by Josh Noesser, California Crew
If you wheel long enough, there will come a time when you are out on the trail, and you will hear the worst sounds a 4×4 enthusiast wants to hear. Those sounds usually fall into three categories—first, a loud snap which almost sounds like a tree branch snapping; second is a horn honking frantically, and the last is someone speaking on the radio saying there is a problem.
Many times, trail problems are easy to take care of, relatively, by replacing a damaged part. Occasionally, trail damage is more severe and more complex than merely replacing a component. Sometimes, a trail repair requires on-site fabrication. Most of these times include metal stress, cracks, or even breaks. Unfortunately when this happens there is only one remedy, and that is a welder.
Modern onboard welders are amazing tools but cost lots of money. For the people that cannot afford this, there is another option. That is to weld off battery voltage.
To do this you will need several items. Two sets of jumper cables (high amperage), a pack of 6011 welding rods, a pair of leather gloves, a pair of plyers, welding goggles or lens, fire extinguisher, and two (preferably gel-type or AGM type, least preferred is the common wet-cell type) 12-volt automotive batteries. Optional items that people have been known to carry are a wire brush, a grinding wheel, and extra metal stock.
The basics are, you need to create 24 volts to weld, the better the batteries and cables the better the weld.
Get your Fire Extinguisher ready; maybe even put someone on this job, specifically.
Get all your materials out and organized in one location.
Get broken components back in place the best you can; for example, a separated suspension shackle hangar may require a farm jack to lift the frame. Essentially, points of failure need to be touching the other surface to be welded together. Clean the area and grind, scratch, and remove any paint or debris from the area.
Disconnect both batteries from the vehicle(s). Note: A vehicle with a dual-battery set-up works great, but is not necessary. Remove the batteries from the donor vehicle(s), and lay them on the ground near the repair (cable length). This is for safety, and keeping the working area orderly, and free of distractions.
Connect one jumper cable (jumper set #1) from the positive of battery #1 to the negative of battery #2.
Connect negative side of cable set #2 to the negative of battery #1, then connect it to a good ground-contact on the item(s) you will be welding on (frame, shackle, etc.)
Connect the positive line of cable set #2 to the positive side of battery #2; the clamp on the end of this cable is now energized–ensure control to prevent any unintended contact.
Put on your gloves, place one rod of 6011 in the open positive clamp of cable set #2.
With your other hand hold the welding glass
Please understand, this is not regulated, and you can over-amp the stick (Melting it). When stick welding, employ a dragging method while tilting the stick roughly 5 to 15 degrees. (I recommend watching videos on YouTube or reading-up about stick welding for tricks and techniques). Often, it is difficult to lay a good bead, and so many people have to do numerous spot welds. Even though this isn’t ideal, it is better than nothing.
Also note, since your power is unregulated, you can also burn through the metal… Be cautious at first.
Inspect and repeat (It will likely take several welding sticks to complete a weld vs being in a shop with a MIG welder. Make sure you bring plenty of 6011 rods to weld with when out on the trail.)
Reinforce – Many times the metal is weak which is why it broke. If you can reinforce the weld with other items such as wrenches, extra metal plate, and anything else that is made of mild steel. This can be the difference between you driving off the trail or repeating the process.
When done, don’t push your limits. Immediately leave the trail to the nearest exit. This is only a temporary fix and it will fail again.
One of the wonderful things about having these items is that they take up very little space. You should already be carrying jumper cables, if not then buy a quality set. The welding rod and welding glass is small which I usually put in the bed with the jumper cables.
I hope this helps you should it become necessary on the trail. To date, I have trail welded over a dozen times and most have been sufficient to get people off the trail and home.