Yowzah! That’s Hot! The Basics of Welding, Part 1

In the world of custom motorcycles, fabrication is what makes bikes stand apart. As a conventional rider, not everyone will feel the need to change their bike or repair broken parts. Yet some aspects of maintenance may require minor welding. Welding is not something to mess with. If the welded part contains structural integrity, the weld has to have structural integrity. These types of welds should be performed by an experienced welder. Other types of parts such as spacers or cosmetic changes can be performed by a less experienced welder. A typical life lesson is relevant here: the only way to get better at welding is PRACTICE!

What is welding? The simplest term: welding is the fusion of metal. There are many types of welds, as well as many types of machines and techniques. Welding can even be done underwater (We DO NOT recommend this). It can be broken up into two categories: gas and arc. Gas welding is done through means of a torch using gases like acetylene and oxygen. Arc welding uses electricity and a shielding gas. Shield gas is usually a non-flammable (inert) gas that prevents oxidation. Oxidation has to be prevented so that the weld can penetrate. Penetration is a key word in conjunction with welding. Even though metal seemed to be fused from the outside, it may not have been fused all the way through. This is VERY important when welding something structurally. On buildings, some engineers use X-Ray machines to check the penetration of the weld. Differences in metals need different types of welds. Two dissimilar metals such as steel and aluminum cannot be welded to each other because of their properties. Steel and cast iron are not the same, but share similar properties and can be welded to each other. One would think a degree in metallurgy is needed to weld!

For this article’s sake, it will mostly be about arc welding or electric welding. From traditional standards, arc welding has been considered “stick welding”. The stick is an electrode. The electrode is covered in flux, which in this case is its shielding material. Imagine a wire covered in a chemical that looks like concrete. A clamp holds the electrode and electricity transmits through it.

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welding a motorcycle

Other types of arc welding are mig and tig welding. A mig welder has a spool of wire inside; this is then fed through a gun with a small tipped end. Electricity passes through the wire into the metal it is welding. Mig welders can use inert gases such as CO2 and Argon mixture as shielding gases. Others use a flux core wire, which is very similar to the “stick welder” electrode. It is a wire covered in an anti-oxidation chemical. Aluminum can be tricky to weld as the material and electricity source need to be in a close proximity. Unlike steel mig welders, the welding wire spool is not located in the base of the machine. It is located in the welding gun. Tig welding uses an inert gas as well. The welding material is held in one hand and gas and electricity pass through a non-consumable tungsten electrode, which is in the other hand. The energy is controlled by a foot switch.

Yes, this can all be very overwhelming to the average low maintenance rider. Who would have thought welding could be such a complicated process? Once the trade is learned, it really isn’t very difficult. The next welding article will go into the actual steps of welding, so stay tuned for more!

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