Dan Anderson: Tips for Better Beads

January 22, 2018 10:06 AM
Dan Anderson

Anybody can melt metal with a welder, but not everybody can weld. With that in mind, here are several simple tips so the next time you melt metal, the result is a strong, reliable weld.

  • Wear gloves. Gloves lead to a steadier arc and better welds because there’s less involuntary jerking and jumping when sparks and embers land on bare skin. Many professional production welders wear two kinds of gloves while welding. Right-handed pros wear a traditional, thick, insulated, cow-hide welding gauntlet on their left hand so they can comfortably hold, position and move hot metal. On their right hand they wear a TIG welding glove or conventional leather work glove. TIG and leather work gloves are more supple and make it easier to manipulate the trigger and handle of a MIG welder and the electrode holder/handle of an arc welder.
  • Keep arc welding rods dry. The flux coating on welding rods is hygroscopic and greedily absorbs moisture from the air. Rods with flux flaking off due to moisture absorption weld miserably. Some welders store welding rods in an old refrigerator with an incandescent light bulb always on inside to provide enough heat to keep welding rods dry. There are special plastic containers with rubber seals, available at farm supply stores, designed to protect 5-lb. to 10-lb. supplies of welding rods from humidity.
  • MIG welding wire is also vulnerable to moisture issues. Unless a MIG welder is kept in a heated shop, its spool of welding wire is susceptible to corrosion due to weather-related condensation or high humidity. Abrasion from even minimal corrosion can increase wear to the liner of the welding cable and eventually lead to increased friction and erratic wire speed at the handle and tip. Severe corrosion can make a near-new spool of MIG welding wire unusable.
  • MIG welders MUST have a good ground. Fasten the ground clamp to an area of absolutely, totally bare metal as close as possible to where you’ll be welding. Anything less than the best possible ground results in difficulty in striking and maintaining an arc, an inconsistent arc and poor quality welds.
  • Arc welders like good grounds, too. Yes, one of the selling points of arc welders is they will weld through paint or corrosion. But they’ll weld better if grounded to bare metal, and if there’s no paint or corrosion in the area.
  • MIG welding is best indoors. If you’re welding outdoors and can see the leaves on trees moving, that breeze is enough to disrupt the gas shielding that makes MIG welds so pretty. If you have to weld with a MIG outdoors, set up a windbreak using plywood or cardboard. Simply blocking the breeze with your hand or body is a waste of time because at a critical moment a stray breeze will slip around your barrier, disrupt the shielding gas and create a humongous void, gap or bubble in the most visible part of the weld. Been there, done that, won’t do it again.
  • Kinked, coiled MIG cables weld poorly. The friction inside a looped, twisted MIG wire-feed cable can restrict wire feed and contribute to an erratic arc. Compare the welds from a looped, twisted wire-feed cable to a cable that’s laid out in a straight line or gentle arc, and the straighter cable produces better beads.
  • Better lighting makes better welds. The light from a welding arc is not enough to see everything that needs to be seen. Not only is it easier to see and strike an arc with supplemental lighting, it’s easier to weld straight and maintain a good bead if the entire area to be welded is brightly lit. Try welding “in the dark,” then weld with a bright light on the area. From that point on, good lighting will always be part of your preparations to make the best welds possible.

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