Everything in welding has a process. You will find that there are things in welding that are typically not recommended as common practice while other things simply require some technique and know-how in order to make it work effectively.
I learned early in my welding career that the best welds come from using similar materials and metals, rather than trying to pair metals that are quite different from each other.
On the same note, I quickly learned it’s not a perfect world and we must adapt to the materials on hand and available to complete a welding job at any given time.
In a perfect world, I would weld aluminum to aluminum and steel to steel but there are more times than I can count that I’ve been forced to improvise and have to weld two metals that are by nature dissimilar but can be welded together if you know how to make them work.
Can you weld aluminum to steel? Yes, you can weld aluminum to steel and vice versa but in order to get a proper weld you needs to penetrate and fuse or else you are simply wasting your time.
So how do you do it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this guide, we will walk you through the process for welding aluminum to steel and let you know just how your process should look as well as what to expect during the process. Get your TIG welder ready, because we’re about to put it to work!
I hope you’ll stick with me as we cover the topic of how do you weld aluminum to steel.
Can You Weld Aluminum to Steel – A Complete Guide
You might know by now that aluminum can be a challenging metal to work with because it is thin and somewhat sensitive.
Working with aluminum requires skill and caution and maybe even practice but it is something any welder can learn to do, hence why we’re here, right?
You can weld aluminum to steel, it simply takes understanding the process and using the right materials.
There are specialty rods available just for this purpose.
The Process for Welding Aluminum to Steel
First things first, you need to be sure you have the appropriate tools and accessories on hand. When you’re welding aluminum to steel, you should take care in choosing your rods and materials. I recommend using a TIG welder for the simplest and most effective approach.
You see, aluminum bonds quite well with a number of materials. It’s when you try to bond aluminum to steel that the challenge occurs. But it isn’t impossible, it just takes a bit of practice and knowledge of the proper technique.
What is it that causes the challenge? There is just something about the mixture of aluminum with steel materials that causes a reaction between the two compounds. This reaction creates brittle pieces that are a mixture of the two metals. This can typically be avoided by using a bimetallic transition piece or the appropriate rod to make the stick.
Welding aluminum to steel is not uncommon. You can find it done on ship decks and steel pipelines every day. Another potential method that can help is to coat the steel in a dip coating. This specialized coating makes the steel more like aluminum for the welding process.
Here are some steps for you to follow throughout the process.
1. Safety Gear
Remember that aluminum welding gives off fumes that are really awful for you. Before you start your process, be sure you have the proper safety gear at the ready.
Grab your gloves, your face mask, your welding helmet, and whatever else you might need to protect you during the process.
2. Prepare Your Surface
You know what I’m going to say, right? Yes, you got it! Clean your surface. If you’ve followed me for any length of time or read any of my articles, you know that I would tell you cleaning your surfaces is one of the most important steps you can take during ANY welding process.
Just do yourself a favor and don’t skip this step.
Scrape, sand, grind, strip, you know the drill. Get rid of paint, rust, and any other debris. Once you‘ve done that, wipe down your surface with the appropriate cleaners to get rid of oil, grease, and any other residue that could impact your weld.
It’s hard enough to get a good weld when you’re adhering aluminum to steel, don’t make it harder by using unprepared surfaces.
3. Use the Right Materials
You can use other types of welding but I prefer TIG welding when it comes to welding aluminum to steel. It’s the simplest type of welding and as long as you use the proper accessories, it will be the easiest way to go.
I think you will find that welding aluminum to steel is actually pretty easy when you use the right welder and the right rods for your welder. Choose your rods wisely.
There are specialty rods that are designed for such a purpose. You need your filler metal to have a tensile strength that combines the two metals but that is most similar to your metal with the lower strength level.
You can use either a bimetallic transition or a rod that is bimetallic to have an effective weld.
4. Start with Tacking Your Surface
To get started, you should tack your area, this just sets a foundation for combining your two pieces and will hold your aluminum to your steel while you follow the process of finishing the weld.
The tack is just a starting point and is not meant to be the setting foundation for the end result.
This step is optional and you may not need it depending on what exactly you are welding but it can certainly be helpful to hold pieces together during the process.
What Tools Should You Use?
We’ve shared a few of the accessories that you should put to use if you’re going to try to weld aluminum to steel. Having the appropriate accessories is just as important as having the right tools to complete your welding process.
You can weld aluminum to steel using normal welding tactics like GMAW or even GTAW but these actually make the process more challenging.
I recommend using a TIG welder if you have that ability or capability. This is the most effective way to weld aluminum to steel and it’s really quite simple to do so with a TIG welder.
You will find that with the right tools and the right materials, the process to weld aluminum to steel is actually rather simple.
We recommend TIG because it tends to provide some of the most durable welds and when you’re melding two different metals, you want a solid weld that is going to hold up. A TIG welder can do a lot for finding success with this type of weld.
The key is you’re seeking to find an effective weld that is going to be durable and high-quality.
The weld that a TIG provides will get you there and will be far more reliable than if you try to achieve the same quality with something like MIG welding. They just aren’t the same.
This is one of those scenarios where it’s important to understand the functionality of our machine as well as understanding its weaknesses. Equip yourself properly for the job at hand.
Can You Weld Aluminum to Stainless Steel?
Another common question I see is can you weld stainless steel to aluminum?
You would think that this falls into the same category as welding aluminum to steel but stainless steel actually has a different compound than steel because of the coating on it.
Technically speaking, aluminum and stainless steel are not overly compatible.
You can certainly try and you will see your materials liquefy and mix. The problem is that it doesn’t provide a solid hold when completed. It appears to work at a glance but don’t be fooled. It can break apart with little to no effort.
This is an interesting challenge and I invite you to give it a try. No matter what filler material you use, your materials will liquefy and it will appear that you have a good weld in looks.
However, as soon as you put that to the test and apply the slightest amount of pressure to the weld, you will find it is brittle and it falls apart almost instantly.
When it comes down to answering the question can you weld steel to aluminum, the answer is yes.
You can well aluminum and steel together if you use the right procedures and the right tools. Remember that using the appropriate filler materials makes all the difference in the world.
Don’t forget that stainless steel is a whole other animal and won’t give you the same results. I hope you’re prepared for your next aluminum to steel welding adventure!