The world welding involves a special craft. Welding is a craft that requires a unique ability to use heat to mold specific types of metal into various shapes for tons of different purposes. There are a handful of different welding types. Stick, TIG, plasma arc, electron beam, laser, gas welding, and the type we’ll focus on today, MIG welding. Well, can MIG welders weld Aluminum? MIG welding is the easier welding type, allowing beginners to learn more easily. Of the various types of metal that can be welded, aluminum comes up a fair amount.
Can MIG welders weld aluminum? Yes, although aluminum can be tricky to MIG weld, it can be done. The process will require more heat than mild steel, which is the most common metal used in MIG welding jobs. Anything thinner than 18-gauge aluminum would require a TIG welder.
Welding aluminum by using MIG techniques will be a unique experience. The situation combines the ability to teach a beginner MIG tactics because of their potential for simplicity. But it also provides an opportunity to learn how to use MIG with a metal that isn’t always going to be welded using MIG techniques. Typically TIG welding would be used for aluminum due to aluminum being a more delicate metal.
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How to weld Aluminum?
Welding aluminum is considerably more straightforward than you may imagine. Welding is the process of bonding metal together with heat applied at a temperature high enough to melt and fuse the metal. Since aluminum is thinner than stainless steel (and, therefore, more likely to burn a hole through), the process must be done carefully and slowly.
Follow these steps to weld aluminum at home:
|Polish with a brass brush or sandpaper to remove oxidation.
|Secure your aluminum
|Get heat source to 730-degrees Fahrenheit (melting point of aluminum).
|Use brazing rod to poke the aluminum gently
|Create desired shape or linkage
|Don’t touch until cooled
MIG Welding Aluminum
This can be a tedious practice, so let’s just get that out of the way first. Aluminum is going to be a thinner metal than the steel typically used in MIG. Therefore, you’re going to get some burn through. Especially when first learning how to MIG weld aluminum.
Be prepared for that, because it’s going to happen. Don’t get frustrated, just be sure to start with some work pieces that you can throw away. Having some work pieces to practice on is going to make this process way more laid-back. That’s why it’s best not to go thinner than 18-gauge aluminum.
In welding, “travel speed” is a term that is used quite often. And what this means is the speed in which you move the arc along the metal. Yes, it matters. A lot. With steel, you can move the arc slower because the metal is thicker, and therefore you won’t have as much burn through where the arc pokes through the metal.
With aluminum, its much easier for burn through, so you want to move quicker. By moving faster, it won’t give the heat a chance to burn holes in your project.
Another common term in welding is your “weld puddle,” which is the small area of metal that the arc is currently present at that melts into a liquid as it receives the heat. Once you move on from your current weld puddle, it will quickly solidify as it cools, thus creating the “weld.” With steel, the weld puddle is easily recognizable as a small, red-hot area of melted metal.
With aluminum, your puddle will be different and represent wet foil. It takes a little more of a keen eye and concentration to focus on your weld puddle when working with aluminum.
A MIG welding job requires a specific wire for either steel or aluminum. The wire used for aluminum is going to be softer because aluminum is a softer metal, to begin with. If you try and use the same tactic of feeding the wire through the hose as you would with steel welding, you may run into the problem of the softer aluminum wire getting ratted up or “bird nesting.”
It can easily get bunched up, causing some frustration. But there is a solution, a spool gun. Using a special spool gun to feed the wire straight through the gun into the arc will make things much easier. The spool doesn’t hold as much wire, but life will be easier using one to MIG weld aluminum.
Safe Welding Practices
Always be sure to also prepare your equipment properly. Welding is skill that requires a lot of safety and proper use of dangerous equipment. Always set yourself up for success by checking these items off your list before beginning:
- Check your cables: Before striking your arc (creating your heat source), make sure that any and all cables being used with your machinery is in good, working order. Any frayed cables or cuts in the lines need to be disposed of and replaced. Remember, we’re working with gas mixed with heat here, and any potential for sparks needs to be eliminated.
- Select electrode polarity: MIG welding is going to require reverse polarity to get the job done. Meaning that you will need DC electrode positive. This is easy to accomplish; your settings will be right on the side of the welding machine.
- Set gas flow: You will want to turn on your shielding gas and set the flow rate. Since we’re welding aluminum, we will need the flow rate on the higher end to provide a higher rate of heat. Typically MIG settings are at 20 to 25 cubic feet per hour. With aluminum, setting the right higher at around the 25 mark will set you up right.
- Check your tension: The drive rolls and the wire spool hub are both important to have the proper tension set. Too much or too little can lead to poor wire feeding performance. As you’re welding your project piece, the spool needs to be able to effectively feed the wire through as you move along in your project. The wire slowly gets worked down and burnt away as the machine feeds it through to the arc.
- Inspect consumables: Always clean spatter from contact tubes. It’s also important to replace contact tips and liners if need be. Also, if the wire appears rusty, replace it.
MIG welders will also have the responsibility of making sure they set themselves up for safety and effective welding. This means that they will need to figure out their wire selection, along with gas selection. They will also determine volts or amperage, how far the wire will need to stick out from the arc, whether to push or pull when doing the job. There are also different angles and positions that will need to be known so that the welding will be effective. And most of all, practice makes perfect.
It is also imperative that a welder uses the right PPE for the job for all types of welding. Just keep in mind that the following items aren’t optional when working on a welding project.
- Welding Bandana: This is going to keep any sweat from running into your eyes while welding. The work itself generates a lot of heat that can cause perspiration. You want to protect your sight, however possible.
- Safety Glasses: Speaking of sight, safety glasses are a no brainer. Protect your vision and eyes from sparks and flying debris.
- Welding Helmet: Further protect your head and face with a welding helmet. Sparks will be flying everywhere, the more protection, the better.
- Welding Jacket/Gloves/Apron: These items are going to protect the rest of your body from heat, sparks, and debris.
Always make sure not to leave any pieces of protective equipment out when getting into your next welding job.
Welding is a great trade skill to have. It can open a lot of doors in the world of making money in the trades. But also, plenty of people enjoy getting into person projects to utilize those abilities. And if you’re just starting out, MIG is the way to go. Welding aluminum will be a great challenge in those beginning stages to learn patience, confidence, new skills, and problem-solving. It provides an added element to your tool box of skills, so have at it and get out there to weld some aluminum of your own!
Aluminum MIG Welding >> Tutorial video