One more challenge was actually getting the welder from Bristol to Nashville. I had to rent a pickup truck, drive to Bristol. The welder cart was so big I had to leave it behind. The guys I bought it from loaded it in the truck for me. After returning to Nashville, I went to my buddy Sal’s place and used a chain hoist to unload it from the truck, load it on a furniture dolly and loaded it on a tilting trailer. Hauled it to the house and rolled it off the trailer.
From there, I spent a week just trying to get the thing to fire up. It was pretty straightforward to install a 100 amp breaker and hook up the argon (needed a regulator and flow gauge.) I figured I’d try it out for just a minute without water to cool the torch – hadn’t gotten to the hooking up the water part. Well, it worked fine on the stick side, but the TIG side wouldn’t fire up.
I would not let this beat me! I spent a week hunting schematics, chasing wires. I had the case completely open. I could switch it from stick to TIG, and briefly the high frequency would fire up and I’d get current for maybe 5 seconds. Then, it would shut off. Maybe it was a relay?
So, off to the forums for help – I can’t tell you how good the folks are at weldingweb.com. I posted the symptoms. Folks would post things to try. Someone here in Nashville suggested I contact Ronnie at American Welding out on Trinity. Apparently Ronnie is semi-retired. One of the nicest helpful guys I have ever talked to. He didn’t have to spend 60 seconds with me, and he talked through a dozen things, probably 30 minutes. Gave him every opportunity to let me bring it in and pay for a repair, or send a tech out to fix it, but he didn’t. Ronnie’s advice helped immensely. I was still checking relays, output voltages. I did find one ground that was loose, and a low voltage transformer had a very bad solder joint.
Back to the forums. I was obsessed. I started going through the things I had tried and why I tried them. I had to think through the electronics that were there to make things happen. I also had to process through the safety features. Then – A-HA! Cold water comes in, hot water goes out. What if that little thing that’s not on the schematics I have wasn’t a water valve? What if it is a water SENSOR? Long story short, that’s what it was. Problems are now operator skill!
So jump ahead two weeks. I’ve gotten some of the nuances down. What happens when I flip the little switch taped to the torch? When does the HF come on? Exactly how far should I hold the tungsten from the material? I’ll offer a few pointers I’ve learned so far.
- Get a heavy metal plate and put it on your workbench. Put something under it to space it away from the wooden top to create an insulator to prevent your bench from smoking – things get hot. Attach the ground lead to the metal plate. When you sit metal parts on it, they’ll automatically be grounded.
- Get a thick metal washer. Put it on a piece of paper. Sharpen up a pencil. Push the washer around with the pencil tip without marking the paper. If you can attach a big heavy handle and hose to it, that’ll be like TIG welding. Consistent distance of the tungsten to the bead makes heat control simpler and more consistent. This will also reduce the amount of tungsten dipping you’ll do (tungsten cannot touch molten metal.)
- Try to get your work oriented so your light is coming from the side. If it’s from behind or above you, the light floods the inside of your helmet and your eyes can’t adjust.
- Make sure you cover every inch of your skin. I was tacking last night in a t-shirt, and my arms are a little pink from maybe 30 seconds of exposure to UV rays stronger than a tanning booth. Don’t forget your neck (that was Sal’s advice.)
- Block any wind – if the argon blows away the metal will boil and screw up your bead. I was set up on the welder fan exhaust and realized it was causing me trouble. Last night, I was set up by the garage door and couldn’t figure out why my puddle was fizzling off and on. I had a welding jacket on and couldn’t feel that the wind was gusting (which is very rare in my garage.)
- Get in really close. Get a heavy glove on your torch hand and “choke up” on the torch. You’ll know if you’re too close, but closer and you have more control. Also, if you need to get your head close to see better, do it.
- Everything has to be clean – no paint, rust or mill scale. Heavy mill scale with totally crap an otherwise good bead. The scrap plate I’ve been practicing on has to be ground – a flap disc has trouble removing it. It’s a real pain. (Oh yeah, steel suppliers will usually sell you cutoffs for scrap weight. Their scraps are bigger than what I need for most of my projects.)
- Get comfortable – TIG welding sitting down is MUCH easier than standing up. If you have to stand up, you have to brace yourself. My 41-year-old back can’t take too much bending over to put elbows on my bench. Sitting is good.