Welding Leads & Cables: How To Find The Right Size

When you come across a building under construction, you may have seen some sparkles or bright light outside coming from a device held by a person. As you may know, what you have seen is called welding, a fabrication process that allows for at least two separate parts to fuse using pressure, heat, or both. Welding requires certain products for it to work. There are plenty of welding types to pick between, as well as machines of varying levels of power, like these engine driven welders, for instance. Shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, electrogas welding, electroslag welding, and carbon arc welding are only some of the many different processes you can choose between.

What is welding?

Before we dig into welding leads and cables, we must know more about welding. There are several ways to fuse two or more materials, but welding is the only procedure that can do it with metals. Today, you can weld materials other than metal, such as plastic and wood.

When welding materials together, it is subject to extreme heat. Although it may sound similar to the definition of brazing or soldering, they are different. With welding, you can only fuse two or more pieces of the same base material. For example, you can weld two metals, but you cannot weld metal with wood. There are so many ways to do welding, such as in different types of welded joints.

If you are interested in knowing more, you may want to read the what is welding article. Some of the things we included in there may just surprise you!

How does welding work?

As mentioned in the previous section, there are a few materials you can weld together. The way how it works vary per material. Discussing it one at a time will make it easier to understand.

Joining Wood

You might question welding wood because your initial thoughts may be that wood will burn when subject to extreme heat. However, wood welding makes use of heat as a result of friction. You expose the wood materials you plan to fuse under great amounts of pressure. It creates linear friction movement, which then bonds the pieces together.

Joining Plastics

Fusing plastics use high heat to join the materials. You can achieve this in three stages. The first step is to prepare the surfaces of the plastics before exposing them to heat and pressure. Next, you need to apply heat and pressure to the surface of the materials. Lastly, allow it to cool down.

Joining Metals

Welding metals together is the most common among these three. Contrary to soldering and brazing, welding melts the metal by exposing it to high heat. Welders usually use a filler material with it.

The original way of joining metals was in a forge done by smiths, wherein the metals to fuse are subject to high heat, which you then force together by pressure. This process took a lot of time, making it not practical in modern times. As years went by, the introduction of newer technologies gave way to more efficient ways of fusing these materials.

Welding in the present time happens in this manner. High-temperature heat creates a pool of molten material. When it cools down, it forms the join, which results in the fusion of these materials. Aside from using high-temperature, you can also use pressure to produce a weld. Using a shielding gas serves as a protection, which prevents contamination or oxidation from happening. We recommend you read about gasless welding, aluminum welding, and welding gas which go more in depth with each individual topic.

What is a welding cable used for?

A welding cable serves as a medium for the current, which a welder needs to make welding possible. It provides power to an electrode through a metal rod, which conducts a charge. The electrode needs this charge to power an electric arc, the heat source in welding the materials.

A welding cable has several characteristics you need to know. These contribute to the practicality and effectiveness of it. The most important thing to remember is that it should have the correct size for the job, flexible, and durable. Speaking of the correct size for the job, it is similar to gauge wires, which requires you to pick the correct size depending on the electrical needs required for your project.

Durability and Resistance

When looking for a welding cable; durability, resistance, and reliability are some of the first things you need to consider. Depending on the environment you are working in, you may need to get a heavy-duty welding cable to make up for inhospitable environments.

Deciding which cable to pick is more than knowing it can deliver the right amount of current. Factors such as varying ambient temperature, muddy conditions, wet environment, and exposure to oil, dirt, and dangerous chemicals need consideration when looking at a cable’s durability. It should insulate the cable from contaminants, such as oil, water, and other substances that could cause interference in performance.

Having dangerous substances in your workplace could make work difficult and can even cause damage to your equipment. It is best to get a cable that is durable enough to withstand your work conditions.

Flexibility

Other wire types have one thing in common. They remain static after installation, which means there is little to no movement happening to these wires. For welding, however, you require a level of flexibility because it requires you to move them as you weld. High-quality welding cables are stiff enough to be durable but flexible enough to reach areas they need.

Size and Temperature Rating

Similar to the information included in the article on AWG wires, welding cables come in all sorts of sizes. Know that choosing the right size depends on the voltage and current you will need in your welding processes. Several factors surround this concern, which means having a thorough understanding of what sort of welding you will perform and the power necessary is important.

The temperature rating and size have a direct effect on the performance of the cable. These can both contribute to how soon a cable can heat up during use. Cables should not overheat because it can affect performance and safety.

What is the difference between a welding cable and a battery cable?

The welding cable and the battery cable are similar, but you should consider a few things when looking to pick between the two.

Application of the cables

The battery cable is the ideal solution if you need to connect the battery with its starter. The battery cable is also the ideal solution for applications that do not have a direct shot to a power source. What makes it the better choice in this scenario are the thick copper strands. Having thick strands means there are fewer strands inside the cable’s sleeve. Compared to a welding cable with the same gauge wire, a battery cable would have fewer copper strands. Although it makes the cable a little difficult to flex, it is the more cost-effective choice between the two.

On the other hand, when the application calls for a lot of bending, a welding cable is the ideal solution due to its flexibility. What makes it more flexible than a battery cable is its EPDM insulation and finer copper strands. As a result, a welding cable with the same gauge wire as a battery cable will have more copper strands. In terms of performance, having more of it will result in a greater capacity for handling higher voltage applications.

Materials

A battery cable uses a thermoplastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) jacket that prevents abrasions and cracking from happening. It also protects against dangerous substances, such as oil, water, and acids. It also meets the UL-553 and UL-558 flame-resistant standards.

On the other hand, a welding cable is resistant to oil, water, grease, tears, and cuts. Similar to a battery cable, it also meets the UL-553 and UL-558 flame-resistant standards. What is distinct with a welding cable is that it meets the UL-1581 standards, which means it is resistant to different elements that could cause damage.

Ideal Environment

In humid to fair weather where you need to make a simple connection, a battery cable is a great choice. However, when the weather gets cold, it could get stiff and difficult to handle.

If you often experience cold weather in your place, you may want to consider the option made for welding. The thinner copper strands increase usability and flexibility, making it ideal in cold conditions.

What is the best welding cable?

There is no best welding cable as it dependents on your needs. There are a few factors to consider when looking for the best welding cable for your needs. Some of these factors include the distance between the welding location and power source, the cable’s diameter, and the electrical current requirements. You can find more details in the following section.

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What size welding cable do I need?

Picking the correct size for your welding cable can be a tiring job if you do not know what exactly to do. A lot of people think the sizedoes not matter. In reality, your safety and the performance of the cable depends on it. No matter what, the cost should not be the most important decision factor when looking for a cable.

For a safe execution of tasks, the cable should support the electrical current requirement for the job. Insulator coats the fine copper wire strands, and an exterior coating made of natural or synthetic rubber serves as the jacket. Aside from the thin strands of wire, the coating also aids with resistance to abrasions, flexibility, and resistance to dangerous substances.

Cable size and the cross-sectional area

The typical temperature ratings are 167°F / 75°C, 194°F / 90°C, and 221°F / 105°C. The strands of copper wire inside a welding cable can withstand much hotter temperatures, but the coating will start melting and could start a fire. At a higher temperature, the electrical current carrying capacity will decrease. To address this issue, you should use a bigger diameter cable.

The basis of the welding cable’s size is its cross-sectional area. It follows the categorization of the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system. When looking at the table below, larger diameter cables have a smaller AWG, while smaller diameter cables have a bigger AWG.

 

Cable Size (AWG)

Metric Equivalent

6

13.3

5

16.8

4

21.1

3

26.7

2

33.6

1

42.4

1/0

53.5

2/0

67.4

3/0

85.0

4/0

107.2

For example, a 4-gauge wire has a diameter / cross-sectional area of 21.1, whereas a 3/0-gauge wire has a diameter of 85.0.

Distance between the welding location and power source

The distance between the power source and the welding location is important in determining which AWG cable size you should get. By looking at the table below, you will see the cable size you need for a given length and electrical current. These are all at a 75°C temperature rating.

Current (amps)

Duty Cycle (%)

Combined Lengths of Electrode and Work Cables

0 to 50 ft.

51 to 100 ft.

101 to 150 ft.

151 to 200 ft.

201 to 250 ft.

125

30

6

5

3

2

1

150

40

6

5

3

2

1

180

30

4

4

3

2

1

200

60

2

2

2

1

1/0

225

30

3

3

2

1

1/0

250

30

3

3

2

1

1/0

250

60

1

1

1

1

1/0

300

60

1

1

1

1/0

2/0

350

60

1/0

1/0

2/0

2/0

3/0

400

60

2/0

2/0

2/0

3/0

4/0

400

100

3/0

3/0

3/0

3/0

4/0

500

60

2/0

2/0

3/0

3/0

4/0

600

60

3/0

3/0

3/0

4/0

2 2/0

600

100

2 1/0

2 1/0

2 1/0

2 2/0

2 3/0

650

60

3/0

3/0

4/0

2 2/0

2 3/0

700

100

2 2/0

2 2/0

2 3/0

2 3/0

2 4/0

800

100

2 3/0

2 3/0

2 3/0

2 3/0

2 4/0

1000

100

3 3/0

3 3/0

3 3/0

3 3/0

3 3/0

1200

100

4 4/0

4 4/0

4 4/0

4 4/0

4 4/0

1500

100

5 4/0

5 4/0

5 4/0

5 4/0

5 4/0

For example, if you have 220 amps and a distance of 150 ft, you will need a 2-gauge size wire. On the other hand, if you have 600 amps and a distance of 180 ft, you will need a 4/0-gauge wire.

Duty cycles and rated output of a welding machine

A welding machine has a duty cycle and rated output. The duty cycle is the measurement of its output capacity over a ten-minute period. It is the given time the machine can perform at a certain amperage before the windings reach their maximum operating temperature. On the other hand, the rated output is the maximum electrical current the machine can produce.

For example, a welding machine rated for 250 amps at a duty cycle of 30% would output 250 amps for 3 minutes. The way to calculate this is to get the duty cycle percentage of 10 minutes. In this example, the 30% of 10 minutes is 3 minutes. When a machine hits its duty cycle, it shuts down to cool down for the remaining minutes.

You can typically find the duty cycle and the rated output on the back of your welding machine.

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