Arc Welding

I came across arc welding years ago when I was just a schoolboy. There was a metal fabrication company a mile or so down the road, beside an embankment that the Great Central Railway (RIP) used. As boys we would go and watch the flashes and hot metal as if it was a firework display. The tail-ends of the welding electrodes would be 3-4" long and once cold we'd pick them up and stick them in the gaps on the railway lines. After a while one of the Evening Star class freight locomotives would pass and we'd scurry back onto the line to see if we could find the remains of the electrode, now squashed flat and spoon-shaped.

One year I'd had a tooth out and was off school, so spent the day there just watching the men welding. I got a really bad case of flash conjunctivitis (arc eye) which is caused by ultraviolet burns of the retina and my sight was touch-and-go for a few days; my specialist said I was lucky to keep my sight. I learned then never to look directly at an arc again.

During my industrial training as part of my first degree, I learned a little welding and found that I enjoyed it. I always had a hankering to so some more.

With the dollar falling fast against the pound (late 2003) and the Chinese currency pegged to the dollar, welding machines have fallen incredibly in price so I raided the piggy-bank and bought one .. it's too powerful for normal home power circuits so I have to keep the current turned down below half-range to avoid blowing the main fuse. It should really be connected to a 415v single phase circuit but will work on 240v as well, though it'll draw 30A on full power.

Rather than practice pointlessly drawing beads of weld along scrap metal, I ordered up some 4cm x 4cm x 3mm black-drawn angle iron and set about making some steps into the wartime bunker that 'adorns' the garden. There aren't too many good resources around the web that will tell you how to weld. By far the best I've found is Ray's Guide from aussieweld.com.au.

Arc welding is hard. Any fool can produce a bad weld, but getting good welds where the metal has adhered on both sides and the slag just flakes of is very difficult except for simple horizontal beads. If the slag won't fall off easily, it inevitably means the weld bead hasn't melted into the base metal and is sitting on top of a cushion of slag. I am SO GOOD at that kind of weld. Gradually though, as the photos show, I'm starting to get the hang of the easy stuff. Here's some illustrations of the first set of steps for the bunker.


Side frames

Side frames

Good weld

Crap weld

The pit

The steps

The steps

The second set of steps is now under construction. Some illustrations will be added here as I go. The first is a spectacularly bad self-portrait, but the second, showing the long base and back of the steps squared and clamped ready for the first fixing welds has taken on a pleasing industrial art appearance with groovy shadows and an apparently posed foreground. How that happened I don't know because I just aligned the metal, clamped it and stood back to take the picture. The already-welded counterpart is sitting on the floor behind the clamped and waiting set.


Dangerous idiot

Aligned for welding

Welding Links

Occasionally someone comes across this page and asks for a link to a resource about welding. Though it's not my intention to become some kind of wikipedia replacement, I'm happy to add them as time permits.

Everlast generators have a useful dictionary of welding terms

People looking for a welding job in the uk might care to look at this welding jobs site

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