Find all your DIY electronics in the MakerShed. 3D Printing, Kits, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Books & more!

Make: Projects

DIY Welding Rod

Make arc welding rods from household materials.

DIY Welding Rod

There are a bunch of DIY welder articles and how-tos out in the maker ether, ranging from the super-simple, dumb, and brutally effective (three car batteries, wired in series) to the high-tech and fancy (TIG machines from microwave bits, oxy-hydrogen torches from split water and plumbing supplies). With all of the information out there, it is safe to say that experienced makers will be expertly fusing metal even if an oddly specific, exceptionally brutal catastrophe were to strike the welding industry. If civilization and supply chains collapse the anti-zombie fences will still get built, and the Thunderdome will be sturdy and made from steel.

However, all of the DIY welders I have seen assume you have access to welding rod. For the less weld-informed (see what I did there?) a good, solid weld involves more than melting and fusing metals — the weld zone needs to be free of oxygen, otherwise the normal oxidation of metals that leads to rust, patinas, and discoloration happens at a dizzyingly rapid rate, accelerated, as are many chemical reactions, by the high heat. This is not just an aesthetic issue — the oxidation happens inside the weld, so instead of a solid metal bond you get a brittle foam filling. Removing the oxygen is usually achieved by flooding the weld area with inert gas — regulated, pressurized gas from a separate tank in the case of MIG and TIG welding, gas created from vaporizing flux in oxy-fuel, stick and flux-core welding. The standard, coated arc-welding rod is the common currency of welding, used to hold the world together. They are ubiquitous. You can get them everywhere. Until you can’t.

Even the finest DIY welder is useless without welding rod. I did a bunch of research, Google-ing and drilling down through increasingly sketchy forums, ranging from the mainstream DIY to the super-sketchy survivalist fringe. Tons of interesting information on every imaginable topic, but, as far as I can tell, it seems like no one has ever made their own welding rod and documented it online. A minor, but potentially crucial gap in the DIY world, solved here.

My first step, as is often the case, was to look up patents. Patents lay out the crucial core of a technology, the bits that make that particular invention unique, new, patentable. Often, the process involved in the making of the thing is laid out as well, protecting the inventor’s rights to the means, as well as the ends. This keeps patent attorneys employed, and provides a nice step-by-step for MAKE writers to rip off.

After a little searching I dug up the patent “Electrode for Arc Welding,” filed by Reuben Stanley Smith, a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1918. (Mr. Smith was a prolific inventor, churning out 45 patents for pumps, manufacturing processes, and welding equipment. Some more info on him can be found here.)

Basically, a steel rod is wrapped in cellulose (paper) soaked in sodium silicate. The wrapping is crimped to maintain close contact with the rod. The electrodes are then dried out (I used a toaster oven — a rod oven, or some time in the sun should do the trick as well.)

The rod is the electrode and filler, the paper/sodium-silicate wrapper spews out shielding gas upon combustion, and provides a path of plasma to guide the arc. The rod does not deposit a protective ceramic slag like modern welding rods, but, as Mr. Smith states in the patent, “I have found, also, that the coating of slag produced by the use of known covered electrodes is not essential to the production of eminently satisfactory work.” I tweaked the patent procedure a little to use commonly available materials, stuff one would reasonably find around the house.

Steps

Step #1:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod
  • Gather materials. You will need coat hangers to cut into welding rod, silica gel packets (usually labeled "Desiccant: Do Not Eat" and packaged with electronics, shoes, and other things that hate the damp.) and lye to make into sodium silicate, and some decently absorbent paper (I used newspaper).
  • Tools: a hotplate to cook the lye and silica gel into sodium silicate, a glass container to heat it in (use glass or a non-reactive ceramic container -- no metal, or Bad Things might happen), a scale, a toaster oven to cook the finished rods (I suspect that hot sunlight or a rod oven would work as well), a pair of pliers, nitrile gloves for safety. Safety glasses would prob be a good idea. I needed a mortar and pestle to grind up the silica gel beads, but I do not have one, so I used a steel rod to roll out the beads.

Step #2:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

The first step is to make the sodium silicate (also known as "water glass," used for destroying engines and as an adhesive. If you have some lying around you can skip this step). Empty out the silica gel packs until you have a pile of beads about the size of a shrew or large walnut.

Step #3:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Get smashy with the silica gel beads. I tried to crush them by whacking them with the end of a steel rod, but they flew all over the place. Next step was to rig a paper cover over the "mortar," but that did not work very well.
  • A tactic that kind of worked involved folding the beads into paper, then rolling the package with the rod. A real mortar and pestle would have worked better, but this was good enough.

Step #4:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Hangers are usually covered with paint or clear varnish to keep them from leaving your clothing wrinkle-free, but stained with rust. (This is actually totally conjecture on my part -- as far as I know, I have never used a hanger for the intended purpose.)
  • Sand away the varnish or paint until you are left with a shiny rod of steel.

Step #5:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod

Time for some chemistry. Zero your scale.

Step #6:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Sodium silicate is made from water, silica gel, and sodium hydroxide (lye). The proportions (by weight) are six parts silica gel (crushed as best you can), four to eight parts lye (four will work, eight is stoichiometric, anywhere in between is fine) and ten parts water. Weigh out the parts individually.
  • Wear gloves and goggles for this part. A little lye in the eye or in a cut on your hand will ruin your day.

Step #7:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod
  • Heat the water, then slowly add the lye while stirring. If you just dump the lye in you will get a solid, hard lump of a brutal base at the bottom of your heating vessel. The only way I found to remove it was neutralizing it with some decently strong hydrochloric acid. It totally looked like Science, but was an annoying waste of time.
  • Heat and stir until you get a clear, but ominously thick solution. Be wary, but not too afraid -- it can smell your fear.

Step #8:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • This next part can be tricky -- you need to add the silica gel powder to the lye/water solution, but just a little bit at a time. Take the solution off the heat when you add the powder, then return it to the heat while you stir. If you leave it on the heat too long it will boil over in an instant. If it gets too cool the silica gel will not go into solution, and clump at the bottom.
  • The result will be a gummy gel. Sodium silicate!

Step #9:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Straighten the hanger, then cut pieces of welding-rod size: about a foot long will work.

Step #10:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Cut some paper a little shorter than your rod. It should be wide enough for eight to ten wraps around the steel.

Step #11:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Paint a layer of sodium silicate onto the paper. You want the paper to be as saturated as possible -- I found that painting both sides allowed the sodium silicate to soak in nicely and evenly.

Step #12:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Roll the saturated paper around the steel rod. Try to get it as consistently tight as possible. For me, this is far harder than one would think.
  • Eight to ten layers of paper will do. Smooth the layers as they go, and smoosh the trailing edge into the rest of the wrap.
  • Take a pliers and crimp the gooey paper tightly into the rod. Why? The patent states "The principle object of this is to secure uniformity in the density of the coating on all sides and thus prevent the coating from disintegrating faster on one side than another to such an extent as to destroy the crater. The creasing or scoring also tends to retard the transmission of heat and affords a means whereby the disintegrated portions may become detached, assuring the maintenance of a crater rim of uniform or regular contour." That's why.

Step #13:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Bake the rods. This drives out moisture, and also makes a carbonized shell that keeps the rods intact when stored. I let them cook at a low heat for about fifteen minutes. You want them to be totally dry and deliciously golden.

Step #14:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Ok -- ready to test. I guess for maximum punk rock DIY points I should have tested them using a car battery welder, but the arc welder was right there. You are more punk rock than me. You win.

Step #15:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod

I used the recommended settings for a 3/32 (ish) rod -- DCEP, around 100 amps.

Step #16:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Striking an arc took a couple of tries, but once I figured out the correct distance and angle it burned almost as well as an off-the-shelf rod. Tons of smoke, though, and the arc was not super-stable.

Step #17:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Totally welding with home-made electrode. Splattery and ugly (you can partially blame user error and a little bit of a learning curve) but definitely looks like a weld.

Step #18:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Notice the lack of ceramic slag -- just some ash.

Step #19:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Brushed it to see the glory of my weld. Looks OK, in parts. Again, you have to learn the rod.

Step #20:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Weld side is not pretty.
  • Back side shows good penetration.
  • Chopped the weld up for a closer look.

Step #21:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

And success! No pitting, no craters, and total fusion of the metal. Welding, from home-rigged rods. Take that, zombies.

Conclusion

Photography by Becky Stern

M33_WeldingRod_step3eHUGE
There are a bunch of DIY welder articles and how-tos out in the ether, ranging from the super simple, dumb, and brutally effective (3 car batteries wired in series) to the high-tech and fancy (TIG machines from microwave bits, oxyhydrogen torches from split water and plumbing supplies).

It’s safe to say that experienced makers will be fusing metal even if an exceptionally biblical catastrophe were to strike the welding industry. If civilization and supply chains collapse, the anti-zombie fences will still get built, and the Thunderdome will be sturdy and made from steel.

However, all the DIY welders I’ve seen assume that you have access to welding rod. For the less weld-informed, a good, solid weld involves more than melting and fusing metals — the weld zone needs to be free of oxygen, otherwise the normal oxidation of metals that leads to rust, patinas, and discoloration happens at a dizzyingly rapid rate, accelerated by the high heat. This is not just an aesthetic issue — the oxidation happens inside the weld, so instead of a solid metal bond, you get a brittle foam filling.

MAKE Volume 33 features our special Software for Makers section covering apps for circuit board design, 3D design and printing, microcontrollers, and programming for kids. Also, meet our new Arduino-powered Rovera robot and get started with Raspberry Pi. As usual, you’ll also find fascinating makers inside, like the maniacs on our cover, the hackers behind the popular Power Racing Series events at Maker Faire.

Try your hand at 22 great DIY projects, like the Optical Tremolo guitar effects box, "Panjolele" cake-pan ukelele, Wii Nunchuk Mouse, CNC joinery tricks, treat-dispensing cat scratching post, laser-cut flexing wooden books, sake brewing, growing incredibly hot “ghost chili” peppers, and much more.

On newsstands now, by subscription, or available in the Maker Shed

Buy now!

Steps

Step #1:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod
  • Gather materials. You will need coat hangers to cut into welding rod, silica gel packets (usually labeled "Desiccant: Do Not Eat" and packaged with electronics, shoes, and other things that hate the damp.) and lye to make into sodium silicate, and some decently absorbent paper (I used newspaper).
  • Tools: a hotplate to cook the lye and silica gel into sodium silicate, a glass container to heat it in (use glass or a non-reactive ceramic container -- no metal, or Bad Things might happen), a scale, a toaster oven to cook the finished rods (I suspect that hot sunlight or a rod oven would work as well), a pair of pliers, nitrile gloves for safety. Safety glasses would prob be a good idea. I needed a mortar and pestle to grind up the silica gel beads, but I do not have one, so I used a steel rod to roll out the beads.

Step #2:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

The first step is to make the sodium silicate (also known as "water glass," used for destroying engines and as an adhesive. If you have some lying around you can skip this step). Empty out the silica gel packs until you have a pile of beads about the size of a shrew or large walnut.

Step #3:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Get smashy with the silica gel beads. I tried to crush them by whacking them with the end of a steel rod, but they flew all over the place. Next step was to rig a paper cover over the "mortar," but that did not work very well.
  • A tactic that kind of worked involved folding the beads into paper, then rolling the package with the rod. A real mortar and pestle would have worked better, but this was good enough.

Step #4:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Hangers are usually covered with paint or clear varnish to keep them from leaving your clothing wrinkle-free, but stained with rust. (This is actually totally conjecture on my part -- as far as I know, I have never used a hanger for the intended purpose.)
  • Sand away the varnish or paint until you are left with a shiny rod of steel.

Step #5:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod

Time for some chemistry. Zero your scale.

Step #6:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Sodium silicate is made from water, silica gel, and sodium hydroxide (lye). The proportions (by weight) are six parts silica gel (crushed as best you can), four to eight parts lye (four will work, eight is stoichiometric, anywhere in between is fine) and ten parts water. Weigh out the parts individually.
  • Wear gloves and goggles for this part. A little lye in the eye or in a cut on your hand will ruin your day.

Step #7:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod
  • Heat the water, then slowly add the lye while stirring. If you just dump the lye in you will get a solid, hard lump of a brutal base at the bottom of your heating vessel. The only way I found to remove it was neutralizing it with some decently strong hydrochloric acid. It totally looked like Science, but was an annoying waste of time.
  • Heat and stir until you get a clear, but ominously thick solution. Be wary, but not too afraid -- it can smell your fear.

Step #8:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • This next part can be tricky -- you need to add the silica gel powder to the lye/water solution, but just a little bit at a time. Take the solution off the heat when you add the powder, then return it to the heat while you stir. If you leave it on the heat too long it will boil over in an instant. If it gets too cool the silica gel will not go into solution, and clump at the bottom.
  • The result will be a gummy gel. Sodium silicate!

Step #9:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Straighten the hanger, then cut pieces of welding-rod size: about a foot long will work.

Step #10:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Cut some paper a little shorter than your rod. It should be wide enough for eight to ten wraps around the steel.

Step #11:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Paint a layer of sodium silicate onto the paper. You want the paper to be as saturated as possible -- I found that painting both sides allowed the sodium silicate to soak in nicely and evenly.

Step #12:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Roll the saturated paper around the steel rod. Try to get it as consistently tight as possible. For me, this is far harder than one would think.
  • Eight to ten layers of paper will do. Smooth the layers as they go, and smoosh the trailing edge into the rest of the wrap.
  • Take a pliers and crimp the gooey paper tightly into the rod. Why? The patent states "The principle object of this is to secure uniformity in the density of the coating on all sides and thus prevent the coating from disintegrating faster on one side than another to such an extent as to destroy the crater. The creasing or scoring also tends to retard the transmission of heat and affords a means whereby the disintegrated portions may become detached, assuring the maintenance of a crater rim of uniform or regular contour." That's why.

Step #13:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Bake the rods. This drives out moisture, and also makes a carbonized shell that keeps the rods intact when stored. I let them cook at a low heat for about fifteen minutes. You want them to be totally dry and deliciously golden.

Step #14:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Ok -- ready to test. I guess for maximum punk rock DIY points I should have tested them using a car battery welder, but the arc welder was right there. You are more punk rock than me. You win.

Step #15:

PrevNext
DIY Welding Rod

I used the recommended settings for a 3/32 (ish) rod -- DCEP, around 100 amps.

Step #16:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Striking an arc took a couple of tries, but once I figured out the correct distance and angle it burned almost as well as an off-the-shelf rod. Tons of smoke, though, and the arc was not super-stable.

Step #17:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Totally welding with home-made electrode. Splattery and ugly (you can partially blame user error and a little bit of a learning curve) but definitely looks like a weld.

Step #18:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Notice the lack of ceramic slag -- just some ash.

Step #19:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

Brushed it to see the glory of my weld. Looks OK, in parts. Again, you have to learn the rod.

Step #20:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod
  • Weld side is not pretty.
  • Back side shows good penetration.
  • Chopped the weld up for a closer look.

Step #21:

PrevNext
DIY Welding RodDIY Welding RodDIY Welding Rod

And success! No pitting, no craters, and total fusion of the metal. Welding, from home-rigged rods. Take that, zombies.


Comments

  1. freqn says:

    What kind of pocket knife do you use? I like the one that was pictured on the main page.

  2. No pitting or craters? That weld doesn’t even pass visual, let alone a cut and etch. Cool learning tool, but don’t use this for any real projects.

    1. jbanks says:

      I think that your criticism is valid, but clearly the intent was not to pass a visual. It was most certainly a proof of concept. It was not intended as a reason to toss out all of your factory made electrodes and start using paper wrapped hangers to weld everything. The metallurgy alone in hangers is kind of sketchy. I have used them in a pinch using OA welding and had all sorts of weird issues. That being said, the next step I am interested in would be to refine the idea. I think its obvious that the Sodium Silicate and paper road coating is Model A tech compared to what you buy at the store, now. If this sort of home made rod were to ever pass visual, it would be necessary to refine the metallurgy, formulation and design. Also, experimenting with welder settings. Most folk are not well versed and experienced with state of the art welding rods patented circa 1918. I would not be shocked to find out that this sort of coating burns super hot, or absorbs a crap ton of heat for some reason.

      All hail Sir Hackett. Slayer of the Undead, Defender of the Living and Obtainer of Obtainium.

  3. Brys says:

    That’s pretty neat. Like the last guy said I wouldn’t trust it but maybe if you keep playing with it you’ll get good results. You may try adding some iron in the flux. Maybe grind on some cast iron and sweep up the dust and add it to your mix. That’s what low hydrogen rods (7018, 7024 etc) have in em. Maybe baking them longer will help too. 7018s need 2 hrs bake time (after they’ve been open for over 6? Hours I believe). Just a couple ideas, cool project though. I’m definitely gonna try it.

  4. mahi says:

    thanks you for the giving titles

  5. DustyFab says:

    hey, just as a heads up, cellulose based rods like 6010, actually run way cooler than 7018, you might try 50 amps for 3/32 6010 the easiest way once you get your machine set is so that you use one size bigger rod in cellulose based than low hydrogen, so : if you use a 6010 1/8 set at 80 amps you should be able to without switching use 7018 3/32 to fill.

    this article is a very cool how to for the zombie apocalypse!!