Learning to weld with an oxy-acetylene torch is a very useful skill to possess for the active hot rodder. You might need to attach a half-inch diameter steel rod to a lever. Or, join two pieces of sheet metal together for some kind of panel. Or, bend a chunk of flat stock to form a bracket. Literally dozens of uses exist for an oxy-acetylene torch setup.
Most vocational welding courses don’t seem to take much interest in oxy-acetylene welding, preferring instead to teach stick, then MIG, then TIG. Developing your eye-hand coordination is absolutely necessary for strong, effective welds and learning to play the flame of an oxy-acetylene torch over a joint, while deftly feeding in a mild steel filler rod is a great foundation for all the other common welding processes.
With all that in mind, I’d say the best way to get going is to just do it yourself. Today, I’ll discuss obtaining the equipment. Future articles will cover lighting and maintaining the torch, practicing running beads, cutting, and advanced topics.
You’ll first need to find a quality set of regulators, hoses, and a torch. I bought my set used for about a hundred bucks. Try to make sure that the gauges work and that the hoses don’t leak before you shell over the cash. If you can’t demo the parts, it’s a good idea to get the regulators checked and properly serviced at a reputable welding equipment repair shop. Used equipment can be found at good prices and will last a very long time, with proper care and maintenance. That’s not usually a problem in a shop or home garage. Harbor Freight has a brand-new complete kit, with accessories, for a couple hundred dollars.
Regarding torch size, look for a standard size. My torch is about 18 inches long and has three interchangeable tips. A cutting attachment also fits the base torch handle. My torch attaches to standard hoses and is made of high-quality brass.
You’ll also want to pick up a striker to light the torch along with a box of spare flints while you’re at it. Also, buy a welding torch tip cleaner for maintaining the opening at the end of the torch. A clean, squared, and properly shaped hole is essential to correct flame operation. While you’re at the welding supplier, get a set of oxy-acetylene welding googles. I prefer the flexible type with separate eye pieces, although you can get all-in-one styles, with flip up lenses, too. It’s also a good idea to get a quality set of safety glasses, to wear around your shop, when you aren’t wearing the goggles. Get the hundred year-old safety-glass style, with side shields. They hold up much better than the cheapo plastic kind.
Next, lease a couple of gas cylinders from a local welding gas supplier or buy them off of Craigslist. At the gas vendor, you’ll usually pay an initial leasing fee. Either way, you’ll also have to pay for the cost of the gases, each time you fill the cylinders. You’ll have a choice of cylinder sizes. If you plan on welding a lot of sheet metal or are starting a restoration, I’d get a medium-sized set. The smallest (and least expensive) are great for occasional jobs, but could run out before you’ve completed a decent sized project. Something in the neighborhood of 220 cubic feet for both oxygen and acetylene, is what I’ve always used. Perhaps a great first project is to collect some steel, an axle, and some rubber tires then weld up a slick mobile cylinder cart. You certainly don’t want the bottles to fall over.
After securing regulators, torch, and cylinders, it’s time to fire up the torch and learn to run a bead.
We’ll talk about that topic in the next story.