Q. I have a question about gas welding 0.063-inch aluminum and torches. Due to insurance and village rules, I am unable to store a fullsize oxy-acetylene setup at my home shop. The premiums and permit costs are quite high (and maybe rightly so, given the number of irresponsible people in the world today). I went to my local welding distributor and looked at some of the smaller tanks, similar to the ones used by plumbers. These are allowed in a home shop without as much permit difficulty and expense. I understand that they need to be refilled more frequently, but unlike other consumables, it is difficult to quantify the amount of working time accurately.
I would probably be using a gas saver, and I have thought about purchasing a Cobra torch, since I understand they use far less gas. I would only be using this setup for welding, since I use a propane ice melting torch and 20-pound barbecue tank for annealing.
Is this setup feasible, or is there another process using a smaller BernzOmatic type of kit, which has refillable cartridges? Any guidance would be appreciated.
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A. When I first got interested in doing metalworking, back in the '60s, I bought a good-quality oxy-acetylene torch outfit, and it has been in constant use ever since. This setup has served me very well for welding, and for heating and cutting, too. I think some sort of welding equipment should be one of the first investments a person should make if they want to work with metal.
I don't know how long those smaller tanks would last. Of course, it depends on how much welding you do. Welding aluminum takes much less gas than annealing, so you're ahead of the game there. Using a gas-saver (which instantly extinguishes the flame, and has a pilot for rapid re-lighting) will help, too.
Depending on the cost (and your village regulations), it might be feasible to keep more than one set of small cylinders on hand, so you've got a backup if one cylinder runs empty. If your village regulations limit you to one set of cylinders, perhaps a sympathetic neighbor (or neighbors) could agree to store a spare set for you.
In my shop, I only need to fill my oxygen tank about once every year or so, and even less frequently for the acetylene cylinder. My tanks hold approximately 130 cubic feet of gas each. I think the small cylinders you are looking at have a capacity of around 10 cubic feet of acetylene and 20 cubic feet of oxygen, so you may be looking at refilling them in a matter of a few weeks, or months, depending on your usage, but this may still be manageable.
I don't think air-propane torches, such as the BernzOmatic, produce enough heat to weld aluminum, and they have a soft, diffuse flame, not a tightly focused one like you'd want for welding. It appears they also have some torches that use MAAP gas, but I have no experience with these outfits.
Yes, the Henrob/Dillon/Cobra torch uses less gas than a traditional one. You might also consider the Meco torch, sold by TM Technologies ((530) 295-3506, tinmantech.com). It is much less expensive, and it's extremely lightweight, making it very comfortable and maneuverable. The Henrob/Dillon/Cobra torch weighs around 2 pounds.
Unless you weld several hours a day, I'll bet you could get by with those smaller tanks, as long as you wouldn't mind having to change them periodically. It sounds like this might be a reasonable choice in your situation.
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