There are times when a welder, whether a novice or a seasoned professional, does not need the power or have the resources to use an industrial welding machine. Fortunately, there are many well-made and reliable MIG welders that can handle whatever fabrication you may need to perform.
Although one may certainly use a MIG Welder for purposes of welding aluminum, assuming they have the proper MIG Welding set-up, aluminum welding on a larger scale should be done with an AC/DC TIG Welder. Sometimes, however, one does not have the proper resources to use top-of-the-line welding equipment. For this reason, they must weld aluminum for one reason or another by MIG welding aluminum.
There are some challenges that one may run into when MIG welding aluminum that wouldn’t be an issue with a more common welding metal, such as steel. Namely, the room for error is completely narrowed when using aluminum. So, for any variations you may have in roller tension or wire feed speed when MIG welding steel that wouldn’t normally be a problem will absolutely cause problems when welding aluminum.
As long as these careful considerations are taken, there is no reason that one shouldn’t be able to handle MIG welding aluminum in a pinch.
Supplies Needed for MIG Welding Aluminum
It is extremely important to keep to proper supplies when MIG welding aluminum. Otherwise, your machine could develop some issues, and you’ll develop a headache trying to deal with it. For gas, a carbon dioxide mix will absolutely not do; you’ll have to get pure Argon. For your torch liner, the regular steel liner will not do either; using this type of liner could cause wire to become jammed in the liner. Instead you will to use a Teflon or plastic liner, these won’t scratch from the wire and are less likely to cause jams.
You will also need a torch tip that is larger than what one would usually use for steel welding. This is because normal sized tips will cause the aluminum to jam up at the end (due to Aluminum’s adhesive properties). Finally, you will also need to make sure to tailor the wire you use to the aluminum that you’re welding. For general work, 5356 grade and 4043 grade will suffice.
Setting Things Up
The roller tension will have to be found separate to how you usually weld other metals: through trial and error. We recommend starting at the absolute lowest setting and then increasing the tension until the wire feeds. Set the power a bit higher (50% higher) than you would for working on steel of the similar thickness. Depending on the job of course, set the wire feed speed to approximately double that of what you would use on steel.
Make sure that the aluminum is warm to the touch. This shouldn’t be a problem during warmer months, but during cooler months you will need to make sure to heat up the job so as to promote easier welding. Clean the aluminum. If it’s new, you may only have to wipe it down a bit to get general dust and grime off. If it’s older and has sustained some surface oxidation, you may have to lightly sand off the top to clear some aluminum oxide from the surface.
Time To Start MIG Welding Aluminum
Now for the especially tricky part- actually welding the aluminum. There will likely be some trial and error involved with getting the correct combination of wire feed speed and welder power. This can be a frustrating process but don’t shy away from giving it multiple tries; eventually some combination will work just right.
Make sure to angle the torch a bit when in this process; if the wire speed is too high, the angle (40-50 degrees) will help to prevent the wire from getting tangled inside of the machine. Once you’ve found the correct balance, weld just how you would steel: approximately 70 degrees, slowly along the surface of the aluminum.
Which MIG Welder to Use?
There are a multitude of reliable MIG welders to choose from when looking for cheap and reliable options. The Lincoln 210 MP is capable of welding up to 3/16 inches aluminum, and is very light, weighing only 40 pounds. It has a large color display to help guide the user through set-up. This could be very useful considering the balancing act of wire feed speed and power.
On the less expensive end, the Hobart Handler 140 MIG welder is definitely still a passable option. It’s a bit heavier at almost 60 pounds, which still is not too bad. It can also conveniently be plugged into a household current. While not specifically good or bad for MIG welding aluminum, it is a major perk for hobby welders. Reviewers have found that it is rather annoying having to adjust the wire spool with a wrench every time.
The Vulcan Migmax 140 is another good MIG welder at a modest price point. It weighs 70 pounds and comes spool ready. It is well equipped to handle the welding projects of professionals, while still simple enough to serve as a perfectly decent welder for a novice.
Wrapping Things Up
In summary, it is always best to avoid MIG welding aluminum if you can help it. Of course, oftentimes one cannot help it and must resort to MIG tools for their aluminum projects. Although more difficult, it is most certainly not impossible. By following these general guidelines, MIG welding with aluminum should be entirely doable without many hitches.