Bracket Creep! - Faine

By: Jon Faine


This is not explained in the workshop manual

Bracket Creep! - Faine
Alex trying TIG.

With the typical arrogance and ignorance of the impatient amateur, I decided that my restoration skills would now extend to welding. I have long been a bit less than capable – and very untidy – with arc welding, but decided it was time to conquer MIG.

After an evening or three of YouTube tutorials, I breezily wandered off to the local tool shop, took advantage of their apparently perpetual "one day only" sale and carried home a few boxes of toys.

Next was the hard part – learning what to do with them.

With the machine fresh out of the box, I found I could not get a decent weld happening at all. The manual was infuriatingly vague about the wire speed and power settings and no matter what I tried, I could not get a decent bead. Wasting vast quantities of wire left me exasperated and eventually I did what no self-respecting man ever wants to do. I sought help.

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The angle being checked with the adjustable bezel.

First port of call was searching for a TAFE night class for hobby welding. Years ago, I did a certificate in fitting and turning and loved wandering along and queuing up with the apprentices each week and learning to use a lathe. But the TAFE world seems to have changed since those days, and after a little sniffing around, I discovered the classes were miles away and not very hands-on. 

Fellow restoring tragic Alex (a friend from school, although we did not see each other for about a million years) had a mate who agreed to provide a few lessons. Paul runs a steel fabrication business and with little ceremony asked us to bring our machines to his workshop so that he could work out what we were doing wrong.

First lesson – gas welding is much better and easier than gasless. I had been allergic to gas cylinders since surrendering the oxy kit years ago, but the argon gas for the MIG comes in smaller cylinders that are lighter, easier to move and are readily found in hardware shops.

Next revelation was that I could not see what I was doing. My old helmet was rubbish. After swapping helmets with Paul, I had one of those classic ‘wow’ moments when I could actually see the tip of the arc. Newer, lighter helmets with clear optics, millisecond darkening and adjustable everythings, made a world of difference.

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Once I got a new helmet, changed my machine to gas and got the settings adjusted, the game changed and I could get my pieces of steel to stay married.

The 1926 Citroen Caddy project involves lots of individually shaped angle brackets and steel braces which secure each twig of the wooden frame. They all need to be made from 3mm by 30mm steel stock. 

Paying someone to make each one would be absurdly expensive – every single bracket is tailored to its location and unique. They sport no common angle because the side ribs taper as they spread towards the boat-tail. Many of them are claw footed, connecting the vertical ribs of the side frame not only to the longitudinal planks that are fixed to the chassis, but also laterally across the floor.

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My magnificent bracket at the tip of the boat-tail.

In the absence of a local blacksmith in inner-city Melbourne (there was one in Collingwood until about 20 years ago!) I have to do all this myself, so I am forging ahead, sorry ... 

First step is to wrestle my giant cut-off saw off the garage shelf, which in itself risks a hernia. Each segment needs to be cut to size, no shortcuts possible, which if I was replicating the same item again and again – in effect rattling off a production run – would be more efficient. Then the ends to be welded get chamfered for the weld gutter, while the other ends get rounded shoulders on the linisher. Next step is to drill and countersink each screw hole, then to measure and establish the exact angle of each joint with an adjustable bevel gauge. Then the angle is accurately transferred to the clamps on my little welding table and the steel firmly gripped ready for the welder. 

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An overview of where the frame is at ...

My MIG skills improve with each bracket. Once welded and painted, any of the brackets that are performing a critical structural role – door pillars, the pointy bit of the boat-tail for instance – need a steel re-enforcing plate on the underside to make sure there is no prospect of movement over time. 

I have salvaged some stainless-steel sheets from an old barbecue that the neighbours tossed in the hard rubbish. Its shiny flanks are readily sacrificed to my cause, a few bucks saved along the way. The first bracket took half a day. Will I be any quicker by the time the last one is done? 

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