Lincoln Handy MIG Weld Aluminum? Can it?

By Bill Byers / July 26, 2018
Lincoln Handy MIG Aluminum

The key to understanding whether the Lincoln Handy MIG can weld Aluminum is to know what the Handy MIG is capable of and

then understanding what successful welding of Aluminum needs.

What the Lincoln Handy MIG is capable of

Designed for light duty the Handy MIG is a 115 volt welder that runs on normal 120 volt household power.

Its maximum Amp output is 88 Amp on its highest setting.

The Lincoln Handy MIG has a duty cycle of 20% at 70 Amp. This means that Lincoln warrant that when the welder is set at 70 Amp will be able to weld continuously for two minutes over a ten minute period, before you have to rest the welder so that it can cool down.

Note: is not measured at its maximum welding output of 88 Amp. Expect when the Handy MIG is turned up to maximum you will have a much shorter duty cycle.

Will weld with flux core wire or solid wire and shielding gas.

Lincoln Handy MIG

There is no spool gun feature available for this welder

I double checked with Lincoln Electric direct and there are no

Lincoln designed feeding kits for Aluminum that fits the Handy MIG,

No Teflon liner that fits a Handy MIG from Lincoln.

or drive rolls designed to feed Aluminum for the Handy MIG.

Lincoln Electric does not market this Handy MIG as being able to weld Aluminum but can it?

It’s a welder that is clearly aimed at the home hobby project welder, who is mainly welding mild steel, that may like some better looking welds and would like to use solid wire and shielding gas to get them.

Understanding MIG Welding Aluminum

Before thinking of welding Aluminum it is well worth understanding something about the metal you are dealing with.

Aluminum is a soft, reactive with air metal that is very heat sensitive. It’s oh so easy to blow through (create holes) while you are MIG welding Aluminum.

And have no idea you are about to do it.

And that is because Aluminum takes some heat to melt. It doesn’t glow red like mild steel does when it is hot.

It sort of looks a bit like molten tin foil. Yet is pulling more and more heat out of the welder into the metal, till bang the whole thing is molten and dripping onto the floor.

So welding Aluminum well needs;

a welder that can produce enough heat,

compatible filler metal to the alloy your welding,

good feed of the Aluminum filler metal at the right speed,

and a weld that is slow enough to create the weld but not so slow you melt the base metal.

In fact you’ll be moving way faster than you think you should and certainly faster than if you are welding mild steel.

If you have five ten minutes it is worth taking a look at my document ‘How To Weld Aluminum, a Home Welder’s Tips for Success‘ where I go into more detail on this.

Use of a Spool Gun

The reason spool guns are used to weld Aluminum is because one aspect of the metal is that it is soft – way softer than mild steel. The Aluminum filler wire just naturally wants to bend and curl back on itself and given any opportunity that’s exactly what it does. Creating the classic bird nest of wire in your welder.

Birds Nest of Wire

Birds Nest of Wire

Using a spool gun means that the wire is fed the 8 to 10 inches from where it is held in the spool gun to the tip of the gun, compared to the 8 foot of hose you have on the Handy MIG to the MIG torch.

Something that has been compared to feeding cooked spaghetti up through a straw.

Now you have an appreciation of the level of difficulty, can it be done on a Handy MIG? Well yes maybe just.

Different Aluminum Alloys

One other thing.

Understand what kind of Aluminum base metal you are dealing with.

The typical Aluminum alloy encountered around the home, garage workshop or farm is 4000 series, 5000 series or 6000 series Aluminum. Match the Aluminum welding wire/filler wire to the Aluminum you are dealing with.

4043 has silicon in it and so should be used with 4000 and 6000 series Aluminum.

5356 should be used with 5000 series Aluminum as it has Magnesium in it that is sympathetic to the Magnesium in the base metal.

5356 is firmer wire – though considered more difficult to weld with. It being a bit firmer may well be better for feeding up a MIG hose. Which is your only option on a Handy MIG.

What is the best thing to do if you really want to try?

What you’ll need to get

  1. Find yourself the shortest hose to your MIG gun you can find. One compatible with the Handy MIG. There are five foot ones out there, the shorter the better. At least that way you’ll be trying to feed the wire as short a distance as possible.
  2. Source 100% Argon gas as that is the shielding gas of choice for welding Aluminum.
  3. Source a Teflon liner for the inside of your MIG hose, it’s smooth and will give you the best chance for feeding the Aluminum wire.
  4. Contact tips marked as suitable for welding Aluminum, normal contact tips won’t work and choke the wire.
  5. Source 0.030 Aluminum wire 5356 if you can. 0.030 as the wire diameter that more closely matches the Amp output the Handy MIG is able to produce and 5356 wire as it is a little firmer to feed.

It maybe worth you looking at my Best Wires for MIG Welding Aluminum doc.

Example of Dirty Aluminum

Example of Dirty Aluminum

Preparation is Key

  1. You’ll be welding 1/16 thick Aluminum (could try 1/8th if you are feeling brave) as any thinner you would blow through the material and any thicker would be beyond the capability of the Handy MIG.
  2. Clean your metal, use a brush you reserve for Aluminum as the soft metal will pick up contaminants from the previous metal you have used the brush on. Dirty Aluminum takes even more power from your welder to weld.
  3. Connect your gas. Set the gas to 20 to 30 cubic feet per hour. Set your welder to DCEP (electrode positive) polarity as that is a must for welding Aluminum.
  4. Load your wire and adjust the drive roll tension carefully. You don’t have U shaped drive rolls (best for Aluminum feeding) so you’ll need to do the best you can. Adjust not so loose as to cause a bird nest but not so tight as to distort the wire. Aluminum is a soft wire and squashing the wire will cause feed and striking an arc problems.
  5. Keep your host as straight as possible when feeding the wire. And weld with your hose as straight as possible.
  6. Preheat your Aluminum to give your Handy MIG the best chance. (see my doc How to MIG Weld Aluminum a Home welder Tips for Success for pre heat tips).

When Welding

  1. Set your MIG gun at an angle of 10-15 degrees off vertical.
  2. Weld flat or slightly horizontal – out of position welding is not for the unskilled.
  3. Use the push technique to prevent porosity and for Argon gas coverage.
  4. Maintain a 3/4 to 1 inch stick out. Keep a 1/8th distance from your weld pool, this is not like welding mild steel and your electrode needs to be kept out of the weld pool or you’ll run through loads of contact tips due to burn back.
  5. Turn your Handy MIG switches to 2 and High and your wire feed speed to Max and start.
  6. Once you see your weld pool is formed move promptly forward, keep your bead width small so as not to burn through your piece. You’ll be moving faster than feels comfortable.
  7. If you hear the crackling sound normally heard with welding mild steel you may need to adjust your wire feed by slowing the wire feed down a little or maintain a little more welding distance from your project piece. Welding Aluminum well is a lot quieter than welding mild steel.

After Welding

Hopefully you’ll have a decent weld.

Aluminum Weld that has been brushed

Aluminum Weld that has been brushed

Brush the soot off (expect to see a little, if you see a lot then you may need to up the Argon gas to get better coverage of your weld pool.

If the result is not so great, then like with all things MIG welding practice, practice, practice.

One last thing Aluminum Welding Kits K664-2

There is such a thing as Aluminum welding kits being sold on Amazon and Home Depot called;

  • K664-2 Lincoln Electric Aluminum Feeding Kit and
  • Lincoln Electric 0.035 Aluminum Welding Kit.

Has a hose, drive roller with U shaped grooves for feeding Aluminum, contact tips, one of the kits come with 0.035 diameter Aluminum wire. Costs about 100 dollars. It doesn’t work with the Handy MIG – it’s not compatible so don’t waste your money.

And the 0.035 diameter wire would take more Amp than your Handy MIG could produce to weld.

Last Words

The Lincoln Handy MIG isn’t designed for welding Aluminum but you maybe successful by following my recommendations. If it doesn’t work for you and its just to fiddly or frustrating for the occasional weld then think about getting a more powerful welder. One that’s spool gun capable and you’ll have a much easier time.

 

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