The Joy of Welding
Fourwheeling is a hobby that can easily place you beyond walking distance from the nearest civilization. Because of this, being properly equipped means more than just having the right tools and the right spare parts. A fully prepared and equipped fourwheeler will also know how to make common, basic repairs that may be necessary to get a stricken vehicle out of the bush and back to civilization. That's why the do it yourself (DIY) attitude is so important. Once you're "out there" you must be self-sufficient. The best way to becoming self-sufficient is to do all the maintenance and upgrades to your vehicle on your own.
All this DIY activity has a side effect. It leads to BIY: build it yourself syndrome. All hard-core fourwheelers eventually succumb to BIY and one of the key indicators of BIY is the presence of a welder.
Being able to weld steel is both liberating and empowering. The moment you strike that arc and fuse two pieces of steel together, you undergo an immediate paradigm shift. Before buying a welder, you would look through catalogues to find a bumper that has the features you want at a price you can afford. More often than not, you'll never find a bumper that satisfy both those requirements. After buying a welder, you would look through catalogues to decide which features you will incorporate into the bumper that you are going to build yourself. Your realm of possibilities has just expanded by an order of magnitude. Welcome to the world of welding!
If welding is so wonderful, why don't all fourwheelers have a welder? The two most common reasons for this are:
Welding looks difficult, where as riding a bicycle looks like fun. Ironically, learning to weld is much easier and less painful than learning to ride a bike! With today's affordable wire-feed welders (commonly referred to as MIG welders), anyone can learn to do basic welding in a couple of hours. After that, practice and experience will fill in the rest.
A good quality MIG welder suitable for all 4x4 projects will cost approximately CAD$1000. For most of us, that's a heavy chunk of change to shell out for something that still requires raw materials (ie: paint, steel, nuts and bolts) and labour before we have something that we can bolt to our 4x4. And for many fourwheelers, that's where their thought process ends. But for those of us who think longer term, that thousand dollars will seem like a pretty good price. It is an investment, both in dollars for the welder and in time for your learning and practice, but it pays huge dividends in the future. You can build bumpers, roll cages, nerf bars, armour, motor mounts, tire carriers, winch mounts and anything else for the price of the raw materials.
The fact of the matter is, if you are going to be making extensive upgrades to your 4x4, a welder is one of the best investments you can make. It will allow you to build custom parts to suit your particular needs while saving you money at the same time.
Choosing a Welder
Now that we know how cool and useful a welder is, the big question is: what kind of welder should I buy? There are many different methods of welding but since we're talking about welding as it applies to the average 4x4 builder, there are two major choices: SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding), and GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding). They are more commonly known as stick welding and MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding. Both methods use an electric arc to melt the electrode and both require a way to shield the molten welding puddle until it can harden. Shield against what, you ask? They need to shield against some of the gases that make up the air we breathe. To do this, the stick welding method uses a flux coating on the welding rods which leaves a layer of slag over the weld. Once the welding is completed, the slag is chipped off with a chipping hammer. MIG welding uses gases such as CO2, argon and others to shield the weld and leaves no slag. As a result, no post-welding chipping is required.
Both methods of welding are useful for the range of tasks that the typical fourwheeler would encounter. The exception being sheet metal welding, where the MIG system is more appropriate since it requires less heat for its welds. Less heat means less chances of burning right through the metal and less warping.
But for most users, the biggest difference between the two systems lies in the ease of use. With stick welding, as the welding rod is consumed, you must continually move it closer in order to preserve the arc. This takes a fair bit of practice to master. With MIG, the welding wire is automatically fed out of the gun so the user doesn't have to worry about precise positioning of the wire. This makes MIG welding far easier to learn. In addition, there is no slag on the welds so the final step of chipping the slag is eliminated.
BC4x4's Choice: the Air Liquide M200
When it came time for me to lay down my own hard-earned cash on a welder, there was no question that it would be a MIG unit. I wanted the ease-of-use plus I wanted the ability to weld aluminum which I could do with MIG but not with a stick welder. But which MIG to buy? I required a unit capable of least 170 amps because I did a lot of welding of 3/16" and 1/4" steel. Duty cycle wasn't a big concern since I don't run long beads when welding (ie: I don't weld for long periods) plus the welder wouldn't be used at its maximum power for most projects.
I looked at the usual suspects (Miller, Lincoln, Hobart) and very nearly bought a Miller. But then I heard about Air Liquide. Air Liquide is known worlwide for supplying the welding industry (as well as many other industries) with an array of gas products. Besides gas, their network of welding stores also carried all manner of welding-related equipment including Miller welders. They're well established in North America so that's not news to anyone. What was news to me was that they now manufacture their own line of welders. At first, I was skeptical because I assumed they were just re-badging some other manufacturer's equipment. But when I visited an Air Liquide store and looked inside some of their welders, my skepticism disappeared. I was looking at the M200 (a welder that was beyond my requirements and, I assumed, my budget) and was stunned by its double-drive wire-feed mechanism. Unlike most welders in its class, it used a system of FOUR drive wheels to feed the welding wire to the gun, as opposed to two wheels used by conventional systems. Besides providing better grip and more consistent wire feed speed, the four-roller system also straightened the wire as it unspooled it, resulting in less wear on the hose liner and better wire feed performance. The overall build quality was very impressive, as was the high end Blueshield GMAW welding gun that used standardized "Euro-spec" connections to attach to the welder. As I said, my requirements and budget dictated a 170 amp welder. But after some negotiating, I found the M200 to be within my budget. And if it's within my budget, then of course I NEEDED it! But before I bought, I did some more research.
Air Liquide has been involved in welding for a very long time.
Everyone I spoke to who had an M200 was hugely satisfied with the welder. Air Liquide's stores are virtually everywhere so service and availability of spare parts and consumables was a non-issue. Their subsidiary companies in Europe had been manufacturing welders for a great many years so they obviously had the experience and know-how. At the end of my humming and hawing, I couldn't think of a single reason not to buy it. It was the best value, it had great support, and its maker had a long history in the welding industry. The only fly in the ointment was that they weren't well-known in North America for their welders. But hey, you don't get the hot deals when everyone knows about them, right? A few days after that, I brought home a spankin' new Air Liquide M200 MIG welder.
The process of unpacking the welder and its parts and documentation was accompanied by various outbursts of simian hooting and ecstatic whimpering, normal for any rock monkey that is receiving a new, all-conquering tool. (The opening scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind.) As with any big purchase, upon bringing your shiny new acquisition home, there is a nagging voice in the back of your head nattering away about the possibility that you have made a BAD PURCHASE. This is particularly noticeable when you buck the "conventional wisdom" and throw your money behind a new product on the market. I'm happy to report that that voice was immediately disspelled as I opened the shipping box. Close inspection of each piece supported my initial opinion; this was a solid, high-quality welder. Here's a list of its features:
- 208/230 volt, single phase input voltage connection.
- 60% duty cycle at 150 amps
- Can weld 3/8" steel in a single pass.
- Parameter set-up instructions located on the inside of cabinet door.
- Spot timer.
- Heavy duty undercarriage, cylinder platform, wheels and casters.
- Thermostatic protection from current overload and excessive temperatures.
- Wire run-in control.
- Purge control.
- Input line voltage regulation.
- Jog control.
- Patented four-roll drive system.
- Euro quick connections.
- Trigger lock.
- Built-in connections for aluminum spool gun welding.
- 8 taps for voltage control.
- Large cylinder rack.
- 3-year parts and labour warranty.
Care to see some pics? Go to the next page.
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