Getting started on home welding or modifying your home welding set up will lead to many questions about safety, cost, and the best machines and products. There are many factors to consider and even more opinions about which ones are worth following.
Whether purchasing a welder to use at home for the first time or upgrading to a new machine, welders need to know how they can safely operate it and what they'll need to have on hand to weld. The following guide will outline some of the essential guidelines for welding at home in order to avoid tripping a breaker, damaging a home/shop, or stopping mid-project in order to run to the store for an unexpected tool.
Electrical Set Up for Welding at Home
Before purchasing a welder and especially before running it the first time, it's critical to first learn whether a garage or shop can handle the electrical current a welder requires. Presuming the lights will be on while working, make sure the breaker isn't overloaded. Lower voltage welders are designed to work in a home outlet, while the higher voltage models need higher capacity plugs such as the kind used for electric driers.
Many welders recommend starting home projects with a Millermatic 141 MIG welder since it doesn't require more than 120V and runs fine on most home electrical outlets. However, always consult the welder's manual and an experienced welder or electrician before starting. There are so many different exceptions to take into account that no one online article can take all of them into account. (While TIG welders are popular among skilled welders, home welders, especially those just starting out, tend avoid TIG welders because they require more time to learn. Therefore this article resource will focus on the basic use of MIG and stick welders at home, though there are exceptions.)
A welder such as a Millermatic 141 MIG welder is typically able to handle most household projects, but some welders prefer to use a 220V welder at home so that they can weld thicker steel on heavy-duty projects and achieve sufficient heat to create a strong weld. Less power means less heat, and welding thicker metal requires a lot of heat.
For a 220V welder, an electrician will have to install a plug that can handle the extra amperages it requires.
In the case of welders who can't modify their home set ups or want a little more portability, there are generators and welder/generator combinations that may cause some extra noise but will put out 3000, 4300, or even 4500 watts of power. Welders renting a home may find that this is the best solution if they can't plug their welders into wall outlets.
The Gas Set Up for Home Welding
After selecting a welder, gas may or may not be required for shielding the weld pool. Stick welders create a weld with a flux-coated electrode that protects the weld pool instead of a shielding gas. The flux-coated electrode makes stick welding a cheap and simple process, but it's quite messy and requires more skill than MIG welding. However, for the occasional home welder, stick welding offers an affordable way to make simple repairs around the house.
MIG welding is an easier process to learn, and it offers two options for its filler wire. There are flux cored filler wires and solid filler wires that are used to make welds during the MIG process. The flux cored MIG wires don't require shielding gas. Much like stick welding electrodes, they provide welding filler material and use the flux to create a protective barrier around the weld as it cools. This saves on both the cost of shielding gas and the need to store it in the garage, but the slag created by the protective flux needs to be chipped away and therefore does not create as clean a weld.
Many home welders pick up a MIG welder because it's simple to learn and offers a versatile and neat weld. MIG welding with solid core wire requires a shielding gas in order to protect the weld that is typically a mixture of argon and CO2 or sometimes simply argon depending on the material being welded. Without slag to chip away, MIG welding with solid wire and a shielding gas is a very neat process that is particularly useful for automotive repair.
It may be tempting to buy a smaller 20-cf fuel cylinder, but consider the potential cost savings of a large bottle. An 80 or 125-cf tank will save on refill costs and saves a trip to the store. Smaller canisters are useful to have on hand if the shielding gas runs out on the weekend, but buying more fuel at once will save both time and money.
When storing gas in your home workshop or garage, make sure the gas canisters are upright and secure so that they cannot fall over. Make sure gas and fuel containers are stored a safe distance away from all welding work and sparks.
Gas can also present problems with some home insurance and rental policies. Before making a purchase, learn about the restrictions at your property and take extra care with your gas storage by having them inspected and serviced properly. Some home insurance policies have limits and exclusions that get invoked if a home contains pressure vessels, including pressurized gas tanks.
Essential Home Welding Products
Besides a welder, electrode, and shielding gas, welders will need to consider a metal cutting product, which may be anything from a chop saw to an acetylene torch setup or plasma cutter. Acetylene is quite flammable and should only be used by those who are aware of the safety issues it presents. A chop saw with a strong base and solid rear hinge pin will serve most welders very well for many of their cutting needs.
An angle grinder is also essential for prepping metals prior to welding--something that is critically important for creating a clean, strong, safe weld for MIG welding. Some welders suggest ultra thin cutting discs for grinders in order to minimize the amount of material wasted during the grinding process. Flap discs in an angle grinder are useful for smoothing out metal prior to painting.
While some welders can be purchased with a cart included, welders have been known to pursue any number of creative solutions from adapting a tool cart to building their own. Whether purchased or built, a welding cart is particularly useful in both safely storing a welder and allowing welders to work in the safest and most convenient location.
Work clamps will keep the welding materials in place and ensure that the weld is straight and neat. Welders have hit points in their projects where they could not proceed without additional clamps. Clamps are small items that can make a huge difference in successfully completing a weld.
An auto-darkening welding helmet, gloves, leather shoes, and protective clothing are critically important safety gear that every welder needs. These are all explained in detail in Baker's guide: Basic Welding Equipment and Gear.
Safety for Home Welding Projects
Safety is the most important aspect of welding at home since a tiny spark can burn down a garage or shop. Remove flammable materials such as rugs out of the vicinity of the welder as well as any other fuels or gases that aren’t in use.
For the greatest possible safety in your welding space, create a welding "shield" with hooks in the ceiling, hanging specially designed flame-resistant blankets. This will protect the garage from sparks and also prevent spatter from ruining items stored in the garage or shop. For welders who want to work with the garage door open but fear exposing passersby with UV rays, there are clear screens that can be put up across the garage opening that allow in light but block the rays.
Keep at least two fire extinguishers on hand, not tucked away in a corner. If possible, only do metal working in one space and wood working in another. The accumulated saw dust in cracks and gaps in the walls only need one spark to begin smoldering.
Welders with mixed use spaces use air blowers to clean their work spaces and frequently check for any smoke or smoldering after completing their projects, but any cardboard boxes, scraps of wood or sawdust can catch fire, so check back an hour or two after finishing a project.
In the case of attached garages, take into consideration the ventilation needs, especially for the winter. Usually an open window with a box fan will be enough to ventilate a welding area, but check with a welding professional before starting a project.
Typical welding safety includes being sure a welder is appropriately grounded and that the work area is free from clutter such as unnecessary hoses and power cords. In addition, check the hoses routinely for leaks and kinks. The best welding set up is one that minimizes distractions and hazards that can get in the way while working on a project.