Metalworking was slowly developed over the ages by humans as a tool to improve their lives.
As humanity has evolved so has our knowledge of metalworking, from the primitive blacksmiths of ancient times to the cutting-edge metalworkers of today. Metalworking has become an essential part of our civilization and has enabled us to build everything from cars to ships to even space ships.
Today we’re going to try and cover the differences between welding, soldering, brazing, and fabrication.
Welding is a technique that permanently joins two or more metals together using high temperatures to melt parts together and cooling them to create seamless fusion, thereby joining the two pieces together.
Brazing is a metal joining process that uses metal fillers melted between two joints to attach them to each other.
Soldering is a technique that uses lower heat temperatures to join pieces of metal together with a metal filler that has a lower melting point than what it’s being attached to. Most often seen on circuit boards that power everything from mobile phones to server clusters.
Fabrication is the word used to describe the creation of an item made of metal from beginning to end. Today we have different ways of fabricating from special milling equipment to incredible 3D printers.
Knowing the differences between these techniques can help us understand what they can achieve. And when to apply each of the said techniques to get the optimal results.
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so, What’s The Difference between these techniques?
Welding, soldering, brazing, and fabrication are all key terms in the metalworker’s world.
Knowing the different techniques can help you learn proper metalworking and how to fabricate the right items using the correct procedure for the project you’re looking to complete.
Additionally, having a comprehensive understanding of the major differences will help save you time and money on creating the perfect metal structure.
Fabrication is the term used for the development of metal goods from start to finish.
Welding, soldering, and brazing all fall under the umbrella of fabrication. Fabrication also deals with a few other aspects of metalworking.
These techniques are:
- Machining to remove specific portions of a piece of metal that a fabricator is working with, usually to create a specific shape by trimming the edges or corners
- Punching with a die on a drill to create a hole in the metal
- Stamping with a die to raise parts of the metal without fully puncturing the metal
- Cutting to create smaller sections of metal sheets. Usually, this occurs with new, unshaped metal that has yet to go through any other process.
- Shearing which is the process of making long cuts in sheets of metal
- Folding or bending which is a technique used to manipulate metal to create specific angles without breaking or creating stress points. The process is highly complex and requires high tech machinery. Joining two pieces of metal is seen as a simpler and cheaper process.
- Casting is a technique for complex shaping where molten metal is poured into a pre-crafted mold to create a solid form.
- Assembling deals with joining two or more pieces of metal together using techniques such as welding, brazing, and soldering
Metal fabrication deals with the creation of large structures like ships and engines as well as small structures like frames or tables.
Fabrication encompasses all aspects of the creation of metal objects.
Welding is the newest of the metalworking styles, beginning in 1893.
It is the technique used to join two pieces of similar metals together using high temperatures. Welding can also be used on thermoplastics.
Often this technique uses a heated filler metal to create a strong, solid structure after it has cooled, imagine it like a metal glue if you will. There are different types of welds that can be used.
Welding is quite different compared to brazing or soldering, the high temperatures involved cause the welded items to fuse and become one piece instead of simply joining the two sections of metal at a point.
Care needs to be taken as welding is a precise process that requires specific temperatures, else the fused metals will develop thermal cracks or other imperfections making the weld overall weaker.
- Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is a manual form of stick welding that is often used in industrial fabrication to weld steel or iron and to create large steel structures
- Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW/MIG) is the process that uses a shielding gas. A shielding gas protects the weld from atmospheric gas interference during a weld to ensure a strong weld.
- Flux Cord Arc Welding (FCAW) is a semi-automatic arc weld that is mainly used for construction because of its fast welding process and the portability of the tools needed to weld
- Gas Tungsten Arc Gas Welding (GTAW/TIG) is the most commonly used method for welding thick pieces of stainless steel. It is very time consuming and complicated to use this method.
Welding can also be used to separate metal by melting through it. Welding only works with metals that have similar properties.
It cannot be used to join incompatible metals due to the use of high temperatures that can easily melt and warp the metal with a lower melting point. Joining metals of different properties is usually done by brazing or soldering.
It is important to remember that welding can have harmful effects on the metalworker if precautions are not taken.
Toxic fumes, high temperatures, radiation, and bright, blinding light are all risky parts of welding that an individual can be exposed to.
Brazing is the earliest known technique for joining two metals.
Brazing was discovered in the ancient world around 4000 BCE and then spread widely when technology became more understood around 3000 BCE especially in Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The process of brazing takes two metals and joins them together at a joint by melting an alloy filler that has a lower melting point than the pieces of metal to be combined.
Brazing uses flux, which is a solution that is placed between the filler and the pieces of metal being joined. Brazing produces clean joints.
There is no need for a secondary process such as fusion as there is in welding.
Because brazing is done at a lower temperature than welding, it allows the metalworker to join metals with different properties without damaging the metals.
These metals are not heated at a high enough temperature to become a unified piece like they do in welding.
If a joint is properly brazed, the metal filler that has been used can be in certain instances stronger than the two sections of metal being joined.
The process of brazing doesn’t have a significant effect on the joined metal parts. Aluminum, gold, silver, copper, and nickel can all be used when brazing.
Brazing is the most cost-effective option. While cost-effective this is structurally one of the weakest techniques and welding should be used if any real pressure or load is expected. Brazing usually tends to present a structural weak point if used in large constructions or high-pressure applications.
High temperatures like those used in welding can damage brazed joints and should be avoided once the metalwork has been finished.
It is also important to remember that the color of the finished braze is usually not the same color as the joined metal parts. There for cosmetic correction might be necessary depending on the job preformed.
Soldering began around 3000 BCE with the Sumerians during the Bronze Age. It is for all intense and purposes and a weaker form of brazing.
Soldering does not create as strong of a bond as welding or brazing does.
Soldering is similar to brazing, as it uses a metal filler that melts at a lower temperature than the metals used in brazing and welding.
Solder is the type of filler metal used to create the bond and can be used on metals such as gold, silver, copper, aluminum, and nickel as they do not melt under the relatively low melting point of the solder. For instance, soft solder typically has a melting point range of 190°F to 840°F.
The American Welding Association defines soldering as using a filler metal that is melted at temperatures that do not surpass 840°F.
Solder melts when heated and then solidifies, usually rapidly, joining the two any two metals together.
Today soldering is most prominently featured in electronics as it allows for electrical connections to be joined while keeping the contacts corrosion free and structurally sound.
When Should You Use These Techniques?
Due to the differences in the composition of available metals and the different temperatures used in each metalworking technique, it’s imperative to plan out which technique to use before beginning a project.
There are a few factors to take into consideration when deciding on which technique to use to join metal together:
- The thickness of the metal
- The strength needed for the joint
- Size of the project
- Types of metals being joined
- How many assemblies are necessary to complete your project
The Thickness of the Metal
Considering the thickness of the metals is one of the critical factors in deciding what technique to use. Care must be taken not to damage the metals with too much heat stress as this could weaken or even destroy the weld or the metals used.
Welding isn’t always the answer.
If the metals set to be used in a metalwork project have a thickness lower than 1/2 of an inch, the use of brazing is suggested.
Any metals being used that are thicker than 1/2 an inch can have either technique applied, welding is preferred if you expect metals to undergo significant pressures.
Soldering is best used for thinner, lighter metals that will not be exposed to excessive pressure that can break the bond of the metal joints.
The Strength Needed for the Joint
Due to the weakness of soldering materials compared to welding and brazing filler metals, it is the least likely choice for assembling strong joint metals.
Usually, the options for a strongly bonded assembly comes down to brazing or welding. Soldering is mostly used to bond electrical components and is used for plumbing or low-temperature metalwork that doesn’t expect much stress in its lifetime.
Size of the Project
For large projects that require a strong bonds and use similar metals that can withstand high temperatures, welding is by far the best option.
Welding bonds metals together permanently by fusing them through high heat and cooling.
For large projects that require a strong bond but use dissimilar metals, brazing is the best option due to its ability to create a bond between metals using a metal filler that won’t interact with or alter the composition of the metals being bonded.
Soldering is not suggested for large projects because solder is considerably weaker than other kinds of metal fillers and does not bond at a joint as well as brazing and welding.
Types of Metals Being Joined
To successfully weld, the two metals being used must be of a similar thermodynamic property. Welding will not work with a metal that melts at a significantly higher temperature than the other.
Welding temperatures are usually very high, and if two different types of metals are used one will melt before the other making the weld useless and unstable. As welding requires the metals to mix and fuse together, it’s imperative that two similar metals or alloys are used. They must have matching thermodynamic properties.
Brazing and soldering can both join dissimilar kinds of metals, but these techniques are not as strong as welding.
Soldering is best for projects that require low-temperature bonding and do not require a very strong bond.
How Many Assemblies are Necessary to Complete Your Project
The time needed to complete a project is also something to take into consideration.
Welding and its different techniques make the processes of assembly time-consuming. Brazing is an automated way of joining metals and takes considerably less effort and time than welding does.
Soldering can be very quick for joining metals together but due to the softness of the soldering material, it is not considered suitable for large scale projects that require strong a strong bond between metals.
Welding is Best When…
Welding is best used when you need the joined metals to be bonded strongly, the metals are similar, and they can withstand high temperatures.
Because of the use of fusion in welding, the metals that are joined together create a unified whole. Welding is best for creating large structures and is known for its use in industrial fabrication.
Brazing is Best When…
Brazing is best used when joining metals that aren’t similar but need a strong bond. This process requires lower temperatures than welding and can produce excellent results in terms of durability.
The filler materials come in various compositions, sizes, and shapes that can be applied in many kinds of projects.
This process is less time consuming and is great for assembling projects that have many components or must be manufactured repeatedly.
Soldering is Best When…
Soldering is best used when trying to join dissimilar metals that do not require a particularly strong bond.
The low process temperature is this technique’s greatest advantage and can be done easily at home or on the go requiring minimal equipment.
Soldering is suggested for bonding electrical units, for use in a plumbing or simple metalwork that doesn’t require large scale fabrication.
What Kind Of Equipment Is Needed For Welding, Soldering, Brazing, and Fabrication?
It is imperative that safety equipment is always used when working with heated materials such as metal or the tools to heat them with, like blow torches and furnaces.
Some of these materials are easily obtainable, other tools such as a furnace may require you to find or build a workshop due to their size.
Welding happens at higher temperatures than both brazing and soldering, and special precautions should be taken by the metalworker.
During welding, sparks and debris can be generated and should be protected against. The most common tools for welding depend on the type of weld:
For gas welding you will need:
- Fuel gas cylinder
- Oxygen cylinder
- Welding Torch
For Arc welding, you will need:
Other tools for welding can include a gas pump or a highly heated rod to aid in the use of filler metals when working with this technique.
The equipment needed for brazing is simple by comparison and requires less space than some of the tools needed for welding. Most if not all these tools can be found at your local hardware store.
These tools include:
- Something to heat the metal filler. The options include a torch, heated chemical bath or an inductor coil.
- Filler metal material or a flux solution
- Safety glasses
- Thick, protective gloves
The items needed to solder are easily obtainable at a hardware or craft store and have various applications. They are portable and can be used in a small space if necessary.
The equipment needed for soldering:
- Soldering Iron
- Solder or fluxes
- Safety glasses
- Thick, protective gloves
Metalworking is a fascinating process that can be exciting to learn.
Make sure to take the proper safety precautions when working with any of these techniques and tools. This will ensure that the creative process is enjoyable and constructive.
Learning more about each type of metalworking technique can give you the edge you need to complete your project faster and safer.
As with any art form or skill, learning the different aspects of metalworking takes time but can be particularly rewarding once they have been mastered.