TUBE WELDING: THE FOUNDATION FOR BUILDING YOUR OWN MOTORCYCLE

With an understanding of the gas metal arc and gas tungsten arc welding processes and plenty of practice, you can weld the tubing for a custom motorcycle frame. If shows such as American Chopper have you dreaming of cruising down the road on your own custom bike, you're certainly not alone. Each week, millions of people tune in to watch the sparks fly (from both the metal and the stars) and learn the secrets of the pros. Not content to just watch, an increasing number of people want to turn their garages into home fabrication shops. If you're considering that, now comes your dilemma: Which process do you use for welding the tubing that forms the frame? Of all the welding process available, the gas metal arc welding (GMA) and gas tungsten arc (GTA) welding processes are best suited for welding tubing of a motorcycle frame. Many frames are GMA welded, and GMAW is the easiest process in which to become proficient - Fig. 1. While GTAW requires more coordination, it allows for more control, particularly in tubing applications. The attraction of the GTAW process may prompt Tommy Scott sits atop the chopper he built. Although he's a those who gas metal arc weld professionally to further expand professional mechanic who uses welding in his everyday job, their skills and learn GTAW. a project such as this is within the reach of many do-it-yourselfers if they have the right equipment and tube To help you determine which process best meets your needs, let's compare and contrast elements of the GMAW and GTAW welding knowledge. processes specifically as they relate to welding tubing in a home-fabrication setting. Before that, we need to talk about the type of metal you'll be welding and some basic setup and safety information.

The Metal

Many professional fabricators choose drawn-over-mandrel (DOM) steel tubing for the frame material. According to the Steel Tubing Institute, "DOM refers to high-strength, electrically welded tubing that has been further processed by cold drawing through dies and over mandrels to improve its uniformity, mechanical properties and surface finish. Because of its many advantages, DOM is the material of choice in many of the most demanding applications for tubing." Drawn-over mandrel tubing is produced to more exact outside and inside dimension tolerances, has a better finish without seams, and is widely used in high-stress applications requiring higher quality, uniformity, strength, and soundness such as a motorcycle frame and the frames used to build many other motorsports vehicles (stock cars, dune buggies, etc.). Drawn-over mandrel tubing is manufactured to ASTM Specification A513 Type 5, and frame fabricators often chose SAE Steel Grades 1018 and 1020. These have a yield strength of 70 ksi or 483 N/mm2. You can find them at a local metal supplier and at many online stores. Most tubing on a bike has a 11⁄8- to 11⁄2-in. OD and a 0.120-in. wall thickness, except for the steering neck tube, which is larger and thicker (perhaps 0.250 in. thick) - Fig. 2.

Fig. 1 - With training, even beginning operators will be able to lay beads that look like this with the GMAW process. Keep in mind, however, that you must use sufficient amperage for the application so that your great-looking GMA weld is also a good-quality weld.

closed-toe shoes. and Nozzles For tubing with a 0. which in turn may cause the throat of the weld to be too narrow. 2 . You'll also want to consider how position will affect the strength of the weld.035-in.voltage and wire feed speed parameters remain constant. While it may be faster and easier to weld in this position.Considerations before Welding For best results. Shielding Gas. if this is not maintained. However. Fig. the filler metal could ride on top of the weld pool. It is an easy process to learn. most effective welding experience. and wearing welding-safe clothing. Compared to 100% CO2. Unfortunately. long pants. You can have a great looking GMA weld. Once set. To compensate. as well as thin to thick materials. buy or build a jig for the bike frame. but if your parameters were set too low for the material thickness. It also acts as a valuable third hand and leads to better weld quality . Why GMAW? Gas metal arc welding is used at all levels of metal fabrication. In short. As a result. This will make it easier to manipulate the gun and control the shape of the weld bead. Welding in the downhill position can be like riding on the top of an avalanche. and gloves. and can weld mild steel. You need to continually reposition your body to maintain a proper gun angle and to direct the arc at the leading edge of the weld pool. stainless steel. this mix yields smooth arc characteristics. but beware: With GMAW.030. This includes creating a well-ventilated work area free from potentially combustible materials. It also reduces the chance of melt-through on thinner materials . protective welding leathers.A jig traps the frame at all points. including an autodarkening or fixed shade welding helmet. travel speeds are usually faster with GMAW because welding wire is continuously being added to the joint.-diameter. This area calls for larger. 3. poor fitup often leads to poor welds. beauty is only skin deep. Use a 75% argon/25% CO2 shielding gas. better pool control. The contour of the weld may also be concave. the result could be incomplete fusion at the toes of the weld or incomplete penetration at the root of the weld. faster travel speeds can hinder your ability to control the weld bead profile and appearance. some people might want to use a lower voltage and slower wire feed speed.250 in. it will help ensure that each piece of the frame fits perfectly into the bike's design.or 0. thicker tubing (perhaps 0. In addition. and less spatter. Filler Metal. wall thickness.120-in. An online search will yield many sources. dramatically increasing the risk of poor fusion and/or penetration and is not recommended. good bead control. when you're trying to weld around the circumference of a tube. Many motorcycle frame and component suppliers offer jigs or plans for them that correspond with the frame plans they sell. and aluminum. thick) than the rest of the bike. These practices ensure the safest. There is one additional thing you need to do before you can start welding: read the owner's manual for your welding machine and follow all safety precautions. in small-diameter tubing applications. Simply stated. S-6 hard wire (American Welding Society classification ER70S-6). you must use sufficient amperage for the application. While building a jig consumes time.Fig.Scott uses a 250-A GMAW machine to weld the chopper's neck. a good welding wire is a 0. 3 . Fig. it is difficult to stay on the leading edge of the molten pool. producing a weak weld. then the weld just rests on top of the base metal and fails to achieve good penetration. good bead wetting action.

Shielding gas nozzles also need to be monitored. When ready to weld. using your foot control. unlike with GMAW. and. some welders will clip the ball off the end of the weld wire. flatter bead. It also makes it easier to keep the arc on the leading edge of the pool to ensure good penetration (compared to the drag or backhand method). helps overcome some of the drawbacks of GMAW. but especially with GTAW). This gives the weld a chance to cool. which is undesirable. One is through a forward or push movement of the gun. hotter start when beginning at the end of a previous weld. some people like the appearance of an overlapping bead profile. spatter can build up and impede the proper flow of shielding gas and leave the weld pool unprotected. GTAW lets you control the heat input with a foot or hand control in reaction to the changing dynamics of the molten weld pool. It is extremely important to make sure your arms and elbows are braced yet relaxed (this is true with GMAW also. If they are too far apart. making a short. This is important when appearance really counts. holding the filler metal in your opposite hand. Note that you want to establish the weld pool as quickly as possible.-wall tubing.because it requires less voltage and lower wire feed speeds than straight CO2. the good news is that beauty goes clear to the root of the joint. especially in tubing applications. which is sometimes referred to as the "stack of dimes" look. This gives you more control over the shape of the weld bead. which is why it is recommended for welding tubing. make several short welds rather than one long one. Dwelling too long in one spot increases the size of the HAZ. While moving the gun forward consistently produces a sound weld with decent appearance. Gas tungsten arc welding also produces the best-looking weld beads. To minimize heat input. and HAZ. If your GTAW bead looks good. cleaned. Another method is using an overlapping "C" motion of the gun. But taking control requires more coordination. melt-through and/or warping may occur if you make too long of a weld bead using this technique. GMAW Techniques To get better starts. there are two methods to use. consider skipping around a frame. and watching the joint and the weld pool. Why GTAW? Gas tungsten arc welding is the solution for more weld control and precision. the weld can fracture at any of those indent points (stress risers and/or crater cracking). Note that on 0. The "stack of dimes" look can be achieved a couple of ways.120-in. Also. Depending on the nozzle size and its workload. then a slight back step or hesitation. provides excellent fusion. and occasionally replaced. This takes practice. One is the push or forehand method that involves pushing the gun away from the weld pool. to the point where the toes of the weld become widely separated. chances are the weld is strong. partial weld on one joint and then moving to a different part of the frame. You're doing four different things at once: holding your torch with your right or left hand. Remember to make your individual beads close together. and then moving forward again. and solves problems related to melt-through or warping that are more common in GMAW. This produces the "CCCCC" look of stacked dimes. . Instead of needing to maintain a consistent travel speed or risk incomplete fusion. Gas tungsten arc welding. penetration. This produces somewhat less penetration for a given amperage and a wider. It allows you to weld thinner material. Flow rates are typically around 30 ft3/h. This ensures a better.

1⁄8-in. flow rates are typically 15 to 20 ft3/h. tungsten can create a weld bead that is too wide. GTAW naturally produces the overlapping bead profile. and operator skill to create quality welds under these conditions. Using 100% argon. Welding Wire.Selecting Tungsten. attractive GTA welds. and Cups Select a 1⁄16-in. as well as produce a bead width that is most compatible with this wall thickness. This technique provides more arc stability and greater comfort. Choose a 3⁄32-in. . Excessive flow rates can create turbulence and induce porosity in the weld.120-in. for welding on tubing. pull the torch back at an angle of about 70 deg (and. involves resting the GTAW torch right on the tubing with the filler metal placed in the groove of the weld. On 0. and remember that more is not better no matter what your welding process. Angling the cup back (you always "push" the torch when GTA welding) preheats the metal in front of the pool. or "stack of dimes" look. The shielding area. A #6 or #7 GTAW cup is standard in this type of application. and amperage control. If you angle the torch too far back. while also allowing the operator to change positions more easily. While torch angles change depending on position and application. which may result in melt-through. Anything larger will require more heat to melt. maintain a proper angle of 45 deg with respect to the two components of the joint). Continually changing angles to accommodate for the geometry of the tube is the greatest obstacle to sound. the heat is going to be far out in front of the pool and you will need to reduce current levels to compensate for the heated metal in front. called cup walking. 2% ceriated.5% lanthenated) for the best results with the material thickness used for motorcycle frames. but torch angle is probably the biggest factor. patience. or 1. proper cup size. A good rule is to use the smallest electrode that will carry the right amount of current and give you the proper pool size. welding wire because it will melt at the optimum amperages for welding 0. A more nontraditional GTAW technique. adding your filler metal.-wall tubing. which will help when welding included angles. It requires tremendous time.-wall tubing. GTAW Techniques When performed correctly. A gas lens will give you much better shielding of the whole area and allow for further tungsten extention. More information on cup walking can be found in the June 2005 issue of the Welding Journal.120-in. of course. and gas lens are crucial to good GTA welding.-diameter tungsten (2% thoriated. Gas tungsten arc welding requires a balancing act between developing the right torch angle. Practice first.

Most people will not have the ability to start and go all the way around the tube with a consistent torch angle. A better technique is to make four welds on a tube. For out-of-position welds on tubing (a fact of life because the frame will be fixed in a jig). that indicates a wide root opening as the result of poor fitup. Another option is to start the arc by Fig. you may even want to borrow a technique common in pipe welding: grind out your start and stop points. The gap may likely create a joint with insufficient mechanical strength. Because a cold start can be a weak spot. If you have a gap. also consider grinding out your tack welds (GTAW tacks should be smaller and thus will be readily consumed when welding). Fig. but this ensures that you have a better chance at keeping the arc on the leading edge of the pool. it becomes very difficult to bond the two sides because it's easy to put too much heat into one side. creating less stress on one side of the tube. weldng in the uphill position can provide more consistent heat control and better weld penetration. Good advice is to make four welds on a tube. If it is. tie-in each side and pause for a moment. which will help keep the frame square. which achieves good penetration at the root of the joint and good sidewall fusion. you probably will not be able to travel all the way directing the electrode at the root of the joint. Fig. 5. or even melt-through. At left is an example of good fitup. Welding uphill may take longer because gravity pulls the bead down. such as is shown in this GTA weld. 4. This helps ensure the hotter part of the "running" arc will tie in the already-welded area of the tubing. bridging gaps is not a good idea when welding critical structures like a motorcycle frame.Good fitup is crucial to making quality gas tungsten arc welds. 90 deg at a time. Compensating for this imbalance often results in excess heat and subsequent melt-through. create an excessively wide HAZ. Note that the weave should not need to be too wide. 6 . then traveling forward and welding over around the tube with a consistent gun or torch your arc start and remelting it. start just on top of the last weld you made to get the previous weld bead "dime" molten. or.Four-Bead Joint: GMAW and GTAW Advice It will be necessary to start and stop while going around the tube. if you have a small gap. This changes the bead profile and penetration. Defects and Testing .Whether you use GMAW or GTAW. and tie the two together Fig. angle.Fig. welding in the uphill position will provide more consistent heat control and better penetration . For wider gaps. quickly backstepping into the previous weld bead. as well as to allow it to cool slightly. 5 . you alternate the heat input. While GMAW lets you bridge gaps more easily than GTAW. Note that it may be necessary to add a slight side-to-side weave or "C" motion to control the size and shape of the bead. Gas tungsten arc welding really requires tight fitup because you need to develop the weld pool and establish a bond between the two sides before you add filler metal . focus on the edges. repeat on opposite side.For out-of-position welds on tubing. To achieve good tie-in between all weld beads. poor fitup is shown at right. Those who try start with one angle on the gun/torch and end up pushing it as the gun/torch rotates around the tube. 4 . 6. If you're gas metal arc welding. 90 deg at a time. Start on one side. For both processes.Fig. As an added benefit. Start at 6 o'clock and work your way up to the 12 o'clock position. throw the part in the scrap bucket and cut a part that fits properly. because you dwelled on the joint longer to fill the gap. Remember: You can't weld air.

or any other foreign substance that will inhibit maximum penetration and lead to weld failure. Lastly.. you can be confident that when it comes time to weld your motorcycle.-wall tubing. or toe. If the weld bead is holding and it's tearing at the base metal. paint. That said. For 0. caused by atmospheric contamination. you could have a weld defect. The heataffected zone should be the weakest link. once you produce structurally sound welds.g. is also a common discontinuity that could eventually cause cracks. The more you heat steel. Your weld should be flat to convex (not too high). the more you change the temper of it. clean it off. spray dye on the metal. Destructive testing involves imposing a force on the metal. of the weld and incomplete penetration at the root of the joint. If you made a void-free weld. With practice. you will create quality welds time and time again.120-in. you won't see any dye. using a wire brush. These defects. to see if the metal bends before the weld breaks. your weld is at least as strong as the base metal. creating asymmetry through the joint. After cleaning the surface.Some welds are doomed to failure from the start because of poor preparation. On any joint. . or base metal contamination. document your welding parameters and practice extensively on the actual joints you'll be welding. one that's weak at one point and overwelded at the other. A good first test to uncover welding defects is a visual test. Clean any surface prior to welding. mill scale. the most common welding defects that occur in both GMAW and GTAW are incomplete fusion at the edge. Varying from this symmetry could create a defective weld. such as putting it in a vice and hitting it with a hammer. and/or solvent to remove rust. If you notice porosity or cracks. this ensures that the weld will not be the proverbial "weakest link in the chain"). The emulsifier will pull the dye out of any voids it seeped into. because you risk increasing the HAZ. Most importantly. a weld should look balanced on either side of the root of the joint. and put an emulsifier on. Porosity. each leg of the weld bead needs to be 0. result from poor techniques or improper settings. oil. You should see good wet-out and tie-in at the toes of the weld. let it sit per manufacturer's instructions. it may not be a good idea to grind it out and reweld it. insufficient gas coverage. Misalignment occurs when you weld more to one side than the other. as we've noted. Another nondestructive but effective and inexpensive method for finding surface defects is dye penetrant testing. If you see areas with an irregular bead profile or an excessively high crown. each leg of the weld bead needs to be at least as long as the wall thickness of the base material (e.120 in. but it should never be concave. grinder. and the bead should have a fairly consistent appearance.

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