TC 9-237 – Chapter 10 – Section I – part 1

Section I. GENERAL


a. Definition. In the arc welding process, the weld is produced by the extreme heat of an electric arc drawn between an electrode and the workpiece, or in some cases, between two electrodes. Welds are made with or without the application of pressure and with or without filler metals. Arc welding processes may be divided into two classes based on the type of electrode used: metal electrodes and carbon electrodes. Detailed descriptions of the various processes may be found in chapter 6, paragraph 6-2.

(1) Metal electrodes. Arc welding processes that fall into this category include bare metal-arc welding, stud welding, gas shielded stud welding, submerged arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, gas metal-arc welding, shielded metal-arc welding, atomic hydrogen welding, arc spot welding, and arc seam welding.

(2) Carbon electrodes. Arc welding processes that fall into this category include carbon-arc welding, twin carbon-arc welding, gas carbon-arc welding, and shielded carbon-arc welding.

b. Weld Metal Deposition.

(1) General. In metal-arc welding, a number of separate forces are responsible for the transfer of molten filler metal and molten slag to the base metal. These forces are described in (2) through (7) below.

(2) Vaporization and condensation. A small part of the metal passing through the arc, especially the metal in the intense heat at the end of the electrode, is vaporized. Some of this vaporized metal escapes as spatter, but most of it is condensed in the weld crater, which is at a much lower temperature. This occurs with all types of electrodes and in all welding positions.

(3) Gravity. Gravity affects the transfer of metal in flat position welding. In other positions, small electrodes must be used to avoid excessive loss of weld metal, as the surface tension is unable to retain a large amount of molten metal in the weld crater.

(4) Pinch effect. The high current passing through the molten metal at the tip of the electrode sets up a radial compressive magnetic force that tends to pinch the molten globule and detach it from the electrode.

(5) Surface tension. This force holds filler metal and the slag globules in contact with the molten base or weld metal in the crater. It has little to do with the transfer of metal across the arc, but is an important factor in retaining the molten weld metal in place and in the shaping of weld contours.

(6) Gas stream from electrode coatings. Gases are produced by the burning and volatilization of the electrode covering and are expanded by the heat of the boiling electrode tip. The velocity and movement of this gas stream give the small particles in the arc a movement away from the electrode tip and into the molten crater on the work.

(7) Carbon monoxide evolution from electrode. According to this theory of metal movement in the welding arc, carbon monoxide is evolved within the molten metal at the electrode tip, causing miniature explosions which expel molten metal away from the electrode and toward the work. This theory is substantiated by the fact that bare wire electrodes made of high purity iron or “killed steel” (i.e., steel that has been almost completely deoxidized in casting) cannot he used successfully in the overhead position. The metal transfer from electrode to the work, the spatter, and the crater formation are, in this theory, caused by the decarburizing action in molten steel.

c. Arc Crater. Arc craters are formed by the pressure of expanding gases from the electrode tip (arc blast), forcing the liquid metal towards the edges of the crater. The higher temperature of the center, as compared with that of the sides of the crater, causes the edges to cool first. Metal is thus drawn from the center to the edges, forming a low spot.


The power source is the heart of all arc welding process. Two basic types of power sources are expressed by their voltage-ampere output characteristics. The constant current machine is considered in this paragraph. The other power source, the constant voltage machine, is discussed in paragraph 10-3. The static output characteristic curve produced by both sources is shown in figure 10-1. The characteristic curve of a welding machine is obtained by measuring and plotting the output voltage and the output current while statically loading the machine.

Characteristic curve for welding power source

a. The conventional machine is known as the constant current (CC) machine, or the variable voltage type. The CC machine has the characteristic drooping volt-ampere curve, (fig. 10-1), and has been used for many years for the shielded metal arc welding process. A constant-current arc-welding machine is one which has means for adjusting the arc current. It also has a static volt-ampere curve that tends to produce a relatively constant output current. The arc voltage, at a given welding current, is responsive to the rate at which a consumable electrode is fed into the arc. When a non-consumable electrode is used, the arc voltage is responsive to the electrode-to-work distance. A constant-current arc-welding machine is usually used with welding processes which use manually held electrodes, continuously fed consumable electrodes, or non-consumable electrodes. If the arc length varies because of external influences, and slight changes in the arc voltage result, the welding current remains constant.

b. The conventional or constant current (CC) type power source may have direct current or alternating current output. It is used for the shielded metal-arc welding process, carbon arc welding and gouging, gas tungsten arc welding, and plasma arc welding. It is used for stud welding and can be used for the continuous wire processes when relatively large electrode wires are used.

c. There are two control systems for constant current welding machines: the single-control machine and the dual-control machine.

(1) The single-control machine has one adjustment which changes the current output from minimum to maximum, which is usually greater than the rated output of the machine. The characteristic volt-ampere curve is shown by figure 10-2. The shaded area is the normal arc voltage range. By adjusting the current control, a large number of output curves can be obtained. The dotted lines show intermediate adjustments of the machine. With tap or plug-in machines, the number of covers will correspond to the number of taps or plug-in combinations available. Most transformer and transformer-rectifier machines are single-control welding machines.

curve for single control welding machine

(2) Dual control machines have both current and voltage controls. They have two adjustments, one for coarse-current control and the other for fine-current control, which also acts as an open-circuit voltage adjustment. Generator welding machines usually have dual controls. They offer the welder the most flexibility for different welding requirements. These machines inherently have slope control. The slope of the characteristic curve can be changed from a shallow to a steep slope according to welding requirements. Figure 10-3 shows some of the different curves that can be obtained. Other curves are obtained with intermediate open-circuit voltage settings. The slope is changed by changing the open-circuit voltage with the fine-current control adjustment knob. The coarse adjustment sets the current output of the machine in steps from the minimum to the maximum current. The fine-current control will change the open-circuit voltage from approximately 55 volts to 85 volts. However, when welding, this adjustment does not change arc voltage. Arc voltage is controlled by the welder by changing the length of the welding arc. The open-circuit voltage affects the ability to strike an arc. If the open-circuit voltage is much below 60 volts, it is difficult to strike an arc.

Curve for dual control welding machines

(a) The different slopes possible with a dual-control machine have an important effect on the welding characteristic of the arc. The arc length can vary, depending on the welding technique. A short arc has lower voltage and the long arc has higher voltage. With a short arc (lower voltage), the power source produces more current, and with a longer arc (higher voltage), the power source provides less welding current. This is illustrated by figure 10-4, which shows three curves of arcs and two characteristic curves of a dual-control welding machine. The three arc curves are for a long arc, a normal arc, and the lower curve is for a short arc. The intersection of a curve of an arc and a characteristic curve of a welding machine is known as an operating point. The operating point changes continuously during welding. While welding, and without changing the control on the machine, the welder can lengthen or shorten the arc and change the arc voltage from 35 to 25 volts. With the same machine setting, the short arc (lower voltage) is a high-current arc. Conversely, the long arc (high voltage) is a lower current arc. This allows the welder to control the size of the molten puddle while welding. When the welder purposely and briefly lengthens the arc, the current is reduced, the arc spreads out, and the puddle freezes quicker. The amount of molten metal is reduced, which provides the control needed for out-of-position work. This type of control is built into conventional constant current type of machine, single-or dual-control, ac or dc.

volt ampere slope versus welding operation

(b) With the dual-control machine, the welder can adjust the machine for more or less change of current for a given change of arc voltage. Both curves in figure 10-4 are obtained on a dual-control machine by adjusting the fine control knob. The top curve shows an 80-volt open-circuit voltage and the bottom curve shows a 60-volt open-circuit voltage. With either adjustment, the voltage and current relationship will stay on the same curve or line. Consider first the 80-volt open-circuit curve which produces the steeper slope. When the arc is long with 35 volts and is shortened to 25 volts, the current increases. This is done without touching the machine control. The welder manipulates the arc. With the flatter, 60-volt open-circuit curve, when the arc is shortened from 35 volts to 25 volts, the welding current will increase almost twice as much as it did when following the 80-volt open-circuit curve. The flatter slope curve provides a digging arc where an equal change in arc voltage produces a greater change in arc current. The steeper slope curve has less current change for the same change in arc length and provides a softer arc. There are many characteristic curves between the 80 and 60 open circuit voltage curves, and each allows a different current change for the same arc voltage change. This is the advantage of a dual-control welding machine over a single-control type, since the slope of the curve through the arc voltage range is adjustable only on a dual-control machine. The dual-control generator welding machine is the most flexible of all types of welding power sources, since it allows the welder to change to a higher-current arc for deep penetration or to a lower-current, less penetrating arc by changing the arc length. This ability to control the current in the arc over a fairly wide range is extremely useful for making pipe welds.

d. The rectifier welding machine, technically known as the transformer-rectifier, produces direct current for welding. These machines are essentially single-control machines and have a static volt ampere output characteristic curve similar to that shown in figure 10-4 above. These machines, though not as flexible as the dual-control motor generator, can be used for all types of shielded metal arc welding where direct current is required. The slope of the volt-ampere curve through the welding range is generally midway between the maximum and minimum of a dual-control machine.

e. Alternating current for welding is usually produced by a transformer type welding machine, although engine-driven alternating current generator welding machines are available for portable use. The static volt ampere characteristic curve of an alternating current power source the same as that shown in figure 10-4 above. Some transformer welding power sources have fine and coarse adjustment knobs, but these are not dual control machines unless the open-circuit voltage is changed appreciably. The difference between alternating and direct current welding is that the voltage and current pass through zero 100 or 120 times per second, according to line frequency or at each current reversal. Reactance designed into the machine causes a phase shift between the voltage and current so that they both do not go through zero at the same instant. When the current goes through zero, the arc is extinguished, but because of the phase difference, there is voltage present which helps to re-establish the arc quickly. The degree of ionization in the arc stream affects the voltage required to re-establish the arc and the overall stability of the arc. Arc stabilizers (ionizers) are included in the coatings of electrodes designed for ac welding to provide a stable arc.

f. The constant-current type welding machine can be used for some automatic welding processes. The wire feeder and control must duplicate the motions of the welder to start and maintain an arc. This requires a complex system with feedback from the arc voltage to compensate for changes in the arc length. The constant-current power supplies are rarely used for very small electrode wire welding processes.

g. Arc welding machines have been developed with true constant-current volt-ampere static characteristics, within the arc voltage range, as shown by figure 10-5. A welder using this type of machine has little or no control over welding current by shortening or lengthening the arc, since the welding current remains the same whether the arc is short or long. This is a great advantage for gas tungsten current by shortening or lengthening the arc, since the welding current remains the same whether the arc is short or long. This is a great advantage for gas tungsten arc welding, since the working arc length of the tungsten arc is limited. In shield metal-arc welding, to obtain weld puddle control, it is necessary to be able to change the current level while welding. This is done by the machine, which can be programmed to change from a high current (HC) to a low current (LC) on a repetitive basis, known as pulsed welding. In pulsed current welding there are two current levels, the high current and low current, sometimes called background current. By programming a control circuit, the output of the machine continuously switches from the high to the low current as shown in figure 10-6. The level of both high and low current is adjustable. In addition, the length of time for the high and low current pulses is adjustable. This gives the welder the necessary control over the arc and weld puddle. Pulsed current welding is useful for shielded metal-arc welding of pipe when using certain types of electrodes. Pulsed arc is very useful when welding with the gas tungsten arc welding process.

volt ampere curve for true constant current machine
pulsed current welding


The second type of power source is the constant voltage (CV) machine or the constant potential (CP) machine. It has a relatively flat volt-ampere characteristic curve.

a. The static output characteristic curve produced by both the CV and CC machine is shown by figure 10-1 above. The characteristic curve of a welding machine is obtained by measuring and plotting the output voltage and the output current while statically loading the machine. The constant voltage (CV) characteristic curve is essentially flat but with a slight droop. The curve may be adjusted up and down to change the voltage; however, it will never rise to as high an open-circuit voltage as a constant current (CC) machine. This is one reason that the constant voltage (CV) machine is not used for manual shielded metal arc welding with covered electrodes. It is only used for continuous electrode wire welding. The circuit consists of a pure resistance load which is varied from the minimum or no load to the maximum or short circuit. The constant current (CC) curve shows that the machine produces maximum output voltage with no load, and as the load increases, the output voltage decreases. The no-load or open-circuit voltage is usually about 80 volts.

b. The CV electrical system is the basis of operation of the entire commercial electric power system. The electric power delivered to homes and available at every receptacle has a constant voltage. The same voltage is maintained continuously at each outlet whether a small light bulb, with a very low wattage rating, or a heavy-duty electric heater with a high wattage rating, is connected. The current that flows through each of these circuits will be different based on the resistance of the particular item or appliance in accordance with Ohm’s law. For example, the small light bulb will draw less than 0.01 amperes of current while the electric heater may draw over 10 amperes. The voltage throughout the system remains constant, but the current flowing through each appliance depends on its resistance or electrical load. The same principle is utilized by the CV welding system.

c. When a higher current is used when welding, the electrode is melted off more rapidly. With low current, the electrode melts off slower. This relationship between melt-off rate and welding current applies to all of the arc welding processes that use a continuously fed electrode. This is a physical relationship that depends upon the size of the electrode, the metal composition, the atmosphere that surrounds the arc, and welding current. Figure 10-7 shows the melt-off rate curves for different sizes of steel electrode wires in a C02 atmosphere. Note that these curves are nearly linear, at least in the upper portion of the curve. Similar curves are available for all sizes of electrode wires of different compositions and in different shielding atmospheres. This relationship is definite and fixed, but some variations can occur. This relationship is the basis of the simplified control for wire feeding using constant voltage. Instead of regulating the electrode wire feed rate to maintain the constant arc length, as is done when using a constant current power source, the electrode wire is fed into the arc at a fixed speed. The power source is designed to provide the necessary current to melt off the electrode wire at this same rate. This concept prompted the development of the constant voltage welding power source.

burn off rates of wire versus current

d. The volt-ampere characteristics of the constant voltage power source shown by figure 10-8, was designed to produce substantially the same voltage at no load and at rated or full load. It has characteristics similar to a standard commercial electric power generator. If the load in the circuit changes, the power source automatically adjusts its current output to satisfy this requirement, and maintains essentially the same voltage across the output terminals. This ensures a self-regulating voltage power source.

static volt amp characteristic curve of CV machines

e. Resistances or voltage drops occur in the welding arc and in the welding cables and connectors, in the welding gun, and in the electrode length beyond the current pickup tip. These voltage drops add up to the output voltage of the welding machine, and represent the electrical resistance load on the welding power source. When the resistance of any component in the external circuit changes, the voltage balance will be achieved by changing the welding current in the system. The greatest voltage drop occurs across the welding arc. The other voltage drops in the welding cables and connections are relatively small and constant. The volt-age drop across the welding arc is directly dependent upon the arc length. A small change in arc volts results in a relatively large change in welding current. Figure 10-9 shows that if the arc length shortens slightly, the welding current increases by approximately 100 amperes. This change in arc length greatly increases the melt-off rate and quickly brings the arc length back to normal.

static volt amp curve with arc range

f. The constant voltage power source is continually changing its current output in order to maintain the voltage drop in the external portion of the welding circuit. Changes in wire feed speed which might occur when the welder moves the gun toward or away from the work are compensated for by changing the current and the melt-off rate briefly until equilibrium is re-established. The same corrective action occurs if the wire feeder has a temporary reduction in speed. The CV power source and fixed wire feed speed system is self-regulating. Movement of the cable assembly often changes the drag or feed rate of the electrode wire. The CV welding power source provides the proper current so that the malt-off is equal to the wire feed rate. The arc length is controlled by setting the voltage on the power source. The welding current is controlled by adjusting the wire feed speed.

g. The characteristics of the welding power source must be designed to provide a stable arc when gas metal arc welding with different electrode sizes and metals and in different atmospheres. Most constant voltage power sources have taps or a means of adjusting the slope of the volt-ampere curve. A curve having a slope of 1-1/2 to 2 volts per hundred amperes is best for gas metal arc welding with nonferrous electrodes in inert gas, for submerged arc welding, and for flux-cored arc welding with larger-diameter electrode wires. A curve having a medium slope of 2 to 3 volts per hundred amperes is preferred for CO2 gas shielded metal arc welding and for small flux-cored electrode wires. A steeper slope of 3 to 4 volts per hundred amperes is recommended for short circuiting arc transfer. These three slopes are shown in figure 10-10. The flatter the curve, the more the current changes for an equal change in arc voltage.

various slopes of characteristic curves

h. The dynamic characteristics of the power source must be carefully engineered. Refer again to figure 10-9. If the voltage changes abruptly with a short circuit, the current will tend to increase quickly to a very high value. This is an advantage in starting the arc but will create unwanted spatter if not controlled. It is controlled by adding reactance or inductance in the circuit. This changes the time factor or response time and provides for a stable arc. In most machines, a different amount of inductance is included in the circuit for the different slopes.

i. The constant voltage welding power system has its greatest advantage when the current density of the electrode wire is high. The current density (amperes/sq in.) relationship for different electrode wire sizes and different currents is shown by figure 10-11. There is a vast difference between the current density employed for gas metal arc welding with a fine electrode wire compared with conventional shielded metal arc welding with a covered electrode.

current density - various electrode signs

j. Direct current electrode positive (DCEP) is used for gas metal arc welding. When dc electrode negative (DCEN) is used, the arc is erratic and produces an inferior weld. Direct current electrode negative (DCEN) can be used for submerged arc welding and flux-cored arc welding.

k. Constant voltage welding with alternating current is normally not used. It can be used for submerged arc welding and for electroslag welding.

l. The constant voltage power system should not be used for shielded metal-arc welding. It may overload and damage the power source by drawing too much current too long. It can be used for carbon arc cutting and gouging with small electrodes and the arc welding processes.

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