Welding Fact or Fiction: Alternative Fuels Can’t Be Used for Welding and Cutting Steel
Alternative fuels, including propylene, propane, and natural gas, have earned a reputation for having a wide application. They have found their way into countless applications in manufacturing and metalworking, utilities, and general consumption. There has been one niche that hasn’t quite been penetrated by alternative fuels as much as it could be: welding and cutting steel. While the use of alternative fuels has been gaining traction with steel welders and cutters, it hasn’t reached its full potential yet due to one main misconception.
The dominant fuel of choice on the part of steel welders has been acetylene. It’s preferred because of the heat it generates, which is necessary for quality welds and cuts. Very generally speaking, alternative fuels are not thought to be capable of generating the kind of heat that steel welders require and are accustomed to. This is a misconception, though, because while the nature of the heating properties of alternative fuels is different from that of acetylene, there are alternative fuels that can be as capable of welding and cutting steel as acetylene when used with the proper equipment.
Properties of Acetylene vs. Alternative Fuels
Acetylene has a higher burn velocity and releases most of its heat in the primary flame, concentrating its heat output and making it ideal for working with steel. Alternative fuels release heat in their secondary flame, which creates a more pervasive heat that spreads evenly through the base metals. Welders making the switch from acetylene to propane, propylene, or another alternative fuel will need to adapt their technique to work with the new fuels.
Why This Matters
There’s a shortage of acetylene right now, due to a recent explosion in the plant that creates the majority of the nation’s calcium carbide supply – the key element in acetylene production. Welders who commonly use acetylene face the decision either to pay much higher prices and possible rationing of acetylene or to look into alternatives.
Some Changes Required to Switch
To make the switch from acetylene to an alternative fuel, welders will need to make a few equipment changes. A new tank is the first requirement, as well as an appropriate regulator and a T hose (R and RM hoses will deteriorate over time, and may lead to an explosion). New heating and cutting tips may also be required, though for certain applications with some alternative fuels, just a thorough cleaning of the acetylene tip might suffice. And if the torch is the universal (or “spiral”) gas mixer type, it may work with alternative fuels without sacrificing efficiency or efficacy. To learn more about the specifics of switching from acetylene to an alternative fuel, read this article at BakersGas.com, How to Convert from Acetylene to an Alternative Fuel. And if you’ve decided to make the switch, don’t forget to check out all the top-quality products available at Baker’s Gas & Welding Supplies.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, via US DoD
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