TC 9-237 – Chapter 7 – Section IV – part 4


a. General. Magnesium is a white, very lightweight, machinable, corrosion resistant, high strength metal. It can be alloyed with small quantities of other metals, such as aluminum, manganese, zinc and zirconium, to obtain desired properties. It can be welded by most of the welding processes used in the metal working trades. Because this metal oxidizes rapidly when heated to its melting point in air, a protective inert gas shield must be provided in arc welding to prevent destructive oxidation.

b. Magnesium possesses properties that make welding it different from the welding of steels. Many of these are the same as for aluminum. These are:

(1) Magnesium oxide surface coating which increases with an increase in temperature.

(2) High thermal conductivity.

(3) Relatively high thermal expansion coefficient.

(4) Relatively low melting temperature.

(5) The absence of color change as temperature approaches the melting point.

The normal metallurgical factors that apply to other metals apply to magnesium as well.

c. The welds produced between similar alloys will develop the full strength of the base metals; however, the strength of the heat-affected zone may be reduced slightly. In all magnesium alloys, the solidification range increases and the melting point and the thermal expansion decrease as the alloy content increases. Aluminum added as an alloy up to 10 percent improves weldability, since it tends to refine the weld grain structure. Zinc of more than 1 percent increases hot shortness, which can result in weld cracking. The high zinc alloys are not recommended for arc welding because of their cracking tendencies. Magnesium, containing small amounts of thorium, possesses excellent welding qualities and freedom from cracking Weldments of these alloys do not require stress relieving. Certain magnesium alloys are subject to stress corrosion. Weldments subjected to corrosive attack over a period of time may crack adjacent to welds if the residual stresses are not removed. Stress relieving is required for weldments intended for this type of service.

d. Cleaning. An oil coating or chrome pickle finish is usually provided on magnesium alloys for surface protection during shipment and storage. This oil, along with other foreign matter and metallic oxides, must be removed from the surface prior to welding. Chemical cleaning is preferred, because it is faster and more uniform in its action. Mechanical cleaning can be utilized if chemical cleaning facilities are not available. A final bright chrome pickle finish is recommended for parts that are to be arc welded. The various methods for cleaning magnesium are described below.


The vapors from some chlorinated solvents (e.g., carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene, and perchloroethylene) break down under the ultraviolet radiation of an electric arc and form a toxic gas. Avoid welding where such vapors are present. These solvents vaporize easily, and prolonged inhalation of the vapor can be hazardous. These organic vapors should be removed from the work area before welding begins.

Dry cleaning solvent and mineral spirits paint thinner are highly flammable. Do not clean parts near an open flame or in a smoking area. Dry cleaning solvent and mineral spirits paint thinner evaporate quickly and have a defatting effect on the skin. When used without protective gloves, these chemicals may cause irritation or cracking of the skin. Cleaning operations should be performed only in well ventilated areas.

(1) Grease should be removed by the vapor degreasing system in which trichloroethylene is utilized or with a hot alkaline cleaning compound. Grease may also be removed by dipping small parts in dry cleaning solvent or mineral spirits paint thinner.

(2) Mechanical cleaning can be done satisfactorily with 160 and 240 grit aluminum oxide abrasive cloth, stainless steel wool, or by wire brushing.


Precleaning and postcleaning acids used in magnesium welding and brazing are highly toxic and corrosive. Goggles, rubber gloves, and rubber aprons should be worn when handling the acids and solutions. Do not inhale fumes and mists. When spilled on the body or clothing, wash immediately with large quantities of cold water, and seek medical attention. Never pour water into acid when preparing solution; instead, pour acid into water. Always mix acid and water slowly. Cleaning operations should be performed only in well ventilated areas.

(3) Immediately after the grease, oil, and other foreign materials have been removed from the surface, the metal should be dipped for 3 minutes in a hot solution with the following composition:

dip solution for cleaning magnesium before welding

The bath should be operated at 70°F (21°C). The work should be removed from the solution, thoroughly rinsed with hot water, and air dried. The welding rod should also be cleaned to obtain the best results.

e. Joint Preparation. Edges that are to be welded must be smooth and free of loose pieces and cavities that might contain contaminating agents, such as oil or oxides. Joint preparations for arc welding various gauges of magnesium are shown in figure 7-13.

joint preparation for arc welding magnesium

f. Safety Precautions.


Magnesium can ignite and burn when heated in the open atmosphere.

(1) Goggles, gloves, and other equipment designed to protect the eyes and skin of the welder must be worn.

(2) The possibility of fire caused by welding magnesium metal is very remote. The temperature of initial fusion must be reached before solid magnesium metal ignites. Sustained burning occurs only if this temperature is maintained. Finely divided magnesium particles such as grinding dust, filings, shavings, borings, and chips present a fire hazard. They ignite readily if proper precautions are not taken. Magnesium scrap of this type is not common to welding operations. If a magnesium fire does start, it can be extinguished with dry sand, dry powdered soapstone, or dry cast iron chips. The preferred extinguishing agents for magnesium fires are graphite base powders.

g. Gas Tungsten-Arc (TIG) Welding (GTAW) of Magnesium.

(1) Because of its rapid oxidation when magnesium is heated to its melting point, an inert gas (argon or helium) is used to shield metal during arc welding. This process requires no flux and permits high welding speeds, with sound welds of high strength.

(2) Direct current machines of the constant current type operating on straight polarity (electrode positive) and alternating current machines are used with a high frequency current superimposed on the welding current. Both alternating and direct current machines are used for thin gauge material. However, because of better penetrating power, alternating current machines are used on material over 3/16 in. (4.8 mm) thick. Helium is considered more practical than argon for use with direct current reverse polarity. However, three times as much helium by volume as argon is required for a given amount of welding. Argon is used with alternating current.

(3) The tungsten electrodes are held in a water cooled torch equipped with required electrical cables and an inlet and nozzle for the inert gas.

(4) The two magnesium alloys, in the form of sheet, plate, and extrusion, that are most commonly used for applications involving welding are ASTM-1A (Fed Spec QQ-M-54), which is alloyed with manganese, and ASTM-AZ31A (Fed SPec QQ-44), which is alloyed with aluminum, manganese, and zinc.

(5) In general, less preparation is required for welding with alternating current than welding with direct current because of the greater penetration obtained. Sheets up to 1/4 in. (6.4 mm) thickness may be welded from one side with a square butt joint. Sheets over 1/4 in. (6.4 mm) thickness should be welded from both sides whenever the nature of the structure permits, as sounder welds may be obtained with less warpages. For a double V joint, the included angle should extend from both sides to leave a minimum 1/16 in. (1.6 mm) root face in the center of the sheets. When welding a double V joint, the back of the first bead should be chipped out using a chipping hammer fitted with a cape chisel. Remove oxide film, dirt, and incompletely fused areas before the second bead is added. In this manner, maximum soundness is obtained.

(6) The gas should start flowing a fraction of a second before the arc is struck. The arc is struck by brushing the electrode over the surface. With alternating current, the arc should be started and stopped by means of a remote control switch. The average arc length should be about 1/8 in. (3.2 mm) when using helium and 1/16 in. (1.6 mm) when using argon. Current data and rod diameter are shown in table 7-24.

magnesium weld data

(7) When welding with alternating current, maximum penetration is obtained when the end of the electrode is held flush with or slightly below the surface of the work. The torch should be held nearly perpendicular to the surface of the work, and the welding rod added from a position as neatly parallel with the work as possible (fig. 7-14). The torch should have a slightly leading travel angle.

position of torch and welding rod for tig welding magnesium

(8) Welding should progress in a straight line at a uniform speed. There should be no rotary or weaving motion of the rod or torch, except for larger corner joints or fillet welds. The welding rod can be fed either continuously or intermittently. Care should be taken to avoid withdrawing the heated end from the protective gaseous atmosphere during the welding operation. The cold wire filler metal should be brought in as near to horizontal as possible (on flat work). The filler wire is added to the leading edge of the weld puddle. Runoff tabs are recommended for welding any except the thinner metals. Forehand welding, in which the welding rod precedes the torch in the direction of welding, is preferred. If stops are necessary, the weld should be started about 1/2 in. (12.7 mm) back from the end of the weld when welding is resumed.

(9) Because of the high coefficient of thermal expansion and conductivity, control of distortion in the welding of magnesium requires jigging, small beads, and a properly selected welding sequence to help minimize distortion. Magnesium parts can be straightened by holding them in position with clamps and heating to 300 to 400°F (149 to 204°C). If this heating is done by local torch application, care must be taken not to overheat the metal and destroy its properties.

(10) If cracking is encountered during the welding of certain magnesium alloys, starting and stopping plates may be used to overcome this difficult. These plates consist of scrap pieces of magnesium stock butted against opposite ends of the joint to be welded as shown in A, figure 7-15. The weld is started on one of the abutting plates, continued across the junction along the joint to be welded, and stopped on the opposite abutting plate. If a V groove is used, the abutting plates should also be grooved. An alternate method is to start the weld in the middle of the joint and weld to each edge (B, fig. 7-15). Cracking may also be minimized by preheating the plate and holding the jig to 200 to 400°F (93 to 204°C) by increasing the speed of the weld.

minimizing cracking during welding

(11) Filler reds must be of the same composition as the alloy being joined when arc welding. One exception is when welding AZ31B. In this case, grade C rod (MIL-R-6944), which produces a stronger weld metal, is used to reduce cracking.

(12) Residual stress should be relieved through heat treatment. Stress relief is essential so that lockup stresses will not cause stress corrosion cracking. The recommended stress relieving treatment for arc welding magnesium sheet is shown in table 7-25.

magnesium stress relief data

(13) The only cleaning required after arc welding of magnesium alloys is wire brushing to remove the slight oxide deposit on the surface. Brushing may leave traces of iron, which may cause galvanic corrosion. If necessary, clean as in b above. Arc welding smoke can be removed by immersing the parts for 1/2 to 2 minutes at 180 to 212°F (82 to 100°C), in a solution composed of 16 oz (453 g) tetrasodium pyrophosphate (Na4P2O7), 16 oz (453 g) sodium metaborate (NaBO2), and enough water to make 1 gallon (3.8 1).

(14) Welding procedure schedules for GTAW of magnesium (TIG welding) are shown in table 7-26.

welding procedure schedules for gas tungsten arc welding (gtaw) of magnesium (tig welding)

h. Gas Metal-Arc (MIG) Welding of Magnesium (GMAW). The gas metal arc welding process is used for the medium to thicker sections. It is considerably faster than gas tungsten arc welding. Special high-speed gear ratios are usually required in the wire feeders since the magnesium electrode wire has an extremely high meltoff rate. The normal wire feeder and power supply used for aluminum welding is suitable for welding magnesium. Different types of arc transfer can be obtained when welding magnesium. This is primarily a matter of current level or current density and voltage setting. The short-circuiting transfer and the spray transfer are recommended. Argon is usually used for gas metal arc welding of magnesium; however, argon-helium mixtures can be used. In general, the spray transfer should be used on material 3/16 in. (4.8 mm) and thicker and the short-circuiting arc used for thinner metals. Welding procedure schedules for GMAW of magnesium (MIG welding) are shown in table 7-27.

welding procedure schedules for gas metal arc welding (gmaw) of magnesium (mig welding)

i. Other Welding Processes. Magnesium can be welded using the resistance welding processes, including spot welding, seam welding, and flash welding. Magnesium can also be joined by brazing. Most of the different brazing techniques can be used. In all cases, brazing flux is required and the flux residue must be completely removed from the finish part. Soldering is not as effective, since the strength of the joint is relatively low. Magnesium can also be stud welded, gas welded, and plasma-arc welded.

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