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I suspect that I am not alone in the idea that I could bring a welder home and go right to welding. Thanks to so foresight on Lincoln electric's part and a handy "Learning to Weld" booklet they slipped into the box I am actually learning to weld!
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Learning to Weld

My MIG and I – Getting Acquainted

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted – 9-11-2010

The day I brought my Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 welder home I decided that I would learn to use it on my own. Going to a welding class would make a lot of sense but then so would asking for directions and like many men today, I’m not likely to do either. Thankfully, Lincoln included a booklet titled “Learning to Weld” so I figured I had everything I needed!

Day 1

I had some metal scrap lying around and a bunch of good metal I bought destined to become a cart for my new welder. I decided to try just jumping in and welding on the scrap first. As any reasoned person would have guessed – I was awful at welding. I gave it a good try but it was clear that there was more to this than just melting stuff together. I gave up destroying metal for the time being and opened the “Learning to Weld” booklet to see if I might be doing something wrong. After reading a few pages I was convinced that it would be easier to isolate things that I was doing right because there were very few of those. If these folks from Lincoln who wrote this booklet were right, I was way wrong.

I had started the day out using flux-cored wire without gas because that was how the machine was set up when I took it out of the box. Now I decided to change over to MIG (metal inert gas) welding to see if that helped. I bought a tank of gas, changed out the wire and switched the contact tip and nozzle on the gun over for MIG welding, following the instructions this time. If I had not followed the instructions I would have missed changing the polarity in the welder as you must when changing from flux-cored wire to gas shielded solid wire welding. (MIG) I’m not sure what would happen if I tried welding with the polarity wrong but that seems like a drastic change so I was not going to experiment to find out.

My first welds (left) were downright scary looking. This obviously was tougher than I thought. After a day of practice and reading the booklet Lincoln included things were looking better. (right) Far from correct but better.
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I decided to try welding on the scrap again, now armed with a few pointers from the booklet. I did a little better but I was becoming more and more sure that learning this skill was going to require far more practice than the remaining day was going to allow. I unplugged my shiny new Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 and took the “Learning to Weld” booklet into the house for some early morning study the next day.

Day 2

After reading more of Lincoln Electric’s “Learning to Weld” booklet I went to the shop with some new insight on things like holding the gun at about a 20-degree angle to the work piece and keeping the contact tip around 3/8” to ½” from the metal being welded. I put a few more practice beads on scrap metal and things were looking up. My beads were getting more consistent and they had way fewer craters in them. In the overall world of welding I still suck but there is beginning to be light at the end of this tunnel.

I spent much of the first half of day 2 cutting metal and tack welding some of my welding cart together. When I had several pieces in place I would go back and weld those down before moving on. I soon realized how fortunate I was that this project is small enough that I can roll it over as needed to keep the welds on top where I could get at them easily. The bad news was that even with ideal positioning I was still able to make some questionable looking beads. However, there were also some much better looking beads appearing along the way. Progress was slow but there was progress.

Lincoln's booklet told me that I should be holding the gun (left) at a slight angle and keep the contact tip 3/8" to 1/2" from the work. I was doing neither. The booklet didn't remind me that things do not instantly cool off after being welded. These are the remnants (right) of the blisters I suddenly grew when I turned over a piece to get a better look at where I just welded. You'd think those two things would have rung a bell in my head but they did not.
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Then around lunchtime I went back to the practice steel to work on the techniques described in the manual before returning to the cart project. I made a few passes that looked pretty good so I took my gloves and helmet off to get a better look. That was when I unintentionally gave myself a quick refresher course on how long things you just welded stay extremely hot. When I turned the piece of scrap over the retained heat instantly raised two burn blisters on the ring and little finger of my left hand.

After running to the kitchen to run cool water over the burns I went back to the shop, turned everything off and went to do some other work while I contemplated just how I had forgotten about that heat.

Day 3

With my hand bandaged enough to be useable in a welding glove I decided to go back at the welding cart project. I had spent a little more time going over the “Learning to Weld” book again and started the day off with a little practice welding. Once again I was making better looking welds and many of them were actually placed where I wanted them.

Video Tutor

I finished assembly of my new welding cart and spent the rest of Day 3 getting that painted so I could use it. Many of the welds are not pretty but they are strong so I counted that as a definite improvement in my welding overall. All of this practice and reading of the manual was having the desired effect though at a slower pace than I liked. I found that as I got used to holding the gun at the right angle and distance from the material, things went better.

Another breakthrough near the end of Day 3 was using the setup chart inside of the wire mechanism door on the welder. Finding my metal thickness in the chart and using the suggested settings made a profound difference in my welding. Beads were far more consistent, smoother and the big holes in them were disappearing. My task from now on is to remember all of the things the manual told me while I learned to hold the gun at the right angle and distance. Another key was to let the puddle of molten metal form more completely by simply moving the gun a little slower. The speed of movement is a big catching point for new welders according to just about anyone who teaches this skill.

Days 4 through 7

With my Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 now mounted on the new welding cart I devoted the remainder of week 1 to more practice sessions in between other work I had to do in the shop. The more I practiced what the manual told me, the better my welds were getting. For the time being I am concentrating on flat welds and butt joints.

My little foray into building the welding cart showed me that learning in steps is a much better way to perfect welding skills in a logical order. Like many things, one welding skill builds on the one before it. Much of this skill is learning to control the “puddle” in in various situations and angles. Part of controlling the puddle is controlling the gun angle, its distance from the work and the power setting used. The size and speed of the wire feed is also important but the simple chart inside the wire mechanism cover on the Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 does a very good job of getting me in the ballpark. From there I need experience and practice.

I’ll come back with Learning to Weld 2 after about a month of practice. I do not have the pressure of a schedule in which to learn welding but like most of you, do have the pressures of work that can soak up more of my daily allotment of 24 hours than I would like. Besides, I have that burned hand to heal….

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