Small wire-feed welders are fine for repairing your lawn mower or barbecue grill, but with a little creativity, you can make them do a lot more. Building a project such as furniture for your home and deck, or a fixture for your shop, is a practical and fun way to use a welder.
As a woodworker, I always imagined welding to be difficult and expensive. But as I found out, nothing could be further from the truth. Modern welding equipment for the do-it-yourselfer is affordable and easy to use. In fact, the cost of a small wire-feed welder and the materials needed to build a project is far less than what you’d spend on equipment and materials for an equivalent woodworking project. And while it can take months to learn to successfully cut dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints in wood, you can make credible welds in steel after only a few hours of practice.
Small wire-feed welders are versatile; they can be used with a wide range of stock sizes (up to 1/4 in. thick) and types of metal. But keep in mind they do have limitations. They’re not made for heavy-duty or continuous welding applications, such as building boats or boilers. Although they don’t have the power or duty cycle necessary for large-scale work, they’re still capable of producing high-quality welds.
Compared to a woodworking project, a welding project is relatively simple. All of the joints are butted, so there’s no need to add or subtract stock to compensate for interlocking joints.
Filling gaps and grinding sloppy welds is also acceptable. Still, it’s a good idea parts and dimensions are correct.
Engineering is also important. Even though welded joints are extremely strong, it’s usually best to let gravity work for you. For instance, when constructing a table it is better if you attach the legs to the underside of the top rather than to the sides of the top.
You can purchase steel stock of various sizes for small projects at any home center or hardware store. However, you’ll save money by getting it from a metal fabricator or supplier.
To find out just how involved building a simple piece of furniture would be, I designed an uncomplicated rod, that’s suitable for indoor or outdoor use. For assistance, I enlisted the aid of Mark Troup, a Minneapolis-based technical representative for The Lincoln Electric Co. Mark did the welding and provided some valuable information that made the job go faster and smoother. Be sure to check out Lincoln’s web site for more welding information.
Welding the project
Before starting any project, you should check that the welder is properly set up and that you have the necessary equipment to work safely (see Working ty is set correctly for the welding process (applicable for MIG welders or wire-feed welders that can be converted to MIG; see the instruction manual). Check that the welder’s power and wire-feed controls are set to the manufacturer’s recommended settings for the material you’re using. Match the contact tip to the wire size, and be sure that the work lead is clamped to the workpiece.
For nonstructural applications, such as small tables, coat racks, plant stands, etc., you needn’t be overly concerned about the type of steel or welding wire that you use. However, if you’re planning to build something engineered for heavy use, like a boat trailer, you should be sure to use the appropriate materials. Mark suggested that we use fluxcored wire because it works well even on dirty material and provides deeper penetration than MIG welds. We started by cutting the top perimeter pieces and the legs to size. Then we laid out the top pieces on a metal welding table and checked to be sure that they were square. To prevent movement, we secured the pieces with C-clamps and the work lead clamp.
For a good weld, it’s important that the wire project the recommended distance from the contact tip (see photo). The wire must be in constant contact with the work when welding or else you’ll just drip molten metal and fail to create a bond. Of course, watching the progress of the weld is important, but listening to how it sounds will also give you a sense of its quality. A stable sizzling sound is what you want to hear, not loud popping and sputtering. When in doubt about welding basics, consult your machine’s instruction manual. It will provide specific information about power settings, wire types and wirefeed speed for different materials; instructions on technique and a troubleshooting guide. flux-cored wire you should always pull the gun toward you and away from the weld. That’s because slag forms on the top of flux-core welds, and pushing the wire forces you to weld through the slag. Mark recommends the rhyme “when there’s slag, you drag” as an easy way to remember this.
When Mark added the legs to the table, he first made small tack welds; then he adjusted their positions and checked that they were square. Finally, he welded completely around the joint. In most instances it’s not structurally necessary to weld completely around a joint, but Mark noted that welds look better (particularly in furniture) if you do.
Once the legs were welded, the rest of the project consisted of cutting the remaining pieces to fit and welding them in place. We used C-clamps to hold workpieces until Mark could tack weld them; then he removed the clamps to complete the weld. For the table’s feet, we improvised and used 1- in.-dia. washers. The total cost of the metal for the table was about $6, while the 3/8-in. glass top was about $45.
Step 1: Clamp the 3/8-in.-dia. mild carbon-steel stock to the worktable and use a hacksaw to cut the part to size.
Step 2: Secure the stock to the bench top and bend the first leg flare using a hammer and small metal plate. Then use the first bend as a pattern for the other legs.
Step 3: Hold the gun with one hand and brace it with the other. Be sure the workpieces are secured and the work lead clamp is attached. The wire extending from the gun tip must contact the work. Clean the finished weld with a stiff wire brush (inset).
Step 4: To attach the leg, first set the piece so it’s close to a finished position. Then make a small tack weld.
Step 5: Use a carpenter’s square to adjust the leg to its final position, then complete the weld.
Step 6: Hold the horizontal members (stretchers shown) in place with C-clamps. Tack-weld the parts; then remove the clamps before completing the welds.
Step 7: Smooth the welds with a small angle grinder fitted with an aluminum oxide wheel. Always wear a full face shield.