Burnin’ Up: Cold Weather Welding Tips for Winter Projects

When the temperature drops, things change and welding is no exception. For anyone still learning this valuable skill, the effect that cold weather can have on welding may be a new experience. And if you aren’t aware of the obstacles, it can become very frustrating, very fast. Certain factors need to be considered in order to prevent warping and ensure a proper weld. In a perfect world you would have a climate-controlled garage that wouldn’t leave you worrying about conditional threats. But, unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect and you will be pushed to work in poor conditions at times.

Just because you don’t have the right settings, doesn’t mean it’s time to just lie down and give up. Keeping with this week’s theme of practical advice, like identifying rust buckets and fabricating small panels, here are some key tips about cold weather welding to keep you on track with all your winter projects.

The Issue with Cold Weather and Welds

Before we break down cold weather welding, we need to understand what makes it difficult. Welding is done by introducing extreme temperatures to steel. Even in the right conditions, the temperatures associated make it very easy to warp the metal. And when that metal is cold, warping is more likely to occur. Welds are also more susceptible to cracking in these conditions due to poor penetration. This can be extremely frustrating, not to mention time-consuming, if you don’t know how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Because after one or two failed attempts, we can understand why someone would likely be ready to throw in the towel. Well, not to worry because here is some tried-and-true advice to help you work smarter, not harder. 

Introduction of Heat before Welding

What can you do to make cold metal less likely to warp? Give it a little fire. With the use of a torch, gently raise the temperature of the steel. Doing this will ensure you’re getting penetration during your passes. It also helps slow down the metal’s cooling rate, making it more ductile and resistant to cracking.

You don’t want to bring the temperature of the metal up too high though, as that will only help it warp. Hitting the sweet spot can be a little tricky. Remember that you’re not trying to get the metal red-hot. You just want to make it more receptive to the welds. Ideally, you want to bring the temperature up to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but it could be more depending on the gauge of the steel. A temperature-indicating heat crayon, like those offered by Tempil®, can help ensure you’re in the correct range.

Best Projects for Cold Weather Welding

Even if you get the metal to the right temperature and successfully lay a good weld, that doesn’t always mean the job is done. Body work has many steps involved that require the optimal environment for body filler to set up and paint to dry properly. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to avoid those types of projects in the winter. If that’s not possible, then you want a job that doesn’t require many post-steps where temperature comes into play. So, maybe avoid the patch panels this winter season. But if your exhaust falls off or you’ve been procrastinating on those structural repairs, get to work.

A Few More Things to Consider

When tackling cold weather welding, approach is key—but so is taking care of your materials. If your work space is unheated, consider using insulated tarps or an external heating source to keep the ambient temperature as consistent as possible. One welder who was contributing to a forum discussion thread on the topic said, “The main problem with unheated sheds and workshops reveals itself when the weather warms up after a cold spell. All the large items of metalwork will have cooled and are likely to be below the dew point of the moisture in the warmer air. The result is that condensation forms on the larger items as the warmer air finds it’s way into the area. One way to mitigate against this is to watch the weather forecast and turn on some dry heat in the workshop before the warmer weather comes along.”

Likewise, check the owner’s manuals for your welding tools to ensure they can tough it out this winter. The manufacturer may have some tips on boosting durability or preventing moisture build up.

What Is Your Approach to Cold-Weather Welding?

Ideally, you’d have a climate-controlled dream garage with all your tools in perfect working order. Alas, the majority of us aren’t that lucky. Some people will tell you that if conditions aren’t perfect, you shouldn’t get involved. We say: life isn’t fair and sometimes you have to rough it. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how nice the work space is so long as you take the proper steps. And even if you mess up and have to start the project over, it’s another chance to further master a skill.

Everyone has their own approach. What are your tips for cold weather welding? What tricks of the trade would you share with a newbie?

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