Types of flames in gas welding

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Types of flames in gas welding
Varying the oxygen-acetylene mixture produces different welding flame characteristics. (welding fire image by Kaarel from Fotolia.com)

Gas welding, also called oxy-fuel or oxyacetylene welding, uses a mixture of oxygen and acetylene to produce a flame hot enough to weld steel. Other gases like propane and hydrogen are sometimes used with oxygen to weld metals with lower melting points, but acetylene is the most common fuel gas. By varying the mixture of the acetylene and oxygen, flames with different temperature ranges and different chemical characteristics can be produced. The three distinct types of oxyacetylene welding flames are neutral, reducing or carburising, and oxidising flames.

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Neutral Flame

The neutral flame is used for most gas-welding applications, and has roughly equal amounts of acetylene and oxygen. To be more precise, the ratio of oxygen to acetylene for a neutral flame lies between 1.0 and 1.1. The neutral flame has a temperature between 2,982 and 3,260 degrees Celsius and can be recognised by a light blue inner flame cone with a darker blue outer flame. The neutral flame takes its name from the fact that it produces very little or no chemical reaction in the molten metal. In fact, the neutral flame actually acts as a gas shield to protect the weld pool from chemical reactions with the atmosphere, much like the inert gas in TIG (tungsten inert gas) and MIG (metal inert gas) arc welding. It is used for welding mild and stainless steel, cast iron, aluminium, and copper.

Types of flames in gas welding
The neutral flame is blue in colour (Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

Reducing or Carburizing Flame

The reducing, or carburising, flame is produced by reducing the amount of oxygen in the mixture, producing an acetylene-rich gas. The carburising flame has a temperature between 2,982 and 3,037 degrees Celsius. It contains three distinct levels of colour: a very light blue cone at the nozzle, surrounded by an envelope or feather of darker blue; both of those are surrounded by an outer envelope of even darker blue. It is a reducing flame because it does not oxidise the metal, and it is an oxidising flame because it does not completely burn up the carbon and because the unconsumed carbon is forced into the metal. It is used for welding high-carbon steel and other metals that do not readily absorb carbon.

Types of flames in gas welding
Used for welding high-carbon steel (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Oxidising Flame

The oxidising flame is produced by increasing the oxygen in the mixture, producing an oxygen-rich gas. It has a temperature between 3,315 and 3,482 degrees Celsius. The flame is shorter and bluer than both the neutral and carburising flames, and the inner cone is more pointed. The excess oxygen from this flame will combine with the metal and form oxides, which are brittle and weaken the weld and the metal. Because of its oxidising properties it is seldom used to weld steel, but is sometimes used for copper-based and zinc-based metals, as well as cast iron and manganese.

Types of flames in gas welding
Cast iron can be welded with an oxidising flame. (cast iron pipe image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

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