For avid welders, having an at-home shop is about as good as it gets. Some welders choose to set up shop in a garage or other storage-type space, others opt for the great outdoors. Backyard welding is a great option for welders tight on real estate, but still looking to work on project from the comfort and convenience of their own homes.
However, there is a lot more that goes into planning to weld outdoors than one might initially believe. From weather condition and safety to preserving the aesthetics and quality of your other outdoor spaces, there are a lot of factors to consider when planning to set up a welding station in your backyard.
However, with some careful planning and preparation, your backyard welding set up can be just as good as any indoor shop.
Setting Up Shop
You’ve decided you want to set up a welding space in your home—now the question is where? Whether you prefer or simply have the space for either indoor or outdoor, any quality home welding shop has a few essential things in common.
Basic Welding Station Necessities
While the specific process for setup and maintenance, as well as the required materials and planning, will vary based on location, there are a few necessities you can find in any shop. To start your backyard welding shop, be sure to have on hand:
- Welding table (preferably solid metal)
- Power source
- Wire Brush
- Tape measure
- Fire extinguisher (safety first)
- Protective gear
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should be enough to help start up your home welding space. You’ll likely continue to add to your inventory as the complexity of the projects you’re taking on increases.
Backyard Welding Considerations
Where you choose to set up your station in the backyard is just as important as the tools you’re using. Indoor shops almost always have solid concrete floors. Outdoor shops, however, present a few different options—some will work fine while others are best kept away from the sparks. Grass and wood are two materials that should be avoided as much as possible when setting up an outdoor welding station.
Dry, dead grass is kindling for a backyard fire. Even with a fire extinguisher on hand, sparks can spread and start dangerous fires all around your station. While healthy grass isn’t guaranteed to catch fire if sparks fall from your worktable, it’s best to avoid welding over flammable surfaces as much as possible. This applies to wood as well. Wooden decks are a great place to grill burgers on the weekend, but they are not the ideal location for your outdoor welding shop.
This doesn’t mean you should just move your work space over the patio, though—even if it is concrete. There’s a reason indoor shops are careful to clean their floors periodically. Cutting, welding, and grinding metal throws off shavings. These remnants are generally too small to be readily noticeable, however they can pose some serious issues if left unchecked. If you plan on setting up your welding station in a high-traffic area, these small metal shavings can wreak havoc on bare feet and paws. Even a once-over with a strong magnet may leave some behind.
Depending on the type of metal, these shavings can also leave behind pesky rust stains on the surface of your patio if they come into contact with water. Rain and even humidity can cause this reaction, and in an outdoor setting they’re essentially impossible to prevent or control.
If you’re seriously looking to set up shop outside, consider pouring a concrete slab designated specifically for welding. Sealing or color treating the concrete may help protect the surface and hide possible stains and discoloration. Allocating a safe space for working on your projects will also help prevent injuries from metal shavings, tools, and other welding necessities.
While you won’t have an issue with ventilation, welding in the open air does present some concerns of its own. Indoor welding shops are climate controlled, a luxury the outdoors won’t afford your work space. Everything from temperature and humidity to wind and dirt are regulated in indoor spaces. This affects both the type of metals, some are more sensitive than others, and welding processes you are able to effectively use. Ensuring a solid result requires significant planning and preparation to find both a metal and welding technique suited to your outdoor conditions—which could very well change over the course of the project.
Flux Core MIG and stick welding, also known as SMAW, are the two techniques best suited to outdoor use. This is because the shielding gas is produced close enough to the weld pool to still be effective even in the presence of wind or excessive pollutants. Stick welding is the most commonly used welding technique for outdoor projects. MIG (GMAW) and TIG (GTAW), on the other hand, use a separate shielding gas delivery that is far more susceptible to external elements. While these methods can be used outdoors, they do not guarantee the same quality weld product as Flux Core MIG and stick welding.
Putting up makeshift walls with tarps or other fireproof materials is another way to help shield your outdoor welding station from some of the wind that can push the shielding gasses away, causing defects. Welding curtains are a great option both for shielding your project, and for protecting anyone who may encounter your welding station from harmful arc flash and UV radiation. However, setting up walls does entail a good deal of forethought and may require you to build additional fixtures as part of your backyard welding shop. If you’re looking to create a space that can be quickly and easily torn down, putting up walls may not be right for you.
If you still want to try MIG (GMAW) welding outdoors without makeshift walls for additional shielding, you can also try cranking up the gas flow for better shielding. However, this isn’t a surefire solution and can be rather pricey in the long run.
Certain metals, like aluminum for example, are extremely sensitive to pollutants. This includes both the dirt, dust, and pollen in the air—far more prevalent outdoors than in—as well as the gasses, like hydrogen, that can cause embrittlement. Improper shielding gas coverage coupled with excessive amount of pollutants can create a potentially tricky situation for certain applications. Choosing more stable metals, like steel, and carefully selecting your welding method will remove a good deal of the potential issues outdoor welding may present.
Will You Want to Be Outside?
Climate considerations don’t only apply to the project decisions, they affect the welder as well. Do you live somewhere where it gets extremely hot in the summer? You may have to take a few months off. Or maybe your neck of the wood experiences its fair share of snowy winters. This will limit the amount of time you’ll be able to utilize your outdoor welding space.
You’ll also want to consider climate when deciding how to care for your work space. Protecting not only your tools, but also the space in general from the elements should be a priority to add longevity to your inventory. Welding tools aren’t cheap after all. You’ll want to protect your investment. This leads to the next consideration: storage.
Leaving your welding equipment to the elements can damage the tools, so it’s important you find a place to store them. If you have a shed or other storage space already established, consider setting up your outdoor welding area nearby to make the storage and retrieval of your tools quick and easy. This will cut back on both time and effort setting up and tearing down your work space, and help you stay motivated to properly store your tools. Having to lug your entire set up across the yard every time you want to work on a project will do little to encourage proper storage and care.
If your backyard welding space isn’t conveniently located near storage, consider adding some. The space should be big enough for not only all of your welding tools, but also any existing projects and materials you wish to keep on hand. Try keeping some of your smaller tools, like a wire brush, grinder, or tape measure, stored in a toolbox for easy location.
Think of this storage space as an extension of your outdoor shop. Organize it like you would any indoor welding shop to help keep things efficient and prevent clutter. It may be easier to just throw everything into storage after a long day of welding—especially when you’re having to tear down and store your outdoor station—but it’s definitely not worth the headache of finding the tools your looking for next time you set up.
Running Extension Cords
Selecting a spot that you can easily run a power source to is essential when setting up a backyard welding space. While extension cords are a viable option, the longer the extension cord you have to use, the lower the amperage will be reaching your welder. AMPs are what determine the heat your welder is able to put out—insufficient heat (amperage) will cause your welder to run cold, producing surface welds. These welds lack the penetration necessary to create proper fusion, resulting in weak joints that are more likely to crack or break.
AMPs & Volts
You will also need to take into consideration the voltage your welder requires. The thickness of the metal you’re welding, the size of the electrode you’re using (sometimes also the filler wire), your shielding gas selection, and the welding process you’ve chosen to use will all affect voltage and amperage requirements. Each welder will have specific specs to show you the type of power your task will require. Always consult these specs prior to beginning a project.
For thicker metals, you’ll need to double check that the circuit you plan to run your welder on can support the voltage and amperage requirements. The typical household current sits at around 120 volts 15 AMPs. This is generally enough power to effectively weld up to 1/8th in. thick steel.
You may require a higher capacity circuit in order to achieve strong welds on thicker materials. For example, a common higher capacity circuit, such as 230 volts 30 AMPs, can be used to weld steel up to 5/16ths in. in thickness. There are other high capacity circuits available—both the kind of welding you want to do and the welder you have will determine how powerful you need to go. Researching your welder and its uses will help you find the right circuit for your project.
It’s important to note that some welders are dual voltage and can operate on different types of circuits while others are only built to operate on one type. Taking this into account when shopping around options may help you find the best welder for your needs.
How Voltage and Amperage Affect Welds
Improper amperage, also referred to as wire feed speed (WFS), and voltage can not only cause electrical issues, they will also prevent your welds from turning out clean and strong. As mentioned before, amperage (WFP) represents the amount of heat your welder is able to deliver through the electrode to the weld pool. Low heat means less fusion, resulting in weak welds. Voltage, on the other hand, is the force that is pushing that heat, as well as the filler material, into the weld pool. If the settings are wrong you’ll have arc distortion and instability. Failing to use proper voltage and amperage (WFS) settings will create all sorts of issues with the resulting welds.
Using a Generator
If your outdoor welding space isn’t conveniently located near an outlet, you may opt to use a generator rather than running extension cords across the lawn. Be sure to research the different settings and abilities of each generator to ensure you find one that provides the power you need for your welder and project.
Other Power Tools
Keep in mind that you will likely need to plug in other power tools, such as a grinder, in addition to running power to your welder. Planning cords and outlets accordingly will keep you from having to unplug and replace your tools unnecessarily.
This likely goes without saying, but be sure to steer clear of gas-powered appliances, like grills or lawnmowers, as well as other flammable materials that may present safety issues. If you share your outdoor space with pets, kids, or neighbors, make sure to pay extra attention to what’s going on around you. If possible, notify anyone who may use the space to ensure it is clear and safe during welding.
Adding welding curtains provides additional protection for those who may be around your welding space. These curtains block arc flash as well as UV radiation to shield even those wearing no protection from harm. As mentioned above, setting up curtains will entail a level of preparation and forethought. However, if your backyard is more of a public space, taking the extra step is a great way to keep those around you safe while you work.
Also note whether your neighborhood or HOA has restrictions on activities such as welding, even in the backyard. Double-checking before setting up your shop can save you the headache of starting all over, and the costly fines should there be rules against such activities.
There’s nothing quite like the convenience of an at-home welding space—but for those looking to set up shop right in their backyards, there are some special consideration to think about first. Still, with a little planning, the perfect welding shop can be just steps from your home.