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Guide to metalworking and cutting tools
Welding, soldering and cutting metal are fast becoming popular DIY activities. After all, with the right tools and know-how, you can fix your car, electronics and jewelry or even make a mailbox. Learn the basics here, such as what MIG stands for, and then determine which supplies, machines and safety apparel are best for you.
You can use an old-fashioned hacksaw to cut metal, but why bother when you have the right tools to do a quicker, neater job? Your welding tools and torches will help you get the job done right.
- Gas cutting: A gas welding and cutting kit allows you to do a broad range of activities. Gas cutting, also called oxy fuel cutting, is used to cut thick steel.
- Plasma cutting: This technique involves blowing high speed gas out of a nozzle along with an electrical arc to create hot plasma for cutting metal. Plasma cutting is used for thinner materials and for more intricate jobs on stainless steel, aluminum and copper.
Welding and soldering are often used interchangeably. But the two processes differ a bit when it comes to the melting process. Welding melts the base material. Soldering melts the metal that's to be bonded to the base material. The base material is never melted when soldering. Soldering also requires lower heat temperature for the process. Plus, there's no need for layers of protective gear. Look for an iron between 20 and 50 watts because that will determine how fast it heats up and cools down. Higher-wattage irons maintain a stable temperature longer.
- Soldering welding iron: Also called a soldering pencil, you'll want to consider a few things before purchasing. Look for an iron with replaceable tips. You'll find corded and cordless irons. When considering corded, look for a three-prong power plug because it will ground you better and prevent static discharges onto sensitive electronic components you may be working on.
- Soldering tips: Always have a few extra tips with varying heads specific to your iron. Keep them handy for replacing worn-out tips.
- Soldering stations/kits: A soldering station includes an integrated stand to keep your work space from getting burned by the iron. An all-in-one kit gets you started to work on projects from assembling model cars to fixing electrical components and circuit boards.
- MIG welding machines: MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, also referred to as GWAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding) is the most common welding process because it's used to handle most fast repairs. Choose a MIG welding machine based on how many amps you'll need for the material you're welding. Also consider your power supply so you get a compatible machine to eliminate blowing your circuit breaker.
- Other popular welding procedures: Along with MIG, you'll find machines, kits and accessories for SMAW (Shielded Arc Welding), FCAW (Flux Cored Arc Welding) and GTAW/TIG (Gas Tungsten Arc Gas Welding) to fully outfit your DIY repair shop.
- Wires: A good rule of thumb is to use the same type of wire you're working on. Weld steel with steel wire, weld stainless with stainless wire and weld aluminum with aluminum wire. Thinner metals need thinner wire and thicker metals need thicker wire.
- Accessories: Consider rounding out your welding kit with a grinder for beveling or cleaning up edges, welding pliers to control the small stuff like nozzle and tips and a welding cart to keep it all organized and safe.
- Helmets: Don't skimp on helmets. The light from a MIG welder is seriously bright and can damage eyes without protection. The best eye protection is an auto darkening helmet that makes the face shield go dark as soon as a spark is detected. Auto darkening reduced the amount of times you have to flip open your lens or helmet. Choose from fixed or variable shades that darken according to the brightness of the arc. Consider the weight of the overall helmet, the viewing size lens you prefer and the number of sensors on the helmet (the more the better).
- Jackets, shirts, pants and aprons: The right clothing is essential to eliminate burns and scarring of skin. Welding aprons protect jackets, shirts and pants underneath from non-welding activities such as metal cutting and grinding. Always look for flame-resistant treated welding clothing.
- Gloves: Thick leather and insulated gloves with long cuffs protect your hands and arms from sparks and hot material.