area all the time used on Craigslist. I think
you would be foolish to spend $269 on a welder you can't sell for $75. I know
shiny paint is cool but that's too big a hit for this old fart.
I really recommend the older Miller Thunderbolt AC/DC models, the ones with
detachable leads. I see those all the time used. I bought mine new in the days
way before Craigslist and have never regretted it. I own 5 welders now and
was using my Thunderbolt just yesterday.
The ability to run DC is critical for a stick welder.
It's NOT a welding tool. The lack of shielding gas is a big problem for
welding. "Welds" would be despicable, not at all comparable to tig. Use
plain old flux coated electrodes and stick weld if you want to weld with
the tombstone - that's what the welder and electrodes are made to do.
The carbon arc torch is used for heating and brazing (with flux and
flux-coated rod), in my experience and training - it can keep you from
needing to pay rent on gas bottles if your heating needs are limited.
Gas is generally nicer for that sort of work. I have successfully brazed
things using a twin-carbon torch in welding class years ago - but I can
do a much better-looking job with OA. Given the choice of the two, the
carbon arc torch would never get used. However, the carbon arc torch
does not come with demurrage, regulators that need to be rebuilt,
etc...it can hang on the wall in the shed for years, be dragged out and
used for 5 minutes, and go back in the shed for years, so long as the
shed is not too damp (the copper on the carbons will corrode in storage
if it is).
It IS dang nice as a single stinger for gouge-cutting badly rusted metal. I
once cut apart an 1800gal propane tank (yeah... I know...but we did it by
the numbers, purge, water fill, etc.) with only carbon gouging rods, and it
went lots quicker than with a cutting torch. I did use a whole box of rods,
but they're cheap -- cheaper than two bottles of gas.
It is NOT as neat as OA cutting or better, plasma.
Actually, I'm talking about a third method where you have one lead clamped
to the surface to be welded and have the carbon rod in the normal rod
holder. You strike an arc like with normal stick welding but then feed a
filler rod in as necessary. From what I've gathered, it's an older
technique that you don't see anymore -- normal stick welding has pretty
much replaced it.
The reason you don't see it used for steel is that you'd get a
horribly oxidized weld with no shielding gas or flux. The flux
coating on regular welding rod supplies the shielding, with TIG you've
got the argon doing the job. I've only ever seen the setup you've
described used for "lead burning", where they do heavy lead sheet
welding for like chemical reactors. You could probably stick
something in steel/iron together that way, but it probably wouldn't
If you want a small semi-useful stick/TIG rig, take a look at the HF
inverter item. If you get it at 50% off and with a coupon, it really
isn't too bad for what it is. Doesn't do AC and is limited as to rod
size, but, within its limitations, it works OK. You can lay nice
beads with small DC rods. Another outfit that requires a 220 outlet.
Don't expect to stick a steel building together with it, though.
This kind of brings up another issue. I suspect that the cost of the
consumables (rods, gas, etc) over time completely overshadows the initial
cost of whatever welding methodology that you choose to use. As such,
which is the most economical welding method for mild steel (e.g. metal
decorative / security fences) projects? Since there are less moving
parts, I would suspect that a typical stick welder would be cheaper in
maintenance costs over the lifetime of the unit. For a given number of
feet of welding, will stick type electrodes cost less than whatever the
equivalent amount of flux core wire would be?
I have a couple of projects currently in mind for which I might need a
1. A metal fence (i.e. 'wrought iron') around my home to replace the
wooden privacy fence that is there currently. It will be made with
either 1/2" square tubing for the vertical members or perhaps 1/2" square
solid bar since the price is not that different. The horizontal members
will be made from 3/4" square tubing with 1/16" wall. The posts will be
2" square tubing with 1/8" wall.
2. A very heavy gauge BBQ pit/grill/smoker. I am currently thinking
that I want it made from 1/2" steel. This seems to preclude the use of a
wire feed type welder since from the specs that I've read, they typically
aren't used for metal this thick.
I have tried a wire feed welder once and did not end up with very nice
looking welds coming from it. I have used oxy-acetylene for both welding
and brazing and can produce acceptable looking welds with it, but I think
that the gas costs would probably start adding up on a large project. I
also ended up with more warping of the project that was probably
Right. A book I read recently has a lot about it. E. Wanamaker and
H. R. Pennington, "Electric Arc Welding", 1921. This book gives
the impression that a fair amount of arc welding was being done at
the time with bare metal electrodes; carbon arc welding shows up
ok compared to that, at least for welding thin sheet in flat position -
"steel barrels, transformer cases, etc." Later in the book they say
coated metal electrodes give better metallurgical outcomes, where
Carbon arc cuts are wide and ragged. The authors say: "The width
of a cut with a 300-ampere arc on 1/2 in. plate will be about 5/8 in. and
the rate of cutting will be approximately 3.5 in. per minute; while with
a 500-amp. arc the width of the cut will be about 3/4 in. and the rate
approximately 6 in. per minute."
Stick is cheapest by far. To weld thin stuff like 1/16" you will need to use
special light rod and make the electrode negative - this is something you
can't do with AC. I personally haven't welded 16 gauge (1/16") steel this
way but I know it can be done. Someone will chime in and mention what rod to
use. MIG welders cost you $$ every time you turn around. Gas, wire, tips,
it all costs. You only recoup that money if you weld for a living, because
you can go so much faster with MIG that you save much more in labor cost
than you spend in consumables. You want an AC/DC buzzbox. I had one for about
15 years and loved it every time I used it.
1/2" thick BBQ? Man, it's your nickel, but that sucker will have to be moved
with a crane! And the material will cost you a TON of money.
You strike an arc using the carbon rod like you would a standard stick.
Then feed filler rod. It works but it doesn't leave a nice pretty weld.
I have a small spotweld gun that uses the same principle. You hook it up
and pull the trigger to start the arc. Wait a couple seconds and the
weld is done. Pull the trigger all the way to break the arc.
Way back before I knew better, I welded an exhaust pipe with AC stick -
a butt weld, no less! Since then I have learned that I must have been
*really* lucky. I would not even try to do it again. 1/16 is right on
the hairy edge: there is a *very* narrow range between not joining and
burning through. Very frustrating. Now that I have a MIG, I don't use
stick for anything less than 1/8".
Qualification: I am a low-use hobby weldor. I don't get much practice
and I'm sure that is a factor.
A 300 amp commercial MIG will weld 1/2 steel in a single
pass, most likely full penetration. Don't discount what a
REAL MIG can do/weld. The 110 volt units have given MIG's a
bad reputation. Just make sure you are sitting down when you
price a new one. Good deals can had though on used ones,
especially if you have 3 phase electric available.
I agree with Grant nearly 100%. Buy a decent used one. Ive sold the
ubiquitous AC-225 from $75-150.
I do disagree in part that a stick welder (home style) needs DC.
"If thy pride is sorely vexed when others disparage your offering, be
as lamb's wool is to cold rain and the Gore-tex of Odin's raiment
is to gullshit in the gale, for thy angst shall vex them not at
all. Yea, they shall scorn thee all the more. Rejoice in
sharing what you have to share without expectation of adoration,
knowing that sharing your treasure does not diminish your treasure
but enriches it."
- Onni 1:33
We have taught ourselves arc welding. And it was quite a learning curve.
As others have written before you start
1. before buy any welder make sure youve enough power coming into your
place to run the machine you plan to get.
2. go to the Miller and the Lincoln web sites and read all their tutorials.
3. If youve access to old book shops try and find any welding books from
the 1930 to 60's. There much more helpful with using old equipment.
Now onto your projects.
4. A metal fence is fine till youve to maintain it. It will need
constant painting, unless your in a very dry part of the US.
A wooden fence is easier to maintain. Just a coat of wood preserver
we have whats called creosote, a coal tar derivative, nothing finer to
prevent wood rot. used by all our telcos for their poles just slap on
.every couple of yearsand it will last for 25. Your metal one wont.
5. Whats the span between each upright? and are you going to set it in
6. Youll need as you say 2by 2 uprights,
for your cross pieces youll need 2 by 1 not 1 by1.
id suggest 3/4 box for the upright railings.
If solid youll find it will droop in due course.
Dont try carbon arc. stick with stick to start with.
Make up some test pieces before you decide on what you want to make for
Do all your welding down wards, on the flat to start with. IE start
with the easy way first.
Make sure you have a proper helmet and are fully covered to avoid UV
radition burns. Never weld without a helmet. Yuoll getarc eye which is
very painful and can cause eye damage.Your eye lense focuses the arc !!!
onto the retina. Keep every one else away from your welding.
Particularly kids and animals.
Wear safety boots.
Youll need a angle grinder to clean up the metal where your welding and
to remove welds you dont want.
A chipping hammer to remove slag. Some engineers chalk to mark up. a
And finally for the moment, lots of clamps to hold everything together
till its welded and some trestles to work off. and lay out the work.
Think how you plan to assemble your fence.
Generally you bolt eash section to the uprights just in case you need
access for some reason or other. Think how you plan to make all the
Youll need to drill lots of holes in plate say 3/8th to 1/2 in size.
hard to do by hand.
When making these mark out, center punch in say a 36in strip, drill all
the holes then cut of on your power saw. Thats what we do anyway.
Grind up all the sharp edges. Better to have a leg vice outside for all
this, and make shure your upwind of the grinding. If you dont when you
blow your nose later youll get it all come out black.
Have you a neibour? who might object to all this heavy engineering ?
Just a few thoughts.
Ted. Dorset UK.
I learned *many* years ago on a Lincoln AC-225 back in high school. I
might not have necessarily produced the prettiest welds, but they were
structurally sound. Well, sound enough that my jack stands didn't fall
on me. ;)
My garage is detached and the power for the house first enters the
garage, so this should not be a problem. If I don't have space in the
breaker box, I suspect that it won't be too big of a deal to feed a new
box off of the original supply lines.
In my neighborhood, the only choices for fences are cedar picket and
metal. There is a large field and small lake behind my house and I
would like to open up the view a bit.
I'm inclined to go with 8 ft between the uprights (or at least one set of
the uprights) so that I can move a vehicle through there if necessary. I
don't want to put a permanent gate there, but being able to remove a
fence section easily might be desirable.
I was considering an attachment method of bending the ends of the
horizontal pieces 90 degrees downward and welding appropriately sized
pieces of square tubing in the 2" posts so that the fence sections could
be lifted and removed. I'm thinking that the weight of the fence
sections should keep them secure. This should keep me from having to
drill a lot of holes with a hand drill.
Another possibility would be to use two horizontal pieces near the top
and two near the bottom and welding a short vertical piece between them
and a couple of inches lower so that it would provide a supported pin
type mechanism to fit into two pieces of square tubing acting as
receptacles that are welded to the 2" posts. Although this uses one more
horizontal piece that the design which I had originally considered, it
might very well safe time since I would not be needing to try to do
precision tight radius bends.
A long as I don't start early or continue after 10pm, it's unlikely that
anyone would complain. If I do it during the week during normal business
hours, it's unlikely that anyone would even be around to complain. ;)
Well, except a couple of retirees, but their hearing is probably shot
anyway, so they wouldn't notice.