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Even for the most experienced welders, welding aluminum can present a challenge. Aluminum welding requires different techniques and processes than welding steel, and it’s critical to know these differences in order to complete successful welds and work on a variety of different projects.
While welding aluminum can be difficult, it’s a skill that can be developed with the right knowledge and practice. Keep reading to learn all about how to weld aluminum—from the different types of welding you can use to general tips for success.
Aluminum is a common type of metal used in fabrication. It’s non-corrosive, lightweight and pleasing to the eye, making it an ideal choice of material for a wide variety of welds. However, the same traits that make aluminum desirable can also make it tricky to work with.
So why is aluminum so difficult to weld? This material is soft, highly sensitive and is insulated by a tough oxidized layer. While in its molten state, aluminum is susceptible to impurities, which can lead to porous, weak welds.
Aluminum and its alloys have a great affinity for oxygen. Pure aluminum melts at 1200°F (650°C), and the oxide that protects the metal melts at 3700°F (2037°C). Because the oxide melts at a temperature approximately 2500°F (1370°C) higher than the aluminum itself, the oxide must be cleaned from the metal before welding can begin.
Since aluminum has a higher thermal conductivity and low melting point, it has a smaller window of workability than other metals and can easily lead to burnthrough. This, in combination with it being harder to indicate weld progress and quality, can make aluminum a difficult material to work with.
In sum, here are some of the most common factors that make aluminum challenging to weld:
While there are certainly challenges that come with welding aluminum, it’s not impossible to learn. Luckily, there are tools and techniques designed to help when working with aluminum’s unique properties.
By having knowledge of the way aluminum reacts and how to effectively use these tools and techniques, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of aluminum welding.
Welding aluminum comes down to choosing the right welding process. Many tools and methods are designed for welding steel, but aluminum requires its own technique and equipment.
Before even beginning the welding process, the welder must clean the aluminum thoroughly. As mentioned previously, one of the challenges with aluminum is that it is more prone to impurities. Therefore, prepping the material correctly is key. Here are a few steps to follow:
Safety is another critical component to welding aluminum, or any material for that matter. Always ensure you wear the proper protective equipment such as goggles, safety glasses, a welding helmet with the appropriate lens shade number to protect your eyes, gloves and leathers to protect yourself from metal sparks and splatters, the proper shoes to protect your feet and proper fume ventilation to keep the welding fumes away from your breathing zone.
Check out our welding safety guide to learn more.
If you’re wondering how to weld aluminum, it’s important to know that there are several welding processes that can be used:
Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), also known as tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, is one of the most popular welding processes chosen for aluminum. This welding technique is often used by automotive enthusiasts and welders for professional racing teams.
GTAW requires a constant current equipment with AC (alternating current) capabilities using 100 percent argon as a shielding gas. It does not require mechanical wire feeding, which has the potential to create feedability issues.
Rather, the welder will feed the filler material into a puddle. This process is also very clean, as the alternating current cleans the oxidized layer off the aluminum as it welds. It also prevents aluminum from being contaminated throughout the process.
Tips for TIG welding:
Gas metal arc welding (GMAW), commonly referred to as metal inert gas (MIG) welding, is another common method used for aluminum welding.
This type of welding typically has faster travel speeds and higher deposition rates than TIG welding, affecting the weld quality. However, it does utilize a mechanical wire feeding system, which means the welder may have to use a spool gun or push-pull gun to make wire feeding possible.
Additionally, in order to combat the risk of aluminum becoming porous, the base material and filler rod must be clean, free of moisture and have excellent shielding gas coverage, typically pure argon content. Check out Lincoln Electric’s guide to aluminum GMAW welding to learn even more about this method.
Tips for MIG welding:
While MIG and TIG are commonly used methods for welding aluminum, there are several other types of welding that can be used:
So what types of welding should be avoided with aluminum? In general, any type of welding that uses a flux is not ideal for aluminum, as it can result in porosity. These include flux cored arc welding (FCAW), submerged arc welding and stick welding.
Now that we’ve covered different methods that can be used to weld aluminum, let’s talk about some common mistakes to avoid.
As welding aluminum presents challenges, you might be wondering, “Why use aluminum in the first place?”
The use of aluminum as a structural material is fairly recent. In fact, the Washington Monument, which was completed in 1884, was capped with a 100 oz. pyramid of pure aluminum because it was considered a precious metal. At this time, aluminum was not widely used.
It wasn’t until 1886 that aluminum became available in commercial quantities due to the discovery of the electrolytic process for obtaining pure aluminum from aluminum oxide. Since then, welders around the world have recognized its unique qualities and used it in many applications, such as passenger automobiles, trucks, over-the-road trailers, railroad cars, aircraft, cookware and even marine equipment.
While aluminum can be difficult to work with, this material offers several key benefits:
As aluminum welding becomes more popular, it’s important for today’s welders to possess the skills to work with this material. This often requires some type of formal, hands-on training, such as the Welding Technology training program offered at Universal Technical Institute.
In this program, students learn four of the most common welding techniques, including TIG and MIG welding. Developed in conjunction with Lincoln Electric, a leading brand in the industry, this training program also covers how to weld in the flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead positions used for plate or sheet metal, and the fixed, rolling and overhead positions used for pipe.
UTI’s welding program is offered at five campus locations nationwide, including Avondale, AZ, Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, Houston, TX and Long Beach, CA.
Universal Technical Institute’s 36-week Welding Technology training program is designed to give you the hands-on training needed to prepare for a welding career in a variety of industries. To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an admissions representative today.
Additional welding resources:
Welding can be a dangerous occupation without proper safety guidelines in place. Click here to learn 11 welding safety tips to follow.
Learn what flux-cored welding or flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) is, what it's used for and the techniques taught at Universal Technical Institute.
Ever wonder how to read welding blueprint symbols? Click here to learn what these symbols are and how to use them.
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