Welding Leads & Cables: How To Find The Right Size

When you come across a building under construction, you may have seen sparkles or bright light outside coming from a device. What you have seen is called welding. It’s a fabrication process that allows for at least two separate parts to fuse using pressure or heat. The craft requires certain products for it to work. There are plenty of types to pick between and machines of varying levels of power, like these engine-driven welders. There are a lot of different methods to choose between, including:

  • Shielded metal arc
  • gas metal arc
  • electro gas
  • electro slag
  • and carbon arc welding

They are only some of the many different processes you can choose between.

In this article, we’ll take a deeper dive into welding leads & cables. We’ll show you how to find the right size.

What is it?

flux core welding

Before digging into welding leads and cables, we must know more about the process. There are several ways to fuse two or more materials, but this is the only procedure that can do it with metals. Today, you can bond materials other than metal. Plastic and wood are great examples.

When bonding materials together, it is subject to extreme heat. Although it may sound similar to the definition of brazing or soldering, they are different. You can only fuse two or more pieces of the same base material. You can fuse two metals, but you cannot do it with metal with wood. There are so many ways to do it, such as in different types of joints and various techniques and equipment you can use.

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

How does it work?

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

welder instructing a student

Joining Wood

You might question welding wood because your initial thought is that wood will burn when subject to extreme heat. However, wood fusing 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

Joining metals together is the most common among these three. Contrary to soldering and brazing, welding melts the metal by exposing it to high heat. Craftsmen 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. You then force them together by pressure. This process took a lot of time, making it not practical in modern times. As years went by, 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. This joint results in the fusion of these materials. Aside from using high temperatures, you can also use pressure to produce a bond. Using a shielding gas serves as a protection, preventing contamination or oxidation from happening. We recommend reading about gasless or aluminum welding, which goes more in-depth with each topic.

welding of gas lines

What is a cable used for?

A 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.

It has several characteristics you need to know. These contribute to its practicality and effectiveness of it. The most important thing to remember is that it should have the correct size for the job and flexible ones. You’ll also want to ensure they’re durable. Speaking of the correct size for the job, it is similar to gauge wires. It requires you to pick the correct size depending on the electrical needs required for your project.

Durability and Resistance

When looking for one, durability, resistance, and reliability are the first things you need to consider. Depending on the environment you are working in, you may need to get a heavy-duty welding one.

Deciding which one to pick is more than knowing it can deliver the right amount of current. When looking at its durability, consider factors such as varying ambient temperature and muddy conditions. Are you working in wet environments with exposure to oil and dirt? Dangerous chemicals need consideration, too. It should insulate the cable from contaminants, such as oil and water. All these substances can 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 durable enough to withstand your work conditions.

Flexibility

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

Size and Temperature Rating

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

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

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

The welding one and the battery one are similar, but you should consider a few things when picking between the two.

Applications

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

When the application calls for bending, a cable is an ideal solution due to its flexibility. What makes it more flexible than a battery one is its EPDM insulation and finer copper strands. As a result, one with the same gauge wire as a battery option will have more copper strands. Having more of it will result in a greater capacity for handling higher voltage applications in terms of performance.

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 and water. Be especially careful if you’re working around acids. It also meets the UL-553 and UL-558 flame-resistant standards.

welding student wearing a helmet

Find one that is resistant to oil and water. Grease and tears are common, which is why you’ll want a durable option. It also meets the UL-553 and UL-558 flame-resistant standards, similar to a battery one. What is distinct from one intended for welding is that it meets the UL-1581 standards. It means it is resistant to different elements that could cause damage.

Ideal Environment

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

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

What is the best option?

There is no best option as it depends on your needs. There are a few factors to consider when looking for the best option for your needs. Some of these factors include the distance between the work location and the power source, and the diameter. The electrical current requirements should also be kept in mind. You can find more details in the following section.

If you are looking for a list of common Thermo King fault codes, we got it here for you. On the other hand, here is an article on some of the best mini metal lathes.

What size do I need?

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

For a safe execution of tasks, it should support the electrical current requirement for the job. Insulator coats the fine copper wire strands. 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. Consider flexibility and resistance to dangerous substances.

picture of a welder

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 can withstand much hotter temperatures. 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 one.

The basis of the size is its cross-sectional area. It follows the categorization of the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system. The table below shows that larger diameter ones have a smaller AWG. In comparison, smaller diameter ones 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 location and power source

The distance between the power source and the location is important in determining which AWG size you should get. Looking at the table below, you will see the 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

If you have 220 amps and a distance of 150 ft, you will need a 2-gauge size wire. If you have 600 amps and a distance of 180 ft, you will need a 4/0-gauge wire.

Duty cycles and rated output

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

A 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 machine.

FAQ

What wire is used for welding leads?

Welding leads typically use a four gauge cable, also known as 4/0 cable. Since welding leads require flexibility and ease of movement, a four gauge cable is ideal.

How much is it per foot for welding leads?

The welding cable price per foot varies depending on the type of wire used. For example, a 4-gauge wire per foot of welding cable retails at around $30. However, a 6-gauge wire per foot of welding cable costs about $22.

What size wire is welding cable?

Welding cables use wire of size 4 or 4/0.

Is welding cable the same as battery cable?

Welding cable and battery cable share certain similarities. Such as, both have the same gauge. It means they carry current in either a 12V or 24V application. However, welding cables are designed to carry higher voltage and withstand the motion. But battery cables operate on low voltage and lack the requirement for flexibility.

If you’re looking to determine the welding cable size, here is a set of steps you need to follow:

How do you determine welding cable size?

  1. Measure the distance between the welding table and the power source.

    To determine the length of the cable, use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the power supply. Make sure to include any electrode holder or wire feeder, or workpiece clamp along the path. Double the distance measured as that is what you’d need to complete the circuit. So for a 100ft of length, a cable of 200ft is required.

  2. Measure the amperage requirement.

    It’s essential to anticipate the amperage requirement well before purchasing the cable. If the line is too short, it may not be able to keep up with your current needs.

  3. Figure out the rated output and the duty cycle of your machine.

    Typically, the rated output is mentioned on the device itself. It’s the maximum current produced by the machine, which helps determine the amperage requirement.

    For the duty cycle, you must calculate the output capacity as a percentage based on 10 minutes. If a machine is rated at 300A at 40%, you could produce 300A for 4 minutes (where the base is set at 10 minutes). The remaining 6 minutes are considered the cooling period for the machine.   

  4. Trace down the cable size.

    Once you’ve noted the particulars mentioned above, you can trace the size that fits all the requirements from the ‘Welding cable size’ table provided.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.