“I can’t believe the join has come apart again!” I am used to hearing this sort of frustrated cry from a friend who insists on doing his own repairwork on the metal components of his garden furniture, garden arches and plant stands. The trouble is that he is using a method of repair which will never actually hold up to either use or time. My friend has children who are energetic and find it great fun jumping on the outside furniture and swinging like monkeys from the beautiful metalwork arches which he has used in his garden. I certainly cannot change the behaviour of his children, but I can definitely keep giving recommended advice to my handyman pal in the hope that one day – perhaps – he just might decide to take note of what he is being told.
Welding will give you a stronger and more durable join
The main problem with trying to fix metalwork joints comes from not using the correct materials or repair methods. He insists that soldering a major join which has come adrift is more than adequate but refuses to understand that this method will simply not stand up to his children’s efforts to use that join to swing on in their “George of the Jungle” games. The only way to truly stabilise the join is to weld it. The welding process entails the use of temperatures which are high enough to melt the metal itself, often with an additional filler material, and therefore fuse the metal into a join which may even be stronger than the original base metal. Soldering, on the other hand, uses a much lower heat source to melt the solder used in joining the metal together. There is a vast difference in the range of temperatures and these directly impact on the strength of the final join. For instance, soldering is usually carried out at between 300 °C and 370 °C, which is fine for the home handyman who carries out minor and more delicate repairs. Then there is brazing, which is somewhat similar to soldering, but uses temperatures ranging around the 450 °C mark. The ultimate repair or join will be achieved at temperatures anywhere from 2500 °C to 6000 °C, which is the range at which welding is carried out.
But is welding at home is a dangerous hazard?
I think that one of the reasons why many home handymen are hesitant about using welding equipment is due to the obvious dangers associated with welding at high temperatures. Many people seem to think that welding is a highly complex task which requires specialised equipment. There is a lot of truth in this, but some welding can, however, be carried out at home, provided that the correct safety guards and measures are employed at all times. Because of the extremely high temperatures which are required for welding processes, there are obvious safety protocols which have to be followed, including the use of a clear safety glasses, an auto-darkening welding helmet or goggles to protect the eyes and face from flying sparks and debris, ear plugs, solid boots to protect the feet from flying sparks or slag, thick welding gloves and some form of heat/fire resistant coat or apron to protect the rest of the body.
You don’t have to have to buy a lot of specialised equipment
For the home handyman who only needs to weld small items occasionally, he will only need the basic equipment to do the job, apart from the necessary safety equipment. Whilst it is an initial financial outlay, it will more than provide a return on the investment.
Briefly – what are the different welding techniques?
Whilst it is not intended here to go into the various welding techniques in any detail in this article, it is worth mentioning the most common types for the sake of clarification. These are :
- MIG welding, which is one of the easiest types of welding for the amateur handyman to learn. This form of welding actually comprises two different kinds of welding, the first of which uses bare wire and the second uses flux core. Bare wire welding is used when joining thin pieces of metal together. Flux core MIG welding does not require the use of a gas supply so can easily be used outdoors. Both of these methods are a good choice for simple home jobs as they do not require expensive equipment.
- Stick (or arc) welding uses a stick electrode welding rod.
- TIG welding, which is a two-handed method. One hand feeds the rod and the other hand holds the TIG torch which creates heat and arc. This form of welding is used to weld metal such as aluminium, steel, nickel alloys, copper alloys, cobalt and titanium.
- Plasma arc welding. This is a precision technique most commonly used in aerospace applications, for instance on an engine blade or air seal.
- Electron beam and laser welding, both of which are exceptionally precise, high-energy welding techniques.
- Gas welding, which has mostly been replaced by TIG welding. Gas welding equipment includes oxygen and acetylene and is very portable. A perfect choice for the car enthusiast who may need to weld car exhausts back together!
- Welding is a skill which will always be worth its weight (in metal) …
When the day comes that my handyman friend realises the value of a durable and strong welded join over a ‘quick-fix’ which cannot withstand the stresses placed on it on an almost daily basis, I will be the first to congratulate him. I have no doubt that his children will also appreciate being able to swing on the arches without them giving way under the strain (although I still feel that a jungle gym would be a better alternative), but that’s a story for another day. The good news, of course, is that even jungle gyms can be welded when joins give way, so it’s very much a win/win situation whichever way you look at it. He just needs the courage to adapt to a new way of thinking and welding is a skill which will never go out of fashion.