Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?
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  1. #1
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    Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    I have a boat that was t-boned on the water at speed by a fibreglass boat. It’s a 20’ welded aluminum and have cut out a lot of damaged structure so far, the material is all 5052 Aluminum and will be using 5356 wires and TIG filler. So far have made CNC cut files for the plasma table to replace Gunwale sections but not the side panel, not sure exactly how to pattern this panel so thinking of making it oversized and scribe the inside for trimming. One more cut needs to be made parallel with the waterline around where the current vertical cuts end

    The new exterior side panel which will measure appox 10 feet by 2 feet
    TIG weld is what I’m thinking with a back stitch...straight butt weld, single bevel or double bevel? Spool gun inside and TIG outside? Backing strip?

    Will definely use a spoolgun on the windshied frame and Gunwales, rubrail, fishbox etc...

    I just want this to look good and straight! Have never done something like this but am a ticketed welder and trust I can get a watertight weld with either


  2. #2
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    definitely over size and scribe it in. a perfect fit is your best insurance against warpage. no gap. no bevel. put strong backs across the seam if you do notice any warpage, small key plates (google 'fitters key plate') would be awesome if you have any trouble getting the piece to take shape. a good tack every 6 inches and move around when welding it out. i would run a pulse tig if you can and use as little filler as possible on both sides, move as quick as you can.


    aluminum doesn't warp like steel, i dont think it will fight you too bad.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    What does the inside look like?

    Does it have ribs running the width of the boat?

    How thick is the material? .125?

  4. #4
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    I'd say you need to stretch the weld with dolly and hammer. You need perfect fit up. Weld with TIG from one side Bevel from one side. Grind flat. Some dolly work will be needed to stretch the weld back to size. Any reinforcement gets added after the panel lays flat.
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  5. #5
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    A gap would take less amps and give more penetration,tiny gap tho unless it’s really thin. 16 gauge I wouldn’t gap but 1/8 I would . Make short 6” welds or less. Maybe get some 2x4’s on the back side to also prevent warpage.

  6. #6
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by tracymobilecnc View Post
    (google 'fitters key plate').
    That’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen this tool before but what a great concept!
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  7. #7
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Backstep your welds and radius the bottom corners.
    Last edited by CrookedRoads; 09-15-2019 at 05:43 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    If you butt weld and sand flat, you will loose most of your penetration. Just leave a small gap, say 040 to 1/16, but you should gas protect the back side.

    Weld as normal

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  9. #9
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Looks like a good application for Sheet Metal Butt Welding Clamps.



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  10. #10
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by scsmith42 View Post
    That’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen this tool before but what a great concept!
    i saw them for the first time and was given a few just last year, on a water tank job. they are awesome to fit with. so much manipulation with only two tack marks to clean up. their expensive but if you have access to a cnc plas they are super easy to make for cheap. i use them all the time



    Quote Originally Posted by CrookedRoads View Post
    Backstep your welds and radius the bottom corners.

    good catch on the radius, slipped my mind. no hard 90* welds, in the shipyard we were required to have a 9" minimum radius, i think a 3" radius would be fine
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  11. #11
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    That key plate is pretty cool

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  12. #12
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by MinnesotaDave View Post
    That key plate is pretty cool

    You would be a much better weldor than me to get those to work on the 1/8" aluminum sheet.
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by M J D View Post
    You would be a much better weldor than me to get those to work on the 1/8" aluminum sheet.
    I was thinking the same thing.
    Those keys are not for this application.
    The sheet metal clamps are more in line for this job. A lot of them.

  14. #14
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    I'm intrigued by those clamps. Truth is I've rarely made a butt weld in heavy material.
    I've made butt welds usually to replace a damaged (rusted) section of sheet metal.

    My father was an aircraft mechanic in WWII, again in the Korean Conflict. He talked of patching aircraft. He used a backer plate bigger than the damage, and rivets to secure. Said the added weight was a concern for planes returning from too many missions.

    These days we have the magic of TIG. I'm not sure if Dave's devices would help. I've never used anything like that. I'd clamp with what I have, tack where it fits, manipulate to another tack.

    I'm not informed if it'd work on aluminum, in body work I'd save some distortion with acetylene tacks, hit immediately with a blow gun from the air compressor. I still did some dolly work, but less. Those days I didn't have access to TIG. It was all acetylene. Acetylene/oxygen is lots of heat, you use the center of the flame. Way too much heat input for a small weld, The only flaw in the process.

    If it weren't for distortion I'd now use only a $500.00 acetylene set.
    Last edited by Willie B; 09-17-2019 at 07:30 PM.
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  15. #15
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by M J D View Post
    You would be a much better weldor than me to get those to work on the 1/8" aluminum sheet.
    obviously, the ones in the video are for 3/16 and thicker material. but as the OP has CNC cutting access, it wouldn't be hard to make some for the 1/8" material. that better handel the flex of thin sheet, and maybe some creative design improvements for the application.


    that and you need some experience to use them full effect, some catch on faster than others. you dont have to be a good welder, just a good fitter. some of the best welders i know cant fit for sh!t, and some of the best fitters aren't very good welders. i think welders plateau, but most fitters get better and better

    personally i can pass as a welder but im a much better fitter. and the challenge of fitting definitely makes the job for me.
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  16. #16
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by tracymobilecnc View Post
    obviously, the ones in the video are for 3/16 and thicker material. but as the OP has CNC cutting access, it wouldn't be hard to make some for the 1/8" material. that better handel the flex of thin sheet, and maybe some creative design improvements for the application.


    that and you need some experience to use them full effect, some catch on faster than others. you dont have to be a good welder, just a good fitter. some of the best welders i know cant fit for sh!t, and some of the best fitters aren't very good welders. i think welders plateau, but most fitters get better and better

    personally i can pass as a welder but im a much better fitter. and the challenge of fitting definitely makes the job for me.
    You missed the whole point. That setup would work fine on steel, aluminum not so much. Tackin pieces of aluminum angle, back to back, with a gap would allow you to draw it tighter.
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  17. #17
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by M J D View Post
    You missed the whole point. That setup would work fine on steel, aluminum not so much. Tackin pieces of aluminum angle, back to back, with a gap would allow you to draw it tighter.
    well, one of is pissing the point. i've used key plates for fitting aluminum and it is far superior to tacking aluminum angle back to back. with the key plate you can do much more than just draw the pieces together.


    have you ever used key plates? for aluminum i use wider blank nuts and bigger flat landings on the key plate.
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  18. #18
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Never had the need to on aluminum. Those wedges would just cause a major problem with the soft metal. Biggest issue I had was high low fitup and there are much easier ways to deal with that than that whole key plate affair.
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  19. #19
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Thanks to the advice above. Some helpful tips. Radius corners...butt welding clamps...
    The key fitter plates were a good idea, we have a cut file for large ones at work but went the butt weld clamp route because of size and weight of the panel which isn’t all that much, and the cost of bull pins which I don’t own any of...

    It’s 1/8” material on the side and 11 gauge .090” for the inner structure. I made the butt weld clamps instead of buying them so I could create a thinner gap. Pallet strapping is .025” so used that. I’ve broken a few getting them out after tacking due to the contraction pinching them in place but the gap is Toight like a TIGahh!
    A problem that’s been created with scribbing the panel to match the cut out section is that the boat has a much greater bow to the outside panel now. Currently I have the rear 3/4 of the panel tacked in place and need to pull the side in to its final location before re-trimming the front edge. Due to the double curve of the side panel it would be really difficult to pin the panel in place without using dogs/wedges all over the place to hold it down
    Went with a 3” radius on the corners.

    At a standstill right now trying to get a Spoolmatic 30A to work on my new welder and the inner structure should be ready for pick-up this week. Could’ve done this at work but a local boat builder was willing to do this for me

    I’ll post before and after pics when this is done

    Thanks again

    DIY butt weld clamps


    Current progress...

  20. #20
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    This job suuuuucks!
    As suspected this is warping ALL over the place. I started with a perfect fit panel. Tack welds every 6”. Then started stitch welding with TIG. I was probably adding too much filler at first so the panels would either create a “mountain” or a “valley” in relation to each other. A few ended up flat in relation. Slow and steady, fast and hardly any filler I get the same results... I fixed most of the alignment issues and start stitch welding again, chasing the same crap. Most noticeable at the start and stop of each stitch...
    Now try and back stitch into each weld and it comes back or gets worse. It creates a double peak. Drill some small holes and create a gap to get a 1/16” jig saw blade and cut a gap, perhaps should’ve done this at first anyways as suggested by motolife313. The start and middle of the stitch will be ok but when it ties into the previous stitch it gets out of whack again

    Thought I could have this welded in today, gave it a full 8 hours and got about 1/4 of the welding done on just this panel. That’s not even welding the backside

    Any other suggestions?

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    Last edited by Go.fish; 10-09-2019 at 09:24 PM.

  21. #21
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    I don't do this kind of stuff, so maybe take it with a grain of salt.

    To eliminate a good deal of warping, on the stuff I do, I try to balance heat during the welding process.

    I don't weld one side all at once. I weld equal lengths of material on both sides (front/back) during the entire procedure. Weld 6" one side, 6" other side. It's a PITA, but it helps.

    Like I say...…..I don't deal with thin stuff, so take it with a grain of salt.

  22. #22
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    i think your warping problems will have to be dealt with after the welding is completed. i could be wrong but this looks similar to welding automotive sheet metal. using a pneumatic hammer and dolly may be a solution. imvho.
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    As DOC says, stretching the heat affected metal is the magic of butt welds on sheet.

    Lay two 1/8 x 1" 12" long flats side by side Weld them together with a continuous weld. They will not lay flat, and they won't be 12" long any more. Your welds and the sheet metal near them are shrinking. They must be stretched.

    Aluminum is worse than steel as much more gets hot than just the weld joint. It'd be a cumbersome thing to do, but 4 copper bars clamped along side the weld joint would reduce the width of the HAZ. Still, there is no avoiding the hammer and dolly. That Heat Affected Zone must be expanded back to its original dimensions.
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    Quote Originally Posted by docwelder View Post
    i think your warping problems will have to be dealt with after the welding is completed. i could be wrong but this looks similar to welding automotive sheet metal. using a pneumatic hammer and dolly may be a solution. imvho.
    It is similar to automotive sheet metal butt welding. And I'll agree the welds need to be stretched hammer on dolly. Only thing I'll disagree with is when. The shrinkage is best dealt with right from the get-go. With the tacks, each weld (short welds) as they progress. Waiting until it is all welded it often becomes a bigger, harder and sometime unsurmountable project. The flatter panels are harder to get flat and even.
    The panels in the photos don't look bad. They can be worked back, just going to take some time and finesse.
    Ernie F.

  25. #25
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    Re: Advice on butt welding large 1/8” panel without warpage?

    How much more would it have cost to replace that whole side plate? That piece you welded in is almost as big.

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