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In this episode of my learning to weld saga I learn that learning to use me is just as important as learning to use the equipment, which of course is important also.
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Learning to Weld

Push-me, Pull-you – The Awakening

Text and photos by Tom Hintz

Posted – 9-26-2010

Since my first week with my Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 I kept practicing my beads though the time available has been limited by the demands of two web sites. Though I have run as many beads as I could in that time (and used up another 2-lb spool of wire) my welds just were not getting better at a rate with which I could be satisfied.

A constant during that time has been my recalling the description that the accepted MIG welding direction was left-to-right or “pulling” the bead along. I stubbornly kept practicing that direction and while the beads themselves were occasionally better looking I was getting more and more frustrated at my inability to keep that bead on a seam. Nice bead or not, it doesn’t help next to the seam that was supposed to be joined. When I got frustrated my beads got worse and worse.

During those periods of frustration I would sneak in a pass going right-to-left or “pushing” the bead. Every time I pushed, the bead got better. Finally I started searching out articles on MIG welding direction and found that lots of other people considered the pushing technique to be correct for many welding tasks. I understand that pushing the bead can reduce the heat used and penetration but so far I have been able to control that with speed and voltage settings. So, for at least the time being I changed to the push technique. In the days that followed and with surprisingly little practice in the push mode my welds got way better.

These welds on the left were done using the dragging technique that obviously was not working for me. The welds on the right were made near the end of day 1 using the push technique. Aside from sloppy starts and stops, things are looking up!
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My plan is to learn to weld in the push mode, get comfortable with that and “seeing” what I am doing and then I can go back and brush up on the pull technique. I expect knowing both is best but learning the push style first should make learning to pull a bead less complicated later on.

The Eyes Have It

Another revelation came when I was trying to focus on the puddle that was now actually in my field of vision. After moving my head around trying to get a clearer view I noticed that looking downward through the bottom of the welding lens gave me a very clear view of the puddle. At first I couldn’t understand how the lens on my Hobart XVS Hood would change that much from top to bottom. Then I realized that it wasn’t the helmet at all, it was my bifocals. The 60-something eyes strike again.

Now I had another technique to practice, looking down through my bifocals. Once again my welding took a step up in quality and consistency. I knew from the start that with the equipment I was using, I would be the weak spot in this learning process. But in the blur of everything I was trying to learn, something as obvious as the glasses on my face just didn’t register. The realization that I needed to be looking through my bifocals reassured me that my Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 and Hobart XVS Hood were functioning just fine and now I was beginning to catch up to them.

Another major point was me remembering that I have bifocals (left) so raising my head to look down through those made things far more clear. I also found that keeping my head more ahead of the push welds (right) let me see the gap I was welding as well as the puddle much better.
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I also discovered that if I get my head a little out front of the weld that I can see the seam I am welding a bunch better and that makes it much easier to keep the bead centered over it. Since I added staying out in front of the weld a little more my beads are looking better and are in the right place! I also think that I have been trying too hard to make long welds in one consistent pass. I would rather have a visible start and stop point in strong, well-placed beads than one continuous weld that wanders away from the seam.

In addition to just seeing it better I found that I could cheat the puddle up on the vertical side of a 90-degree joint just a little. That just made sense since we are reducing the steel and wire to a liquid, running it just a bit up on the vertical piece results in the puddle setting more evenly and making a nicely distributed fillet.

Heat and Beat

With my newfound skills actually responding to practice I decided to give myself a little test. I butted two pieces of steel together and did a single pass butt joint weld (from one side) and let it cool. Then I took it to my (woodworking) vise and got out my 5-lb sledge and tried to beat it until it folded over to test the weld but an odd thing happened. Despite whacking it hard enough that my (woodworking) vise was jerking the 6”-long lags out of the bench framework, my weld was holding fast. I did manage to bend it a little but the weld simply was not giving up. I think we might be getting somewhere.

The Smell of Exuberance

During this period of many revelations I let my excitement over actually making beads that looked like real welds overpower my common sense and I sort of forgot a safety precaution. While making my newly improved (and much longer) practice welds I had neglected to put on my heavy shirt that protected my arms that were now hanging out of my T-shirt.

I made this one-pass butt weld (left) to test the strength of my welds. Not pretty but it apparently worked. I bashed this with my 5-lb sledge (right) and all that happened was that ai was knocking my woodworking vise out of the bench and I bent the tab backwards slightly. The weld itself is still chuckling at my sledge hammer. I might actually be learning something!
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While I was welding I could feel the little stings on my arm from the occasional errant spark and spatter. As experienced welders know, later that same day those little stings turned into actual burns that were a bit more persistent in sending pain signals to my brain. I also began noticing what felt like a sunburn even though I haven’t spent any time outdoors.

My cool-looking Hobart XVS Hood was very effective at protecting my face from the harsh light and rays of welding but my exposed arms didn’t do as well. I would survive and the pain was just bad enough to serve as punishment for not putting on the shirt, which I knew I needed. Another lesson learned.

The plan for my immediate learning to weld future is to continue practicing simple horizontal butt and 90-degree welds to get my bead more consistent. I also need to get looking downwards through my bifocals and keeping my head out in front of the welding to be more of a habit. Once I get more satisfied with that kind of welding I will think about moving on to simple vertical welds – if there is such a thing as a “simple” vertical weld. We’ll see. Stay tuned!

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