1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: New Toys and Fuel Inlet Pipes

The V-berth head (AKA the Throne Room) is progressing, but a lot slower than I’d hoped. I still think it’ll be done before the end of April, but the honey-do list is long and there’s lots of stuff on it that has to be done to splash later this year. I’ve got a couple of welding projects that needed doing, like relocating the aluminum fuel tank fills and fabbing the stainless tube fuel fills and exhaust risers. My Millermatic 35 and Trailblazer 280NT weren’t going to do the trick. Actually, the Trailblazer could have provided the power, but I would have had to buy a TIG rig for it. The thing is, the Trailblazer’s an engine-drive welder, and the Onan gas engine in it is pretty loud. It’s fine in the boatyard, where there are no other sources of 220v power. But when I want to weld something at home on the bench, even ear muffs don’t stifle the racket.

So, with all of that rationalizing out of the way, I went and got myself an AHP AlphaTIG 200X (tigersalesco@gmail.com). The results were…interesting…until I figured out the settings. There are a lot more things to adjust on this, with high frequency start and run, pulse, and even settings to keep the gas flowing after you stop welding, which I learned is critical for stainless.

Fresh out of the box

Fresh out of the box

AHP is an inverter TIG, which is a LOT lighter than transformer welders. For comparison’s sake, this weighs around 70lbs. My Millermatic 35 weighs 350. Granted, the Miller is a wire feed welder, but most of the weight difference is attributed to transformer vs inverter. Both machines are rated for 200A max output. The AHP has a neat feature where it’ll run off of 120 or 220, though the max amps drop to 149 with 120v input. Plus, since the input power goes through an inverter, what comes out the other end can be adjusted for amps as well as frequency; you’re not stuck with 60hz juice. After skimming through the user’s manual, I did what any right-thinking man would do: I fired that bad boy up and tried to weld…tried being the key word.

Lotsa dials with words that probably mean something

Lotsa dials with words that probably mean something

I downloaded the Miller Welding App, which gives you a ballpark idea of where the main settings should be given the type and thickness of metal you’re working with.

Tillman TIG gloves

Tillman TIG gloves–watch the sizes

I can’t remember ever buying a set of gloves that were smaller than Large. Most of the time, I get XL because most manufacturers’ idea of Large can be a bit too tight. But Tillman TIG gloves are Made In USA, and they’re sized for American welders! They were actually a bit too big, but I figured I’d use them anyway. Turns out that was a bad idea. With TIG, you feed the filler rod in with one hand while the other holds the torch. Holding the torch with big gloves is no problem, but with the oversized gloves on I couldn’t manipulate and advance the filler rod well at all. I checked out Tillman’s size chart (RTFM, eh?) and ordered Medium instead…fits perfectly.

1/16" filler rod from a spoolgun 1# roll

1/16″ filler rod from a spoolgun 1# roll

I had a couple of 1# rolls of 1/16″ 5356 aluminum alloy that were leftover from the V-strut installation, so I cut off 30 inches at a time, straightened them out, and used them for TIG filler. I suspect that as a rank beginner, it would be best for me to use 4043, but I only have that in 0.035 spoolgun wire, and that’s way too small.

First attempt in the upper left

First attempt in the upper left

My first attempt resulted in a bunch of carbon…turned out the gas was on too low. Then I kept sticking the tungsten into the plate. Keeping it 1/16″ away while holding filler rod in the other hand is a challenge. Normally, I use my left hand to steady my right when MIG welding. It gets even more complicated because the AHP comes with a foot pedal that basically works like a throttle. Mash the gas, and it puts out the max amps you set on the dial. Let off on the pedal though, and the arc cools down accordingly. It’s all super neato stuff, but this is very, very different from anything I’ve done before, and I’m no spring chicken. Old dogs, new tricks…you know the drill.

After a couple of dozen tries, though, I was able to get good penetration on 3/16″ plate (leftovers from the side decks and aft enclosure) and my beads were looking pretty close. I’ve never had a steady welding hand, so my beads tend to wander no matter what process I’m using, but it was good to finally get past the carbon fouled, stone cold mess I made with the first few attempts.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice, practice, practice

I should also note that this leftover plate has been treated poorly. It sat outside for a while, then got tossed in a box in a dusty part of my garage. All I did was hit it with a stainless brush before welding, and aluminum is very sensitive to contamination. But at this stage of the game, I was just trying to get my right hand to hold the torch steady and move in a straight line while my left hand dipped the filler and my foot worked the throttle to keep the puddle going.

Sharpening the tungsten

Sharpening the tungsten

I kept dipping the tungsten tip into the weld, which messes up the arc…makes it very erratic and not focused. So I repeatedly had to sharpen the tungsten. I found that a cordless drill a buddy gave me after the bastard thieves cleaned me out in 2014 worked really well to get a consistently ground point.

After several hours playing with aluminum, I switched over to stainless. I found stainless to be a lot easier to weld, so I got ambitious and started fabbing my fuel fills.

1-1/2" tube to 45° elbow to 2-3/8" cone

1-1/2″ tube to 45° elbow to 2-3/8″ cone

First pass without filler

First pass without filler

Without filler, stainless TIG is very similar to plain steel with an oxy acetylene torch. The heat just comes from electricity rather than flame. In addition to my general lack of skills, I found it very challenging to get a smooth pass working around the circumference of the tubing. Also, the necessity of post-weld argon flow for stainless was new to me. Even after you stop welding, without a constant argon shield while the metal is red-hot, critical components of the stainless alloy oxidize out, leaving not-so-stainless steel behind. The first welds were very gray because I had inadequate post-flow. For the fuel tank fills that’s not a huge issue, since the first time I fill the tanks the diesel will pickle the inside of the tube and prevent corrosion. But I eventually read the AHP manual (imagine that!) and ran the post-flow dial up to 10 seconds on the machine.

ShopSmith bandsaw is too small...must buy new toy

ShopSmith bandsaw is too small…must buy new toy

I had planned to use my ShopSmith bandsaw to make all of my cuts, since it’s miter gauge permits very accurate 90° cuts. But I wasn’t thinking about its 11″ depth limit. The Sharpie mark to the right of the bandsaw blade is where I needed to cut. Sooo…I need a metal cutting bandsaw!

I also got a new welding stand, since I had more toys on the way

I also got a new welding stand, since I had more toys on the way

Oh MAN! It's never easy...

Oh MAN! It’s never easy…

I’d heard good things about Harbor Freight bandsaws for a while, as far as bang-for-the-buck goes, so that’s the one I bought. Unfortunately, the saw arrived damaged. It had been dropped motor-end down during transit, severely denting the motor end cover. The motor wouldn’t turn by hand, so I contacted HF for a return. But the box and the packing was destroyed, too, and they wouldn’t pay for a new box. So I took off the damaged motor end cap and found that the motor worked fine and the fan blades inside were undamaged. I contacted HF again and asked how much they’d refund me if I kept it as-is. The nice lady said 20% was the best she could do. So I beat the cover back into shape, painted it with some rattle can I had laying around, and reinstalled it. With the discount coupon from the initial purchase and the refund for damage, I got the saw for $160…not bad!

New Harbor Freight 4x6 bandsaw...not the best, but it'll do

New Harbor Freight 4×6 bandsaw…not the best, but it’ll do

Cuts OK, but the cuts aren't perfectly square

Cuts OK, but the cuts aren’t perfectly square

I was able to true up the cuts with a sander, but for the exhaust system I’m going to have to mess around with this thing and get it cutting closer to true.

Need to figure out where the 90° elbow goes

Need to figure out where the 90° elbow goes

With the upper end fitted where it will go...

With the upper end fitted where it will go…

Sharpie marks on the spray foam insulation tell me roughly where everything should go.

On the lower end, the 90° elbow needs to go right here

On the lower end, the 90° elbow needs to go right here

Register marks serve as a reminder

Register marks serve as a reminder

Back at the shop, I used the new HF bandsaw to cut the long, straight tube off at the proper length.

Back at the shop, line up the register marks

Line up the register marks

Tack in several places

Tack in several places

DC 70 amps with 10 second post-flow

DC 70 amps with 10 second post-flow

Not professional grade, but I've seen worse

Not professional grade, but I’ve seen worse

Next, tack the 2-3/8" pipe

Next, tack and weld the 2-3/8″ pipe

And done! Lots better than the original Schedule 40 pipe

And done!

The stainless tube is lots better than the original Schedule 40 pipe. Both sides weigh as much as just one of the original, galvanized steel pipes. There’s plenty of leftover tubing, and I don’t see many more uses for that odd 2-3/8″ tubing that matched the OE Chris Craft fuel fills. So I’ll use that to practice, practice, practice before taking on the exhaust risers.

Next up on our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: The V-berth “Throne Room” IV



5 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: New Toys and Fuel Inlet Pipes

  1. Ted says:

    If you really want to maintain the integrity of stainless steel, you need to be purging the inside of the tubes as well when welding. Otherwise you’ll get “sugar” which is damaged stainless, as you mentioned previously.

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Thanks, Ted.
      I did a redneck purge (hit the foot pedal and let argon fill the tube from the torch) for the fuel inlets, but I plan on using Solar Flux for everything else I do. As a hobbyist, I can’t justify the cost of a dual outlet regulator and I don’t need another argon bottle. Well, of course, I need another one, but convincing the missus would be a tough sell. 😉 Since the diesel will pickle the interior of the fuel inlet pipes, I doubt corrosion will be a problem in my lifetime. For the exhaust, it’s a completely different story. So I’ll be using the Solar Flux on that.

  2. Doug says:

    Re: “sharpening the tungsten”. Be careful not to create dust you can breathe. Almost all tungsten carbide rods have cobalt in them to max the hardness. Check with your rod supplier, I think a few have cobalt free tungsten rods. When you sharpen them on a wheel you can breathe dust with cobalt in it, which is radioactive and very bad to breathe. Like anything, a little is probably OK, but keep it up over time and it’ll get to you.
    I sharpen tungsten TIG points with a small diamond grinder wheel that is wet and at very, very low speed so it doesn’t spin drops off the wheel. Even the slurry from that will dry into a pile of dust that could then get into the air. Best to clean it all with water and throw away all paper towels with wet or dry stuff. Same goes for using a shop vac on tungsten dust, it’ll get inside and get back into the air when you change filters. gott’a do it wet and throw filters away.

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