Teach yourself to be a better welder

There is a perception among farmers that anyone who farms can weld. That’s like claiming anyone who can pick up a pencil can draw. Technically, it may be true, but there’s a huge difference between drawing a stick man and painting a masterpiece. The same is true of masterful welding — the quality, durability and reliability of the end product is determined by the skill of the welder.

Two people who know that first-hand are Wayne Domes and Reg Baumle. Domes is a partner in Custom Welding in Ohaton, AB, a business his dad started in the early 1960s as a one-man welding repair shop catering to the needs of area farmers. Since then, it’s grown to serve the welding and structural fabrication needs of many businesses throughout central Alberta.

Domes is still called upon by area farmers, often to make repairs to equipment they have already tried to weld. “What should have been a minor repair became a major one because of welding mistakes the farmer made,” he says, listing off some of the reasons welds don’t last. Among the culprits: using incorrect rods, using small welders that can’t supply the amperage needed for the repair, lack of preparation of the area to be welded and failure to properly line things up before welding.

Baumle couldn’t agree more. He farms in Kelsey, AB, and is also a licensed journeyman welder with a B pressure ticket who spends winters working as an independent welder in Northern Alberta’s oil patch.

He says there’s a lot more to welding than simply getting two pieces of metal to stick together. To Baumle, welding is not only a learned and practiced skill — it’s an art. “A welder not only needs to know how to repair a cracked or broken piece of equipment, but also determine why it broke in the first place, and then design and fabricate a repair that will not only get the equipment working again, but prevent the problem from recurring,” he says. “Design is as important as weld strength!”

Baumle says skillful welding begins with three steps: equipment selection, materials selection and preparation. If you can get these right, the welding task itself will be easier and more successful. Here’s his advice:

Start with the right equipment

“Most farmers rely on stick welding, which means electricity is used to generate heat to bond two pieces of metal together,” he says. “So they need a welding machine to generate the electricity as well as the rods, electrode holders, cables, clamps, chipping hammer and a grinder. As well, they need safety gear including helmet, safety glasses, gloves, and fire extinguishers.”

If you’re looking to buy a welder, Baumle recommends the Lincoln Ranger, which he says is very dependable, even on cold winter days. It’s also fully portable, and generates 10,000 watts of standby power. The cost is about $3,500 at UFA stores.

Baumle also stresses the importance of having the correct rods and that the only rod a farmer should use is the 7018. He explains that this rod is designed for the high-strength structural applications required to repair farm equipment. “People will get killed if 6010 rods are used for structural repairs,” he warns.

Rods must be kept dry, Baumle says, so investing in a rod oven is something farmers may want to consider. They start at about $300.

Know your materials

The second step is to know your materials. Before welding, do a grind test to determine if the material is steel or cast, which can be welded, or aluminum, which cannot. If the material doesn’t spark, it’s aluminum and should not be stick welded.

Proper site prep. Third, and the step that Baumle says many farmers fail to do well, is to completely clean and prep the area to be welded. “You have to completely clean and grind a bevel in the area to be welded to ensure full penetration of the molten weld pool,” he says.

Next, attach your ground clamp close to the area to be welded, and make sure that area is dry and that cables are properly connected to prevent electrocution. Electricity always follows the path of least resistance, so if the ground cables are improperly attached or frayed, or in wet conditions, that path could be through you.

Only when these three steps are complete are you ready to weld. “Strike an arc like you’re striking a match,” says Baumle. “The arc should sound like frying eggs, and use that arc to manipulate the puddle of molten metal that’s created.”

Baumle then rattles off a number of points farmers should be aware of to maintain a proper weld pool. “If the puddle is flat, it is too cold; if you burn through, it is too hot. Weld stringers: that is, make parallel passes rather than zigzagging,” he says. “The maximum width of a pass is four times the width of the rod. Use a constant electrode travel speed. The area to be welded should be pre-heated, especially in winter. Protect the area from wind or weld porosity will be a problem.”

Finally, Baumle says, inspect the weld. “If it looks good, it probably is. And complete the job by painting the welded area to prevent rust.”

If more farmers welded like that, Wayne Domes would be happy. He says he’s seen welds that range from humorous to downright dangerous. “Farmers sometimes put welds where they should not be, which causes new stress points,” he says. “They often fail to reinforce the area that broke, so they have not corrected the reason why it broke in the first place. And if they do reinforce, too often they use the wrong material — like old combine rub bars.”
His best advice? “Take a welding course. Learn about equipment and rods, and practice the skills you learned before tackling major repair work.”

Photo Credit: Genesis Studio