Build Your Own Welder with Car Batteries

This article originally posted on MAKE

Welding! Welding is a glorious, mystery-infused, thoroughly bad-ass way to stick things together. Welders move in their own cloud of mythos and danger – they are dirtier, tougher, and sexier than other kinds of makers, and the things they build are big and strong and hold our world together. This positive stereotype permeates at all levels of pop culture: if a character is introduced while welding, you immediately know that they will be some kind of blue-collar superhero, or some kind of cliched contradiction – the welder quoting Hegel after winning the bar fight, or the classic trope of seeing a welder at work, and then, they flip off their helmet, and OMG IT’S A GIRL! A GIRL WELDING! Want to be a welder but have no money and less experience? This guide to car battery welding on Make: Projects will help.

Who doesn’t want to get in on this skill set? Soldering makes electronic magic happen, knitting keeps you warm, but knowing how to weld will make attractive people of whatever orientation you are into swoon. Everyone wants to know how to weld. The biggest problem, for most people, is that you need access to a welding machine.

There are a few options here: you can borrow someone’s welding rig. I suppose welders are common on farms, but only 2% of Americans live on farms, and if you are one of them, you were probably out welding the cows and milking the corn within minutes of birth (I have only a vague idea of what goes on at farms, as you can see. Something with dirt, right?) If you live in the grittier, more industrial parts of cities, there are welding shops all over the place, but they are dark, scary places (part of their appeal) and if you were to walk into one, expecting to find dedicated tradesman open to the DIY spirit and eager to teach a snot-nosed kid, you will quickly discover that welders are dark, scary, busy people, bribe-able with beer, maybe, but not usually interested, at all, in teaching.

You can buy a welder. You can pick up a cheap 110v stick welder for about a hundred bucks (check big hardware stores, Amazon, or Craigslist) or a bare-bones, break-in-a-couple-of-hours MIG (wire feed) machine for under $150 (just saw some for that much, and lower, on Amazon. Do not buy them. They are garbage), but I know that many, many people cannot even afford that.

Also, if you are not sure about the whole welding thing and want to try it out, or just need to do a day of welding to finish that one big project, or need to repair things every now and then, buying a new piece of equipment is probably not the best course of action, especially since when it comes to welders (as it is with pretty much everything else), you get what you pay for.

The final option, and best for the poor or non-committed-to-welding maker, is to build a welder. There are many ways to do this, ranging from impressive feats of DIY electrical engineering all the way down to the easiest, simplest one: wiring together some car batteries (as seen in the “Laundromat of the Gods” episode). It is quick and uses stuff you either have lying around or can pretty easily obtain. Follow the instructions, and you can go from zero to welding in under an hour.

Caveats, cautions, and all that
Welding is dangerous! Even if you take every possible safety precaution, you will occasionally burn and cut yourself, and electric shocks and retinal burns are very common, even if you know what you’re doing — and you probably do not. Skimp on safety and you can blind yourself, suffer injuries that will make hardened ER doctors puke, and die in any number of closed-casket ways. When you’re starting out, wear a good, rated helmet, thick gloves, non-flammable natural fiber clothing (as much leather as possible), and boots. Later, when you have a couple of hundred hours of welding experience and the scar tissue has rendered you insensitive to pain (and pleasure — a downside of welding), you can do the weld in a T-shirt or gloveless bit, but at that point, you will know what you’re getting into (and trust me — UV-burned armpits suck).

One important bit of information that other welding tutorials leave out: At first, you will be horrible at this. There is a good chance you will not even be able to strike an arc, or if you do, you will not be able to maintain one. Or, if you can maintain one, you will burn through the things you are trying to weld or not really weld them at all. People tend to not document their failures online, and it is easy for the person who’s new at welding (or skateboarding, or juggling, or pretty much anything) to forget that the thing they are trying to learn is hard, and that the flaw is not in the instructor, but in the student. The flaw is in the student, but not in the way that you might think — remember that worthwhile things are hard and people do not document their learning curve or all of their countless failures. You will fail, but just keep trying and you will eventually get it right. It will just likely take longer than you think.

Lastly, welding is really not the be-all/end-all panacea for fabrication. It is difficult to do on anything except for steel, welded things are hard to take apart, and the heat tends to distort small or thin parts.

Hospital of Horror airs tonight!

Episode 3: Hospital of Horror

9/1 at 10:30PM e/p
Hackett’s quest for fresh obtainium leads him to a disturbing place: a dark, abandoned hospital that’s so creepy, it must be haunted. As the sun dips low in the sky, the challenge of defeating darkness spurs him to build his own electric light out of the wreckage of the condemned building.

Hackett’s first attempt is a primordial version of modern lights: a carbon arc lamp. To build it, he digs through toxic battery acid and nearly electrocutes himself… only to find that he’s built a lamp so dangerous, it’s more terrifying than the dark corridors themselves. A second attempt yields success as he takes on Thomas Edison to build a mad-scientist version of the modern light bulb. Having dominated the shadowy darkness of the abandoned hospital, Hackett decides to create his brightest light yet. He build a super-hot torch that runs on split water molecules to create dazzling, flesh-eating limelight… all to entertain himself with a found movie projector and some mysterious film reels.

Preview clips:

A new episode airs tonight. It was the only one shot in Los Angeles, in an abandoned hospital. “Abandoned” is probably more accurate the place shut down, under murky circumstances (I heard the exciting “high, unexplained death rate”, and the mundane, and most likely true “halls too narrow for modern gurneys” ) and was being used as a film locating probably later that day. It is a popular low-budget location, one that you have prob seen a dozen times in films and teevee shows. Years and years of artifice piled upon antiquing piled upon props- it was impossible to tell what was real and what was set dressing. For example: we shot a scene in the morgue, one of the producers getting freaked out and screaming like a little girl with a bee sting when one of the crew popped out from a body drawer. I was excited because, well, it is a morgue. I opened one body drawer, and went to open the one next to it (to see if there was internal access from one to another, or if there were any stray body parts jammed in the hinges) and discovered that the next door opened up onto a wall of stainless steel. It was all set dressing from who-knows-what forgotten film. We all felt kind of cheated, as if our honest excitement and emotion was retroactively false. I suppose there is a larger metaphor about teevee in general here, but I will leave it at that.
There were some awesome, super-clever builds on this one. The oxy-hydrogen torch was one of my favorites, and the carbon arc light looked so awesome that it was like watching another, much-higher-budget show.
Watch it, and let me know what you think.

Watching the people on teevee watch themselves

#StuckwithHackett launch party

It was a kind of a meta night, with three people (me, and the stars of “JUNKies” :[horrible horrible name, or genius cross-marketing with soon-to-be-signed-methadone advertisers? Time will tell] Doyle in the “red” coverall [he is so huge he causes visible light to redshift due to his gravitational pull, making him look human-sized and the coverall look red], and next to him “Fire” I think is what she went by) who were all on teevee, but none of us own a teevee. I am sure that says something about something, but they just hire me for my looks (yeah. I know. We are talking really low budgets here). Many other skilled builders and potential future stars of basic cable were in attendance, about half of them visible in the below photo, all at the home of Super Awesome Nerd Queen Becky Stern, who made fancy cupcake toppers with her CNC vinyl cutter. She also  took the photo.

I  had not seen even a rough cut before this viewing, and anxiousness at possible revenge from the editors I never bothered learning the names of and treated rudely, at best, quickly evaporated. While I think the show felt a little rushed, and tons and tons of good stuff -rants, science, at least one whole build- did not make the cut (I hate and fear hobos, and had some great hobo jokes and rants, but the network ordered them all cut. Why? As not to offend hobos.Yes- you cannot alleviate that valuable, informed demographic of syphilis-ridden, teevee-less boxcar dwellers, who only get a new bindle when they shiv the previous owner as they sleep off a Sterno binge. Yeah. Don’t piss them off, or they will boycott the car companies advertising on the show and steal more cooling pies from the windowsills of America. I think the show should be an hour long. I also think I am a genius, but the people in the room with me also liked the show, and they are people who know me well enough to feel no need to blow smoke up my ass, people who would have eagerly mocked me if they thought the show sucked. If you liked it, make a comment. If you saw some serious flaws or have a question, let me know. Your criticisms might well be ignored or even derided, but that sort of interaction and user-generated content is supposed to matter in the world of today, so I will pretend to care.

Also: You should watch next week’s episode. It was fun to make, and involves improvised projectile weapons, power sporks, fire, one sweaty dude moving a huge thing by himself, and a possible answer to the problem of post-apocalyptic laundry.

Laundromat of the Gods
8/25 at 10:30PM e/p
Hackett is stuck in a place where modern technology comes to die: the junkyard. For Hackett, it’s the mother lode of obtainium. The only downside is that it’s also the world’s dirtiest place, it’s filled with a strange type of goo — a mixture of hemorrhaged engine gas bleeding from rusty tanks and the dust of 1,000 rotting cars — and it leaks all over his clothes. Since there is no way Hackett will pay thousands of dollars for an industrial washer/dryer, he sets out to make one. Hackett finds an old American clunker — this is the base structure for his washer and dryer system. To complete the transformation from car to washer/dryer, Hackett must build a welder from scratch, reinvent the spin cycle, and turn the exhaust fumes of a car into the heat he needs to dry his clothes.

Two Days Until the Stuck With Hackett Premiere

Only two days left! After a successful pilot last December, Stuck With Hackett will debut on the Science Channel at 10:30pm ET this Thursday, August 18th. Set your DVRs! Check out a preview clip from the first episode.

Leaving on a Jet Train
8/18 at 10:30PM e/p
Alone in an abandoned rail yard, Hackett is faced with an enticing challenge…taking the rusted old wreckage around him, and using it as a life-sized train set to build his own working locomotive. But he hits a hurdle when he runs out of the only available gasoline in the yard. Without access to modern fuel…or any help— Hackett turns back time and resorts to Victorian technology. In order to get his train on the tracks, he must wrestle steel parts several times his size, fire up a super-hot invisible hydrogen flame, and resurrect Industrial Revolution-era techniques to turn wood into an explosive gas that will power his personal locomotive.

The Quickening

Science Channel really kicked things off today – they produced a really nice show page with lots of preview material and some pretty pictures and everything.  Gawp at it here.

They also created a Hackett-themed, humpty-dumpty-meets-MacGyver puzzle game: it’s a picture of me that has been turned into a puzzle.

Can you imagine the meeting?

‘So I think we need to cross-promote Hackett and the puzzling crowd’ [unveils foam-core board with graphs on it], ‘Just as Hackett creates order from chaos on the show, so the viewers will create order from the chaos of the puzzle pieces…’

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a good puzzle, but a it’s a bit weird to BE one.  I am just hoping that all the kings horse and all the kings men can deal with it, so I can get on with other things.

Oh, alright then, since you ask, Stuck With Hackett premieres on Science Channel on Thursday the 18th of August at 10.30E/P.