Some days I wonder if an alien hasn’t already taken over my body. Am i getting too old to learn and retain new tricks? Am I over-caffeinated, or under-caffeinated?
Just as keeping yourself physically fit, it’s important to keep the muscle memory strong by practicing welding even if you’re not building a bike at the moment…and I haven’t been keeping up my welding fitness lately. I’m been doing different things lately like working on my machining skills and creating a couple easy new fixtures so that I can do things easier and faster. I made a kinda cool wishbone seatstay fixture that I’ll blog about later when I have some tubes in it to show off. I got the horizontal milling machine set up with a 4-jaw lathe chuck so i can face head tubes and make seat tube collars and who knows what else. I swapped the Anvil MTMF onto that same horizontal mill since I got the horizontal baseplate from Anvil on Friday just to try it out. And I’ve started a fat fork for Scott W and the mitering has begun for Russell’s all-mountain frame.
But there was something that happened to my welding that I couldn’t pinpoint. I wasn’t sure if it was something i was suddenly doing differently, a broken part, or whether I’m just simply out of practice. I tried new Weld-tec gas lenses, new tungsten, a new torch head even to replace the WeldTec flex-head to see if I was getting some oxygen contamination…but nothing solved it. It’s the same tank of Argon (from Colorado) that i had last two frames so it couldn’t have been that. Next in line was the aging dirty and worn Superflex cable but I wasn’t hopeful.
The problem? I was getting a little arc wavering on my last frame’s head tube that was not due to torch angle (below pic). I was getting more HAZ discoloration and different colors than I’m used to. I was getting more sputtery starts and more splatter along the bead. I was cleaning tubes the same way and even got a little in-line air compressor filter just to be safe. But the below picture shows some of the weirdness even thought it’s not a bad weld.
I just was not getting that clean clear puddle and smooth movement of the puddle as it melts and cools. It was almost like a hundred more puddles were showing up and cooling along the way so that I didn’t get that nice stack of dimes like I had here only a couple of months ago:
Sometimes framebuilding reminds me of when i raced and my main weakness was my head. I would get so nervous before each race, and then while racing I couldn’t keep my head in it. I’d be looking at the views and the wildflowers on 401 in Crested Butte as i raced past and thought to myself, ‘why am i doing this? i should stop and sit on that bench and smell the flowers‘. But I didn’t and kept going because well… it was a race! I excelled somewhat at it because I gained pretty good fitness from loving to ride but also because of sheer stubbornness and high expectations of myself. But even when I had good races, I always felt bad for the guys I beat. WTF? My head plays games with me – a conflict of high expectations and not handling the pressure well.
Apparently the same goes with the pressure and expectations I put myself behind the torch. I know how to do it, it’s just doing it that’s the hard part sometimes. Call it the pre-race jitters, performance anxiety, or just lack of confidence, it’s really just a pain in my ass. But I will rack my brain until I do it right and I will never give up unless it’s based on circumstances beyond my control or because I no longer enjoy doing it. Neither of which apply to this situation.
So after beating my head against the welding table and having another one of those ‘about-to-give-up-framebuilding-frustration’ moments I gave it one last try. I mitered some scrap 1.125 x 0.035 and made my last ditch effort at troubleshooting and swapped out the Superflex cable. That’s when I noticed it…the gas input valve on the Dinse connector was loose. I must have been getting a little bit of oxygen mixed with my argon purge. It probably unscrewed itself a bit when I moved my welder from against garage door to more in the middle of the shop. It’s hard to keep this inlet tight because when you turn to lock the Dinse knob the gas inlet is on the bottom and can twist itself loose if you aren’t careful.
Once i tightened the argon inlet and started welding all was better. No matter which torch I used i got some good beads. But as it turns out I liked the CK torch the better than the WeldTec that I have been using for the last two years. The CK130 is smaller, lighter, and now that I know what a flex-head will eventually do to my welds i am retiring the Flex-head torch. I’m not sure if i was imagining it, but the CK torch had cleaner faster starts with no stuttering. Same lens, cup, and tungsten. N
So there it is…all that mental toil for nothing. Back in business.