Cold Weather Welding and Carbon Steel

Cold Weather Welding
Oh the weather outside is frightful, for some of us, but the torch’s fire is so delightful, and since we’ve got things to weld, let us… weld? The temperature may be dropping, but the amount of people who need to weld due to bills or personal projects is not. You may well be one of them, and you may be wondering how the cold will impact your welding. Fear not, OnlineMetals has your back with our handy-dandy Cold Weather Welding guide!

Where do I start?

Well, the first, and most basic step, is to dress for the weather. That may seem obvious, but when dealing with all of the other factors, sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to overlook. Any welding you do will be better if you are warm and comfortable. You will be more focused, your hands steadier, and you will feel mentally less rushed. Similarly, make sure you are using the right electrode for the right position for the right job. These two basic steps are crucial and can be easy to forget.
Cold welder with warm attire

Can cold damage my welder?

Yes, though most modern welders are designed to be rugged and can resist extreme cold. Consult your operator’s manual for the temperature limits of your machine. One thing to particularly keep an eye on is your electrodes. Cold can cause condensation on the electrodes, which can create hydrogen impurities in the electrode itself, and can also cause problems in the welds, which I will get to later. If your electrodes get wet, bake dry them at 250 F.

Does the cold impact my welds?

Absolutely! As one would expect, cold air causes the welds to cool faster and creates surface moisture formation. Both of these make the welds more susceptible to cracking. To avoid this, preheat the material you are welding to at least 50 F with your torch. Additionally, if it is a delicate weld and particularly windy, postheating the welds may also be wise. Rapid cooling causes stress in the welds and may cause them to deform or crack. Postheating the welds can release these stresses and help the weld to cool in a more controlled manner. Also, try to evaporate any condensation on the material that you are about to weld. While it’s impossible to completely remove moisture, especially in places such as my own lovely Seattle, making sure that there isn’t water pooling or sitting in beads on the location you will be welding is still important. Reduce your speed while welding to give the weld more time to heat up. Also turn up the heat on your torch to compensate for the lower temperatures. Modern welding manuals also advise that you tack the metal sporadically, every 3″ or so, as the sharp difference between the hot and cold metal can cause deformation.
Welder's with proper outdoor protection

What about when I’m outdoors?

There’s a joke for motorcycles that is also appropriate for welding: There is no such thing as bad weather, just insufficient gear. With the proper gear and precautions, you shouldn’t have any issues. If you are outdoors, check the weather in advance and do periodic test welds. The time of day, cloud coverage, wind speed, and wind direction can all dramatically impact temperature and therefore your welds. Portable cover is also useful if you have access to it, wind shields in particular are especially useful as there is no really good way to combat wind except shields. One exception to the “no such thing as too cold” rule for our American customers to keep in mind: some state and federal organizations do require minimum temperatures for welding. So if you are doing a job for them, keep that in mind and check the thermometer.

What about my carbon steel?

Everything we’ve discussed here is applicable to carbon steel. If anything, the carbon steel will be slightly easier to heat up than, say, stainless steel.

We’ve survived the cold, now what?

Oddly enough, some of the worst damage to your machine can occur not when it’s cold, but afterward. As the weather heats up again, the warmer air will cause condensation and moisture to build up on your machine, especially if you store it in an unheated garage or shed. This condensation can cause rusting and electrical damage to your welding rig. Heating up your work space with a dry heater is a good way to get around this. Another option is to put a light layer of WD-40 on susceptible parts of your machine.
City welder in the dark
We hope that this Cold Weather Welding guide helps keep you warm and and productive this winter!
Special thanks to Foster Hardt for sharing his expertise and knowledge for this blog post.