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Mig Welding Aluminum

Mig welding aluminum (aluminium) can be a little bit tricky unless you're set up with the right equipment and you are doing it the correct way.

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Well actually, to be honest aluminum mig welding can be a real pain in the bum! When mig welding aluminum it's important that your machine is capable of feeding the softer aluminum wires through the welding gun. This would have to be the number one problem throughout the entire welding world. The simple fact is that if you can't keep the wire feeding through the welding torch smoothly and consistently you haven't got a hope at all of welding aluminum properly. It's a known fact that many people have wire feeding issues when trying to weld aluminum. There are no real secrets for how to mig weld aluminum. But there are critical and essential tips that you must adhere to when you are mig welding aluminium.

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Pete's Top 10 Tips For Mig Welding Aluminum

1. Start off by using a mig wire diameter of 1.2 mm (0.045). Most people will use the largest possible diameter of wire that they can weld with. The reason why you want the largest possible diameter of wire is simply because of the fact that it will be firmer and rigid than say a 0.9mm (0.035) wire. By using a thicker gauge of wire this extra stiffness in the wire greatly improves the feeding through the mig welding gun. 2. You also need to use a plastic or a Teflon liner as this will offer less resistance on the wire that is trying to feed through the gun. 3. Also make sure that you use a 3 meter or a 10 foot long gun cable. Once again the whole idea of this is so that you can cut down on the internal resistance when you're feeding the wire along the inside of the gun cable.

4. Make sure that you use special feed rollers that are designed for feeding the softer aluminium wires. For this application you are going to need to use feed rollers that have the groove in the surface of the roller shaped like the letter U. The smooth radius of the groove offers greater surface area contact with the aluminum mig welding wire giving it much more traction and wire feeding ability. See, normal feed rolls for mild steel mig wires have the groove shaped like the letter V. Because that wire is solid and much harder it does not need the full radius of the U groove to feed it. 5. The type of welding shielding gas to use for aluminium will need to be 100% Argon. 6. You will also need to use the push technique with the welding gun when mig welding aluminum. And the reason why you do it this way as opposed to using the pull technique is purely because of the fact that the shielding gas needs to be on the leading edge of the puddle. When you drag the gun, the argon shielding gas does not properly surround the welding puddle and arc. After completing the weld bead you will find that there will be lots of black soot all over the finished weld. Where if you use the push technique (some people call it the forehand technique) the weld bead appearance will be nice and clean.

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7. Aluminum needs to be clean when welding. This is another golden rule when welding ally. Once again it is the nature of the beast that you are dealing with. They say that cleanliness is next to godliness, and nothing is further from the truth when trying to weld ally. Use a stainless steel wire brush to clean off the oxide layer before you weld. As soon as aluminium is made it reacts with the oxygen in the air. It does what is called oxidizing. Thus the name of the oxide layer. It is a thin layer of aluminium oxide that needs to be brushed off for the best welding results. Never use a mild steel welding brush, only use a dedicated stainless steel wire brush for aluminum jobs. Get a marker pen and write the word "aluminum" or "aluminum only" on it. Keep it separate from the normal wire brush. You do not want to contaminate the brush or use the mild steel brush on ally as it will impregnate impurities into the soft aluminium surface. 8. For general purpose aluminum mig welding use a 5356 grade wire. This will cover all general everyday items such as fishing boats and tinnies, tool boxes, ute trays etc. 9. Here is another mig welding aluminium tip. Because of the nature of aluminium it dissipates heat very well. And this is why you use aluminium for heat sinks. Aluminium is such a totally different animal compare to mild steel. When you weld mild steel you will see the metal glowing red hot. When you weld aluminum you can't see how hot it gets in terms of changing of colour. All that you can see is that the weld puddle and the surrounding metal becomes molten. And then usually a few seconds after that it blows a big hole out. This is greatly increase if you go back over and put a weld next to the first one (e.g. using 2.5mm sheet). That second weld will just drop holes all over the place, unless you are really good and have the machine set reasonably well. So the rule here is planning what you need to do first, work out where you want the welds and only do one pass. Let it cool down and then go back over again if you have to. 10. The last tip is to make sure your mig welding gun is straight and not all twisted up when you use it. This means no sharp bends or kinks anywhere. One common area to check is when using a wire feeder or traveler that is suspended overhead. Often the gun cable will come out of the feeder unit horizontal and then sharply bend downwards at up to 90 degrees. This is a no no. If you have this same situation you should reposition the wire feeder at say a 45 degree angle so that there is only a limited bend in the gun cable. 11. Well this is more than 10 aluminium mig welding tips but another very important thing is the contact tip. You need to use a special over sized tip for the aluminium mig welding process. There is a big misconception in the welding industry that you must use what is called a push pull mig gun or a spool gun to weld aluminium. This is not true. You can successfully weld aluminum without the use of these push pull guns. But, on smaller mig welding machines that might not have excellent feeding characteristics, push pull guns are a very good choice. High-end welding machines such as that of OTC Daihen have wire feeders that offer exceptionally smooth feeding capabilities of softer welding wires such as aluminium. A world class machine for ally is the OTC DP400 Digital Wave Pulse. Mig welding aluminum is not that hard to do, you just need to be set up for it properly. See How to MIG Weld

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