How To Start TIG Welding and Building Chopper Motorcycles- A Beginners Introduction
By: George (The Painter ) Frizzell / Cycle Source Magazine
I’m not a welder, fabricator or even a grinder for that matter. I’m just a guy that has assembled a little shop to wrench on my bikes and any cool projects that might need to go under the knife.
Although most of my post adolescent years has been spent riding and wrenching on old bikes on the side of the road, this is my first shop, or at least the first one that had more tools in it than the tools that are in the tool roll on my handlebars. On the side of the road I am the roadside fix king, in a shop I am an amateur at best, but I’m open to improvement.
I got the bug when I built my damn near ten-foot-long chopper in my second story apartment somewhere in Appalachia. Dummying the two foot over front end to a stock configuration hard tail frame was done with chunks of wood, a plumb bob, a level and jack stands.
Considering that the building that the apartment was in was well over a 100 years old and barely up to code I just took it as fact that I couldn’t just get a MIG. Sparks and old tinderboxes don’t mix. I had no way to hold two pieces of metal together short of duct tape. I did what I could and just took the measurements and gave them to a competent welder. It seemed like I did all the work and he had all the fun and when I set up this shop, I kept it mind and would consider my options when I got there.
My shop is now on the ground floor of the same block of termite approved, damn near explosive old wood and not a thought to fire prevention in its design. I had more bike metal to hold together and although it all worked out in the end, jerry riggin’ another frame configuration for someone else to weld just wasn’t the logical next step.
I knew little about TIG welding except it was alien technology reverse engineered and now implemented by wizards with machines that cost thousands of dollars. I’m just a regular guy with little extra money and absolutely no wizard skills. Initially I felt daunted by learning the witchcraft that others were perfecting and the thought of forking over big money that I didn’t have for something I didn’t know how to use seemed like a bad idea.
Determined to get to the bottom of all these misgivings of my own personal condition I hit the internet and planted myself there until I was as close to understanding this TIG welding thing without actually trying it. I had to learn what it was, how to do it and what machine is best suited to what I am doing.
I’m not a big fan of the internet but, if used with moderation it can be used as the greatest learning tool to come our way. Topping that list is YouTube and it became my mentor.
After reading as much as I could about the definition of TIG welding and what was involved in actually performing all that wizardry that up until now was nothing but myths and legends.
The basic definition as I understand it; is TIG welding is an arc welding process that uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld. The weld area and electrode are protected from oxidation or other atmospheric contamination by an inert shielding gas (argon), and a filler metal is normally used, though some welds, known as autogenous welds, do not require it.
A constant-current welding power supply is needed to produce electrical energy, which is conducted across the arc through a column of highly ionized gas and metal vapors known as a plasma. The process grants the operator greater control over the weld than competing processes such as shielded metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding, allowing for stronger, higher quality welds.
The process requires you to hold the torch in one hand, filler rod in the other and a foot operated pedal that controls amperage as needed as you weld. This is the part that no matter how much you read about it you just won’t understand until you try to do it yourself.
Being an entry level consumer choosing my first machine is a big decision and being that the machine wouldn’t be bringing in any money price had to compete with quality and getting the right machine to learn on. I had a pretty good idea what I would need from my machine and what options I could do without just to start layin’ beads. I doubt I’ll ever be doin’ welds that separate cold water from radioactive cores or even close but the machines I was lookin’ at were still well over a grand. That seemed like it is a bit pricey for someone just starting up so I started a search for a machine with enough features to get me welding competently without all the bells and whistles not required to build a strong learning foundation that I can expand on later with other options as the need arrives but not a machine that is easily outgrown.
There was a few things that I definitely wanted I wanted my machine to have such as ability to operate with earner 110v 15 amp circuit or a 220v AC 30 amp circuit. A welding capacity that wouldn’t leave me limited in the thickness of the material being welded, a high frequency start (as opposed to the limiting ‘scratch start’) and a unit that comes with everything to get started (except consumables) right out of the box.
It was suggested by a few friends in the business to take a look at the Eastwood TIG200 AC/DC welder. If the description was any indication of the machines capabilities this unit was a perfect contender…
The Eastwood TIG 200 welder offers industrial TIG features at a DIY price for home auto fabricators or pro technicians. This specially engineered 200-amp Eastwood TIG Welder offers affordable, professional-quality TIG welding on aluminum, stainless steel and mild steel (sheet, tube or bar stock), and precise welding of thinner-gauge materials up to ¼-inch thick. With its versatile design, powerful welding capabilities and guaranteed quality, this welder is the last one many auto restorers or bike builders will ever need.
Operates on either 110vAC, 15-amp circuit or 220vAC, 30-amp circuit.
1/4″-thick welding capacity on 220VAC.
High-frequency start for precise arc control.
Square-wave inverter for accurate aluminum welding.
“WP-17″-type torch accepts common cups and collets with up to 1/8” electrodes.
TIG Welding AC Duty Cycle (%): 120VAC 60% at 145 amps, 220VAC 60% at 190 amps)
Stick Welding Feature – welds in AC and DC Positive/Negative.
Backed by Eastwood’s no-hassle return policy and 3-year warranty.
After an exhausting search of other comparable units from other manufacturers the price of the Eastwood analog TIG200 AC/DC welder I found that the Eastwood brand came in a few hundred dollars cheaper than anything comparable… complete, straight out of the box. With a decent welding helmet, the Eastwood tungsten grinder, a few pounds of welding rod and a tank full of argon I’d be off to the races in my quest to become my own TIG welding wizard.
I talked to the good folks over at Eastwood and placed my order for the Eastwood TIG200 AC/DC welder, the Eastwood Tungsten Grinder because I knew that if fouling the tungsten is a problem for beginners I would be needing either this or a grinding wheel, but with it’s rod mitering slots and double sided diamond grinding wheel, the grinder would take having pointy tungsten out of the learning process. I also ordered the Eastwood Panoramic Welding Helmet. Probably too much helmet for what I need but not very expensive, so I went for it.
I placed my order and was received at my shop in short order. I inspected each component, learned what each part was and Was satisfied with the apparent quality of the unit and associated parts. I have to tell you I was fully expecting something short of the quality I noticed in each part. For the price I was expecting that made overseas on the cheap feeling when it was actually in my hand, but I was pleasantly surprised with the fit and finish and the quality was that of other units at double the price.
The only surprise I received had nothing to do with my experience with Eastwood at all. A $200 refundable bottle deposit was required for my Argon. Not an elaborate expense and once I scrounged it up, it’s an expense that I will never have to repeat.
I assembled the torch, foot pedal and Argon and hastily made a few passes creating some truly unimpressive welds just to make sure everything was working as expected and it was. I knew I needed a ton of hands on experience just to get myself familiarized with the process and the machine. Unfortunately, my normal job picked up for the holiday season and I wasn’t able to put in the time I wanted to learn how to lay a good bead and be confident in the welds I do make however the lean period that comes right after the holidays will give me the time to gain the practice I so desperately need.
Over-all I have been very happy with my purchase and the support offered by Eastwood and their YouTube channel will help me along with my TIG welding goals. It’s now time to put in the work that will make me a better welder with a firm grasp of technique and materials learned through the process.
I’ll have another installment shortly on my experience learning to TIG on the Eastwood AC/DC 200 welder and how it applies to the work I’m doing on bikes when I am confident in my own welding skills.
Let me just leave you with this, the price of the Eastwood AC/DC 200 is such that there is now a realistic entry level welder for those that may not be familiar with TIG welding or, like myself, no welding experience at all. The price isn’t as daunting as I had expected and with the small investment, I am now on the path to welding glory. Check out Eastwood for this and other tools offered to up your bike building game. Until next time…happy choppin’!