This is the primary fuel for oxy-fuel welding and cutting. It is chemically very unstable, and is stored in special cylinders designed to keep the gas dissolved. The cylinders are packed with a porous material and then saturated with acetone. When the acetylene is added to the cylinder, it dissolves; in this solution, it becomes stable. Pure acetylene stored in a free state explodes from a slight shock at 29.4 pounds per square inch (psi). The acetylene pressure gauge should never be set higher than 15 psi for welding or cutting.
Argon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic inert gas. Inert gas cannot combine with other elements. It has a very low chemical reactivity and low thermal conductivity. It is used as a gas shield for the electrode in MIG, TIG, and plasma welding equipment.
Helium is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic inert gas. Its boiling and melting points are the lowest of the elements and it normally exists only in gas form. It is used as a protective gas shield for many industrial uses including electric arc welding.
Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and highly flammable gas. It can be used at a higher pressure than acetylene and is used for underwater welding and cutting. It also can be used for aluminum welding using the oxyhydrogen process.
Oxygen is a colorless, odorless, and nonflammable gas. It is used in the welding process to increase the combustion rate which increases the flame temperature of flammable gas.
A pressure regulator is attached to a gas cylinder and is used to lower the cylinder pressure to the desired working pressure. Regulators have two gauges, one indicating the pressure in the cylinder and the second showing the working pressure. By turning the adjustment knob in or out, a spring operating a flexible diaphragm opens or closes a valve in the regulator. Turning the knob in causes the flow and pressure to increase; backing it out decreases the flow and pressure.
There are two types of regulators: single stage and two stage. They perform the same function but the two-stage regulator maintains a more constant outlet pressure and flow as the cylinder volume and pressure drops. Two-stage regulators can be identified by a larger, second pressure chamber under the regulator knob. [Figures 5-13 and 5-14]
A welding hose connects the regulators to the torch. It is typically a double hose joined together during manufacture. The acetylene hose is red and has left hand threads indicated by a groove cut into the connection nut. The oxygen hose is green and has right hand threads indicated by the absence of a groove on the connection nut.
Welding hoses are produced in different sizes from ¼-inch to ½-inch inside diameter (ID). The hose should be marked for light, standard, and heavy duty service plus a grade indicating whether it has an oil- and/or flame-resistant cover. The hose should have the date of manufacture, maximum working pressure of 200 psi, and indicate that it meets specification IP-90 of the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Compressed Gas Association for rubber welding hoses. Grade-R hose should only be used with acetylene gas. A T-grade hose must be used with propane, MAPP®, and all other fuel gases.
Check Valves and Flashback Arrestors
The check valve stops the reverse flow of the gas and can be installed either between the regulator and the hose or the hose and the torch. [Figure 5-15] Excessive overheating of cutting, welding, and heating tips can cause flashback conditions. A flashback can be caused when a tip is overheated and the gas ignites before passing out of the tip. The flame is then burning internally rather than on the outside of the tip and is usually identified by a shrill hissing or squealing noise.
A flashback arrestor installed on each hose prevents a high pressure flame or oxygen-fuel mixture from being pushed back into either cylinder causing an explosion. The flashback arrestors incorporate a check valve that stops the reverse flow of gas and the advancement of a flashback fire. [Figure 5-16]
Equal Pressure Torch
The equal pressure torch is the most commonly used torch for oxy-acetylene welding. It has a mixing chamber and uses acetylene fuel at 1–15 psi. The flame is easy to adjust and there is less chance of flashback with this torch. There are several small lightweight torches of this type that are ideal for aviation welding projects. The Smith Airline™ and the Meco Midget™ torches are small enough to be used in close confined areas, lightweight enough to reduce fatigue during long welding sessions yet, with the appropriate tips, are capable of welding 0.250-inch steel.
The injector torch uses fuel gas at pressures between just above 0 and 2 psi. This torch is typically used with propane and propylene gas. High-pressure oxygen comes through a small nozzle inside the torch head and pulls the fuel gas along with it via a venturi effect. The low-pressure injector torch is more prone to flashback.
The cutting torch is an attachment added to the torch handle that allows the cutting of metal. The cutting process is fundamentally the rapid burning or oxidizing of the metal in a localized area. The metal is heated to a bright red color (1,400 °F to 1,600 °F), which is the kindling temperature, using only the preheat jets. Then, a jet of high pressure oxygen released by the lever on the cutting attachment is directed against the heated metal. This oxygen blast combines with the hot metal and forms an intensely hot oxide. The molten oxide is blown down the sides of the cut, heating the metal in its path to the kindling temperature as the torch is moved along the line of the desired cut. The heated metal also burns to an oxide that is blown away on the underside of the piece. [Figure 5-17]