Arc Welding Procedures, Techniques, and Welding Safety Equipment

Arc welding, also referred to as stick welding, has been performed successfully on almost all types of metals. This post addresses the procedures as they may apply to fusion welding of steel plate and provides the basic steps and procedures required to produce an acceptable arc weld. Additional instruction and information pertaining to arc welding of other metals can be obtained from training institutions and the various manufacturers of the welding equipment.

The first step in preparing to arc weld is to make certain that the necessary equipment is available and that the welding machine is properly connected and in good working order. Particular attention should be given to the ground connection, since a poor connection results in a fluctuating arc, that is difficult to control.

When using a shielded electrode, the bare end of the electrode should be clamped in its holder at a 90° angle to the jaws. (Some holders allow the electrode to be inserted at a 45° angle when needed for various welding positions.)

Before starting to weld, the following typical list of items should be checked:
  • Is the proper personal safety equipment being used, including a welding helmet, welding gloves, protective clothing, and footwear; if not, in an adequately ventilated area, appropriate breathing equipment?
  • Has the ground connection been properly made to the work piece and is it making a good connection?
  • Has the proper type and size electrode been selected for the job?
  • Is the electrode properly secured in the holder?
  • Does the polarity of the machine coincide with that of the electrode?
  • Is the machine in good working order and is it adjusted to provide the necessary current for the job?

The welding arc is established by touching the base metal plate with the electrode and immediately withdrawing it a short distance. At the instant the electrode touches the plate, a rush of current flows through the point of contact. As the electrode is withdrawn, an electric arc is formed, melting a spot on the plate and at the end of the electrode.

Correctly striking an arc takes practice. The main difficulty in confronting a beginner in striking the arc is sticking the electrode to the work. If the electrode is not withdrawn promptly upon contact with the metal, the high amperage flows through the electrode causing it to stick or freeze to the plate and practically short circuits the welding machine. A quick roll of the wrist, either right or left, usually breaks the electrode loose from the work piece. If that does not work, quickly unclamp the holder from the electrode, and turn off the machine. A small chisel and hammer frees the electrode from the metal so it can be regripped in the holder. The welding machine can then be turned back on.

There are two essentially similar methods of striking the arc. One is the touch or tapping method. When using this method, the electrode should be held in a vertical position and lowered until it is an inch or so above the point where the arc is to be struck. Then, the electrode is lightly tapped on the work piece and immediately lifted to form an arc approximately ¼-inch in length. [Figure 1]

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 1. Touch method of starting an arc

The second (and usually easier to master) is a scratch or sweeping method. To strike the arc by the scratch method, the electrode is held just above the plate at an angle of 20°–25°. The arc should be struck by sweeping the electrode with a wrist motion and lightly scratching the plate. The electrode is then lifted immediately to form an arc. [Figure 2]

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 2. Scratch/sweeping method of starting the arc

Either method takes some practice, but with time and experience, it becomes easy. The key is to raise the electrode quickly, but only about ¼-inch from the base or the arc is lost. If it is raised too slowly, the electrode sticks to the plate.

To form a uniform bead, the electrode must be moved along the plate at a constant speed in addition to the downward feed of the electrode. If the rate of advance is too slow, a wide overlapping bead forms with no fusion at the edges. If the rate is too fast, the bead is too narrow and has little or no fusion at the plate.

The proper length of the arc cannot be judged by looking at it. Instead, depend on the sound that the short arc makes. This is a sharp cracking sound, and it should be heard during the time the arc is being moved down to and along the surface of the plate.

A good weld bead on a flat plate should have the following characteristics:
  • Little or no splatter on the surface of the plate.
  • An arc crater in the bead of approximately 1⁄16-inch when the arc has been broken.
  • The bead should be built up slightly, without metal overlap at the top surface.
  • The bead should have a good penetration of approximately 1⁄16-inch into the base metal.

Figure 3 provides examples of operator’s technique and welding machine settings.

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 3. Examples of good and bad stick welds

When advancing the electrode, it should be held at an angle of about 20° to 25° in the direction of travel moving away from the finished bead. [Figure 4]

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 4. Angle of electrode

If the arc is broken during the welding of a bead and the electrode is removed quickly, a crater is formed at the point where the arc ends. This shows the depth of penetration or fusion that the weld is getting. The crater is formed by the pressure of the gases from the electrode tip forcing the weld metal toward the edges of the crater. If the electrode is removed slowly, the crater is filled.

If you need to restart an arc of an interrupted bead, start just ahead of the crater of the previous weld bead, as shown in position 1, Figure 5. Then, the electrode should be returned to the back edge of the crater (step 2). From this point, the weld may be continued by welding right through the crater and down the line of weld as originally planned (step 3).

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 5. Restarting the arc

Once a bead has been formed, every particle of slag must be removed from the area of the crater before restarting the arc. This is accomplished with a pick hammer and wire brush and prevents the slag from becoming trapped in the weld.

Multiple Pass Welding

Groove and fillet welds in heavy metals often require the deposit of a number of beads to complete a weld. It is important that the beads be deposited in a predetermined sequence to produce the soundest welds with the best proportions. The number of beads is determined by the thickness of the metal being welded.

Plates from 1⁄8-inch to ¼-inch can be welded in one pass, but they should be tacked at intervals to keep them aligned. Any weld on a plate thicker than ¼-inch should have the edges beveled and multiple passes.

The sequence of the bead deposits is determined by the kind of joint and the position of the metal. All slag must be removed from each bead before another bead is deposited.

Typical multiple-pass groove welding of butt joints is shown in Figure 6.

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 6. Multiple-pass groove welding of butt joints

Techniques of Position Welding

Each time the position of a welded joint or the type of joint is changed, it may be necessary to change any one or a combination of the following:
  • Current value
  • Electrode
  • Polarity
  • Arc length
  • Welding technique

Current values are determined by the electrode size, as well as the welding position. Electrode size is governed by the thickness of the metal and the joint preparation. The electrode type is determined by the welding position. Manufacturers specify the polarity to be used with each electrode. Arc length is controlled by a combination of the electrode size, welding position, and welding current.

Since it is impractical to cite every possible variation occasioned by different welding conditions, only the information necessary for the commonly used positions and welds is discussed here.

Flat Position Welding

There are four types of welds commonly used in flat position welding: bead, groove, fillet, and lap joint. Each type is discussed separately in the following paragraphs.

Bead Weld

The bead weld utilizes the same technique that is used when depositing a bead on a flat metal surface. [Figure 7] The only difference is that the deposited bead is at the butt joint of two steel plates, fusing them together. Square butt joints may be welded in one or multiple passes. If the thickness of the metal is such that complete fusion cannot be obtained by welding from one side, the joint must be welded from both sides. Most joints should first be tack-welded to ensure alignment and reduce warping.

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 7. Proper bead weld

Groove Weld

Groove welding may be performed on a butt joint or an outside corner joint. Groove welds are made on butt joints where the metal to be welded is ¼-inch or more in thickness. The butt joint can be prepared using either a single or double groove depending on the thickness of the plate. The number of passes required to complete a weld is determined by the thickness of the metal being welded and the size of the electrode being used.

Any groove weld made in more than one pass must have the slag, spatter, and oxide carefully removed from all previous weld deposits before welding over them. Some of the common types of groove welds performed on butt joints in the flat position are shown in Figure 8.

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 8. Groove welds on butt joints in the flat position

Fillet Weld

Fillet welds are used to make tee and lap joints. The electrode should be held at an angle of 45° to the plate surface. The electrode should be tilted at an angle of about 15° in the direction of welding. Thin plates should be welded with little or no weaving motion of the electrode and the weld is made in one pass. Fillet welding of thicker plates may require two or more passes using a semicircular weaving motion of the electrode. [Figure 9]

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 9. Tee joint fillet weld

Lap Joint Weld

The procedure for making fillet weld in a lap joint is similar to that used in the tee joint. The electrode is held at about a 30° angle to the vertical and tilted to an angle of about 15° in the direction of welding when joining plates of the same thickness. [Figure 10]

Arc Welding Procedures
Figure 10. Typical lap joint fillet weld

Vertical Position Welding

Vertical positing welding includes any weld applied to a surface inclined more than 45° from the horizontal. Welding in the vertical position is more difficult than welding in the flat position because of the force of gravity. The molten metal has the tendency to run down. To control the flow of molten metal, the voltage and current adjustments of the welding machine must be correct.

The current setting, or amperage, is less for welding in the vertical position than for welding in the flat position for similar size electrodes. Additionally, the current used for welding upward should be set slightly higher than the current used for welding downward on the same work piece. When welding up, hold the electrode 90° to the vertical, and weld moving the bead upward. Focus on welding the sides of the joint and the middle takes care of itself. In welding downward, with the hand below the arc and the electrode tilted about 15° upward, the weld should move downward.

Overhead Position Welding

Overhead position welding is one of the most difficult in welding since a very short arc must be constantly maintained to control the molten metal. The force of gravity tends to cause the molten metal to drop down or sag from the plate, so it is important that protective clothing and head gear be worn at all times when performing overhead welding.

For bead welds in an overhead position, the electrode should be held at an angle of 90° to the base metal. In some cases where it is desirable to observe the arc and the crater of the weld, the electrode may be held at an angle of 15° in the direction of welding.

When making fillet welds on overhead tee or lap joints, a short arc should be held, and there should be no weaving of the electrode. The arc motion should be controlled to secure good penetration to the root of the weld and good fusion to the plates. If the molten metal becomes too fluid and tends to sag, the electrode should be whipped away quickly from the center ahead of the weld to lengthen the arc and allow the metal to solidify. The electrode should then be returned immediately to the crater of the weld and the welding continued.

Anyone learning or engaged in arc welding should always have a good view of the weld puddle. Otherwise there is no way to ensure that the welding is in the joint and keeping the arc on the leading edge of the puddle. For the best view, the welder should keep their head off to the side and out of the fumes so they can see the puddle.

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