Welding in Cold Weather

If you make your living as a welder, your customers depend on you to produce quality work. Even during the cold winter months.

Laying down a quality weld takes skill. It also takes patience, good equipment and decent weather to typically produce high quality welds.

This begs the question: What can be done to prevent weld failures which might result from cold weather?

Big welding projects are rarely stopped by cold weather. For decades determined welders have proudly worked hard through the cold winters.

Because, the job had to get done and no one else with the skills  was going to do it for them!

Through these innumerable months of cold weather, welders, whether welding in welding shops or in an oil field somewhere up north have found ways to mitigate the effects of welding in cold weather.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these ways to effectively get a welding job done correctly in cold weather.

This is accomplished through protecting themselves from the elements first. Then, by properly maintaining their equipment. And finally, pre-heating the base metals prior to welding.

Maintain Your Welding Machine

You can’t produce a good weld if your welder is broke down from the cold. Equipment maintenance should be a year-round endeavor.

However, you will need to spend extra time and attend to your welder a little more often during the cold months.

This will help prevent your welding equipment from quitting on you. Consequently, the job will get done and you will keep earning a living doing what you like to do.

The finer points of welding machine maintenance depend on your particular make and model. Therefore, you should consult your welding machine manufacturer’s instructions for their recommendations.

Nevertheless, Here are a Few Maintenance Tips for You.

Note that most of these tips are for engine driven welders. The engines are more susceptible to damage in cold weather than any other part of the machine.

  • Check and change the oil. This may hit you as a, “Well, Duh,” but having not only enough but the right viscosity range of oil could save you from costly repairs.  Cold weather will cause the oil to thicken (viscosity) and not flow as readily.  The engine needs good oil flow to protect the moving parts in your engine. Especially, upon startup. A lighter weight oil can help fight engine wear during cold starts since the lighter oil will flow to needed areas quicker.
  • Cover your welding machine. There are plenty of vendors on the internet who sell welding machine covers. You should strongly consider purchasing one. Using it, especially during cold winter months, will help keep the elements, like blowing snow and rain, away from critical parts. A cover will also keep the suns UV rays off of hoses, wiring and other plastic parts that degrade in the sun. You may  experience fewer headaches and possibly some cost savings after covering your machine. 
  • Check and change the anti-freeze if needed. Your anti-freeze is very important in cold weather. It prevents water in your coolant from freezing and wreaking havoc on your engine. It also has additives that protect the internal metal parts from corrosion.
  • Apply a thin layer of WD-40 to all surfaces outside and inside your welder. The humidity in the air during winter months can cause your welding machine components to rust if not properly maintained.
  • Check all rubber hoses for cracking. Replace those that have become hard, brittle or cracked. Do this before they fail.
  • Treat your fuel. Stabilizers will help when the machine is not going to be used for a few weeks.

Just like us humans, welding machines need to be protected as much as is reasonable from harsh, cold winter environments.

For the professional welder, his machine is his livelihood. A serious welder will always have well-maintained equipment.

Keep Your Welding Rods Warm and Dry

Stick welding is the preferred welding method used in cold environments. Mainly due to it being more portable. And, it is best for welding thicker materials in less than ideal situations.

The stick welding process is a simple and robust process. Having said that, the electrodes or welding rods, are a potential weak piece of equipment.

This is one area which cannot be overlooked. The welding rods need to be given special attention.

Keeping welding rods warm and dry is extremely important when out in cold and wet environments.

If a welding rod becomes wet, the heat from the arc is likely to make the external shielding layer of the rod crack and potentially fall off of the rod during a weld.

In addition, the water vapor created by a wet rod introduced to high heat from the arc, is another source of contamination to the weld. 

This means there may be little to no shielding of the weld puddle. For more indepth information on this subject, read our article, “What is the purpose of flux and shield gas,” by clicking here.

Fortunately, welders have been welding in inclement weather for decades and have developed methods to keep their welding rods dry.

Those who weld in warm and dry environments such as in the western states of the U.S., don’t typically need to worry a lot about this.

However, in contrast, welders up north and in the east are more familiar with welding rod ovens. A rod oven helps to keep welding rods warm and dry.

There is a wide variety of portable welding rod ovens and dry storage containers available. For our Recommended Equipment page, click here.

For additional information about, “How to keep welding rods dry, and why,” read our detailed article by clicking here.

Maintaining Focus on Your Weld by Keeping Warm and Safe

Comfort related issues, of which there are many, can cause the quality of your weld to suffer. When your comfort level drops, your weld quality may also drop.

This is due to welding being a manual process that takes a lot of concentration and skill. Your concentration is typically diminished as you become uncomfortably cold.

The quality of the welds is secondary to only one thing. That is, keeping yourself safe.

If you are working in an elevated position, for example, fall protection measures are a must. Especially since there is a good chance that the platforms or scaffolding can be wet or icy.

Staying comfortable in cold weather might sound like a namby-pamby goal. Especially to the tough guys. But, it is important to make yourself as comfortable as possible so that you can stay focused on the weld itself.

When you are shivering due to chilly weather, your concentration is going to suffer. Your welds will start to suffer after a short time under these conditions.

You may need to add layers of clothing in order to stay warm. If so, you will want to make sure that the outer jacket is flame retardant. Keep in mind to never wear polyester when welding. A lot of jackets are made of polyester.

Keeping your fingers warm on a cold day, so that you can articulate them well, is very important. The heavy leather welding gloves will usually do the trick. Keep an extra pair around in case one gets wet.

Preheating Your Metal Workpiece

A weld which has not penetrated the two base metals properly can cause weld failure. This, of course, is a very dangerous thing to happen to structural or heavy-duty welding applications.

Preheating your workpiece will promote good penetration in the weld. It is very important that your first pass achieve good penetration. Especially in critical stress applications.

When cold, your base metals can act as a heat sink and draw all of the heat out of a weld immediately after stopping.

Why is this a bad thing? When a weld cools too rapidly directly after application it will be very susceptible to cracking.

It is advisable to preheat your thicker metal workpieces (over 3/8-inches in thickness) to above fifty degrees Fahrenheit before starting your weld. 

If you are in an extremely cold environment, preheating a thick metal plate might be a tall order but it will be well worth the effort. Typically, welders use either a propane or an oxy-acetylene torch to accomplish this preheating of the base metals.

You can tell that you have achieved the correct temperature in the workpiece by using a special heat sensitive marking crayon, a laser-equipped heat sensor gun, or by simply using your hand if you are experienced enough. This however, is not recommended.

Conclusion

All of us welders know that deadlines must still be met in the cold months just as they are in the warmer months.

If you have ever struggled to produce a quality weld amid inclement weather, it becomes easy to respect the old-timers. These guys did not have the equipment we have today.

Despite that, they sure as heck still got the job done even in the coldest weather.

One more thought, seek advice from more experienced welders who have worked through a few cold winters. They should be able to guide you in the right direction. If not, they will probably enjoy pulling your leg a bit!