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Backwoods Welding

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on January 8, 2019
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Photographers: Harry Wagner

Welding in the field can mean the difference between getting your rig off the trail in one piece or going to plan C or D. For the record, plan C or D are almost never good. They usually entail someone staying with the broken rig while others head for tools, parts, or more help. Worse, they may involve leaving your rig alone on the trail, where it may become little more than the trails version of roadkill, something for scavengers to pick over. Luckily there are a few different ways to spark an ark while in the boonies, including with an onboard welder or after setting up rudimentary battery-powered welder. Learning to do either is not something you should postpone until you’re broken on the trail. Here we can give you a head start on what tools you need and what you need to do to liquefy metal in the boonies.

There is something awesome about joining metal to metal. Maybe it’s awesome because the temperatures necessary to melt some of the most durable solids we know are so hot compared to the campfires that warmed our hideous caveman ancestors. Fred Flintstone would be proud for sure.

Now, you’ve probably heard about welding with batteries on the trail, and maybe you have even done it. Chances are one of your cousins or your uncle’s dog sitter did it one time a few years back. So if the technique is fresh on your mind or something that you can’t imagine doing, we’re here to give you a quick refresher course. We focus on using batteries and the Premier Power Welder, an onboard welder that is on our 1989 Range Rover. This system comes with a fancy alternator that can deliver the juice to melt metal (and charge the vehicle’s battery when not welding), and a control box where you make contacts and control what the system is doing.

Despite what some experts on the internet might tell you, there is a difference between saying something and actually doing it. We set out to do some battery-based “trail” welding before we hit the trail, and we learned a lot about what you need to liquefy metal. We recommend trying this at home before you’re forced to on the trail. You need two batteries that will be connected in series (24 volts; if your batteries are low like ours, three batteries in series will be more consistent, for 36 volts). You also need welding safety equipment (gloves and welding helmet), welding rod, some heavy-gauge jumper cables, heavy-gauge wires and terminals to connect the batteries in series, a wire brush, a hammer of sorts, and non-chlorinated parts cleaner spray (the chlorinated stuff can burn to form deadly chlorine gas). A pair of locking pliers helps too, and we also added a file to really get down to clean metal.
We have 6011 and 7018 welding rod in 1/8- and 3/32-inch diameters for battery welding. Premier Power Welders recommends 3/32-inch-diameter rod in 6011, 6010, 6013, and 7018. The 6011 is the easiest to use and works with fairly dirty metals. The 7018 is a bit trickier to use but yields a stronger weld.
All welding rod needs to be stored correctly. We have this inexpensive rod container that has a big rubber O-ring to help preserve the rod. Welding rod doesn’t like moisture or being jostled around a lot. We reused some foam packing material to wrap the rods up and keep them from getting beat up inside the tube. You should try to use old rod and replace it with new rod frequently as the rod and shielding material can go bad.
Using a pair of old locking pliers when you’re battery welding helps. For example, jumper cables don’t ground well to welding rod. Lock the clean end of the welding rod in the pliers and then ground the negative jumper cable to the locking pliers. The red (positive) alligator clamp will be grounded to the part you are welding.
We started out trying to weld with two partially discharged batteries in series. It worked, but not too well. The welds were small, very contaminated, and cold (weak), and the rod had a tendency to stick. If it sticks and you can’t quickly break it free, the rod will get red-hot and burn up. Ask us how we know.
After charging up the third nearly junk battery, we connected three batteries in series as shown below. We used some spare negative battery cables we had left over from another project and bought four battery terminals with wing nuts at the local parts store. Again, connect the batteries in series, or with negative to positive, negative to positive, and then use the jumper cables on the free negative and positive posts. You’ll want to use at least 4-gauge cable for this.
PhotosView Slideshow

These are some tack welds with 6011 rod on 1/8-inch steel using three batteries in series. The 6011 rod leaves a bunch of slag; as a result, these welds look horrible, but they aren’t bad when cleaned off (right image). Sure, there’s some porosity, but these welds would be decently strong given the conditions (and the rudimentary welding).

PhotosView Slideshow

These are tack welds with 7018 on 1/8-inch square tube to 1/4-inch plate using three batteries in series. The 7018 leaves a light brown thick slag that looks horrible but breaks off easily. These tacks are pretty good-looking when cleaned up (right image). Looking at the end of the welding rod shows you the reason why 7018 can be harder to use. The coating can act like a shield, keeping the metal from starting an arc.

One of the problems with battery welding is there is no adjustment. You get what you get. That means welds will probably be hot or too cold, neither of which is good. Enter the Premier Power Welder. It’s the only unit of its kind, an onboard welder that uses a hot rod alternator and a control box filled with magic. The Premier uses high-frequency, electric-resistance welding (HF ERW). What does that mean? Well, when you’re on the trail it means a clean strong weld even if you are no welding expert. Plus, it goes anywhere your rig can go. It whistles and you can set the voltage for welding by varying the rpms of your engine. The Premiere can also supply 115-volt power for tools like a grinder, a drill, a reciprocating saw, or a George Foreman grill.
Here’s the difference in weld quality between the Premier and what we were able to do with the batteries. Weld A on our scrap metal yard art is 6011 rod from the batteries and has big porosity problems. It’s an OK weld that might hold under some stress and strain. The other welds (B) are nice and clean and clearly penetrated very well into the parent metal.
Here’s another weld we did with 3/32-inch 6011 and the Premier Power Welder between two bits of 1/8-inch tubing. That’s a pretty good weld if we do say so ourselves. Sure, there are issues with our stop/starts, but that’s from our lack of experience as much as anything. Keep in mind that we don’t stick-weld very often.
Our last show-and-tell picture shows a couple of butt welds. With the Premier Power Welder and 3/32-inch 6011 between 1/4- and 1/8-inch plate steel. The welds aren’t perfect, but they are pretty darn good considering the conditions (dirt) and our lack of experience with stick/arc welding.

The One, the Only, the Premier Power Welder

The pinnacle of trail welding comes thanks to a company with a long history with four-wheeling and our magazine. Premier Power Welders has been around since 1979 and has been on just about every one of Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road’s Ultimate Adventures. The Premier Power Welder is an onboard high-frequency, electric-resistance welder (HF ERW) that can be fitted to just about any 4x4. The Premier is available with a Mini Box or the original Premier Power Welder Control Box, which can also power some handheld 115-volt power tools and can be used with a Ready Welder if you want to do some flux-core MIG welding just about anywhere on the planet. The Premier Power Welder costs between $1,200 and $1,800 depending on your vehicle application. Adding a Ready Welder is right at $620. Simply turn on the welder, set your rig’s rpm at whatever voltage you’d like, connect the leads, and spark an ark.

Welding With Batteries

Ever dropped a wrench between the grounded body and positive battery terminal on your 4x4? Yep, you welded. By wiring up two car batteries in series with jumper cables and adding some welding rod and a fire extinguisher, anyone can weld steel together just about anywhere. We’ve done this a few times on the trail and in a pinch and surely will again. It isn’t always pretty, and it sometimes fails and has to be redone, but it’s a valuable skill if you like off-roading (because something always breaks). We’re here to show you a few tricks and tips that we have picked up over the years so you can assemble a nearly free trail welding system. Is it as good as the Premier Power Welder? Heck no, but it may just be better than nothing.
Here Is What You Need
• 2 or 3 well-charged 12-volt batteries
• Heavy-gauge jumper cables
• 2 short heavy-gauge cables to connect one battery’s positive terminal to the other’s negative and some way of attaching each end (4) to battery terminals
• 6011 welding rod in 1/8- or 3/32-inch (7018 works too, but can be hard to strike an arc)
• 1 large or several small fire extinguishers
• Welding gloves and helmet
• File
• Wire brush
Things That Sure Do Help
• Can of non-chlorinated parts cleaner to clean greasy or oily metal
• Locking pliers
• Some welding skill
Connect the batteries in series with one battery’s positive terminal to the other’s negative. Connect the Positive (red) alligator clamp from the jumper cable to the last empty positive battery terminal and the negative (black) alligator clamp to the only empty negative terminal. Use the free positive (red) alligator clamp as the ground (clamp it to the metal) and clamp the free negative (black) alligator clamp to the end of your welding rod or to a pair of locking pliers holding your welding rod. Cobble together whatever broken bits you have with scrap bits of steel, clean with the wire brush and parts cleaner as best as you can (allow parts cleaner to dry), maybe say a little prayer, and weld while your buddy holds the fire extinguisher.

Sources

Premier Power Welder
Carbondale, CO 81623
800-541-1817
www.premierpowerwelder.com

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