Besides a welding machine, cutting torch and grinder, welders use a few hand tools and clamping devices for their projects. Here’s a look at some of the more common items you’ll find around a metal shop:
Chipping Hammer, Wire Brush and Hand File
In stick welding and a few other processes, slag removal takes place after each weld bead is deposited. The welder uses a chipping hammer that’s 8-10 inches long to gently dislodge the the slag from the weld surface. Then he or she uses a wire brush to wipe away the chips and dust away from the weld. If this task were not performed, slag and metal fragments would get entombed in the weld when the next cover pass is made.
Notice the spiral on the handle of the chipping hammer. This isn’t a decorative touch, but a way to keep the user’s hand from making direct contact with any heat conducting up through the handle. Wire brushes have steel or stainless steel bristles, with a wooden or heat-resistant plastic base that doesn’t absorb or conduct heat.
A hand file is used for smoothing over grinded edges and to remove burrs from the metal. Since it’simportant to have good fit-up between weld plates, a file also allows you to achieve a little more precision that a grinder provides. Remember to use stainless steel files for that metal. Special files are made for aluminum.
Vice Grips and Pliers
After welding on a metal object, it may be too hot to handle with gloves, so welders pick it up or reposition it using pliers. Vice grips, like those featured above left, get a firmer grip on the work piece. In some cases, you can often use vice grips in place of a clamp. Pliers or grips can also be used hold small metal plates or objects against a stationary grinder or sander. Even cold metal can get toasty fast on the grinding wheel, so it’s important not hold work pieces directly in your gloves when grinding for more than a few seconds.
The photo above right features a pair of MIG pliers. These cut spool wire. The needlenose teeth are used to clean out carbon build-up and other debris inside the nozzle of a MIG gun, as well as to grip wire.
When welding a joint on metal that’s already secure in its location, like standing pipe, clamping is not much of an issue. But on free-moving plates or objects, and during fabrication projects, you’ll need to spend considerable time on set-up and/or fit-up before you even think of striking an arc. In the photo above top left are three common types of clamps used for metal work. Each will quickly affix sheet metal or plates to a flat surface. General purpose C-clamps and bar clamps can also be used in fixturing and fit-ups.
To the right at the top is a photo of a corner clamp. Here, a welder would insert two adjoining bars or tubing to be welded together at a right angle (e.g. for a frame). After a secure tack weld is made, the frame sides can be removed from the clamp and welded.
The last photo above features a “four-in-one” multi-purpose pipe clamp that retails for about $70. Clamps are long lasting tools, so you can usually find good ones for less money at flea markets and garage sales.
If you’re working with compressed gases, you’ll need a wrench to loosen the nut that fastens the regulator between hoses and tanks. The tanks may require a chain or other restraint (as shown above), so make sure it’s secure before attaching or detaching regulators.
Measurements and Marking
Like wood construction, metalwork requires the use of rulers, squares, levels and other measuring devices. For most student projects and small jobs, a tape measure, combination square and calipers should suffice.
Marking cut or joint lines metal can be challenge. Unlike wood, the surface of metal is slippery, dark and smudgy. So welders and metalsmiths use three types of markers:
Sharpie – or other water-resistant ink marker
Soapstone – a whitish rock mineral
Scriber – a steel tool that etches a sharp line
As a beginning welder, you can probably get by without a hefty cast iron vice, but the advantages of having one are vast. With a work piece secure in its grips, you can tack, weld, grind, file, paint and cut metal without having to worry about any collateral damage to your welding table or the vice itself. Another use of the vice is to straighten out crooked sheet metal, although an anvil, hammer and English press are best suited for this.
As you can see from the photo above, the base of a vice has convenient slots that fasten to a sturdy work table using three bolts. (You may need to use your oxy torch or plasma gun to gouge the holes in the table, if your hand drill isn’t up to the task. Then follow up with a pneumatic die grinder or deburring tool, or a round hand file to smooth around the openings. The adjustment crank (near the man’s hand in the photo) allows you to rotate the vice around to different positions.
In addition to a welding helmet, gloves and leather clothing, a welder needs ear plugs and safety glasses. Depending on the job, a few other implements are usually furnished by an employer, such as a hard hat attachment to the welding helmet, a dust mask or ventilation device. Extra thermal protection for situations involving high temperatures may also be provided.
In a home shop, don’t forget to have a fire extinguisher mounted within easy reach. And be sure you know how to use it.