Any experience with welding aluminium?

I need to fabricate a custom rooftop rack for my van and I feel steel would be too heavy for what I need.

As a last resort, I could look into using 8020 aluminium framing but I’d rather not. Want the sleek look of what looks like one piece and curved lines, which is better achieved with welding.

I’ve looked into some stuff online, I feel like I could use the MIG welder and, with thick enough aluminium wire, do without a spool gun?

Any experience is welcome! Thanks!

You will need the TIG welder. TIG is the right way to do aluminum. There is a way to do it with MIG but it’s not very good at all. There’s actually a zinc brazing rod you can use on aluminum with a oxy torch too, but it’s really specialized technique and not commonly used since TIG is just the way to go

TIG welding aluminum does take awhile to get right, from what I hear. I don’t know it myself.

I have a mig welder that runs the aluminum wire through the whole whip. It takes a little practice, but once the settings are right, it welds like mig welding steel. I’m actually in the process of welding aluminum gate panels together right now. Other than that, you’ll need a tig welder.

If you’re going to do without a spool gun, you’ve already given up the convenience of MIG so I’d probably just go the whole way to TIG so you get nominally better control.

Any reason you’re avoiding TIG?

I’m not sure what you mean by giving up the convenience of MIG, without a spool gun. My welder is designed to have the aluminum wire run through the machine and the whip, meaning I don’t have a spool on the end of my torch. Personally I like the set up, because I can weld just like it’s steel, and I don’t have the spool in the way.

I 100% agree that TIG welding is the correct way to go, but it’s not the only way. In a case were the material is thick enough, welding with a MIG will get you acceptable results. May not be as pretty as TIG, but structurally it will be sound.

**edit: Not sure if that was for me, or the original post.

It was meant for the original poster.

However, as for the spool, I was under the impression that aluminum MIG required a spool since the aluminum wire was too soft to feed so it required some mechanism to feed the wire near the end of the torch.

Does your welder have a powered pull somewhere near the end even for steel then?

I believe most MIG welders that do aluminum are set up that way. Mine has a separate roller designed for the Aluminum wire. The welder feeds either wire, steel or Aluminum from inside the machine, and through the entire whip. It makes welding with the torch a lot nicer, since it doesn’t have the extra weight and space of the spool gun.
The “whip” actually gets changed out with the wire, so that only one type of metal is used per whip. I believe the aluminum whip also has a different liner inside it, to help with the softer aluminum.
Side note, when I demoed the machine, it was already setup with the proper aluminum parts. When I bought my machine they forgot to add the separate aluminum roller. I almost threw the machine away after birds nesting lot of wire. Finally found out I was missing the correct roller. Once I started welding with that roller, the machine was amazing.

No real reason I’m avoiding TIG, besides the assumption we didn’t have one at the space? I’ve just been using MIG a lot more recently is all.

My material will probably be around 1/8" to 1/4" thick which I assumed was better suited for MIG.

Definitely want to avoid brazing, as it seems like it doesn’t have as much structural integrity.

We have a tig welder at the space. I have a class coming on Feb 19. It will be up on our classes page this week.

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what machine do you have that allows a set up like this? i’m somewhat in the market for something like this and would love to have the ability to also weld aluminum as well as MIG. is it a multiprocess machine that can do DC TIG as well? cause that would be incredible.

I have a Snap-On branded machine, which is made by ABC Welding. It’s actually a pretty nice setup, although I paid a premium for it. It doesn’t do TIG welding at all, but I’m cool with that. I think the MIG aluminum welding suits my needs better, as I don’t have a big demand for TIG welding, and the setup that goes with it.

Most of the major brand mig welders have some kind of al mig setup.

I’ve used this one quite a bit, it’s solid.

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