The Garage Guy's Guide to Welding: Welding Safely in the Home Shop

The Garage Guy's Guide to Welding: Welding Safely in the Home Shop

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November 1, 2007
The Garage Guy discusses everything you need to know to keep your home shop safe. Topics include proper set-up, ventilation, attire and welding technique.

Every guy who's spent a decent amount of time in the garage knows that you don't take shortcuts with two things: the quality of your customization and your own personal safety when getting up and running with welding. The last thing you want is a hot spark or glob of molten metal to ruin your day and make your wife or girlfriend say, "I told you so." We'll take a quick look at what you need to stay safe and out of the emergency room while welding in the shop or garage.

It's really easy to become a victim of our own laziness during a quick tack weld, or go without proper protection because it's hot in the shop. Did you know that The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) claims that every day an estimated 1,000 eye injuries occur in American workplaces, and of that, mechanics (experienced and novice alike) share in the majority of risk. For metal fabricators, eye protection is just a start.

There are no good excuses when it comes to using proper safety gear in the shop. We'll take a look a few new items that will keep you covered(and comfortable.

Proper Set-Up

Ensure your welder is on a flat surface away from any water or flammable materials including paper, cloth rags, oil and gasoline. Avoid working in wet conditions since water conducts electricity.

Verify proper grounding. A metal-on-metal connection is best(unimpeded by paint or other foreign material. Never use chains, wire rope etc. as grounding connectors.

When using gas cylinders, chain them securely to a stationary, upright support or cart at all times. When moving or storing a cylinder, fasten the threaded protector cap to the top of the cylinder. Only use gas hoses designed for welding.

Keep your work area free from clutter. This promotes safety and helps increase efficiency by making necessary equipment and tools easy to find. Cables and hoses can create a trip-hazard. Organize the workspace to minimize the number of cables underfoot. Coil up excess hose when finished to prevent kinks and tangles.

Examine hoses regularly for leaks, wear and loose connections. A quick spray with a soap and water mixture will create bubbles indicating a leak or loose connection. Immediately replace any faulty gas hoses with new hoses: resist the duck-tape (don't do it.)

Proper Tools

Even with heavy-duty gloves, picking up a piece of hot metal poses a burn risk. Pick up hot metal with a pair of pliers. Use appropriate tools for chipping and brushing off slag, grinding, sanding, etc.

Find a good pair of high-impact safety glasses, and as much as possible get accustomed to putting them on in the shop, especially while grinding and cutting.

Proper Ventilation

Welding fumes can be hazardous, so ensure your workspace is properly ventilated. In smaller workshops like a home garage, it's a good idea to leave a door or window open and run a box fan as an exhaust, sucking fumes away from your breathing area.

Because sparks fly when welding, try to keep your workspace clear of any flammable materials including paper, cloth rags, oil and gasoline. Open a window or door and use a box fan to exhaust harmful fumes away from your breathing area.

Proper coverage of exposed skin is key to protecting yourself while welding. This illustration shows the simple items that will keep you safe and out of the hospital.

Proper Attire

Although the following sounds obvious, a common fault among guys in the garage is not wearing the right safety equipment while welding. Some of the more credible welding equipment manufacturers have taken a responsible approach by developing their own lines of protective safety gear that meets OSHA regulations and better yet—is actually comfortable to wear.

Arc welding produces sparks and spatter and emits intense visible and invisible rays that pose several hazards to unprotected skin and eyes. Shorts, short sleeves and open collars all leave you vulnerable to burns from both flying sparks and the arc rays. Wear only flame-resistant clothing, and button your cuffs and pockets to prevent them from catching sparks. Pants cuffs, too, can catch sparks and should be avoided.

This patent pending design allows for added coverage across the chest and thighs depending on the welding applications. Hidden snaps protect materials from scratches and damage. Simply snap the apron off when not needed.

With respect to footwear, high top leather shoes offer the best protection. Tennis shoes and other cloth shoes are inadequate; they can catch a spark and smolder unnoticed, and their components can melt and stick to your skin.

Always wear proper gloves when welding or handling recently welded material to protect yourself from sparks, arc burns and the heat from the work piece. Mechanic-style gloves are not recommended for welding, as they are not flame resistant. Remember, even a quick tack weld requires the use of a welding helmet and appropriate apparel.

Leather gloves are essential to a welder. There are a variety on the market now but beware, some have a "one-size fits-all" design that will feel clunky, boxy and uncomfortable. Miller just introduced a new line of form-fitted gloves, jackets and accessories called Arc Armor. This stuff is designed by welders for welders.

Even a brief exposure to the arc's radiation may cause symptoms such as a burning sensation or eye irritation commonly referred to as "Arc Flash." Repeated exposure can lead to permanent injury. Always wear proper face and eye protection, including safety glasses underneath the welding helmet, when welding or when exposed to a welding arc. Get accustomed to putting safety glasses on each time you enter the shop.

Auto-darkening helmets offer the best solution if your welding needs require different processes-MIG, Stick, TIG-materials or parameters. All auto-darkening helmets must comply with the safety and protection requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Auto-darkening helmets vary greatly in their response times to the light of the arc, generally between 1/2,000 to 1/20,000 of a second. Helmets also differ in the level of lens shade, with some remaining a fixed shade #10 and others adjustable between shade #9 and shade #13. Newer helmets offer convenient features such as auto-on and grind-modes.

The nice thing about auto-darkening helmets compared to fixed shade is that you can get setup and maintain the right position without having to flip up your helmet. This is also nice while welding in a tight area where flipping a helmet isn't possible.

Auto-darkening technology found in modern welding helmets protects the welder from sparks and harmful UV rays with the added benefit of repositioning hands and work material without the need to flip the helmet up. Different models have multiple arc sensors that help when welding out of position. It's also a good idea to keep the cables on your welder coiled up when not in use. This keeps them from getting beat-up or becoming a trip hazard.

Making Safe Welds

Just as important to your safety is performing high-quality, structurally sound welds. Failing to fully grind out a crack or using insufficient current could leave you with a weld that appears sound, but in reality could fail under the demanding conditions common on the road.

Like operating the welder safely, strong welds begin with reading the owner's manual. It'll help you select the proper wire or electrode for your metal type and thickness and will provide guidelines for setting the correct current parameters to ensure adequate penetration. Don't have your manual anymore? Welding equipment manufacturers such as Miller Electric Mfg. Co. offer user manual's online for free download.

Once you have the wire/electrode and settings right, be sure to grind away the paint, rust and other surface material from the area to be welded. Stick and flux cored welding are more forgiving of these types of contaminants than MIG welding, but the metal should be cleaned as much as possible regardless.

One of the most overlooked steps in making strong welds is fully grinding out the cracks and holes that form in the equipment. Oftentimes, when a crack forms, the operator will simply get out their welder and start welding over the crack, ignoring the fact that the crack goes all the way through the metal. A "Band-aid" approach such as this creates an unsafe situation in which a small amount of weld material is being required to bear the same amount of weight and force that caused the crack in a much thicker piece of metal. To avoid this possibly hazardous situation, grind out the crack from both the front and back of the metal to make sure that the crack doesn't reform and continue spreading.

Making multiple passes is another step toward creating sounds welds. Operators often go too slowly, mistakenly thinking that the extra metal they are depositing will result in stronger welds. Rather, weld at a recommended pace and go back and make multiple passes as necessary.

Your Quick Welding Safety Checklist

Save a trip to the hospital and post this bad-boy on or near your welder!!!

Around the Shop

__Clean, dry workspace away from any flammable liquids or solvents

__Metal-on-Metal Ground

__Secured Gas Cylinder

Welding Tools


__Needle-Nose / Snips

__Chipping hammer

__Wire brush

__Grinder discs

__Cut-off wheels


__Open a window or door

__Exhaust fan if needed

Safety Clothing

__Safety Glasses

__Welding Helmet - auto-darkening or flip-shade with current ANSI certification

__Flame-resistant clothing with cuffs & pockets buttoned

__Gloves - Heavy duty leathers for welding

__Leather shoes - high-tops (steel-toes are a bonus)

Safe Welds

__Correct wire or electrode for material thickness

__Joint prep - grind off any surface material and paint

__Repairing cracks - fully grind out cracks and holes on both sides of the metal

__Make multiple passes at the recommended travel speed - Slower is not better