In this section,*** welding stresses and their effect on weld cracking*** is explained. Factors related to weldment failure include weld stresses, cracking, weld distortion, lamellar tearing, brittle fracture, fatigue cracking, weld design, and weld defects.

When weld metal is added to the metal being welded, it is essentially cast metal. Upon cooling, the weld metal shrinks to a greater extent than the base metal in contact with the weld, and because it is firmly fused, exerts a drawing action. This drawing action produces stresses in and about the weld which may cause warping, buckling, residual stresses, or other defects.

Stress relieving is a process for lowering residual stresses or decreasing their intensity. Where parts being welded are fixed too firmly to permit movement, or are not heated uniformly during the welding operation, stresses develop by the shrinking of the weld metal at the joint. Parts that cannot move to allow expansion and contraction must be heated uniformly during the welding operation. Stress must be relieved after the weld is completed. These precautions are important in welding aluminum, cast iron, high carbon steel, and other brittle metals, or metals with low strength at temperatures immediately below the melting point. Ductile materials such as bronze, brass, copper, and mild steel yield or stretch while in the plastic or soft conditions, and are less liable to crack. However, they may have undesirable stresses which tend to weaken the finished weld.

When stresses applied to a joint exceed the yield strength, the joint will yield in a plastic fashion so that stresses will be reduced to the yield point. This is normal in simple structures with stresses occurring in one direction on parts made of ductile materials. Shrinkage stresses due to normal heating and cooling do occur in all three dimensions. In a thin, flat plate, there will be tension stresses at right angles. As the plate becomes thicker, or in extremely thick materials, the stresses occur in three directions.

When simple stresses are imposed on thin, brittle materials, the material will fail in tension in a brittle manner and the fracture will exhibit little or no pliability. In such cases, there is no yield point for the material, since the yield strength and the ultimate strength are nearly the same. The failures that occur without plastic deformation are known as brittle failures. When two or more stresses occur in a ductile material, and particularly when stresses occur in three directions in a thick material, brittle fracture may occur.

Residual stresses also occur in castings, forgings, and hot rolled shapes. In forgings and castings, residual stresses occur as a result of the differential cooling that occurs. The outer portion of the part cools first, and the thicker and inner portion cools considerably faster. As the parts cool, they contract and pick up strength so that the portions that cool earlier go into a compressive load, and the portions that cool later go into a tensile stress mode. In complicated parts, the stresses may cause warpage.

Residual stresses are not always detrimental. They may have no effect or may have a beneficial effect on the service life of parts. Normally, the outer fibers of a part are subject to tensile loading and thus, with residual compression loading, there is a tendency to neutralize stress in the outer fibers of the part. An example of the use of residual stress is in the shrink fit of parts. A typical example is the cooling of sleeve bearings to insert them into machined holes, and allow them to expand to their normal dimension to retain then in the proper location. Sleeve bearings are used for heavy, Slow machinery, and are subject to compressive residual loading, keeping them within the hole. Large roller bearings are usually assembled to shafts by heating to expand them slightly so they will fit on the shaft, then allowing them to cool, to produce a tight assembly.

Residual stresses occur in all arc welds. The most common method of measuring stress is to produce weld specimens and then machine away specific amounts of metal, which are resisting the tensile stress in and adjacent to the weld. The movement that occurs is then measured. Another method is the use of grid marks or data points on the surface of weldments that can be measured in multiple directions. Cuts are made to reduce or release residual stresses from certain parts of the weld joint, and the measurements are taken again. The amount of the movement relates to the magnitude of the stresses. A third method utilizes extremely small strain gauges. The weldment is gradually and mechanically cut from adjoining portions to determine the change in internal stresses. With these methods, it is possible to establish patterns and actually determine amounts of stress within parts that were caused by the thermal effects of welds.

Figure 6-53 shows residual stresses in an edge weld. The metal close to the weld tends to expand in all directions when heated by the welding arc. This metal is restrained by adjacent cold metal and is slightly upset, or its thickness slightly increased, during this heating period. When the weld metal starts to cool, the upset area attempts to contract, but is again restrained by cooler metal. This results in the heated zone becoming stressed in tension. When the weld has cooled to room temperature, the weld metal and the adjacent base metal are under tensile stresses close to the yield strength. Therefore, there is a portion that is compressive, and beyond this, another tensile stress area. The two edges are in tensile residual stress with the center in compressive residual stress, as illustrated.

Edge welded joint - residual stress pattern.

The residual stresses in a butt weld joint made of relatively thin plate are more difficult to analyze. This is because the stresses occur in the longitudinal direction of the weld and perpendicular to the axis of the weld. The residual stresses within the weld are tensile in the longitudinal direction of the weld and the magnitude is at the yield strength of the metal. The base metal adjacent to the weld is also at yield stress, parallel to the weld and along most of the length of the weld. When moving away from the weld into the base metal, the residual stresses quickly fall to zero, and in order to maintain balance, change to compression. This is shown in figure 6-54. The residual stresses in the weld at right angles to the axis of the weld are tensile at the center of the plate and compressive at the ends. For thicker materials when the welds are made with multipasses, the relationship is different because of the many passes of the heat source. Except for single-pass, simple joint designs, the compressive and tensile residual stresses can only be estimated.

 Butt welded joint - residual stress pattern.

As each weld is made, it will contract as it solidifies and gain strength as the metal cools. As it contracts, it tends to pull, and this creates tensile stresses at and adjacent to the weld. Further from the weld or bead, the metal must remain in equilibrium, and therefore compressive stresses occur. In heavier weldments when restraint is involved, movement is not possible, and residual stresses are of a higher magnitude. In a multipass single-groove weld, the first weld or root pass originally creates a tensile stress. The second, third, and fourth passes contract and cause a compressive load in the root pass. As passes are made until the weld is finished, the top passes will be in tensile load, the center of the plate in compression, and the root pass will have tensile residual stress.

Residual stresses can be decreased in several ways, as described below:

If the weld is stressed by a load beyond its yield, strength plastic deformation will occur and the stresses will be more uniform, but are still located at the yield point of the metal. This will not eliminate residual stresses, but will create a more uniform stress pattern. Another way to reduce high or peak residual stresses is by means of loading or stretching the weld by heating adjacent areas, causing them to expand. The heat reduces the yield strength of the weld metal and the expansion will tend to reduce peak residual stresses within the weld. This method also makes the stress pattern at the weld area more uniform.

High residual stresses can be reduced by stress relief heat treatment. With heat treatment, the weldment is uniformly heated to an elevated temperature, at which the yield strength of the metal is greatly reduced. The weldment is then allowed to cool slowly and uniformly so that the temperature differential between parts is minor. The cooling will be uniform and a uniform low stress pattern will develop within the weldment.

High-temperature preheating can also reduce residual stress, since the entire weldment is at a relatively high temperature, and will cool more or less uniformly from that temperature and so reduce peak residual stresses.

Residual stresses also contribute to weld cracking. Weld cracking sometimes occurs during the manufacture of the weldment or shortly after the weldment is completed. Cracking occurs due to many reasons and may occur years after the weldment is completed. Cracks are the most serious defects that occur in welds or weld joints in weldments. Cracks are not permitted in most weldments, particularly those subject to low-temperature when the failure of the weldment will endanger life.

Weld cracking that occurs during or shortly after the fabrication of the weldment can be classified as hot cracking or cold cracking. In addition, weld may crack in the weld metal or in the base metal adjacent to welds metal, usually in the heat-affected zone.

Welds crack for many reasons, including the following:

  1. Insufficient weld metal cross section to sustain the loads involved.
  2. Insufficient ductility of weld metal to yield under stresses involved.
  3. Under-bead cracking due to hydrogen pickup in a hardenable type of base material.

Restraint and residual stresses are the main causes of weld cracking during the fabrication of a weldment. Weld restraint can come from several factors, including the stiffness or rigidity of the weldment itself. Weld metal shrinks as it cools, and if the parts being welded cannot move with respect to one another and the weld metal has insufficient ductility, a crack will result. Movement of welds may impose high loads on other welds and cause them to crack during fabrication. A more ductile filler material should be used, or the weld should be made with sufficient cross-sectional area so that as it cools, it will have enough strength to withstand cracking tendencies. Typical weld cracks occur in the root pass when the parts are unable to move.

Rapid cooling of the weld deposit is also responsible for weld cracking. If the base metal being joined is cold and the weld is small, it will cool quickly. Shrinkage will also occur quickly, and cracking can occur. If the parts being joined are preheated even slightly, the cooling rate will be lower and cracking can be eliminated.

Alloy or carbon content of base material can also affect cracking. When a weld is made with higher-carbon or higher-alloy base material, a certain amount of the base material is melted and mixed with the electrode to produce the weld metal. The resulting weld metal has higher carbon and alloy content. It may have higher strength, but it has less ductility. As it shrinks, it may not have enough ductility to cause plastic deformation, and cracking may occur.

Hydrogen pickup in the weld metal and in the heat-affected zone can also cause cracking. When using cellulose-covered electrodes or when hydrogen is present because of damp gas, damp flux, or hydrocarbon surface materials, the hydrogen in the arc atmosphere will be absorbed in the molten weld metal and in adjoining high-temperature base metal. As the metal cools, it will reject the hydrogen, and if there is enough restraint, cracking can occur. This type of cracking can be reduced by increasing preheat, reducing restraint, and eliminating hydrogen from the arc atmosphere.

When cracking is in the heat-affected zone or if cracking is delayed, the cause is usually hydrogen pickup in the weld metal and the heat-affected zone of the base metal. The presence of higher-carbon materials or high alloy in the base metal can also be a cause. When welding high-alloy or high-carbon steels, the buttering technique can be used to prevent cracking. This involves surf acing the weld face of the joint with a weld metal that is much lower in carbon or alloy content than the base metal. The weld is then made between the deposited surfacing material and avoids the carbon and alloy pickup in the weld metal, so a more ductile weld deposit is made. Total joint strength must still be great enough to meet design requirements. Underbead cracking can be reduced by the use of low-hydrogen processes and filler metals. The use of preheat reduces the rate of cooling, which tends to decrease the possibility of cracking.

Stress Relieving Methods

Stress relieving in steel welds may be accomplished by preheating between 800 and 1450°F (427 and 788°C), depending on the material, and then slowly cooling. Cooling under some conditions may take 10 to 12 hours. Small pieces, such as butt welded high speed tool tips, may be annealed by putting them in a box of fire resistant material and cooling for 24 hours. In stress relieving mild steel, heating the completed weld for 1 hour per 1.00 in. (2.54 cm) of thickness is common practice. On this basis, steel 1/4 in. (0.64 cm) thick should be preheated for 15 minutes at the stress relieving temperature.

Peening is another method of relieving stress on a finished weld, usually with compressed air and a roughing or peening tool. However, excessive peening may cause brittleness or hardening of the finished weld and may actually cause cracking.

Preheating facilitates welding in many cases. It prevents cracking in the heat affected zone, particularly on the first passes of the weld metal. If proper preheating times and temperatures are used, the cooling rate is slowed sufficiently to prevent the formation of hard martensite, which causes cracking. Table 6-1 lists preheating temperatures of specific metals.

Preheating temperatures to relieve welding stresses and cracking.

 The need for preheating steels and other metals is increased under the following conditions:

  1. When the temperature of the part or surrounding atmosphere is at or below freezing.
  2. When the diameter of the welding rod is small in comparison to thickness of the metal being joined.
  3. When welding speed is high.
  4. When the shape and design of the parts being welded are complicated.
  5. When there is a great difference in mass of the parts being welded.
  6. When welding steels with a high carbon, low manganese, or other alloy content.
  7. When steel being welded tends to harden when cooled in air from the welding temperature.

The following general procedures can be used to relieve stress and to reduce cracking:

  1. Use ductile weld metal.
  2. Avoid extremely high restraint or residual stresses.
  3. Revise welding procedures to reduce restraint.
  4. Utilize low-alloy and low-carbon materials.
  5. Reduce the cooling rate by use of preheat.
  6. Utilize low-hydrogen welding processes and filler metals.
  7. When welds are too small for the service intended, they will probably crack. The welder should ensure that the size of the welds are not smaller than the minimum weld size designated for different thicknesses of steel sections.