Category Archives: Welding

If you want something to change, you have to do something different…

In theory, yes.  Practice? Not often enough.  Everyone is guilty of it.  Doing that something…getting unsatisfactory results…doing it again…same negative result…then, as if we’re expecting some divine intervention, we hold our breath and do it again…

sculpture sculptor art artist
Resumo Ignoramus Perpetuus

Why?  Is it laziness? No.  Is it because we’re not smart enough to try something else?  No. Is it ego? Maybe.…probably.   I’m guilty.  We all are.  I call it RIP (resumo ignoramus  perpetuus). As a small business consultant, I see it all too often.

Welding aluminum is a petri dish for RIP.  If something goes astray, stop welding because it’s not going to go away.  The only thing that will go away is your workpiece.  You have a problem and you need to fix it.

Statistically, if you’re experiencing difficulty, you’re dealing with a contamination problem…the torch, work piece or both.  Once it starts, it quickly turns into both.

Stainless Steel Wire Brush metalwork welding sculpture sculptor art artist
Step 2 - Stainless Steel Wire Brush


Sculpture welding sculptor art artist
Step 1 - Cleaning solution

I can’t emphasized the cleanliness aluminum requires.  It’s a whole different playing field than mild steel.  Having a true-tested cleaning liquid and a stainless steel brush are essential.  I use Gold Matrix Industrial Cleaning Fluid by Walter.  Your local welding supply company has their favorite…use it.  A stainless steel brush can be purchased at your local hardware store.  Give your wire brush exclusivity and use it solely with aluminum.  Periodically cleanse it with your cleaning solution.

welding argon flowmeter gauge sculpture sculptor
15-20 PSI


  1. Is there a draft in your working area?  I love to weld outside, but even the slightest breeze can disrupt your gas shield.
  2. Sorry…but is it on?  Do you have sufficient pressure?  PSI range for welding aluminum is between 15-20 PSI.  Turning it up beyond that will probably disrupt the shielding process by creating turbulence.
  3. At the onset, get in a comfortable welding position, engage and release your foot pedal for one second to start the gas flow…then re-engage the pedal to start the arc.  This initial step displaces oxygen and creates a pure field before the arc.  Also, keep the torch close to the weld after you disengage the arc to allow post flow of the argon to remain on the weld.


  1. If either your puddle or filler rod grazed the electrode, it’s contaminated.  Depending on the severity, you can either snap off the end and grind to point or just re-grind to point.  When grinding your electrode, position the electrode so it’s pointing directly at the wheel (lengthwise) and quickly rotate to get an even point.  Angle will dictate weld bead/penetration.  Less angle/sharper will provide a wider bead, less penetration….the reverse for wide angle/more blunt.  For my project, I’m between 45-60°.  I keep a few electrodes handy for a quick switch.
  2. Puretung v. Thoriated?  Personal preference and aluminum thickness.  Experiment.  I use 2% Thoriated.
  3. Confirm AC setting….especially if you’re working on multiple projects or sharing equipment.  You’ll know if amperage is too high/low.   When starting a new project, testing is always wise…saves time, energy and $…and take notes.

Surface/Filler Rod

  1. Fine soot often accumulates during the welding process.   More so when you make frequent stops/go.  Clean the surface with your solvent first and then use the stainless brush.  I also wipe down filler rod with solvent.
  2. Used dedicated welding gloves for aluminum…the newest/cleanest you have.

When welding aluminum, there is little room for error.  Take your time and get in a comfortable welding position.  Preparation is critical.

Settings & Supplies – Welding and Forming Aluminum


sculpture sculptor art artist welding supplies tungsten
Test and experiment.

Material – Aluminum Sheet, 1/16’’

sculpture sculptor art artist metal work
Wire makes a great guide over uneven surfaces.

AC Setting – 40-165 @ 50%
Shielding Gas – 100% Argon @ ~18 psi
Note: With thicker metals, a mixture of helium and argon is recommended.  Helium makes the arc hotter and gives more penetration.   Since I primarily use thin metals, I use 100% argon.

sculpture sculptor art artist metal work welding aluminum
Final cutting...
sculpture sculptor art artist metal works metal sculpture
Ratchet straps make great alternative clamps.

Filler Material – Aluminum 4043 (1/16 & 3/32)
Note:  I keep both handy based on gaps.
Torch – #6 cup with Tungsten Electrode, 2% Thoriated Ground Tungsten (rep tip), 3/32
Note:  Cup size is measured in 16ths.  A #6 is 6/16ths or 3/8’’ o.d. With this metal thickness, I find the 2% more user-friendly than Puretung…personal preference.
Cleaning Materials – Stainless steel wire brush and Gold Matrix industrial cleaner by Walter. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Aluminum needs to be very clean to weld.

Tack welding these pieces together helps get the general structure established before making final cuts/modifications.  After final cuts are made, I extend tack welds 6+ inches to help maintain the structure’s integrity when forming/bending.    Ratchet straps are great alternative to traditional clamping.  A rubber mallet is ideal to form these ends closer together for welding prep.

Love at first sight and a lasting relationship…

Love at first sight and a lasting relationship…

Agent Gibbs, NCIS

Yes, that’s my Miller Dialarc HF TIG Welder.  She’s number one on my tool list next to my Hypertherm Powermax Plasma Cutter.   With these two tools of magic, I could construct a submarine in my basement…sorry Gibbs.  TIG welding is the pinnacle of welding.  From mild and stainless steel to aluminum, alloys, brass, copper and bronze, it’s the most diverse and versatile metal joining process available.

Welding Welder Miller TIG Welder Sculpture Sculptor Artist
DynaFlux-PUP Torch Cooling System on top (red)

Why is TIG the best?

  • High quality with control.  Heat Management = Puddle Management = Aesthetic Strong Welds.  With the use of the surgical-like precision tungsten electrode torch, heat regulating foot pedal and hand controled filler rod, it yields strong precision welds.  It’s not only diverse in welding exotic metals, but it’s very versatile in welding different joints (T, Edge, Corner, Butt and Lap joints) at every angled position with little distortion.
  • It’s clean.    No paste, no flux, no slag and no smoke/fumes. No sparks bouncing off the inside of your helmet…just a divine-like glow.  It produces clean, strong and very aesthetic welds.


  • PIGO-What you put in, you get out.  Surfaces/base materials must be very clean – especially with aluminum.  This adds time and tests patience, but it’s good protocol.
  • Expense.  TIG welding is a slower process, so you sacrifice time for quality.  The training, equipment, argon, wattage and supplies are more costly than the traditional, but it’s an investment.  Especially if your goal is to produce superior weld strength and aesthetics.

That’s “why”…more “how” to come…

It’s all about having the right tool…


It’s all about having the right tool…  Specifically with creating sculpture, the right tool/technique can make the difference between having a 50 hour project in the scrap pile or on a pedestal in a gallery.  I’ve done both.

Milwaukee tools, eye protection, gloves, aluminum
Always use gloves and eye protection!

When purchasing a tool, I strongly believe that you get what you pay for.  Although most tool brands have complete lines (Milwaukee, Ryobi,DeWalt, Craftsman/Stanley and Bosch) there are some brands that manufacture the best tool for the job.  When making a tool purchase, it’s best to ask a professional that uses that tool everyday.  They’re the ideal R&D Departments and truly put tools to the test.  The Milwaukee metal shearing tool (below left) is durable, reliable and provides a great clean cut.  A few hints; don’t force it…apply very little pressure and it should almost drive itself.  If it’s not moving forward, adjust the angle.  It’s best to stop completely and start over by slightly adjusting the tool’s angle.  Try to maintain that angle to make a smooth easy cut.

Milwauwkee Shears - Sculpture - Metal Work
Let the tool do the work - angle is key.

You will find yourself wrestling it like a wild animal when you lose that sweet spot…deep breathe…stop and restart.

The benefit of being a metalsmith is that when you need a unique tool or a tool is insufficient for the job, we can modify or create one.  I manufactured the Medieval-like hammer tool (middle right) that easily forms metal.  It’s a large stainless steel ball bearing welded to a solid metal tube (for weight).  It’s a hammer x100.

Sculpture tools, outdoor sculpture metal sculpture
Stump top is carved concave to assist forming.

This is that critical stage, when I create texture, where I need to decide if less is more.  I’m inclined to add more texture and create more depth in these dimples with a smaller tool.  Testing ideas like this certainly help with that decision.  I have decided to go with three sides….more linear and after testing, I’ve also decided to maintain the cleaner, softer pattern.

Sculpture Metal Work Sculptor forming metal
Aluminum - malleable with integrity

I prefer to bend material before I cut.  With the use of these Wiss sheet metal hand seamers (another favorite) I form the ends to allow me to start welding in the middle and working my way out.  At this point, I have some idea of how the ends will be created, but I’m free with the process and see where it takes me.

Sculpture Metal Sculpture Sculptor Outdoor Sculpture
Seamers by Wiss
sculpture metal work metal sculpture outdoor sculpture
Welding prep work - aluminum needs to be very clean
Sculpture metal sculpture metal working outdoor sculpture
The ground has just enough give to mold the "podlet."