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TIG Welding Copper to Steel

The Voice: Hey, Kevin. What are you doing?

Kevin Caron: Well, I've been making all these how-to videos on cutting, welding, working with metal and machines, and I thought, "Hey, let's do an art video for once. Let's talk about making something pretty."

This is a sound sculpture that I've been working on in the studio. It started out as a straight bell. Then I cut it at an angle, and then turned all the different angles and chamfered all the edges.

Then as I welded them back together, I started getting a little twist going.
And I thought, "That's kind of boring. After all, I've just got these straight weld lines that I'll grind smooth and end up with this real twisty little bell. That's fine, but how about something different? Let's do something weird and unusual."

In the past I've played with welding copper to steel and gotten a galvanic response out of it when it gets wet. A galvanic response means that you get a lot of corrosion. When two dissimilar metals, such as steel and copper, get wet, they corrode very quickly in the joint and you get a big mess (there's a way around that; we'll talk about that later).

So I thought about grinding away some of that weld that I put in and then laying some copper in it. Then I can get my sculpt nouveau patinas in there, because some of those only work on copper. They rust metal, but they'll color copper. That might be cool. It might mean I'll get different colors. I'll get color in the rust and all kinds of weird little happenings going on.

Then when it's all done, and it's nice and dry (that's the big secret: nice and dry; low humidity), then I?ll seal it with lacquers or with anything that can be put on to help seal it and keep moisture from getting into the joints where the two dissimilar metals meet.

Now, you've got to remember, this is for decoration only. This is not structural. The holding properties between the steel and the copper are not very good, so you've got to have a good steel-to-steel weld under them, and then you put this copper in as an inlay; a little decoration over the top.

So, put your on welding helmet and we'll weld some copper.

I'm using the Miller 200. I'm just going to run a few little beads with the big welder through there so you can see what it looks like. You ready? (welding)

This is where you learn why we use copper for our cooking utensils, because that little piece of wire started getting hot really quick. The heat travels through that copper so well.

Let me get these last little two, then we'll get the grinder and clean it up just a little bit.

Get your helmet on. (welding)

As you can see, there's a little soot there, from the weld. And you probably noticed a little bit of green flash coming off the weld. If you're just welding steel, that's a sure indication that your tip is contaminated. But when you're just welding the copper, it's just the copper itself burning off.

That's really the only difference. It welds exactly the same to steel. You use just about the same amperage and the same gas mix. Use the same torch and the same electrode. Use all the same motions and everything. It's just that you're welding two dissimilar metals together.

Or, you can even just weld copper-to-copper, whether it's welding pipes together, or you're welding sculptures together.

Let me get the grinder and I'll clean this up a bit. Hang on to your ears. (grinding)

You can see what you're getting now. There's the nice, shiny steel with the copper insert; you have copper inlay down inside there. Grind everything nice and smooth and you'll have just that little touch of copper.

Then come in with the copper patinas and get one color; come in with the steel patinas and get a different color. When you're all done with it, you can cover it with a wax that helps seal things in, and cover it with the varnishes, or with the lacquers, to help seal it all and keep the moisture out of it.

The sky's the limit anymore. You can do anything you want, guys. Go practice.

I've got to go back to work on my garden sculpture. See you later.

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