Sitting in my shop looking at all the welding equipment it donned on me that welding supplies can be divided into four groups. These groups consist of consumables, tools, PPE or personal protective equipment and safety equipment.
Deciding on the correct welding machine for your needs is just the beginning. While there are only a handful of welding supplies that are necessary to get started, there are dozens of pieces of support equipment and supplies that will make your life much easier once your skills improve. The more complex your projects become, the more items you will find that will help reduce the possibility of mistakes. In return, the quality of your projects will improve.
Consumables are the things that get eaten up during the welding process. Like electrodes, if stick welding, wire and shielding gas if Mig welding and filler rod and gases if TIG or oxy/acetylene gas welding. The life of consumables is directly proportional to the time spent welding. A busy welder will get to know his supplier well. Most supplies can be purchased through the internet thus saving sales taxes on many occasions. However, gas bottles will need to be either rented or bought and refilled at a local welding supply store.
Depending on your method(s) of welding, having an assortment of filler rods, electrodes or welding wire might save you from the need to go shopping in the middle of a job should your needs change. For instance, if you are welding MIG and the job necessarily takes you outdoors where the wind may be blowing, having a roll of flux core wire on hand will come in very handy.
TIG Welding different metals require different filler rods. Some examples are Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, and Aluminum. Electrode welding can be performed with AC or DC voltage. There are a few rods that can weld either. While other rods are to be used for one or the other specifically. And don’t forget, different thicknesses of steel require different diameters of electrodes to weld efficiently.
Soapstone, which is sometimes called chalk, is a necessary consumable to keep on hand. The soapstone sticks are typically used to mark metal. Marking the metal along a line that needs to be followed when cutting is probably the task most frequently performed with soapstone. It’s relatively cheap so keeping plenty on hand is easy.
Other items that will eventually need to be replaced are the various tips, cups, and shrouds found on gas torches, plasma cutters, as well as MIG and TIG welding tips and nozzles. Again, these are not all that expensive and spares should be kept on hand so that when the work is being churned out there will be no need to stop and fetch consumables.
There are many useful tools that can wait to be accumulated. However, there is a handful that you will want to have on hand when you first begin to weld. One will be a wire brush. A wire brush will be more necessary if electrode welding or flux core welding. Both of these welding methods leave a covering of flux or slag on top of the finished weld. A wire brush will also come in handy for preparing the base metals by cleaning off as much of the rust, mill scale or paint in the areas to be welded.
Another necessary tool for the beginner will be a chipping hammer specifically made for the welder. The flat or chisel shaped side is great for knocking loose large sections of the slag left on an electrode or flux core produced bead. The pointed end can get into the smaller pinholes, undercuts and rough areas. You will need to remove all the slag in order to see every imperfection of your weld bead in detail. This feedback will make a better welder out of you in less time.
A flat metal file is very handy for prepping surface edges to be welded. They can also help improve the looks of the finished weld by removing high spots. I also use the edge of the file to remove the smaller spatter from the base metals. Sliding the corner of the file across the top of the metal where the spatter is will knock many of the smaller spatter deposits off.
PPE or Personal Protective Equipment
The most obvious protective equipment associated with welding is the welding helmet. A decent helmet can be purchased for a very reasonable price. Even the cheaper ones do a decent job protecting the eyes, face and head area from UV rays, welding sparks, and slag. For comprehensive reviews of welding helmets please see these previous posts: Top Ten Welding Helmets for Beginners, Anthra AH6-260 Welding Helmet Product Review, What is a Pancake Welding Hood?
Welding gloves for the beginner need to be thick. The only time thin welding gloves should be worn is when the welding is being done by a seasoned TIG welder. Thicker gloves will last the average welder a long time unless they have a habit of getting their hands too close to their work. Or, if they pick up very hot metal too often. An informative post about welding gloves can be read here!
Choose the clothes you wear while welding carefully. Heavy cotton is a good choice when it comes to shedding hot sparks generated from welding, cutting and grinding. Long sleeves and long pants will protect the arms and legs. (Never wear nylon or polyester) Slip on leather boots are best to protect the feet. Boot laces tend to deteriorate over time due to welding sparks and spatter.
In the welding world, the potential for eye and skin damage is everywhere. A quality face shield protects from flying sparks coming from grinders and their many attachments. Chipping hammers and wire brushes can send debris sailing through the air. Cutting torches send molten metal and slag in all directions. Just being in close proximity to someone else performing this type of work, necessitates the onlooker to don face shielding. See our insightful review of the Uvex Bionic Face Shield here!
While PPE is considered safety equipment, there is another layer of safety equipment that needs to be discussed. Fire Extinguishers top this list. Since the welding, cutting and grinding processes all produce high heat and molten metal, everything flammable in close proximity is a potential fire hazard. Keeping a fire extinguisher nearby is essential due to fact that many fires have been started by careless welders.
Welding blankets are great tools for covering flammable materials that cannot be moved away from the immediate welding area. They double as devices to cosmetically protect surfaces that the welder does not want spatter burns to blemish. These fire-retardant blankets come in many sizes for different applications.
I encourage you to keep welding and to do so safely. Once you get an idea of how fast you will use up the typical consumables, keeping an adequate amount of backup supplies on hand will become easy.
Marry some metal together, today!