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Aluminum methods….

BaitMaster

Super User
Looking for some input. I’m batting around the idea of putting together a welded aluminum boat kit, where the cut pieces and plans are supplied, but require assembly via welding….

I have an AC capable TIG welder that I am reasonably confident with. I’ve done some little aluminum projects and repairs here and there so with the usual determination I have no doubt I could do the boat project with the TIG completely.

My question is, for guys that have experience with MIG on aluminum and TIG, which one is easier/more economical for a sizeable aluminum only project like assembling an all aluminum welded boat hull?

Would I save myself a bunch of money if I bought and sold a MIG capable of aluminum for the project, assuming a good deal on a used welder could be had?

I don’t know the operating expenses per inch for either… but from what I’ve heard and noticed TIG is expensive to run. I know it’s not cheap to run in general as even for myself, any project I can I use the stick to save money. If it doesn’t need to look pretty I use the stick.

I have zero experience with MIG on aluminum. I have a bit of mig experience in general from years ago, so I’m sure I could hack it. But no idea what it costs to run.

Stick with the TIG? Get an aluminum capable mig for this project since it will save me hundreds in argon and sell it after? Get a mig and keep it because it’s not your money and I obviously have too much if I’m talking about building a boat?

Opinions welcome.
 

jcdammeyer

John
Premium Member
Looking for some input. I’m batting around the idea of putting together a welded aluminum boat kit, where the cut pieces and plans are supplied, but require assembly via welding….

I have an AC capable TIG welder that I am reasonably confident with. I’ve done some little aluminum projects and repairs here and there so with the usual determination I have no doubt I could do the boat project with the TIG completely.

My question is, for guys that have experience with MIG on aluminum and TIG, which one is easier/more economical for a sizeable aluminum only project like assembling an all aluminum welded boat hull?

Would I save myself a bunch of money if I bought and sold a MIG capable of aluminum for the project, assuming a good deal on a used welder could be had?

I don’t know the operating expenses per inch for either… but from what I’ve heard and noticed TIG is expensive to run. I know it’s not cheap to run in general as even for myself, any project I can I use the stick to save money. If it doesn’t need to look pretty I use the stick.

I have zero experience with MIG on aluminum. I have a bit of mig experience in general from years ago, so I’m sure I could hack it. But no idea what it costs to run.

Stick with the TIG? Get an aluminum capable mig for this project since it will save me hundreds in argon and sell it after? Get a mig and keep it because it’s not your money and I obviously have too much if I’m talking about building a boat?

Opinions welcome.
 

Proxule

Ultra Member
Before I had the funds, or the knowledge. I used a teflon liner on my MIG and kept the whip super straight. I also opted for the the thickest wire possible, given your amps and rollers and tips. ( a bigger welding tip is required as aluminum will expand )
The stiffest wire possible is also recommended for this adventure. 5356 series.
A bottle of pure argon of course, or if possible a bit of helium if your welding supply is able to, and also helps with getting the max out of low amperage MIG machines.

I would save the headaches, and opt for a spoolgun. As it will be able to run smaller diameter wire and lower amps and everything will be less frustrating,

Other welder pros will chime in, This is just my experience.

gluck
 

phaxtris

(Ryan)
Premium Member
Premium Member
dont even try to do this with a tig, you will never finish the thing, and may end up warping it badly enough it ends up as scrap. Aluminum mig is pretty easy, but you do need a sizeable machine,

The ultimate for this project would be a push-pull gun, nicest to weld with by a long shot and would allow you to run a full size spool as opposed to those 1lb'ers savings a few bucks, next up would be a spool gun, either you should be able to find either used (ebay, auctions, marketplace)

I agree with @Proxule, dont bother trying to run aluminum through a standard machine even with a teflon liner, not worth the headaches, and there will be many with this approach
 

BaitMaster

Super User
dont even try to do this with a tig, you will never finish the thing, and may end up warping it badly enough it ends up as scrap. Aluminum mig is pretty easy, but you do need a sizeable machine,

The ultimate for this project would be a push-pull gun, nicest to weld with by a long shot and would allow you to run a full size spool as opposed to those 1lb'ers savings a few bucks, next up would be a spool gun, either you should be able to find either used (ebay, auctions, marketplace)

I agree with @Proxule, dont bother trying to run aluminum through a standard machine even with a teflon liner, not worth the headaches, and there will be many with this approach
Thanks for the feedback.

I’ll google a push pull gun.

Warping and slow, drawbacks of TIG… good to know.
 

BaitMaster

Super User
That was YouTube. Had to be.... Might have been YouTube TV though.

The same author has videos on how to make a vise out of marshmallows and how to do heart surgery with a splitting axe.
It’s actually called a maul. Just saying. Learned that on the youtubes ;)
 

CWret

Ultra Member
Premium Member
I’m a self-taught aluminum welder with very little experience. My results are poor at best but because aluminum is a challenge I have fun with it.
The article that jcdammeyer attached has very good introductory info (even if it is a sales pitch).

I have an AC capable Miller 220 and I forced myself to learn basic TIG aluminum before buying the easier to use spoolgun. I figured that if I had the spoolgun I wouldn’t bother to try and learn TIG aluminum. (That TIG learning curve was not easy, used up several bottles of argon, and made lots of scrap aluminum). The spoolgun is oh so nice and easy to use. I had considered stepping up to the push-pull gun but I’d been told to buy only a good quality one (expensive) or just get the spoolgun.
From my limited experience using both TIG and spoolgun, IMO the spoolgun is not as good as TIG for thin aluminum. Also, as said above, TIG is slow. Very slow and you need lots of practice to keep from making a TIG mess. (I think TIGmess should be one word).
(You are welcome to come try my spoolgun.) Also as said above, I agree that TIG is not the right solution for your boat project.

My concern with your boat project is that it will include lots of panels of thin aluminum. Thin aluminum (less than 1.5mm) is very tricky.
So if you do decide to try it:
- set yourself up best you can;
- get a good quality & capable machine with adjustable pulse and other controls for aluminum;
- plan on the extra cost of a good push-pull gun;
- get friendly with your local argon supplier;
- plan on many hours of practice before you start on the boat; and
- buy some really good PFDs.
 

Dan Dubeau

Ultra Member
Interesting project, be sure to keep us posted. I'd be going for the spool gun, or push pull unless you hate yourself, or have the patience of a monk. Tig would be handy for tacking, and tricky access areas that the spoolgun wouldn't fit, but would take forever to do the bulk of the work.
 

trevj

Ultra Member
I kinda think there is a place for both processes, although no matter what you use, you are like to be beating up against the Duty Cycle in either case, unless you have a suitably large welding power source.
TIG for pretty welds, MIG for when you need to cover some ground. Got no experience using a solid state MIG machine with the bells 'n' whistles, though, so take that for what it's worth.
Never saw TIG Aluminum as any real difficult process, just have to understand that the heat only flows away from the joint so fast, and when you get to the edges of the panels, you need to back off the heat or risk melting a great jeebly puddle out of the work.

For a big project, see about renting some full size gas bottles, like two at least, so you can swap and go when you are out, and deal with a trip to the gas supplier when it is more convenient.
 

justin1

Super User
All good advice posted above. I would look into spool gun more then a push pull unless your gonna be making big fishing boat and or multiple boats. As there good price difference between the two. If you don't plan on doing lots of aluminum mig welding then I wouldn't worry about getting too expensive of spool gun as functionally they work about the same some have more bells and whistles or different tensioning methods for spool. Just make sure the connectors are correct and it can run at the amps to match the thickest aluminum parts you plan on welding then just fly at it.

You can do fair amount of welding with the small spools of wire. I would recommend whipping the weld puddle and a good mig weld for aluminum should look similar to the weld I'll attach to this post. Too big of steps you don't get the metal build up and no stepping or too slow you get very rounded welds and is just a waste of wire. Run on the hotter side as it's easy to lay lots of weld down but get poor fusion when running on cold side.

Also I would invest cold cut blades for circular saw or plasma cutter for processing aluminum as aluminum zip cuts are kinda the shits. Even good jigsaw blades work better then the zip cuts.

Weld to shoot for or even slightly tighter steps.
IMG_5357.jpg


Nothing visibly wrong with this weld but its on the thin side from over stepping and moving to fast.

weldbead.png


Not running hot enough gets results like this.
AlWeld1.jpg


Couldn't find good picture of running too hot but you'll mostly just burn holes in everything or wire will burn back faster then your gun will spit it out. And your welds will be not be not as shiny and there will be excessive oxidation.
 

CWret

Ultra Member
Premium Member
I mentioned above that you can come try my spool gun. (Not sure where you live). Bring some aluminum pieces the same thickness as the boat. It is a Miller Spoolmate 150.

Also - if you are in this area - I suggest you plan to attend Fabtech. It is next week in Toronto (or other dates in other areas). For Fabtech info, see my post in the welding section (from an hour ago).
 

CWret

Ultra Member
Premium Member
Another thing to remember (that hasn’t been mentioned) - aluminum needs to be clean. Very clean!
1. Clean using acetone on a clean cloth.
2. Wire brush only with a stainless steel brush.
3. Don’t wire brush or use a flap sanding disc before cleaning with acetone. (The scratches can trap crap that then the acetone can’t get out).
4. New and shiny clean looking aluminum still needs to be cleaned. Clean only what you will be welding today.
5. If using TIG - wipe the filler rod clean with acetone.
6. Don’t use a flap disc or SS brush that was previously used on steel.
7. A flap disc works well to sharpen TIG tungsten, but dedicate a new flap disc for this purpose.
 

BaitMaster

Super User
Thanks @CWret , @justin1 , and @skookumrob for the input.

I have done a bit of TIG on aluminum so far, so I do have the acetone cleaning and stainless brushing down. I can make an acceptable aluminum TIG weld that passes the big hammer/hydraulic press breaking/bending test, but of course doesn’t look quite as pretty as the pros.

I think I will jump for a mig machine if I decide to take on this project.

I was looking at the ESAB em190, it’s priced decent and does mig only, which for me is fine as I have a TIG/stick machine that works great.

Would a larger machine be needed? Boat bottom and sides are 3mm (1/8”)

@CWret I’m in alberta, Toronto is a long way out. Small town alberta at that.
 

DavidR8

Scrap maker
Administrator
Moderator
Premium Member
Thanks @CWret , @justin1 , and @skookumrob for the input.

I have done a bit of TIG on aluminum so far, so I do have the acetone cleaning and stainless brushing down. I can make an acceptable aluminum TIG weld that passes the big hammer/hydraulic press breaking/bending test, but of course doesn’t look quite as pretty as the pros.

I think I will jump for a mig machine if I decide to take on this project.

I was looking at the ESAB em190, it’s priced decent and does mig only, which for me is fine as I have a TIG/stick machine that works great.

Would a larger machine be needed? Boat bottom and sides are 3mm (1/8”)

@CWret I’m in alberta, Toronto is a long way out. Small town alberta at that.
Have a hard look at the Primeweld MIG180. Ships with a spool gun for aluminum.
 

BaitMaster

Super User
Have a hard look at the Primeweld MIG180. Ships with a spool gun for aluminum.
Does anyone have a prime weld? I’m not opposed to a brand I haven’t heard of….

I bought a Canaweld TIG I’ve had nothing but success with…..

I’m not personally familiar with primeweld though.
 

DavidR8

Scrap maker
Administrator
Moderator
Premium Member
Does anyone have a prime weld? I’m not opposed to a brand I haven’t heard of….

I bought a Canaweld TIG I’ve had nothing but success with…..

I’m not personally familiar with primeweld though.
I have two Primeweld machines, a TIG225 and a MIG180. Super impressed with both machines.
I believe a few other members also have Primeweld machines.
 
Last edited:

phaxtris

(Ryan)
Premium Member
Premium Member
Your going to want bigger than either machines suggested here, the em190 is 145a @ 30%, prime weld ???@30%, full out maybe 15%

1/8 aluminum isn't to bad, until it's in the middle of an 8' sheet with a bunch of other stuff welded to it, it can really turn into quite the heat sink, eating up 150/200amps no problem

I would look for a used full sized machine, there will be thicker bits here and there that will eat up all the output and duty cycle smaller machine can throw at it

Something 250-300 amps will have the duty cycle and the output when needed
 
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