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.
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).
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.
The One, the Only, the Premier Power WelderThe 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 BatteriesEver 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
• 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.