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Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

Welding is Math
Many may believe welding to be a simple grunt labor job. Granted the job may at times
be dirty but it is anything but simple. The men (and woman) who have chosen this career of
melting metals together often finish the day looking pretty rough but please do not let
appearances fool you into believing this is an intellectually lackluster profession. Welding
requires many mathematical competencies such as a fluid comprehension of measurement, an
understanding and ability to apply real world geometry, and the interpretation of symbols used in
blueprint reading, with out which very little good welding could ever be accomplished.
Additionally, when actually welding, a cognisant adherence of electrode angle to work material
is imperative in successfully achieving a desired weld profile. Welders may make what they are
doing look simple, but in actuality they are balancing so many mathematical considerations
within each movement that can adversely or advantageously effect the end result of their product.
Consequently, one wrong movement or one poor calculation can cause a serious defect in the
integrity of their weld. These welds can hold thousands of pound of pressure at bay and need to
be perfect. It is therefore very important indeed that welders know their math!
While the purpose of this paper is to inform on the complexities of welding and its
relation to mathematics it is also worth noting that the best welders also must posses a vast
amount of stamina, focus and fine precision. Welding in my humble opinion, as a multi-trade
professional, is one of the most difficult trades to master. It is also unfortunately one of the most
dangerous and unhealthy.

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

Before we even strike an arc.


A welders job begins well before he/she makes sparks fly. Most welders are responsible
for the layout, preparation and fitting of whatever they are going to assemble, all steps that
require mathematical understanding. Mr. Rempel, the Medicine Hat High School welding teacher
was kind enough to sit down and discuss with me the various layout tools students must become
familiar with before they can begin to work on welding projects.
The first, and likely most obvious, is the tape measure. What is worth mentioning about
the tape measure is a welders need to understand both its use in measuring in metric, which we
learn in Canada, and imperial, which is primarily used in the United States. He informed me that
many companies here in Medicine Hat send their products to both countries and that the
blueprints they receive to build said products may come in either form of measurement.
Interestingly, he finds that students generally have an easier time understanding the base 10
metric system tape measures and still often struggle with the fractions involved in reading
imperial tape measures.
There are a variety of tools that welders use to draw straight lines on their materials. A Tsquare is used to draw horizontal lines. When used in conjunction with set square one is able to
produce a variety of angles (as depicted below). These set squares generally come in a 30-6090 right triangle variety (called a 30-60) and the 45-45-90 right triangle variety (45).

Image Source: 1 http://www.daube.ch/

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

A chalk line is often used to draw straight lines over longer distances. Two measurements
are taken and marked and then the chalk line is held over both marks and pulled taught. The line
is then snapped and leaves a chalk line from one mark to the other. Often to ensure the chalk line
is accurate on a rectangular or square piece of material welders will square the line. To do this
they will measure 3 feet up the perpendicular outside edge of the material and 4 feet down the
line they just marked. They then take a tape measure and check the distance between both marks.
If they are at exactly 5 feet, they know the line is truly square (90) to the materials outside edge.
This 3-4-5 check is a great application of the Pythagorean theorem, a+b=c!
Lastly Mr. Rempel and I discussed the power and utility the compass give welders.
Compasses are very commonly used when working with pipe or tanks in the oilfield in Alberta.
In a simple use compasses are used to draw the outline of holes needed to bisect and attach cross
members to elaborate piping systems. In more complicated situations compasses are used to do
tasks such as dividing circles into six equal parts by using the radius of the circle in a sequence
around the circumference. This job is commonly used to create flange holes which are used to
connect pipe or tanks together under pressure.

Image Source: 2 https://www.ehlynn.com/


Image Source: 3 http://amsi.org.au/

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

Often welders are not given a specific blueprint to follow for someones design idea. In
this case they must build to accommodate the need that is given. One such common task is
building storage tanks, commonly found on farms and acreages. To begin a welder must ask for
the desired capacity of the storage container and convert that volume into the surface area of
pieces needed to build the desired, usually steel, cylindrical tank. He does this by working
backwards through the equation of rh=v wherein with the desired volume and a chosen tank
length(height) the welder may discern the appropriate radius of the end cap of the cylinder. He
may then use that radius to deduce what length of steel is needed to make the body by using the
formula c=2r where c=circumference of the circle.
Much of the same math on a larger scale is used

in

commercial environments. Though in contrast when a


commercial welder is asked to create something he is
generally given a symbolic representation of the object

Image Source: 4
http://www.handymath.com/

he is being asked to create. This representation generally comes in the form of an engineered
blueprint or a piping and instrumentation diagram/drawing (P&ID). Both use scale and symbols
to represent the construction instructions and welding methods a welder should be able to
interoperate to create the desired product. A blueprint is an accurate scaled down model of the
actual product shown, usually in multiple perspectives. Beside each joint on the drawing there
will be a weld symbol (examples pictured here) that with ought proper understanding may look
like hieroglyphics to a layman. Just like hieroglyphics or even algebraic symbols these pictures
need interpretation but with the necessary knowledge they give the welder important instructions
such as what process to use, what preparation needs doing, what penetration is necessary and
what weld profile to create. P&IDs (pictured here) are even more complicated as at first glance

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

they give no real world representation of what is to be created. Using a combination of symbols
and geometric lines welders are instructed to create complex piping systems. These pictures
indicate information like flow
direction, process pipe sizes,
valves and attached
instrumentation all of which is
crucial to what and how a welder
will create his piping spools

Image Source: 6 http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/

(pieces of a piping system).


As we can already see, before a
welder begins any actual labour he/she
must be properly educated with many
mathematical principles. Measurement,
involving addition and subtraction of

Image Source: 5 http://www.weldingtipsandtricks.com/

fractions, is likely important in layout and the use of its marking tools, geometry clearly comes
into play during project designing and symbolic interpretation seems important when
understanding engineered blueprint reading.
Fit-up
Before a welder can begin to weld on a given project he/she must first assemble the
pieces together by tacking them in place. Tacking is done by placing a small spot weld
between the two pieces to be joined. There are many mathematical considerations when fitting
up pieces together. A primary concern generally is the square and levelness of a projects

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

components. An object is squared to its neighbour piece by ensuring that the primary object is
relationally 90 or parallel. This is done often by using a combination of levels and squares.
Secondly a welder must be aware of shrinkage. When welding the arc produces a
temperature of about 6500F at the tip. This amount of heat causes steel to expand in all
directions but only in the areas that are heated. If all areas are not allowed to cool uniformly or if
materials are held in place by something like a vice the welded product is likely to distort. When
working on a large product or an object with multiple joints welders will often skip areas and
work in a pattern that allows for cool down time to avoid shrinkage and distortion. I mention this
during the fit-up section because it is also common for welders to allow room in their fit-up for
shrinkage (pull) when they know they must continue to weld in a specific area for a length of
time. Additionally, welders may at times intentionally weld longer in a particular area to achieve
the shrinkage they desire to fall within engineered or designated parameters. This allows them to
stay within their desired tolerances (upper range specification and lower specification limit) and
stay as straight and square as they are able.
Safety
As I mentioned before welding is dangerous. Welding poses both immediate and long
term safety concerns. Perhaps with fore-knowledge of the math associated with these threats we
could prevent most negative effects and injuries.

If youve spent any time around

someone welding the first thing your going to notice is the light. Welding is VERY bright. This
bright light is called an arc during the welding process. That arc unfortunately gives off radiation.
Ultraviolet light is emitted from in the 200-400 nanometers (nm) wavelength, visible limit emits
at 400 to 700 nm and infrared radiation from 700-1,400 nm. Short term exposure can cause the
eyes to develop what is known as Arc Eye. Symptoms include a gritty painful film on your

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

eyes that you will feel hours after the initial exposure but, while certainly uncomfortable, will
heal over the course of the next few days with no lasting effects. However long term exposure or
repeated exposure can lead to cataracts.
Welders avoid this exposure by using welding
masks and eye protection. The masks are built to suit
the appropriate welding process being done by having
adjustable or removable/replaceable lenses. The lenses

Image Source: 7
https://www.ccohs.ca/

are given a shade number from 1-14 and are


recommended based on the brightness of the different
processes. It should also be noted that the radiation
given off by welding can also, over repetitive
exposure, have negative effects to your skin, initially

Image Source: 8 https://www.ccohs.ca/

manifesting in a sun burn but may progress, in serious cases, to skin cancer. To mitigate this
exposure, welders are encouraged to wear leather boots, coveralls and jackets.
Leather gear actually serves another easily recognizable safety concern; Heat. Welding is
hot. A form of welding called MIG (metal inert gas) welding has been gauged at about 60008000C whereas plasma welding can reach temperatures up to 24,000C. Fortunately, leather is
heat and fire resistant and while welders get hot and sweat a lot, unexposed skin is rarely burnt.
Lastly when concerning safety, we should address weight. Most metal is inherently
heavy. A 1-inch-thick steel plate weighs over 40lbs per square foot. When working with steel it
is absolutely imperative you lift correctly and with the correct amount of assistance, be that a coworker or overhead crane. During my welding career I spent several year building oilfield high
pressure containers called vessels. These vessels were often constructed of steel thicker than 2

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

inches and weighing on average over 5000lbs. Some packages we built weighed well over
20,000lbs! Consequently, a lot
of time was spent designing
plans on how to move these
heavy units (example picture
above of a large vessel being
moved). These plans included
equipment such as high tensile
slings, chains, over head
cranes, boom trucks and
forklifts. Each one of these
lifting instruments had been
stressed tested and had
capacity limits that had to be

Image Source: 9 http://www.josephoat.com/products/pressurevessels-and-tanks/

considered but added together they were able to lift and move packages that singularly would not
have been possible. Lastly before every lift even began the designated danger area was evacuated
and only necessary personnel who had been involved in the pre-safety planning were allowed in
the immediate area.
Without the mathematical understanding of the dangers of welding people would get hurt.
We know how much material we need between welders and their arc to keep them relatively safe
because of math. We know what capacity our lifting equipment must hold because of math. We
know how far away from a lift area we need to be by calculating the maximum pendulum swing

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

of the crane cables. In the world of welding, and if properly adhered to, math quite literally saves
lives.
How does it work?
To understand welding we need a basic understanding of electricity. Electricity is
produced by the movement of electrons from one atom to another. This flow creates what we call
current. Current is measured in amperes (amps) and it takes the movement of approximately
6,300,000,000,000,000,000 (6.3 quintillion) electrons to create 1 amp. Voltage is the force
needed to move electrons around a circuit; the path current completes. The more voltage applied
to atoms the more electrons are forced around the circuit. Resistance, often created by resistors,
is the unwillingness of atoms to give up their electrons and is measured in Ohms. Voltage,
current(amps) and resistance are proportional in a circuit and can be mathematically expressed as
voltage = current x resistance. This theory explaining electrical resistance is very important in
understanding the arc welding process as it is the resistance created in the space between the
electrode (the filler metal) and the work material that eventually creates the arc (weld point) in
the circuit. As voltage forces electrons toward their only possible path it creates a massive
amount of heat energy at the point of resistance. This energy begins the welding process and
bring metal to a molten state.

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

I discussed with Mr. Rempel what important mathematical considerations welders need to
keep in mind when actually doing a weld and he gave
me several crucial elements. I should explain that we
focused on the most common form of welding, stick
welding (pictured here), whereby the welder is
manually applying a single electrode (filler metal)
slowly to the work piece. He did however state that a

Image Source: 10
http://www.lincolnelectric.com/

lot of these theories apply to most welding processes.


The first concept we discussed was angle. Without the proper inclination of electrode to
work piece, 15-30 backhand (whereby the end of the
electrode faces the direction you came from), you run the
risk of losing your protective shielding envelope and
impurities may enter your weld causing failure. Additionally,
in most situations your work angle, the angle in which you
bisect the joint (examples pictured here) you are filling
should be approximately half of the overall angle.

Image Source:
11http://encyclopedia2.
thefreedictionary.com/

Secondly we discussed speed. The speed at which welders move their electrode along the
workpiece has a great effect on their weld profile; the look and characteristics of a weld. The
slower a welder travels the wider the weld profile (bead width) and the greater the build up. This
can be mitigated by what amperage the welder sets his/her machine at. Increasing the amperage
creates more heat and therefore increases deposit speeds, penetration (depth of weld) and further
increases the width of the weld. Decreasing the amperage would do the opposite and can be
important to remember when working with thinner materials.

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

We then briefly discussed the importance of arc length. This is the distance between the
end of the electrode and the work material where the build up of electrons creates heat and
subsequently arcs from one to the other. A welder needs to maintain an equal distance between
the two surfaces for the duration of a weld to ensure his/her weld profile stays consistent. This
length should be approximately equal to the diameter of the end of the electrode being used.
I will conclude by sharing a mathematical welding trick that all new aspiring welders
should find helpful. When first beginning welding one of the most daunting tasks is
remembering what amperage to set your welding machine at for each electrode size. The easiest
way to remember a good starting position is to convert your electrodes fractional size into a
decimal and then remove the decimal point. For example, take a 1/8 electrode (the most common
size) and convert it to .125. A great starting point for a 1/8 electrode is 125 amps! Likely a good
welder will quickly become more comfortable with his welding machine and may find he/she
needs to fine tune his/her settings to produce the perfect weld but having a starting point is
always helpful!
Conclusion
There is virtually no part of welding that does not involve math. With out math welders
would have no blueprints from which to work from. With out math welders could not properly
measure nor fit up anything to be welded. With out math welders would be in great peril of their
safety, and finally and most importantly with out math welders would not be able to even turn on
their mathematically and electronically driven welding machines. Fortunately for us we live in a
world where, whether we recognize it or not, math and the things it has given us are everywhere.

Josh Wells

Welding is Math

March 24, 2016

Sources:
Before we even strike and arc:
Interview: Henry Rempel, Welding Instructor, Medicine Hat High School, February 9, 2016
http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/p-id-piping-instrumentation-diagram-d_466.html
http://www.weldingtipsandtricks.com/welding-symbol-chart.html
Fit-up:
http://www.lincolnelectric.com/en-ca/support/welding-how-to/Pages/weld-distortion-detail.aspx
Safety:
https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/welding/eyes.html
http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2003/EstherDorzin.shtml
https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/welding/ppe.html
http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/steel-plates-weight-d_1561.html
Application:
https://www.millerwelds.com/resources/welding-resources/basic-electricity
http://www.esabna.com/euweb/awtc/lesson1_25.htm