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What is Welding Cable and How Do I Know Which to Buy?
Whether we like it or not, sometimes our machines fall apart. The wires fail to send electricity through them to power the machine or some other mechanical breakage causes the machine to malfunction. Whatever the situation, having to spend the sudden extra money to replace a machine is costly, stressful and frustrating.
Fortunately, all is not lost. In some situations, the welding cable is to blame for the machine’s inability to function properly. Stress, overuse or some other outside force causes the wires leading up from the outlet to the machine to break.
When you are troubleshooting your welding unit, check the wires and cables for any sign of fraying, exposed wires or deep creases in the wire covering. If you notice any damage, then odds are that your welding cable does not function as a result of its wires. As long as you know what you are doing or have a handy guide to assist you, you can easily replace and the wire without having to spend excess money on a brand new arc welder.
Welding cable comes in a sizable selection of thickness, length of cable, durabilities and a host of other features. Unless you know specifically what you need, you are sure to become lost in the sea of cables. If you’re purchasing in person, you might get lucky enough to find someone who knows more about welding cables and can better assist you, but if you need to shop online, you will have to spend some time doing your research and understand the different restrictions and requirements with welding cables.
What is Welding Cable?
If you’ve never had to replace your welding cable or are new to the world of welding, you’ll most likely be at a loss as to what welding cable is. On the surface, it is the connection from the outlet to the machine that allows the electrical currents to pass through. It is the most popular form of cable in the welding community, and it has the most portability and versatility compared to other types of cable.
Even so, welding cables are a little more complex than they may appear on the surface. When you arrive at your local home improvement store or if you take your chances online, odds are that you’ll find yourself immediately overwhelmed by the choices in front of you.
Coating and Insulation
Welding cable comes with four different types of coating or insulation material:
- EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer)
- CPE (chlorinated polyethylene)
Typically, you will find welding cable made from the first two materials, neoprene and EPDM, although you may also see the name thermoset as an alternative for these two. If you are specifically looking for an EPDM-coated welding cable, you can verify what type of thermoset the cable uses.
Because manufacturers tend to refer to neoprene and EPDM as thermosets, they function almost identically. Both of these materials are highly flexible, so you can move them around a workshop or obstacles without having to worry too much about resistance. These two coatings are also highly resistant to harsh weather, water, moisture and abrasions. However, when it comes to gas or petroleum-based liquid exposure, these two coatings do not hold up. If you are working in an environment with either element, you should consider using an alternative coating.
PVC is much stiffer than neoprene and EPDM. That being said, the stiffness gives the welding cable more durability and better resistance to cuts, tears and wire bends. If you find yourself being more aggressive on your cables than you would prefer, you might want to consider opting for the PVC welding cable. Alternatively, if you spend more time inside a workshop welding, then you can utilize the PVC coating.
The welding cable that you will specifically use for welding machines will come with a copper conductor. Copper is one of the more flexible and durable metals when it comes to conducting electricity and its ability to withstand heat. When you run a current through the copper cable, the electricity heats the copper, which causes the welding machine to have the heat it requires to weld. Copper can easily withstand most welding situations without difficulties.
Knowing Which Welding Cable to Purchase
Choosing which welding cable you need is no easy feat. Do not expect to arrive at a home improvement store and decide what you need from there. Knowing which welding cable you need to purchase ahead of time will save you time and frustration as you seek out the cable you need.
When it comes to identifying exactly what type of cable you require, you will have to take into account several different factors beforehand.
Before you even begin to seek out a welding cable, you must know exactly what rating you need your cable to adhere to. You will want a cable rated to the correct voltage you require and that can carry the electrical current through safely and effectively. When you determine what voltage you need, you will have to ensure that your equipment can also safely and adequately utilize that energy.
Knowing what type of rating you need requires extensive knowledge of the task ahead of you. You will need to have a deep understanding of the welding project, the power needed and the rating of the welding cable. Knowing this information is entirely up to you, and while it might be tempting to purchase your welding cable blind to this knowledge, you should take the time to figure out what rating you will need.
You might think that the length of the welding cable shouldn’t matter too much. You would think that the longer the cable the better. It will allow you to have better access to the areas around you while welding. However, the opposite is better. You want a welding cable that is close to the exact length you’ll need from the outlet to the item you are welding. In other words, the shorter the welding cable, the better.
When you need to buy a new welding cable, you will need to know the total length of the welding circuit. This length is the entire path that the electricity will have to travel while in use. The circuit includes the distance from the welding machine, welding turn or electrode holder, the work cable, the work clamp and the stick electrode or wire.
In most situations, you’ll have two cables — one that connects the welder to the electrode and another that connects the welder to the work clamp. The electrical current has to travel between both of these cables and output enough energy by the time you need it.
All welding cable uses copper because of its low resistance. However, some resistance still exists. Longer welding cables must send the electrical current through more copper, which causes the initial amperage to decrease by the time it reaches the end of the line. Shorter cables do not lose as much because the current has to travel a much shorter distance.
Ampacity, Gauge and Thickness
The ampacity of your welding cable refers to the maximum amount of electrical current that the cable can safely transfer. The higher the ampacity, the more current the welding cable can conduct. If you require a certain amperage to properly perform your task, make sure that the cable can reach the maximum.
Ampacity also tells you how much current your welding cable can withstand before it begins to overheat and shut down. You might also see the ampacity referred to as a capacity rating. Capacity rating is the percentage of current your welding cable can use within a ten-minute period before it overheats and shuts down. The alternative name is essentially the same information, but you’ll see it as a percentage rather than a number with the abbreviation AWG.
The length of the cable also plays a direct role in how much amperage you have at the end of the line. The longer the cable, the less amperage you will have at the end. If you need a longer cable, you should purchase one that has a higher amperage, so by the time it reaches the arc welder, you will have enough amps.
On the other hand, you can choose to use a shorter-length cable to achieve similar results. In this case, you should get as close to the amperage you need with the cable.
The gauge of your welding cable is another name for the thickness and amount of amperages that the cable can conduct. The higher the gauge, the thicker the cable and the more you can conduct.
Flexibility and Stranding
For a welding cable, flexibility is one of the most important aspects to consider. Depending on the environment that you are working in, you will want to consider whether or not you require a welding cable that is more flexible to help you maneuver around objects, or if you can utilize a less flexible one.
However, you should always consider a more flexible welding cable over a stiffer one. While welding, you are constantly moving around, and your welding cable needs to be able to keep up with the constant movement.
For a welding cable, the strand count has a direct connection to the flexibility of the copper wire inside the cable. The more copper strands inside the cable, the more flexible the cable becomes. As manufacturers add more strands, the thickness of the welding cable remains the same, but the strands become thinner and give the cable more durability, flexibility and higher AWG.
When you shop for welding cable, you’ll notice two primary pieces of information. You’ll see either Class K or Class M. The class refers to the strand count of the cable. Class K has a smaller strand count and comes with a 30 AWG, but it is also the most commonly used class. Class M will have more strands and comes with 34 AWG. As such, the higher the AWG, the more durable and flexible the cable will be.
Be cautious, as most companies will advertise their standard welding cable as Super-Flex or Ultra Flex when they are typically selling a normal count welding cable.
You will have to take into account the situation, project type and environment that you will be working in. Depending on the situation, you should opt for a welding cable that’s highly resistant to outside forces or accidental bending and cutting.
The most common insulation materials with welding cables are neoprene, EPDM, CPE and PVC. Each one has its own unique set of resistances and durability. Before you purchase any welding cable, always double-check what material the insulation is and whether it will be the best option for your welding project.
You will have to factor in the number of amps you need and ensure that the cable can resist and process it. You should consider workplace temperature, wet conditions, muddy conditions, exposer to any dirt, oil and other dangerous chemicals. You do not want a coating that deteriorates against a certain chemical. This situation can lead to exposed copper wires, which can cause fires or electrocution.
In general, color does not have a direct effect on the use of the wire. More than anything, you will want different color welding cables, so you can more easily identify which cable you have connected to which machine. Having designated colors will help in emergencies when you have to unplug or identify which welding cable or machine is causing the malfunction.
You can usually find welding cables in a yellow, blue, green, red or black insulation sleeve color. Some welding cables, such as a Class M UL/CSA 600V welding cable, have their own distinct color. In the instance of the Class M cable, it typically comes in orange-coated insulation.
Get the Welding Cable You Need With WesBell Electronics
Nothing is more frustrating than finding yourself in a situation where you are unable to weld because you don’t have the proper welding cable on hand or your local home improvement store does not carry the specific cable you need. Rather than travel around to various stores last minute and halt the process of your project, use the above information to deduce which type of cable will best work for you and purchase it ahead of time.
Instead of stressing over the welding cable, purchase it online so you’ll always have it available when you need it.
WesBell Electronics has a wide variety of different welding cables that are sure to fit any of your needs. WesBell offers a high-quality bulk cable that allows you to determine your length as needed. Alternatively, if you know the information beforehand, we are more than willing to provide you with the necessary pieces.
Don’t hesitate to contact us today!