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Tools You Can Build at Home

Cool Tools and Simple Stuff You Can Build

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The art of car crafting can be traced all the way back to those earlyenthusiasts who weren't afraid to dive right in and build what theycouldn't buy. Today, there seems to be a kit for just about any projectyou can contemplate, but there's still a place for those hardy soulswilling to build stuff cheaper themselves.

Fabricating usually entails fusing metal. In the old days, that meantusing an AC stick welder. The problem with stick welders is that they'realmost impossible to use for joining thin sheetmetal. About 20 yearsago, the welding companies hit upon the idea of building affordable MIGwelders that run on common 120-volt house current for thedo-it-yourselfer.

The term "MIG" is an acronym for "metal inert gas" welding whereelectrical current is fed down a thin, flexible wire instead of a large-diameter stick. All quality welding requires a process that will purgeambient air from around the weld puddle to create an environmentconducive to good penetration and prevent inclusions, which are holes orvoids in the weld. Stick welders use a flux material that melts,creating a protective covering over the molten puddle of metal until itcools. Once cooled, the flux can then be chipped away to reveal the weldfor inspection.

MIG welding replaces the flux material with an inert gas (either carbondioxide or a mixture of argon and carbon dioxide) that is introducedaround the weld puddle during the welding process. MIG welders use aflexible sleeve to direct the metal wire onto the welding surface. Thegas is transported between the inner and outer sleeves and introducedaround the work surface. This means that a typical MIG welder must alsohave a separate high-pressure gas bottle and regulator. Budget versionsof basic MIG welders use a flux-core wire that eliminates the need forthe high-pressure tank, but these require cleaning the flux from theweld once the weld cools much like a stick welder.

The key to any home-welding project is to create sufficient weldpenetration to ensure that the two pieces being fused are permanentlyjoined. A good weld will result in significant heat penetration intoboth pieces of metal. This heat creates a bond that is strong enoughthat the welded portion is as strong, if not stronger, than the parentmetal.

The best way to learn basic welding technique is to sign up for an adultextension class at your local school if one is offered. At the veryleast, we'd recommend significant practice before attempting to buildany tool or component that could be dangerous if the weld failed. Sooutsource those major chassis modifications until you become proficientwith your welder. But that said, don't shy away from replacing thoserusted trunk floorpans just because the job looks too difficult. That isone of the first tasks we took on with our first home MIG welder, and intwo weekends of methodical work, we had a completed job that was veryrewarding.

We recently had a chance to experiment with a new Craftsman home shop120-volt MIG welder. The welder offers enough power to weld up to3/16-inch plate and even thicker metals with multiple passes. Ratherthan just play around with it, we decided to dive into a couple ofspecialty tool projects for our shop that we could actually use. Wecranked out an engine perch for a small-block Chevy out of one 10-footlength of 1-inch square tubing. We also duplicated a simple engine liftplate out of 1/4-inch-thick square plate. Finally, we made a locking barfor our next 12-bolt rearend buildup using another 5-foot length of1-inch square tubing along with a small chunk of steel plate that'sdrilled for the pinion flange.

MIG welding can be a lot of fun, and it won't take you long to come upwith all kinds of ideas for projects, tools, and widgets you can create.Craftsman tells us that you can even convert this welder to MIG-weldaluminum with proper changes to polarity and a different shielding gas.We haven't tried that yet, but this just adds to this little welder'sversatility.

Parts List
ComponentSource PN Price
MIGwelder Craftsman 0920569 $299.99
Shielding gas kit Craftsman 092017179.99
Helmet, autodark Craftsman0920743 99.99
Twin CutterCraftsman 0926829 179.99
SOURCES
Airgas Inc. Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Jim Grubbs Motorsports
28130 Crocker Ave.
Unit 331
Valencia
CA  91355
661-257-0101
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