The history of welding
We need it to make custom exhausts, intakes, intercoolers, engine mounts and more, but how many people actually know that welding (in one form or another) dates back 5000 years to the Bronze and Iron Ages? Welding differs from other forms of joining metal, like brazing and soldering, because welding melts the parent material as part of the joining process.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages (approximately 1500 years ago) that forge welding was invented. This is where blacksmiths would hammer and pound heated metal until it formed a join, though it had to be low-carbon steel or wrought iron due to the limited amounts of heat able to be produced in those times.
Hot rivet welding, where red-hot rivets are hammered through overlapping sections of metal, became a popular in building bridges, ships and pressurised vessels later on. By the start of the 1800s, however, electricity and the discovery of acetylene gas revolutionised welding.
Rivets are all around us in cities today and hot rivet welding allowed transport networks around many of the large cities to grow during the Industrial Revolution.
Acetylene gas was discovered in 1836 and the red-hot temperatures it could heat metal to made gas-welding a possibility. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 1800s and the invention of the low-pressure acetylene torch that gas welding took off.
The acetylene gas is mixed with oxygen in specific ratios (using regulators on top of the gas bottles), and while simple it does take a lot longer to join the metal than electric arc welding. However, oxy-acetylene can also be used to melt siezed or broken fasteners out of their hole.
Arc welding was discovered by Nikolai Benardos and Stanislaw Olszewski around 1881-1882, with the technology being refined rapidly over the next few years into the start of the 20th Century. Arc welding covers basically all welding which uses an electric arc to super-heat the parent metal and join it to other metals touching it, and this includes stick, MIG and TIG.
Stick welding is the earliest and simplest form of arc welding, as it uses an electrode with a current passed through it to heat the job until it goes molten and can be joined together. Popular in heavy industry for its simplicity, ease to learn, and ability to be used in difficult weather conditions, the electrode is covered in flux to act as a shielding agent against contamination of the weld.
As modern car enthusiasts we’re most familiar with gas metal arc welding, either Metal Inert Gas (MIG) or Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG). TIG was developed in 1940 by Northrop Aviation to stick their advanced XP-56 fighter plane together and is beloved by car enthusiasts for its ability to join thin and soft metals (like aluminium or sheet metal). It uses a tungsten head housed in a cup, shielded by argon gas, and sometimes boosted with filler rod.
TIG is possibly the hardest type of arc welding to learn as it relies on tight fit-up between the parts being welded, and the coordination required to control the torch and the filler rod.
While it is more commonly used thanks to its simplicity and ease to learn, MIG was actually developed in 1948, eight years after TIG was created, but is the go-to when it comes to heavy automotive fab work like making engine mounts, modifying suspension and chassis components,
A spool of wire is fed through the torch tip, shielded by gas (commonly a mixture of C02 and argon), and MIG is popular thanks to the heat it can pump into a job. This improves penetration on thick steel jobs.