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Aluminum Welding Article Aluminum Welding

Using Oxy-Fuel Welding on Aircraft Aluminum Sheet from Experimenter Magazine, April 1996 See TM Technologies Aluminum Gas Welding System HISTORY We'll begin with a brief history of related welding processes, in order to present Oxyfuel welding in context. The heliarc (GTAW) was discovered in November of 1942, and by 1946, together with wire-feed (GMAW), helped pioneer the application of new exotic, materials vital to supersonic flight. However, for nearly half a century prior and half a century since, the common oxy-fuel torch has been a significant mainstay in the aluminum joining process. In the 1850s, metals of low melting points such as gold, silver, copper, and platinum, first began to be torch welded using oxy-hydrogen produced by electrolysis. Of special note is the fact that acetylene's discovery was directly associated with the search for another method of producing aluminum metal, and that both materials finally came into commercial production in the late1800s. The chief advantages of OFW over GTAW are economy, speed, penetration, workability, and small flat weld beads requiring minimal dressing. Disadvantages are flux cleanup, large HAZ, and that fewer alloys lend themselves well to the process. Torch brazing (or braze welding) will not be considered here, as it by definition does not melt the parent metal, but rather joins by surface adhesion of the melted filler metal. Also avoided will be the flea-market 3-in1 pot metal rods, and various Lumi-braze zinc-bearing materials used chiefly for repairing cheap die-cast parts. One common failure of these items occurs when aluminum sheet so joined is planished, and the subsequent cracks arch observant eyebrows. Note: areas erroneously joined in this fashion must be completely removed or the infection will be spread by attempted fixes.

Fahrenheit degrees Fuel Gas Acetylene Propane MAPP Natural Gas

Combustion Ratio Oxygen to Fuel Gas 2.5 5.0 4.0 2.0

Flame Temp Oxy-Fuel

5590 4580 5300 4600

FUELS Oxy-hydrogen more than Hydrogen 0.5 4820 oxy-acetylene, is traditionally associated with OFW in the aircraft industry, but not because of any technical advantage. Due to wartime economics, acetylene was rationed specifically for shipyard use, leaving hydrogen the only other choice. The fuel chart shown above indicates only part of the significant oxy-fuel heat difference between hydrogen and acetylene. Suffice it to say, acetylene is much hotter. The choice of hydrogen as a fuel necessitates a completely separate tank, regulator, hose, and torch, because mixing acetylene residues with hydrogen gas invites explosive disaster. Further, hydrogen is not capable of producing soot, which can be used beneficially as a temperature indicator for the annealing process on aluminum sheet. The benefits of hydrogen may be fuel production cost (if an electrolysis plant is feasible), and a slightly cleaner weld zone appearance, due to the absence of carbon in the flame. Another feature of this chart is to show general fuel consumption relative to oxygen consumption. The cost of fuels such as propane, MAPP, or natural gas might be based on this alone, but its also wise to consider that the excess oxygen in the process makes aluminum OFW more difficult -- something the flux may or may not handle too well.

Metal Filler Selection Chart Base Metals 1100 3003






4043(A) 4047

4043(A) 5183 5356 5554(D) 5556 5654(C) 5356 5183 5556

5356 5183 5554 5556 5654(C) 4043(A) 5356 5183 5556 5654(C) 5183 5356 5554(D) 5556 4043

5356 5183 5556

4043(A) 4047 5183 5654(C) 5554(D) 5556 5356


5356 4043(A)

5356 5183 5556


5183 5356 5556 4043(A) (B)

4043(A) 5183 5356 5556 4047



5183 5356

5356 5556 4043(A) (B)

5556 4043(A) (B)

1100 3003

1100 4043(A)

Note: Listed in order of increasing strength: 5356, 5183, 5556. 4047 has more Si than 4043, therefore less sensitivity to hot cracking, slightly higher weld shear strength and less ductility. (A) 4043, because of its Si content, is less susceptible to hot cracking, but has less weld ductility and may crack when planished. (B) For applications at sustained temperatures above 150 degrees F. because of intergranular corrosion. (C) Low temperature service @ 150 degrees F. and below (D) 5554 is suitable for elevated temperatures.

Aluminum Welding Part 2 Back to Part One TOOLS Virtually any torch may be considered viable, but this author tends to avoid giant ``railway" torches, and, conversely, small jewelry torches. Most are fine, some are really good and comfortable, and a few might be considered for specialty work. Hoses of choice are light The engine intakes and some fairings on the B-25 were joined by oxy-fuel welding. and flexible, enabling both out-of-position work, and long periods requiring a steady hand. Regulators, because of the low pressures required, may not be accurate at the low end, and so must be twiddled with the torch lit to establish the best flame. Do this with the torch valves open, setting the largest, best flame for the tip. A glance

This oxy-fuel welding on 3003 sheet was

back at the gauges will show the approximate right pressure. Set the flame neutral, or if the regs creep, slightly feathered (carburizing) so as to avoid an oxidizing flame completely.
simply planished on the wheel without any metal finishing.

Aluminum OFW flux must be of the highest quality, and strictly specified as a welding flux, not as a brazing or soldering flux. Brazing fluxes, while providing a very poor weld appearance, also re-alloy the weld area with zinc from the zinc chloride they contain. The presence of zinc in this manner, makes the aluminum parent metal weak and brittle. The proper aluminum OFW fluxes from the old days have mostly disappeared, but a few years ago TM Technologies had the original ALCOA formula revived, and it is now sold under the TM Technologies label. (see TM fluxes) Special safety eye wear must also be used, both to protect the welder, and to provide a clear view through the yellow-orange flare given off by the incandescing flux. In the 1920s, cobalt melter's glasses were borrowed from steel foundries and were still available until the 1980s. However, the lack of protection from impact, ultra-violet, infrared, and blue light caused severe eyestrain and eye damage. Didymium eyewear, developed for glassblowers in the 1960s, was also borrowed, until many complained of eye problems from excessive infrared, blue light, and insufficient shading. In 1989 TM Technologies patented a new green glass, designed especially for aluminum OFW. It cuts the flare and provides required protection from ultraviolet, infrared, blue light, and impact, according to ANSI Z87-1989 safety standards. As of this writing, this eyewear has no known peer, and no complaints. (see TM 2000 High Accuracy Safety Eyewear) A stainless ``tooth" brush is essential for scrubbing off the invisible oxide film, just prior to welding. Continue

Aluminum Welding Part 3 Back to Part 2

WELDING RULES Note: The following procedure is for oxy acetylene, because of the more technical nature and varied availability of hydrogen. The rules are simple. Follow them or fail!

1. Open the oxygen bottle fully to seat the upper packing, then just crack the acetylene. Set regulators to equal pressures, from 2 to 5 pounds each, with smaller tips needing lower pressures.

2. Choose a torch tip one size larger than would be used on steel, i.e. If choosing a 00 (double ought) tip for .040 steel sheet, then move up to an 0 tip for .040 aluminum sheet. 3. If oily, clean the material with solvent, lacquer thinner. or alcohol. Scrub with stainless brush on both sides just prior to welding. 4. Flux either the rod (or wire), or the part -- or, in extreme cases, both. The flux will be a white powder which will be mixed 1/3 with either 2/3 water or alcohol. 5. Safety precautions such as eye protection, adequate ventilation, and keeping one's head out of the fumes, are recommended. 6. Choose the proper filler metal for the alloy to be welded. Common weldable aircraft alloy sheetmetals are shown in Figure 2.
Hollow, flux filled rod, was made available years ago, but aside from the questionable alloy, it had the persistent bad habit of neatly dividing itself, building up the edges of the joint without joining them together. See The TM Meco Torch and other welding supplies

Oxy-acetylene- top view.

Oxy-acetylene weld, back (or root) side. Perfect penetration like this is standard with the torch. TIG/GTAW can do it, but needs a steady back-purge of argon to accomplish this. Not cheap!

Aluminum gas tungsten arc welding- top view.

Aluminum gas tungsten arc welding- back view. Continue Articles by the Tinman Back to Part 3 PROCEDURE Get the best fit-up possible to avoid large gaps, and select filler metal no thicker than the panel to be welded. Apply flux, and set flame a bit hot for tacking, then apply tacks 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart. Don't worry if distortion or stress causes some tacks to crack. (Note: a professional 1 3/4welded. No leaks on the first test. hour video is available from TM Technologies filmed through the special lens showing the OFW process clearly.) When tacks are complete, weld the panel completely from one end to the other. Distortion can be controlled somewhat by clamping, joint design, hammering, or prying as you go. Chill blocks, while very good for GTAW are actually
Aluminum racing tank completely torch

detrimental for OFW because of the additional heat required. When constructing tanks, for instance, and the 90 degree corners require welding, use the radius bend joint design, where a 45 degree radius bend on each panel allows for stiffness against distortion. CLEANUP - GETTING STUFF TO STICK Flux cleanup begins by using hot (180 degrees F) water and the stainless steel brush immediately after welding, followed by liberal rinsing with fresh water. If only the filler was fluxed, the amount of cleanup will be minimal. Tanks and similar enclosed parts may be rinsed in this fashion, or as an additional precaution, soaked in the following for 5 to 10 minutes, cold: This gas weld on 3003 050 1 gallon Technical Grade HNO3 (58-62%) @ 39.5 degrees Be added to: 1 gallon clean water, hot or cold.
is three feet long and 1/4 inch wide. All distortion, softness and weld-based irregularities on the weld have been planished out.

Note: Any flux residue in voids or pinholes can be a painter's nightmare in 6 weeks. If any particular area is suspect, play a neutral flame over it, and any yellow-orange incandescence will betray residue. As mentioned previously, an invisible oxide film appears nearly instantly on aluminum alloys. Proper scrubbing with an etching solution and waiting no longer than 20 minutes to prime, seal, or fill, will avoid such sundry unpleasantness as lifting, peeling, or blistering. A good acid etch also insures against any small traces of flux residue. In summary, the simple economics of aluminum OFW have insured its longevity. Today, some professional tank builders often don't leak-test the parts produced using the OFW process, because their experience has proven its reliability. Conversely, every tank they produce by GTAW has an A chill block was used to back up this side average leak count of 6 or 7, and of a gas tungsten arc weld. Compare this thus must be tested. Workability to the previous photo- both welds are of the HAZ can make or, made using the same amperage. literally, break the job. Planishing to remove distortion

also saves cleanup and paint prep time, as well as, increasing the strength of the weld-softened area. Follow the rules and take time to practice this century-old art, and if the parts don't turn out pretty darn nice, they can always be used to cook sand dabs! Kent White has been a restoration metalman for 25 years. Kent has worked with many fine old craftsmen, and in 1976 became a Master Technician at Harrah's Auto Collection where he worked on boats, cars, and aircraft. He started TM Technologies in 1989 to help revive the traditions, tools, and methods of restoration metalwork. Back to Articles by the Tinman