Learning to MIG weld; fixing underbody holes for the MFALCON

This is a few weeks after the fact – I have been incredibly busy, even for me, in the month and a half I have been home!  From The Garage Cleansing Crusade (and the corollary Basement Purging Skirmish) at home, to 3 weeks work at that printing equipment auction house, to this past Friday’s job interview at McMaster Carr, I am nothing if not busy.  Oy.

That said, here is one of my first projects while back at home, because rust on the underbody of a car is not a good thing.  For a personal example of this, consider the following example with my car.

Or rather, two examples: I got home from Maryland in August to initially discover an inch of standing water in the back footwell.  After removing the entire interior down to bare metal, two holes around 3 inch diameter, one in the driver’s front footwell and the other in the rear driver’s footwell, were discovered.  The oddest part is that the standing water was all on the passenger side… but I just play the game, and don’t make the rules.

So, then, given the brine they dump on roads here in the Cleveland area, and my pronounced desire to maintain my car forever and ever amen, these two holes needed to be fixed.

Back in the middle of September, I stopped by the home of a member from my church growing up, and Steve has been a professional welder for 42 years now – a lot of experience there, but I want to make sure this job, even if simple is done right.  The added benefit is – Steve has taught many welding courses, and I want to learn about this

Steve working his grinder magic on the first of the rot

Steve working his grinder magic on the first of the rot

Cutting out around the rot to be sure only good metal remains

Cutting out around the rot to be sure only good metal remains

Steve’s original estimation was that the floor was swiss cheese because it is such an old car – and so he wanted to teach me how to do the work and have me do it as long as it took.  When in reality the floors were sound (thin, he admits, but completely sound), he decided it made more sense to do the work himself and teach me as he went, to ensure it got done right and quickly.

His welding masks sometimes had names.  And teeth.

His welding masks sometimes had names. And teeth.

MIG welding is bright

MIG welding is bright

Basically, the process involved a great deal of prep work – cutting out around the rot, grinding down the floor to clean metal, grinding the patch carbon steel to bare metal, and then tack welding it into place (it gets so hot that initially one must do miniature welds on opposite sides in a row, to hold the patch in place).  His company alludes to this with “10% Welding” in their name, as most of their work… is prep!

A little touch up on the process of making sure the weld seams are clean

A little touch up on the process of making sure the weld seams are clean

Welded and contoured carbon steel patch in place

Welded and contoured carbon steel patch in place

The rear hole was a bit more difficult – the edge of the rot was DIRECTLY up against the brake lines.  So what ended up happening was: Steve would slowly tack weld and I was under the car with thick leather gloves, ready to tap out the fires which would catch (on underbody coating, and even the brake lines once!).  Steve also used several different hammers and a vise to tap the edge of the patch into the contour of the floor pan – as he explained, all the crimps in the floor of the car make the metal SIGNIFICANTLY stronger… so by mirroring it, we ensured both a better seal against water and weather, but also make the car more impervious to (God forbid) damage.

3M 5200 Fast Cure - the marine grade sealant we've all been waiting for

3M 5200 Fast Cure – the marine grade sealant we’ve all been waiting for

View from the rear driver's side, both patches visibly sealed and ready to dry overnight

View from the rear driver’s side, both patches visibly sealed and ready to dry overnight

Using the advice of my friend Mark from Maine, I bought and applied some 3M 5200 Fast Cure marine grade sealant – given that some planes actually use this stuff as the adhesive for their external body panels, I have my suspicions that these seals will be FAIRLY reliable, for a long time to come.

Painted patch, ready for decades more use (he hoped, quite hopingly)

Painted patch, ready for decades more use (he hoped, quite hopingly)

Final steps included two coats of Eastwood’s expensive Rust Encapsulator within and underneath the car, and then on the underbody, two coats of 3m Rubberized Undercoating – while the undercoating may or may not do enough on its own, my intention is to have it take the hits of debris and gravel on the road, and not the sealant or the special paint, for as long as possible.

Only time will tell… but for now, the car is that much closer to ready, to conquer yet another northeast Ohio winter!

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