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Distortion Control - Prevention by fabrication techniques

Distortion caused by welding a plate at the centre of a thin plate before welding into a bridge girder
section. Courtesy John Allen

Assembly techniques

In general, the welder has little influence on the choice of welding procedure but assembly
techniques can often be crucial in minimising distortion. The principal assembly techniques are:

tack welding

back-to-back assembly


Tack welding

Tack welds are ideal for setting and maintaining the joint gap but can also be used to resist
transverse shrinkage. To be effective, thought should be given to the number of tack welds, their
length and the distance between them. With too few, there is the risk of the joint progressively
closing up as welding proceeds. In a long seam, using MMA or MIG, the joint edges may even
overlap. It should be noted that when using the submerged arc process, the joint might open up if
not adequately tacked.

The tack welding sequence is important to maintain a uniform root gap along the length of the joint.
Three alternative tack welding sequences are shown in Fig. 1:

a) tack weld straight through to the end of the joint (Fig 1a). It is necessary to clamp the plates or to
use wedges to maintain the joint gap during tacking

b) tack weld one end and then use a back stepping technique for tacking the rest of the joint (Fig 1b)

c) tack weld the centre and complete the tack welding by back stepping (Fig 1c).
Fig. 1. Alternative procedures used for tack welding to prevent transverse shrinkage

a) tack weld straight through to end of joint

b) tack weld one end, then use back-step technique for tacking the rest of the joint
c) tack weld the centre, then complete the tack welding by the back-step technique

Directional tacking is a useful technique for controlling the joint gap, for example closing a joint
gap which is (or has become) too wide.

When tack welding, it is important that tacks which are to be fused into the main weld are produced
to an approved procedure using appropriately qualified welders. The procedure may require preheat
and an approved consumable as specified for the main weld. Removal of the tacks also needs
careful control to avoid causing defects in the component surface.

Back-to-back assembly

By tack welding or clamping two identical components back-to-back, welding of both components
can be balanced around the neutral axis of the combined assembly (Fig. 2a). It is recommended that
the assembly is stress relieved before separating the components. If stress relieving is not done, it
may be necessary to insert wedges between the components (Fig. 2b) so when the wedges are
removed, the parts will move back to the correct shape or alignment.

Fig. 2. Back-to-back assembly to control distortion when welding two identical components

a) assemblies tacked together before welding

b) use of wedges for components that distort on separation after welding

Fig. 3. Longitudinal stiffeners prevent bowing in butt welded thin plate joints

Longitudinal shrinkage in butt welded seams often results in bowing, especially when fabricating
thin plate structures. Longitudinal stiffeners in the form of flats or angles, welded along each side of
the seam (Fig. 3) are effective in preventing longitudinal bowing. Stiffener location is important:
they must be placed at a sufficient distance from the joint so they do not interfere with welding,
unless located on the reverse side of a joint welded from one side.

Welding procedure

A suitable welding procedure is usually determined by productivity and quality requirements rather
than the need to control distortion. Nevertheless, the welding process, technique and sequence do
influence the distortion level.

Welding process

General rules for selecting a welding process to prevent angular distortion are:

deposit the weld metal as quickly as possible

use the least number of runs to fill the joint

Unfortunately, selecting a suitable welding process based on these rules may increase longitudinal
shrinkage resulting in bowing and buckling.

In manual welding, MIG, a high deposition rate process, is preferred to MMA. Weld metal should
be deposited using the largest diameter electrode (MMA), or the highest current level (MIG),
without causing lack-of-fusion imperfections. As heating is much slower and more diffuse, gas
welding normally produces more angular distortion than the arc processes.

Mechanised techniques combining high deposition rates and high welding speeds have the greatest
potential for preventing distortion. As the distortion is more consistent, simple techniques such as
presetting are more effective in controlling angular distortion.

Welding technique

General rules for preventing distortion are:

keep the weld (fillet) to the minimum specified size

use balanced welding about the neutral axis

keep the time between runs to a minimum

Fig. 4. Angular distortion of the joint as determined by the number of runs in the fillet weld

In the absence of restraint, angular distortion in both fillet and butt joints will be a function of the
joint geometry, weld size and the number of runs for a given cross section. Angular distortion
(measured in degrees) as a function of the number of runs for a 10mm leg length fillet weld is
shown in Fig. 4.

If possible, balanced welding around the neutral axis should be done, for example on double sided
fillet joints, by two people welding simultaneously. In butt joints, the run order may be crucial in
that balanced welding can be used to correct angular distortion as it develops.

Fig. 5. Use of welding direction to control distortion

a) Back-step welding
b) Skip welding

Welding sequence

The sequence, or direction, of welding is important and should be towards the free end of the joint.
For long welds, the whole of the weld is not completed in one direction. Short runs, for example
using the back-step or skip welding technique, are very effective in distortion control (Fig. 5).

Back-step welding involves depositing short adjacent weld lengths in the opposite direction
to the general progression (Fig. 5a).

Skip welding is laying short weld lengths in a predetermined, evenly spaced, sequence along
the seam (Fig. 5b). Weld lengths and the spaces between them are generally equal to the
natural run-out length of one electrode. The direction of deposit for each electrode is the
same, but it is not necessary for the welding direction to be opposite to the direction of
general progression.

Best practice
The following fabrication techniques are used to control distortion:

using tack welds to set up and maintain the joint gap

identical components welded back to back so welding can be balanced about the neutral axis

attachment of longitudinal stiffeners to prevent longitudinal bowing in butt welds of thin

plate structures

where there is choice of welding procedure, process and technique should aim to deposit the
weld metal as quickly as possible; MIG in preference to MMA or gas welding and
mechanised rather than manual welding

in long runs, the whole weld should not be completed in one direction; back-step or skip
welding techniques should be used.

Beginning welders and even those that are more experienced commonly struggle with the problem
of weld distortion, (warping of the base plate caused by heat from the welding arc). Distortion is
troublesome for a number of reasons, but one of the most critical is the potential creation of a weld
that is not structurally sound. This article will help to define what weld distortion is and then
provide a practical understanding of the causes of distortion, effects of shrinkage in various types of
welded assemblies and how to control it, and finally look at methods for distortion control.

What is Weld Distortion?

Distortion in a weld results from the expansion and contraction of the weld metal and adjacent base
metal during the heating and cooling cycle of the welding process. Doing all welding on one side of
a part will cause much more distortion than if the welds are alternated from one side to the other.
During this heating and cooling cycle, many factors affect shrinkage of the metal and lead to
distortion, such as physical and mechanical properties that change as heat is applied. For example,
as the temperature of the weld area increases, yield strength, elasticity, and thermal conductivity of
the steel plate decrease, while thermal expansion and specific heat increase (Fig. 3-1). These
changes, in turn, affect heat flow and uniformity of heat distribution.

Fig. 3-1 Changes in the

properties of steel with
increases in temperature
complicate analysis of what
happens during the welding
cycle - and, thus,
understanding of the factors
contributing to weldment

Reasons for Distortion

To understand how and why distortion occurs during heating and cooling of a metal, consider the
bar of steel shown in Fig. 3-2. As the bar is uniformly heated, it expands in all directions, as shown
in Fig. 3-2(a). As the metal cools to room temperature it contracts uniformly to its original

Fig. 3-2 If a steel bar is

uniformly heated while
unrestrained, as in (a), it will
expand in all directions and
return to its original
dimentions on cooling. If
restrained, as in (b), during
heating, it can expand only in
the vertical direction - become
thicker. On cooling, the
deformed bar contracts
uniformly, as shown in (c),
and, thus, is permanently
deformed. This is a simplified
explanation of basic cause of
distortion in welding

But if the steel bar is restrained -as in a vise - while it is heated, as shown in Fig. 3-2(b), lateral
expansion cannot take place. But, since volume expansion must occur during the heating, the bar
expands in a vertical direction (in thickness) and becomes thicker. As the deformed bar returns to
room temperature, it will still tend to contract uniformly in all directions, as in Fig. 3-2 (c). The bar
is now shorter, but thicker. It has been permanently deformed, or distorted. (For simplification, the
sketches show this distortion occurring in thickness only. But in actuality, length is similarly
In a welded joint, these same expansion and contraction forces act on the weld metal and on the
base metal. As the weld metal solidifies and fuses with the base metal, it is in its maximum
expanded from. On cooling, it attempts to contract to the volume it would normally occupy at the
lower temperature, but it is restrained from doing so by the adjacent base metal. Because of this,
stresses develop within the weld and the adjacent base metal. At this point, the weld stretches (or
yields) and thins out, thus adjusting to the volume requirements of the lower temperature. But only
those stresses that exceed the yield strength of the weld metal are relieved by this straining. By the
time the weld reaches room temperature - assuming complete restraint of the base metal so that it
cannot move - the weld will contain locked-in tensile stresses approximately equal to the yield
strength of the metal. If the restraints (clamps that hold the workpiece, or an opposing shrinkage
force) are removed, the residual stresses are partially relieved as they cause the base metal to move,
thus distorting the weldment.

Shrinkage Control - What You Can Do to Minimize Distortion

To prevent or minimize weld distortion, methods must be used both in design and during welding to
overcome the effects of the heating and cooling cycle. Shrinkage cannot be prevented, but it can be
controlled. Several ways can be used to minimize distortion caused by shrinkage:

1. Do not overweld
The more metal placed in a joint, the greater the shrinkage forces. Correctly sizing a weld for the
requirements of the joint not only minimizes distortion, but also saves weld metal and time. The
amount of weld metal in a fillet weld can be minimized by the use of a flat or slightly convex bead,
and in a butt joint by proper edge preparation and fitup. The excess weld metal in a highly convex
bead does not increase the allowable strength in code work, but it does increase shrinkage forces.

When welding heavy plate (over 1 inch thick) bevelling or even double bevelling can save a
substantial amount of weld metal which translates into much less distortion automatically.

In general, if distortion is not a problem, select the most economical joint. If distortion is a problem,
select either a joint in which the weld stresses balance each other or a joint requiring the least
amount of weld metal.

2. Use intermittent welding

Another way to minimize weld metal is to use intermittent rather than continuous welds where
possible, as in Fig. 3-7(c). For attaching stiffeners to plate, for example, intermittent welds can
reduce the weld metal by as much as 75 percent yet provide the needed strength.

Fig. 3-7 Distortion can be

prevented or minimized by
techniques that defeat - or use
constructively - the effects of
the heating and cooling cycle.

3. Use as few weld passes as possible

Fewer passes with large electrodes, Fig. 3-7(d), are preferable to a greater number of passes with
small electrodes when transverse distortion could be a problem. Shrinkage caused by each pass
tends to be cumulative, thereby increasing total shrinkage when many passes are used.

4. Place welds near the neutral axis

Distortion is minimized by providing a smaller leverage for the shrinkage forces to pull the plates
out of alignment. Figure 3-7(e) illustrates this. Both design of the weldment and welding sequence
can be used effectively to control distortion.

Fig. 3-7 Distortion can be

prevented or minimized by
techniques that defeat - or use
constructively - the effects of
the heating and cooling cycle.

5. Balance welds around the neutral axis

This practice, shown in Fig. 3-7(f), offsets one shrinkage force with another to effectively minimize
distortion of the weldment. Here, too, design of the assembly and proper sequence of welding are
important factors.

6. Use backstep welding

In the backstep technique, the general progression of welding may be, say, from left to right, but
each bead segment is deposited from right to left as in Fig. 3-7(g). As each bead segment is placed,
the heated edges expand, which temporarily separates the plates at B. But as the heat moves out
across the plate to C, expansion along outer edges CD brings the plates back together. This
separation is most pronounced as the first bead is laid. With successive beads, the plates expand less
and less because of the restraint of prior welds. Backstepping may not be effective in all
applications, and it cannot be used economically in automatic welding.
Fig. 3-7 Distortion can be
prevented or minimized by
techniques that defeat - or use
constructively - the effects of
the heating and cooling cycle.

7. Anticipate the shrinkage forces

Presetting parts (at first glance, I thought that this was referring to overhead or vertical welding
positions, which is not the case) before welding can make shrinkage perform constructive work.
Several assemblies, preset in this manner, are shown in Fig. 3-7(h). The required amount of preset
for shrinkage to pull the plates into alignment can be determined from a few trial welds.

Prebending, presetting or prespringing the parts to be welded, Fig. 3-7(i), is a simple example of the
use of opposing mechanical forces to counteract distortion due to welding. The top of the weld
groove - which will contain the bulk of the weld metal - is lengthened when the plates are preset.
Thus the completed weld is slightly longer than it would be if it had been made on the flat plate.
When the clamps are released after welding, the plates return to the flat shape, allowing the weld to
relieve its longitudinal shrinkage stresses by shortening to a straight line. The two actions coincide,
and the welded plates assume the desired flatness.

Another common practice for balancing shrinkage forces is to position identical weldments back to
back, Fig. 3-7(j), clamping them tightly together. The welds are completed on both assemblies and
allowed to cool before the clamps are released. Prebending can be combined with this method by
inserting wedges at suitable positions between the parts before clamping.

In heavy weldments, particularly, the rigidity of the members and their arrangement relative to each
other may provide the balancing forces needed. If these natural balancing forces are not present, it
is necessary to use other means to counteract the shrinkage forces in the weld metal. This can be
accomplished by balancing one shrinkage force against another or by creating an opposing force
through the fixturing. The opposing forces may be: other shrinkage forces; restraining forces
imposed by clamps, jigs, or fixtures; restraining forces arising from the arrangement of members in
the assembly; or the force from the sag in a member due to gravity.

8. Plan the welding sequence

A well-planned welding sequence involves placing weld metal at different points of the assembly so
that, as the structure shrinks in one place, it counteracts the shrinkage forces of welds already made.
An example of this is welding alternately on both sides of the neutral axis in making a complete
joint penetration groove weld in a butt joint, as in Fig. 3-7(k). Another example, in a fillet weld,
consists of making intermittent welds according to the sequences shown in Fig. 3-7(l). In these
examples, the shrinkage in weld No. 1 is balanced by the shrinkage in weld No. 2.
Fig. 3-7 Distortion can be
prevented or minimized by
techniques that defeat - or use
constructively - the effects of
the heating and cooling cycle.

Clamps, jigs, and fixtures that lock parts into a desired position and hold them until welding is
finished are probably the most widely used means for controlling distortion in small assemblies or
components. It was mentioned earlier in this section that the restraining force provided by clamps
increases internal stresses in the weldment until the yield point of the weld metal is reached. For
typical welds on low-carbon plate, this stress level would approximate 45,000 psi. One might
expect this stress to cause considerable movement or distortion after the welded part is removed
from the jig or clamps. This does not occur, however, since the strain (unit contraction) from this
stress is very low compared to the amount of movement that would occur if no restraint were used
during welding.

9. Remove shrinkage forces after welding

Peening is one way to counteract the shrinkage forces of a weld bead as it cools. Essentially,
peening the bead stretches it and makes it thinner, thus relieving (by plastic deformation) the
stresses induced by contraction as the metal cools. But this method must be used with care. For
example, a root bead should never be peened, because of the danger of either concealing a crack or
causing one. Generally, peening is not permitted on the final pass, because of the possibility of
covering a crack and interfering with inspection, and because of the undesirable work-hardening
effect. Thus, the utility of the technique is limited, even though there have been instances where
between-pass peening proved to be the only solution for a distortion or cracking problem. Before
peening is used on a job, engineering approval should be obtained.

Another method for removing shrinkage forces is by thermal stress relieving - controlled heating of
the weldment to an elevated temperature, followed by controlled cooling. Sometimes two identical
weldments are clamped back to back, welded, and then stress-relieved while being held in this
straight condition. The residual stresses that would tend to distort the weldments are thus

10. Minimize welding time

Since complex cycles of heating and cooling take place during welding, and since time is required
for heat transmission, the time factor affects distortion. In general, it is desirable to finish the weld
quickly, before a large volume of surrounding metal heats up and expands. The welding process
used, type and size of electrode, welding current, and speed of travel, thus, affect the degree of
shrinkage and distortion of a weldment. The use of mechanized welding equipment reduces welding
time and the amount of metal affected by heat and, consequently, distortion. For example,
depositing a given-size weld on thick plate with a process operating at 175 amp, 25 volts, and 3 ipm
requires 87,500 joules of energy per linear inch of weld (also known as heat input). A weld with
approximately the same size produced with a process operating at 310 amp, 35 volts, and 8 ipm
requires 81,400 joules per linear inch. The weld made with the higher heat input generally results in
a greater amount of distortion. (note: I don't want to use the words "excessive" and "more than
necessary" because the weld size is, in fact, tied to the heat input. In general, the fillet weld size (in
inches) is equal to the square root of the quantity of the heat input (kJ/in) divided by 500. Thus
these two welds are most likely not the same size.

Other Techniques for Distortion Control

Water-Cooled Jig
Various techniques have been developed to control distortion on specific weldments. In sheet-metal
welding, for example, a water-cooled jig (Fig. 3-33) is useful to carry heat away from the welded
components. Copper tubes are brazed or soldered to copper holding clamps, and the water is
circulated through the tubes during welding. The restraint of the clamps also helps minimize

Fig. 3-33 A water-cooled jig

for rapid removal of heat
when welding sheet meta.

The "strongback" is another useful technique for distortion control during butt welding of plates, as
in Fig. 3-34(a). Clips are welded to the edge of one plate and wedges are driven under the clips to
force the edges into alignment and to hold them during welding.
Fig. 3-34 Various strongback
arrangements to control
distortion during butt-welding.

Thermal Stress Relieving

Except in special situations, stress relief by heating is not used for correcting distortion. There are
occasions, however, when stress relief is necessary to prevent further distortion from occurring
before the weldment is finished.

Summary: A Checklist to Minimize Distortion

Follow this checklist in order to minimize distortion in the design and fabrication of weldments:

Do not overweld
Control fitup
Use intermittent welds where possible and consistent with design requirements
Use the smallest leg size permissible when fillet welding
For groove welds, use joints that will minimize the volume of weld metal. Consider double-sided
joints instead of single-sided joints
Weld alternately on either side of the joint when possible with multiple-pass welds
Use minimal number of weld passes
Use low heat input procedures. This generally means high deposition rates and higher travel speeds
Use welding positioners to achieve the maximum amount of flat-position welding. The flat position
permits the use of large-diameter electrodes and high-
deposition-rate welding procedures
Balance welds about the neutral axis of the member
Distribute the welding heat as evenly as possible through a planned welding sequence and
weldment positioning
Weld toward the unrestrained part of the member
Use clamps, fixtures, and strongbacks to maintain fitup and alignment
Prebend the members or preset the joints to let shrinkage pull them back into alignment
Sequence subassemblies and final assemblies so that the welds being made continually balance each
other around the neutral axis of the section
Lecture 3.3: Principles of Welding
To present an overall view of the implications of making joints by welding.

Lectures 3.1: General Fabrication of Steel Structures

Lecture 3.4: Welding Processes

This lecture describes the basic principles involved in making a welded joint. It discusses the
structure and properties of both the weld metal and the heat affected zone. It explains the necessity
for edge preparations when butt welding, and gives examples of the types used. It outlines how the
welding procedure can be varied to meet the needs of the particular joint being made.

MAG Metal Active Gas Welding (sometimes referred to as MIG Metal Inert Gas Welding)

MMA Manual Metal Arc Welding

SAW Submerged Arc Welding

HAZ Heat Affected Zone


Welding offers a means of making continuous, load bearing, metallic joints between the
components of a structure.

In structural work, a variety of welded joints are used; these can all be made up from the basic
configurations shown in Figure 1, which are classified as follows:

butt joints.

tee joints.

lap joints.

corner joints.
As illustrated in Figure 2, a welded joint is made by fusing (melting) the steel plates or sections (the
parent metal) along the line of the joint. The metal melted from each member at the joint unites in a
pool of molten metal which bridges the interface. As the pool cools, molten metal at the fusion
boundary solidifies, forming a solid bond with the parent metal, see Figure 3. When the
solidification is complete, there is continuity of metal through the joint.

Two types of weld are in common use: butt welds and fillet welds. In the former the weld metal is
generally contained within the profiles of the welded elements; in the latter, deposited weld metal is
external to the profile of the welded elements.

Obviously the complete length of joint cannot be melted simultaneously. In practice a heat source is
used to melt a small area and is then moved along the joint line, progressively fusing the parent
metal at the leading edge of the weld pool, as shown in Figure 4. At the same time, the metal at the
trailing edge of the pool solidifies. The most commonly used heat source, in structural work, is a
low voltage (15 to 35 volt), high current (50 to 1000 amp) arc. As shown diagrammatically in
Figure 5, the arc operates between the end of a steel electrode (rod) and the work piece. It melts
both the parent metal and the electrode; molten metal from the electrode is thereby added to the
weld pool.
The molten steel in the pool will readily absorb oxygen and nitrogen from the air, which could lead
to porosity in the solidified weld and possibly to metallurgical problems. Figure 6 shows how this is
avoided by covering the pool with a molten flux, as in Manual Metal Arc (MMA) and Submerged
Arc Welding (SAW), or by replacing the air around the arc by a non-reactive gas, as in Metal Active
Gas (MAG) Welding or cored wire welding.


The solidified weld metal has a cast structure and has properties characteristic of cast steel, i.e.
higher ratio of yield to ultimate strength than structural steel. The weld metal is a mixture of parent
metal and steel melted from the electrode. In structural work the composition of the electrode is
usually chosen so that the resultant weld metal is stronger than the connected elements.
Occasionally, specific conditions may override this chocie. For example, when joining stainless
steel to carbon-manganese steel, a highly alloyed electrode must be used to avoid cracking in the
weld metal.

When the weld pool is cooling and solidifying, the majority of the heat flows through the parent
metal alongside the joint. The steel is thus subjected to heating and cooling cycles similar to those
experienced in heat treatment practice. As shown in Figure 7, the structure of the steel will be
changed in this region (called the heat affected zone, HAZ). This must be taken into account in the
design in terms of notch toughness (Charpy value), etc.

The structure of the HAZ will be controlled by:

the composition of the steel (carbon equivalent).

the cooling rate in the HAZ.

In turn the cooling rate is determined by:

arc energy, i.e. heat input to the joint.

type of joint.

thickness of steel.

temperature of steel plate or section prior to welding, e.g. preheat.

A method of determining the interaction of these factors in relation to the avoidance of cracks in the
HAZ is given in the sample chart shown in Figure 8.
In addition to its effect on the cooling rate, preheat is used to:

Disperse hyrodgen from the weld pool and HAZ. Hydrogen in the HAZ increases
the risk of cracking if hardening has occurred. The hydrogen comes principally
from the flux. An appropriate electrode, correctly stored, will reduce the risk of
hydrogen pick-up.

Remove surface moisture in high humidity conditions or on site.

Bring the steel up to 'normal' ambient conditions (20C).


For square edge preparations the depth of melting into the plate is called the Depth of Penetration,
see Figure 9a. As a very rough guide, the penetration is about 1mm per 100 amp. In manual welding
the current is usually not more than 350 amp; more commonly 150-200 amp. This means that the
edges of the plate must be cut back along the joint line for continuity through the thickness to be
achieved (Figure 9b). The groove so formed is then filled with metal melted from the electrode
(Figure 9c). Various edge profiles are used and are illustrated in Figure 10; the edges may be
planed, sawn, guillotined or flame cut.
The first run to be deposited in the bottom of the groove is called the root run. The root faces must
be melted to ensure good penetration, but at the same time the weld pool must be controlled to
avoid collapse, as seen in Figure 11. This task requires considerable skill. The difficulties can be
eased by using a backing strip.
The choice of edge preparation depends on:

type of process.

position of welding (Figure 12).

access for arc and electrode.

volume of deposited weld metal which should be kept to a minimum.

cost of preparing edges.

shrinkage and distortion (Figure 13).


The term welding procedure is used to describe the complete process involved in making a weld. It
covers choice of electrode, edge preparation, preheat, welding parameters (voltage, current and
travel speed), welding position, number of weld runs to fill the groove, and post-weld treatments,
e.g. grinding or heat treatment. Welding procedures may be devised to meet various needs, e.g. to
minimise costs, control distortion, avoid defects or achieve good impact properties. Specific aspects
of the weld procedure are worth detailed comment.

5.1 Current

The current controls heat input. The minimum value is fixed by the need to fuse the plate and to
keep the arc stable; the specified minimum, however, may be higher to avoid HAZ cracks. The
maximum current depends on operating conditions. Usually, as high a current as possible is used to
achieve faster welding, and hence lower costs. The use of maximum current may be restricted by
position; in the overhead position, for example, currents above 160 amps cannot be used. High
currents usually give low impact properties. Note that the current used is chosen to match the
electrode diameter.

5.2 Welding Position

The effect of position on current is noted above. Welding in the overhead position requires greater
skill to avoid defects, such as poor profile, and should only be used when absolutely necessary.
Vertical welding is slower than welding in the flat position but requires less skill than the overhead

5.3 Environment

If on site welding is necessary the following points must be considered:

in cold weather the steel may need to be heated to bring it up to 20C.

overnight condensation and high humidity can lead to porosity.

care must be taken to ensure the electrodes are kept dry in the stores.

it is often difficult to achieve accurate fitting of the joint; variable and/or large
gaps may result in defective welds, distortion and increased costs.


During cooling, the hot metal in the weld zone contracts, causing the joint to shrink. The
contraction is restrained by the cold metal surrounding the joint; stresses are set up which, being in
excess of the yield stress, produce plastic deformation. This can lead to the distortion or buckling
shown in Figure 13. Distortion can be reduced by choice of edge preparation and weld procedure;
examples are shown in Figure 14.
When the plastic deformation has ceased, the joint is left with the residual stress pattern of Figure
15 with tension in the weld metal and HAZ, and compression in the surrounding steel. The
significance of these residual stresses is discussed in other lectures.


A welded joint is made by fusing parent metal from both components being
joined, usually with added weld metal.

The properties of both the weld metal, which has melted and solidified, and the
surrounding heat affected zone may differ from those of the parent metal.

Welding procedures should be properly specified to give a satisfactory welded

joint. The major parameters are: welding position, electrode type, edge
preparation, preheat, voltage, current, travel speed, number of runs and post-
weld heat treatments.

Hot metal in the weld zone contracts during cooling causing residual stresses.
Distortion will occur if appropriate control is not exercised.

1. Hicks, J. "Welding Design", Granada.

details of joints and welds.

strength of welded joints.

effects of welding on metallurgical structures, heat affected zones, HAZ cracking.

edge preparation.

welding positions - definitions and comments.

2. Gourd, L. M. "Principles of Welding Technology", Edward Arnold, 1980.

formation of a weld.

types of heat source.

strength of welded joints.

effects of welding on metallurgical structure, heat affected zones, HAZ cracking.

edge preparation.

comments on residual stresses.

control of distortion.

3. Milner, D.R. and Apps, R. L. "Introduction to Welding and Brazing", Pergamon.

effects of welding on metallurgical structure, heat affected zones, HAZ cracking.

control of distortion.

4. Pratt, J. L. "Introduction to the Welding of Structural Steelwork",

Steel Construction Institute - Publication No 014.

5. British Standard BS 5135: 1986, "Metal Arc Welding of Carbon and Carbon
Maganese Steels", British Standards Institution, London.

MAG Metal Active Gas Welding (sometimes referred to as MIG: Metal Inert Gas Welding)
MMA Manual Metal Arc Welding

SAW Submerged Arc Welding


There are three principal methods used to generate the heat required for welding:

oxygen-acetylene flame.

resistance to the passage of a current.

electric arc.

Each method produces a pool of molten steel which must be protected against atmospheric
contamination. The method used to achieve this, i.e. the shielding technique, has a major influence
on the characteristics of the process. For constructional steelwork, the processes used are usually
based upon the electric arc.

In arc welding, a flux or a non-reactive (inert) gas can be used to 'blanket' the weld pool and thus
exclude air. This lecture is particularly concerned with the four arc welding processes commonly
used in structural work.


This manual method is one of the most widely used arc welding processes (see Figure 1). It requires
considerable skill to produce good quality welds. The electrode consists of a steel core wire and a
covering flux containing alloying elements, e.g. manganese and silicon. The arc melts the parent
metal and the electrode. As metal is transferred from the end of the core wire to the weld pool, the
welder moves the electrode to keep the arc length constant. This is essential as the width of the weld
run is largely governed by the arc length. The flux melts with the core wire and flows over the
surface of the pool to form a slag, which must be removed after solidification.
MMA has many advantages as follows:

Low capital cost.

Freedom of movement; it can be used up to 20m from the power supply (useful on site).

It can be used in all positions.

It is suitable for structural and stainless steels (but not aluminium).

Its main drawback is a low duty cycle, i.e. only a small volume of metal is deposited before the
welder has to stop and insert another electrode. This is not a problem on short welds but becomes a
consideration on long welds, especially when labour costs are high.

The operating characteristics of the electrode are controlled by the composition of the flux
covering. A variety of electrodes are available to suit different applications. The current used is
chosen to match the diameter of wire being used. When low hydrogen contents in the weld pool are
necessary to avoid cracks in the heat-affected zone (HAZ) on cooling, MMA electrodes must be
baked and stored at temperatures and times recommended by the manufacturer. These procedures
ensure that the electrodes deposit weld metal with appropriate low levels of diffusible hydrogen.


This process is sometimes referred to as Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding, although strictly speaking
the term MIG should be limited to the use of pure argon as a shielding gas, which is not used for
carbon steel.

MAG is a semi-automatic process where the welding gun at the end of a flexible conduit can be
hand held and manipulated, but all other operations are automatic (see Figure 2).
The arc and weld pool are shielded by a gas which does not react with molten steel; in current
practice the shielding gas is carbon dioxide, or a mixture of argon and carbon dioxide. No flux is
necessary to shield the pool since the alloying elements are in the electrode wire, but sometimes a
flux-cored electrode is used to produce a slag which controls the weld profile and reduces the
liability of lack of fusion defects and the incidence of porosity. The arc length is controlled by the
power supply unit. Although MAG welding is somewhat easier to use than MMA, skill is required
to set up the correct welding conditions.

The way in which metal is transferred from the electrode wire to the molten pool depends upon
current, voltage and shielding gas composition. As the current is increased the form of the transfer
changes abruptly to a stream of fine drops which are propelled across the arc gap by the electro-
magnetic forces in the arc. This is called spray transfer and it enables welding to be carried out
against gravity. Changing the shielding gas to carbon dioxide (assuming steel electrodes) causes the
transfer to become more globular and less well directed; however, the situation can be reversed by
using a mixture of inert gas and carbon dioxide.

When using steel electrodes, decreasing the arc voltage markedly and also reducing current (by
reducing the wire feed rate) results in a form of transfer known as dip transfer or short-circuit
transfer. In this mode of transfer metal is fused directly into the pool without passing freely across
the arc gap. At slightly higher voltages the transfer is across a gap but is in larger globules without
the pronounced directionality of the spray transfer. The globular to spray change is less marked with
steel than with certain other metals. Welds in steel are sometimes made in which this type of
transfer predominates. It is also possible to control the type of metal transfer at low to medium
currents by using a special power source which delivers pulsed current to the arc.

For 'positional' welding, i.e. vertical and overhead, the current must be kept below 180 amp (so that
welding takes place in the 'Dip Transfer' mode) and welding speeds are comparable with MMA.
Overall times for a joint, and hence productivity, are better since there is no need to deslag or
change electrode. In the flat position, currents up to 400 amp ('Spray Transfer') can be used to give
high welding speeds. MAG welding is especially suitable for fillet welded joints, e.g. beam to
column and stiffener to panel connections. It is not easy to use on site because of problems of
equipment movement and the need to provide screens to avoid loss of the gas shield in draughty


This is a fully mechanised process in which the welding head travels along the joint automatically
(Figure 3). The electrode is a bare wire which is advanced by a governed motor. The voltage and
current are selected at the beginning of the weld and are maintained at the pre-selected values by
feed-back systems which, in practice, vary in sophistication. The flux is in the form of particles and
is placed on the surface of the joint. The arc operates below the surface of the flux, melting a
proportion of it to form a slag. Unfused flux is collected and may be re-used for the next weld.
Submerged arc welding is generally operated at currents of between 400 and 1000 amps. This
means that weld pools are large and can only be controlled in the flat position, although fillets can
be deposited in the horizontal-vertical position up to 10mm leg length in one run. Where it is
difficult to control penetration in a root run a backing strip may be used; alternatively, the root run
can be made by MMA or MAG and the groove filled with SAW. SAW offers considerable
advantages when welding long joints (i.e. those in excess of one metre in length). The high welding
speeds and continuous operation lead to high productivity. An accurate joint fit-up is, however, a
prime requirement.

This is a variation of arc welding in which studs are welded to plane surfaces automatically (Figure
4). The stud, which may be a plain or threaded bar (if plain it will have a head) is the electrode and
it is held in the chuck of a welding gun which is connected to the power supply. The stud is first
touched onto the surface of the steel plate or section. As soon as the current is switched on, the stud
is moved away automatically to establish an arc. When a weld pool has formed and the end of the
stud is molten, the latter is automatically forced into the steel plate and the current is switched off.
The molten metal which is expelled from the interface is formed into a fillet by a ceramic collar
which is placed around the stud arc at the beginning of the operation. This ferrule also provides
sufficient protection against atmospheric contamination.
Stud welding offers an accurate and fast method of attaching shear connectors, etc., with the
minimum of distortion. Whilst it requires some skill to set up the weld parameters (voltage, current,
arc time and force), the operation of the equipment is relatively straightforward.


When choosing a welding process a number of factors must be taken into account:

Thickness of the material to be welded.

Where the welding is to be carried out. SAW and MAG are best carried out in the protected
environment of the fabrication shop. MMA may more readily be used on site.

Accuracy of fit-up and possibility of misalignment. SAW and Spray Transfer MAG require
good fit-up; they are particularly sensitive to variation in root gap and/or root face

Access to joint. It is necessary to ensure that both the welding plant and the welding torch or
head can be properly positioned.

Position of welding. SAW and Spray Transfer MAG are not suitable for vertical or overhead
positions. Dip transfer MAG is acceptable for vertical and overhead welding, but MMA is
probably best for overhead work, especially on site.

Steel composition. Steels with lower carbon equivalent values are more readily welded and
require lower preheat levels.
Comparative cost. The cost per unit length of weld can be calculated, but depends upon the
burn-off rate of the process and must allow for differences in duty cycle (idle time between
electrodes for MMA, etc.), Figure 5.

The welding processes commonly used in constructional steelwork are: Manual Metal Arc
Welding, Dip and Spray Transfer Metal Active Gas Welding, Submerged Arc Welding and
Stud Welding.

Stud welding is used for attaching shear connectors and other studs to structural steelwork.

The correct choice of process depends on: situation, fit-up, access, position, steel
composition and economic factors.


1. Gourd, L. M., "Principles of Welding Technology", E. Arnold, 1980.

description of processes.

2. Houldcroft, P. T., and Robert, "Welding and Cutting - A Guide to Fusion Welding and
Associated Cutting Processes", Woodhead and Faulkner, 1988.

details of individual processes.

3. Structural Welding Code - Steel, American Welding Society, 1992.

4. EN 24063: 1992 (ISO 4063: 1990) Welding, Brazing, Soldering and Braze Welding of
Metals - Nomenclature of Processes and Reference of Numbers for Symbolic
Representation on Drawings.

5. EN 288: Part 1: 1992, Welding Procedures Metallic Materials, Part 1: General Rules for
Fusion Welding.

6. EN 288: Part 2: 1992, Welding Procedures Metallic Materials, Part 2: Welding Procedure
Specification for Arc Welding.

7. EN 288: Part 3: 1992, Welding Procedures Metallic Materials, Part 3: Welding Procedure
Tests for Arc Welding of Steels.

8. EN 288: Part 4: 1992, Welding Procedures Metallic Materials, Part 4: Tests for the Arc
Welding of Aluminium and its Alloys.

9. Pratt, J. L., "Introduction to the Welding of Structural Steelwork", SCI P-014, 3rd Revised
Edition, 1989, Steel Construction Institute.