Electricity and rain sound very contradictory and rather scary, right? Well, welding is all about electricity — an electric arc melts the electrode, heats the base metals and joins them together. While there are definitely risks involved in welding in the rain, it’s not as scary as it might seem.
Stick welding can generally be done in the rain or any wet condition. However, if you’re wondering whether it’s SAFE to stick weld in the rain, then this article will help you out.
Can You Stick Weld In the Rain?
If you’re a production welder or have a jobthat must get done on time, and the weather acts up, then you’ll probably be faced with stick welding in the rain. It could just start raining while you’re finishing an emergency weld — no option but to continue!
Stick welding definitely works if you must weld in the rain. The reason it works is it uses a flux-coated electrode that creates a white hot expanding gas cloud around the weld. As the gas-shielded area around the arc gets so hot with stick welding, rain water around it just vaporizes. This creates a dry area for the weld arc to melt the metal together, even in the rain.
Water may be only one of the factors you have to deal with when it’s raining. In wet conditions you often get rust, condensation, mud and ice on the pieces you need to weld. Stick welders (particularly high amperage models) are great for melting through these surface contaminants and laying down a strong weld.
But this isn’t he whole story. There are other considerations when you’re faced with stick welding in the rain.
Is Stick Welding In the Rain Illegal?
Technically, NO, stick welding in the rain isn’t illegal. If you’re an employee on a welding job, OSHA rules do not make it illegal for your employer to require you weld in wet conditions. However, OSHA does require employers to provide adequate protective equipment to keep their employees safe in adverse working conditions.
The OSHA rules that address welding equipment and how it’s used in the rain are described as follows:
29 CFR 1926.351 Arc Welding and Cutting. In general, stick arc welders used in the rain:
- Must be properly grounded
- Cannot use improperly shielded or worn cables
- Electrode holders cannot be dipped in water
- Must be shielded by noncombustible or flameproof screens
In short, none of the OSHA rules make it illegal to stick weld in the rain.
How To Safely Weld In the Rain?
Stick welding in a wet situation is possible. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely safe or as safe as welding in the dry. You must consider the following safety precautions before you stick weld in the rain.
Review the Situation First
The first thing to consider before you start welding in the rain is the situation around you.
If the wind and rain are blowing forcefully and you can barely can stand in the wind, you definitely should not stick weldin. At a minimum your welds will be inaccurate and weak. Driving rain from the side will infiltrate your welding machine and welding tent quickly, leaving you exposed to shock.
Likewise, stick welding in a thunderstorm is a very bad idea. The worst situation could be a lightning strike; using high powered grounded electrical equipment in a lightning storm is asking for it. Never weld if lightning strikes are happening in the area.
Also consider your footing and the safety of the spot you’re welding in. Stick welding on a slippery, unstable muddy slope is a bad idea. You need stable footing for yourself and the ability to secure the pieces so you can weld them. If either you or the workpieces are prone to sliding, then find a different spot to weld or simply pass.
In a light rain with little wind on flat ground, you’re in a much safer place to weld with some basic precautions.
Get Shelter: Bring the Job Inside or Get a Welding Tent
If you must get the job done despite the weather, the best thing to do is bring the job inside if the work pieces are mobile. If the welding piece is small enough to move around, getting it inside is pretty easy.
Or you can set up a welding tent over the job to keep the rain and wind at bay. This is often the only solution if the workpiece is immobile (e.g. a pipeline or bridge), or it’s simply too large or heavy to move around. A waterproof welding tent should be good enough to protect the machine, the workpieces and you from rain and sleet.
Use Proper Rain Attire
Stick welding in rainy situations isn’t easy, but with the proper rain gear you can keep water off your body, which significantly reduces the dangers.
A rain poncho with an extended hood that covers your face and head is essential. Keeping rain off your welding helmet, head and neck allows you to concentrate on the weld.
Even better is a full rubber rain suit. This creates a protective non-conductive layer between your body and the welding arc and welding machine. This substantially reduces the possibility of electrocution.
Finally, use a pair of rubber gloves under your leather welding gloves and a pair of rubber shoe covers over your boots. These rubber barriers will help avoid electrical shock.
Check the Ground Clamp and Lead
Rain can be most lethal if your stick welding machine has a poor ground connection. If your ground clamp or ground lead cable are in bad shape, the arc can easily jump to the closest ground in the rain. This might be your body that suddenly has 220 amps passing through it to the ground!
It’s essential to inspect your welder’s ground clamp and lead for any cracks or loose parts that can cause a short. Repair any flaws or replace the part to prevent any water from getting inside and causing an ground short arc.
It’s also important to make sure you have metal-to-metal contact between your ground clamp and the workpiece. If there is dirt, mud or burnt surfaces on the ground clamp, or the workpiece grounding spot isn’t properly cleaned up, then you are raising the risk of a bad short and/or electrocution.
Preheat the Metal
Heavy rain can make it difficult to weld properly because the piece can get too wet. This often happens in exposed joints where water flows into your welding spot, rather than away. It can also happen on flat surfaces where the water pools.
One way to handle this and get a good weld is to preheat the piece with a torch. This will evaporate the water on the spot and expose a dry area to weld on. The downside of preheating is it can only evaporate so much water — if the rain is pouring down or water is pooling in the weld area, the torch may just create a lot of steam that obscures the weld.
Postpone the Job
If it’s raining heavily, lightning is striking in the vicinity, or the wind is too strong to stand still, you should strongly consider postponing the job!
Waiting until you have better conditions to stick weld in is the number one best way to avoid electrical accidents. Your safety and the safety of those around you comes before the job — something we often forget when working under the gun.
Ask any experienced welder if it’s okay to stick weld in the rain; they will tell you they’ve been doing it for the last 20 years with no problem. However, it’s better to know the risk factors and deal with them properly, rather than relying on industry lore as a blanket rule.
Be aware of your situation, take the right precautions and postpone the job if the weather is too unfavorable to stick weld in the rain. After all, it’s your life that you need to protect.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.