Welding Tools of the Trade
By now, you may have gathered that welding isn't necessarily a complicated process. You can learn the basics of several welding methods in hours. Like chess, however, welding is easy to learn yet hard to master. Professional welders have a mountain of different variables to consider when doing their job. No matter how complicated the job, though, they only need three things to get it done: a welding rig, material to weld and safety equipment.
The most basic welding rigs, for occasional use in a home workshop, can be had for under $100. Typically, these rigs are set up for shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), or stick welding. Many units only have an on/off switch in the way of controls, making them simple to operate. Torch welding rigs are small and easy to work with, which is part of why they're commonly used. These torches use oxyacetylene for the flame, along with a filler rod. But some rigs (like those used in laser-beam welding) are so expensive and complicated that they are only used in industrial applications.
As for materials, some are much easier to weld than others. Steel can be a great choice because of its strength, affordability and weldability. As a rule, the stronger the steel, the harder it is to weld. Accordingly, several steel alloys were developed with welding in mind. Of course, almost any metal can be welded, including cast iron, bronze, aluminum and even titanium, although the latter requires a highly protected atmosphere because the metal is so reactive.
Whatever you're welding, remember: safety first. If you've ever seen welding in person, you can testify to the blinding brightness the process creates. Looking directly at a weld site without protection can produce what's known as arc eye, a painful inflammation of the cornea that feels like getting sand in your eye. No wonder that a good welder's mask is a prerequisite for any welding outfit.
Welding masks come in many styles. The simplest ones have a darkened panel that the welder looks through while welding. More advanced masks auto-darken as the welding site gets brighter. In addition to dazzling brightness, welding can generate temperatures of up 10,000 degrees F (5,538 degrees Celsius) and showers of sparks, making heavy-duty gloves and a long-sleeve shirt necessary.
Lastly, proper ventilation is crucial, depending on the welding method. Welders may be exposed to harmful substances such as lead, mercury and carbon monoxide. Vent hoods can prevent fumes from accumulating in the workspace.