When assembling a basic toolkit, consider the types of projects you plan to complete: their overall size, the kind of stock you’ll use and whether you’ll work indoors or outside. Many of the tools used for welding are handy for other types of metalworking. Owning the few tools listed here will help you work smoothly and frustration-free.
Tools of the trade
Before you ever make a cut or weld, you’ll need to measure and mark workpieces. High precision is unnecessary for most welding jobs, so common measuring tools for carpentry are all you’ll need: a 16-ft. tape rule, a 12-in. combination square or a speed square, a scratch awl and an indelible felt-tip marker or marking crayon.
You can use most of the same measuring and marking tools used for woodworking. A scratch awl, a tape measure and a combination square will suffice for most jobs. Use a felt-tip indelible marker or the awl for marking.
The type, size and number of clamps you use will likely be the greatest variable. You’ll need to clamp workpieces together and to the workbench while welding. Just as with woodworking, you can never have too many clamps. I’ve found that various types of locking pliers, spring clamps, C-clamps and screw-action metal bar (or pipe) clamps are the most useful. Avoid most one-handed lever-action bar clamps: They may not produce enough pressure to hold the work securely, and the jaws are typically made of plastic — not a good material for high-temperature applications such as welding.
Most common clamping devices such as bar clamps, C-clamps and locking pliers work for welding, but avoid using those made of plastic or wood. The plastic anti-slip pads shown here are fine when cutting steel, but remove them when welding.
Even if you have a metal cut-off saw, you should also have a hacksaw for making just a few cuts, or for irregular cuts if you’re working with small stock. Be sure the saw has a sturdy frame and allows for easy blade changing.
Although it’s slow, a hacksaw is an effective and economical way to accurately cut metal parts. Power cutoff saws are much faster and much more expensive but can be worth it if you’re making lots of cuts.
Keep a pair of wire-cutting pliers or side cutters in your pocket to trim welding-gun wire to the correct length. They’re also useful for removing spatter that’s stuck to the gun and on welds.
If you use a wire-feed welder (MIG or flux-core), side cutters or wire-cutting pliers are indispensable for trimming excess wire to the correct length.
A handheld grinder is the only power tool in this hand-tool category — there’s really no substitute for it. When you need to refine a weld, the grinder will do the hard work before the final shaping with a file. Also keep a stiff wire brush handy for cleaning up welds.
Use a stiff wire brush to clean the weld and, if necessary, a handheld grinder to shape it. A file, such as a mill bastard, works well for refining joints.
Finally, don’t forget to wear the basic safety gear: a welding helmet, gloves and flame-resistant clothing made of wool or treated cotton. Never wear synthetic fabric, which can melt when exposed to high temperatures.