It's Not "Just Like Riding A Bike"
Who ever said that anything was..."Just like riding a bike", anyway? That's a fallacy. I mean, I've seen people who once rode a bike daily in their youth, and then tried to get back on a bike years later. Most of them promptly fell right off again. So, this phrase of; "just like riding a bike..." It's pretty much a lie.
So, yeah...you learn the principals. Then you learn how to apply them again. And no...it won't take as long to get back up to speed the next time. This is all true. However, it's not just a deal of walking up and it being back to the level it used to. That's the truth with just about anything we've ever learned. Why do you think so many people study and work in physical therapy for a career? Cause people have to re-learn much of what they had already learned when they don't get to use if for a while. Even the most basic of things, like motor skills, for instance.
When You Have To Re-Learn What You Already Know
Honestly, it's the same in fabrication. You can learn something. Not use it for a while. Then have to "re-learn" it again. You may find this while trying to design a style of suspension that you haven't fabbed up for a while, when trying to precisely bend tubing after not having done it for some months, and when (in my case), trying to weld out of position for the first time in a long time and with a stick welder.
Hopefully, by now, you've learned that I'm not ashamed of exposing my fault for the benefit of the Beginners Fab Community. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to look like an idiot. I just think that it helps keep your motivation up, when you feel someone can relate to you. Not to mention, it boost your ego, when you can do something better than someone else. In this case, you can probably do most anything better than I can. So, you should feel really motivate. Oh well...I digress.
In Need Of A Welding Practice Routine
As I was mentioning before, even though I've been welding a bit every few weeks for the past year or so, I've not done a great job at two things. First, I've not keep up much of a practice schedule for welding. I've been doing more of a, weld when needed, schedule. Second, I've not practiced any kind of Out Of Position welding in almost a year. You may be wondering why that's such a big deal then. Well, here's why.
While much of welding, Out of Position or Standard Position, is very similar, the differences are fairly great too. Therefore, to produce good looking, and good quality out of position welds, you really need to make sure you keep up your practice.
So what is the difference between Out Of Position welds and Standard Position welds? Here are a few fundamental differences.
Standard Position WeldsWhen producing Standard Position Welds, gravity is your friend. Pushing a weld (with the right settings) can typically be done, almost as easily as pulling a weld. You're amperage is going to (generally) be a bit lower than Out Of Position Welds (while welding the same material), and in many cases, you'll have more flexibility in standing position, welding angle, and object placement (even though this isn't always the case).
Out Of Position WeldsWelding Out Of Position requires that you understand the over all welding that needs to be done a bit better, how it needs to be started and where it should end. As well as, what welding will be accomplished. For instance, when welding on a chassis (as was the case for me), your are not just welding on a single plain, nor at just one angle. This requires you to have a more fine control over your machine, and to be alert so that you can change the settings when needed. Your technique is really important as well. As changing your technique is one of the most powerful tools you can use when welding in cramped, difficult to see, and out of position places.
Challenges Of Welding Out Of Position On Vehicle Chassis'
While welding on the chassis' of vehicles, you will commonly be welding two different thicknesses of metal together, be fighting gravity, be laying in positions that make it difficult to see, be physically uncomfortable, and be changing welding plane angles frequently. This is a lot to keep up with. Not to mention the fact, that usually it's a bit darker under the rig, and you'll probably have a harder time finding your starting point once your shield is down. Believe me, it takes practice.
In tight spaces under the rig, you may find that the mig gun (or Electrode in my case) doesn't fit where you want it to. You will have to fight for your space. Trying not to constantly burn yourself from the dropping slag is difficult too. Then there is the whole not hitting your head on everything under there. Once again, it's a lot to keep up with.
Skills Needed For Out Of Position Welding
To produce good, solid, and decent looking welds (I'm still working on all 3 of those), you'll have to find the balance in Amperage vs. Welding technique, so that you can continue welding between different metal thicknesses, and while changing welding planes without having to crawl out from under the rig to readjust the machine every two minutes. This too can be practiced with a basic set up. It's also good to learn when your need to adjust the machine, out weighs your technique. Finding the balance between these two takes time and practice.
How I Practice My Out Of Position Welds
First: Since I knew that I was going to be welding a very specific component set, and on a very specific kind of surface, I tried to duplicate it the best I could. To accomplish, as close to the same experiences of welding possible, I found a piece of 3/8's plate, and a 3"x3"x.125" wall tube to use as my practice metals. This .125" wall tube was important to me because the chassis rail has a radius corner and is approx. .125" thick. Therefore, when welding, I needed to weld the 3/8" plate (my pivot mount bracket for the leaf spring suspension) to a relatively thin walled tube, right on a radius. This can be a challenge. Especially when trying to do this weld with a stick welder, and in tight places.
Second: Once I had the materials, I used my work table as a jig to clamp the practice pieces of metal together. Even though the bottom of the table is higher off the ground than my vehicles chassis is, it gave me a reasonably similar situation and the kind of Out of Position practice I needed to get used to that kind of movement and angle. Plus, it helped me learn how to read my arc, puddle, and slag cover from a distance. Since, I'm usually pretty close to my welding arc, it's typically much easier to see. When you have to look at if from a distance, you have to re-learn how to read it without so much detail.
In the end, none of my welds this day, turned out "Super Good". Still, the difference between the welds that I had originally laid down on the chassis (before practicing...STUPID...I know...), and those that I started to produce after practicing a few times showed marked improvement. My welds are far from expert, but they are strong. Not so pretty, but strong. Only problem now, I haven't welded in 4 months since this practice session. So, I need to go back out and clamp up some scrap and get started practicing again. Hopefully, I'll not have gotten as rusty, in this short period of time, as I was on my last attempt. We'll see though. Only laying a few beads will tell...