Before you set up your welder and strike an arc, you’ll need to first prepare your metal for welding. Sometimes you’ll need to make a quick cut and other times you’ll need to make a long cut through thick metal. No matter how long or thick your metal, you’ll also need to clean the joint where you plan on welding. Here are 8 ways you can prep metal for welding. Keep in mind that certain tools will be more appropriate than others depending on the situation.
A wire brush is good for removing thick layers of mill scale, slag, or any other thick impurities on a metal work piece. You’ll especially want to keep a wire brush handy for stick welding since you’ll need to brush off the flux when you’re done welding. Keep in mind that certain metals will call for specific brushes. For example: a metal such as aluminum will require a steel brush.
Sand paper is another way to remove impurities and imperfections from metal before welding. However, make sure you use the right kind of sandpaper for the metal and welding application so that you don’t leave sand paper residue or damage the metal.
Cloth and Solvent
When you’re TIG welding, any impurities or chemicals on the metal can cause weld defects. However, choosing the wrong cleaner can also cause problems. Some cleaners tend to leave an oily residue. Try using acetone or lacquer thinners in order to clean the metal without leaving a residue. Check out our acetone surface cleaning wipes from Blue Demon.
An angle grinder is one of the most versatile tools you can own in a welding shop since you can change the wheels in order to clean metal or to cut small or thin pieces of metal. Welders tend to use 4-4.5” angle grinders for metal prep work. While there are larger angle grinders available, they’re more useful for applications other than welding. A 4-4.5” angle grinder is a great choice for cutting a small piece of metal, cleaning metal, or smoothing off rough edges.
A chop saw is typically used for making cuts that an angle grinder can’t handle or at least perform neatly. Chop saws are portable and are ideal for cutting metal that is roughly 3/4” thick or less. Thicker metals will be tough to cut, resulting in uneven metal pieces and time lost for the work.
The most important rule for using a chop saw is to switch to a thin blade when cutting thicker metal. Unlike oxy-fuel cutting or plasma cutting, a chop saw will send bits of metal all over, making for a messy cutting process.
Welders are divided over the value of band saws. Some believe that a band saw in a welding shop is ideal since it makes better cuts than a chop saw. However, band saws take up a lot of space and are not portable. In addition, some welders would prefer to use oxy-fuel or a plasma cutter in order to make cleaner cuts.
If you cut a lot of thick metal in your shop, an oxy-fuel set up will be highly versatile, quick, and effective. Oxy-fuel can be handy if you already have a supply of propane or another cutting fuel on hand. Oxy-fuel will make cleaner cuts than a chop saw, but it’s kerf will be wider than a plasma cutter.
Though oxy-fuel can present safety concerns, it’s an ideal cutting set up for the infrequent metal cutter because it doesn’t involve a steep upfront investment.
For welders making frequent cuts of thick metal, a plasma cutter is the best way to cut metal prior to welding. Though plasma cutters involve a high investment up front, they save preheating time and eliminate the ongoing expense of cutting fuel. Plasma cutters make clean, fast cuts with a small kerf, making them ideal for busy welding shops that want to save on employee time and to save on material costs.
Learn More about Metal Preparation and Cutting: Overview of Plasma Cutting
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