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How to TIG Weld Aluminum

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

Kevin Caron: I'm beginning to make a new wine goblet out of aluminum. I finally finished the first one and then looked at and said, "Ooh. My wife wants one, too." So, I'm starting a new one.

Here's the first one. It's actually one big piece of aluminum hollowed out inside. It's got a nice little lip on the edge of it. I turned it all on the lathe, cleaned out the inside with the mill a little bit until Chuck came over to the studio and showed me a better way to do it.

I'm going to make another one. But instead of making it out of one big, massive billet of aluminum where I'd have to grind away all the excess and waste it, I decided to make it out of different pieces. So I now have my base and my stem, and this is the goblet itself.

Now I'm going to clean this up, because I use a cutting oil while I'm cutting. I'll use a little alcohol just to get the oil off of it. Next I'll use a stainless brush or an aluminum brush - no steel - and scrub that down real good. Clean, clean, clean. Aluminum loves to be clean.

The reason why you can't use a steel brush is because you'll end up contaminating the aluminum. It will leave little particles of steel on there, and then when you try to weld, you'll get a contaminated weld. You'll get pops, porosity; it just turns into a mess.

It's easier to do it this way. Use nothing but aluminum; the stainless and the aluminum get along OK. I don't know why, but that's what we're doing.

I've got this piece of metal all cleaned up. Now, I haven't really done much in the way of shaping the metal; just something very rough.

Now I can go ahead and put it together, then when I put it in the metal lathe I can leave it in the lathe and do all my metal shaping all at once. That way everything comes out straight and true and neat and pretty.

Let me finish this last little bit and then I'll show you how to weld aluminum. It's a different sound. It's not like welding steel at all.

You have to make sure you have an AC machine with the TIG welder. Or you need a spool gun for your MIG welder, either one.

When you look at the bottom of the stem, you might wonder, "why did I leave that so long?" The reason is so that when I put my base onto my goblet, then I can plant this into the lathe; into the chuck, instead of getting onto my base. So I can turn my base all at the same time; hold it here, do all my work, come back at the end, cut it off.

Let me get a hammer. (hammering)

Let's set up the machine. First you've got to turn it to AC instead of DC. That's really the only change, other than getting your amperage set for what you're doing, but when it comes to the tungsten; that's something different.
With the tungsten, there are two different types: 2 percent ceriated; 2 percent thoriated. The thoriated is for steel and stainless; the ceriated is for aluminum. It makes a big difference in how it welds, how clean it is, how easy it welds. If you're going to do a lot of aluminum, go get yourself a pack of these.

I've already changed my tungsten and put the correct one in. And now I'll fire the machine up and show you what it sounds like.

Now, you've got to remember: with aluminum, because it conducts heat so well, turn your machine up a little, a lot of heat, really quick; get your puddle started, then back it off about a quarter to halfway, and then you can run your bead.

So, let's start up here. (welding)

Did you see how long that took to get hot? How long it took for the puddle to get started?

Keep your welding glasses on! (welding)

Now, I'm going to plant this part into the chuck and cut that off later when I'm done. Let's go work on the base. (welding)

OK. Pick up your safety helmet.

As you can see by the end of the torch, it's a little on the warm side. I had to change my gloves because the torch got so hot.

We're going to let that cool off; let the welder cool off a little bit. Then I'll flip it over and weld this side of the base; the side that actually shows.

What I was trying to do is fill this part in; put a nice bead in there; a nice fill-in, so when I go back to the lathe and I'm turning everything, I can turn that in just like I did with the first one, so it'll look like it's made out of one piece. It'll be nice and smooth and radius and will look like it was done by a good metal artist.

So, that's aluminum welding. You've got to remember: You need AC, aluminum rod (that's important), clean. It's got to be clean. You need the stainless brush and the alcohol. Wipe it down; no grease, no oil, no fingerprints. Change your gloves if your gloves are dirty; put clean gloves on. Keep it clean, clean, clean - that?s really important. Then you'll get a decent weld on it.

I've got to get out of these leathers. It's hot. See you next time.

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