Oxy-acetylene equipment choices
I'm looking to get started with gas welding and am at a loss for what equipment I should invest in. Looking online, I can spend anywhere from $100 to $600+ on torches/regulators/etc. I guess the real question is: why DON'T I want the Harbor Freight welding kit special? When the whole kit costs as much as the Smith torch handle, I get suspicious. Is there any noticeable difference between a $30 regulator and a $100 (both are single stage)? How about torches?
Go down to whatever local welding store the millwrights & iron workers go to when they are spending their own money, & buy whatever good brand they carry. You will sooner or later need parts &/or service & you will want someone local. Personally, I use a Victor 100 that I bought in the early 90s when I was doing a lot of industrial construction & maintenance work (it is small enough it is easy to carry when climbing around on steel but big enough to cut well), I didn't see any sense in buying another torch so I just went in to Ernie's & he ordered me some different sizes of welding tips.
If welding aircraft tube is all you will use it for get the aircraft torch, they are a little smaller & lighter, but if you want to cut with it get one of the small multipurpose outfits.
Some of the cheaper no name units like from harbor freight are pure junk, the regulators don't regulate well, & the valves on the torch don't maintain constant flow rates.
If you have the patience, scour sites like Craigslist. I acquired my welding rig for a song by being patient and shopping that site over the course of several weeks. I purchased five regulators (three Victors and two Craftsman), three handles (two Victors (J-100 type) and a Craftsman) two cutting attachments, a rose bud, several tips and a striker for $100 from an older fellow that just wanted the stuff out of his garage. I sold the craftsman regulators and cutting torch for $75. Next I found a Dayton gas cart (lists for $185 at Grainger) for $70 in a farmers barn. A few accessories and I was ready to burn holes in metal for slightly over $100. Over time I did buy a new set of lightweight hoses and have had my regulators rebuilt (highly recommend this if you buy used), but I'm still only into the rig for about $200... and this is name brand and serviceable stuff!
Once you have the hardware it is time to survey your gas options. I would NOT recommend buying used bottles second hand from Craigslist or anywhere else... most suppliers won't touch these things, and if they do, YOU are responsible for the testing (every 5-7 years I think). It is easier and cheaper to just go rent or lease your bottles. I leased mine for 10 years for $500 (large bottles)... if I run out of gas I pay for a refill, but the vendor takes care of any bottle or valve maintenance. You may have other options, but this was the best one for me.
If you do buy used and need any kind of rebuild service on your torch handles or regulators, I would recommend Bill's Welding Repair in Oklahoma City, OK. They have very reasonable rates, use the correct parts and have a quick turnaround. I was without my regulators for one week and they work like new. Hope this helps!
Well I will assume you mean aircraft welding. I would avoid the HF stuff at all cost, the regulators are junk and the torch is too large for any real work. So that being said I will stick to quality tools for this post. If cost is a serious concern, I would set up the following:
Uniweld 71 Handle
Uniweld 17 tips
Smith 30 series regulators
3/16 "R" hose
This is an all US made aircraft type torch that will serve you very well, the tips are Victor "J" type. Total cost witout cylinders should be about $350.
The next step up would be the following:
Smith AW1A Handle
Smith AW tips
Smith Versa-Torch kevlar braided hose
Smith 30 series regulators
This is a little better quality setup with a lifetime warranty on the hande, and a nice lightweight hose. Total cost will be about $500 depending where you source the parts.
There are a bunch of other brands too, these are just some industry standard setups, if you need more help or part numbers shoot me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for the tips, and yes, this is for welding a steel tube fuselage. I figured Harbor Freight was going to lead me down the road to ruin, but appreciate the confirmation of that. The allure of low prices appeals to the pocketbook, though the brain knows I should invest in good tools. Guess I'll start saving up, while watching Craigslist for the good buys in the mean time. There are a few machine shops that I work with in my job, and with any luck maybe they can point me toward good welding vendors in the area as Mike suggests.
I'm definitely sold on the idea of renting tanks. For one thing, I don't have any welding projects on the horizon following completion of my homebuilt and don't really want to deal with storing tanks indefinitely. And since my workplace gets a weekly delivery of gases, maybe with some luck I can tag my own order onto it one week... Alternatively, Airgas is located just down the street from the airport.
Thanks again for the food for thought, guys.
My advise would be to stick to new regulators, and find a used torch if price is a big concern. Few regulators handle the low flow rates of the small torches, the Smith 30 series is the most economical type that does the job well. Rental of big cylinders is a good idea. Anyway if you find something used and want to ask about it feel free, If its an aircraft size torch I probably have it in the collection and can tell you if its decent or not.
Thanks, Aaron. I will take you up on that. Regarding regulators, any thoughts on items marketed as "medium duty" vs otherwise? Curious what the difference is - presumably flow rates. Is there a metric I should keep an eye out for when selecting a regulator?
Edit: How about flashback arrestors vs check valves?
Last edited by TonyG; 08-10-2011 at 05:04 PM.
What do you experts have to say about the Heinrob torch? I believe they've been sold and may have a different name now. I've heard they are the cat's pajamas, especially for welding aluminum. I've seen their advertising brag about using uniquely low gas pressures, but have seen welding books recommend those same pressures for regular torches as well. Should one shell out the 500 bucks for one of these?
Lets put it this way, its better than a railroad torch for light gauge work. Other than that its nothing special, and extremely awkward for tubing cluster work. Its no better for aluminum than any other decent torch. Does some nice sheet cutting work on steel though. Personally I would stick with a traditional aircraft torch. As for regs, the "duty" title is kind of misleading, the medium dusty smiths are whats called a 30 series, the part number starts with 30. Radnor brand regs are junk for what we are doing, as are all the knock offs as they are dampened for cutting torch flow rates, not low flow rates. Harris heavy duty regs are suited well for our torches but expensive. The smiths are an excellent value.
Not trying to get into a big debate, but if you can find a good deal on a set of used regulators of a known brand (Smith/Victor), and they aren't physically beat up... don't pass them up. I am using a fairly common set of Victor regulators... SR250C for oxygen and SR260A for acetylene... standard duty stuff. I had the pair rebuild for around $50 and they regulate nicely, even with a 000 tip. Aviation torches are nice, but tracking down specific items can get pricey and some of the "aircraft" torches, while nice for welding light gauge materials, aren't as versatile as a trusty ol J-100 when it comes to changing gears to heavier materials, cutting, heat treating, etc.
Originally Posted by Aaron Novak
Again, just my .02... keep you eyes peeled, you find what you are looking for.