Welding of Nickel Alloys


Nickel alloys can be joined reliably by all types of welding processes or methods, with the exception of forge welding and oxyacetylene welding. The most widely employed processes for welding the non-age-hardenable (solid-solution-strengthened) wrought nickel alloys are gas-tungsten arc welding (GTAW), gas-metal arc welding (GMAW), and shielded metal arc welding (SMAW). Submerged arc welding (SAW) and electroslag welding (ESW) have limited applicability

Nickel alloys can be joined reliably by all types of welding processes or methods, with the exception of forge welding and oxyacetylene welding. The wrought nickel alloys can be welded under conditions similar to those used to weld austenitic stainless steels. Cast nickel alloys, particularly those with a high silicon content, present difficulties in welding.

The most widely employed processes for welding the non-age-hardenable (solid-solution-strengthened) wrought nickel alloys are gas-tungsten arc welding (GTAW), gas-metal arc welding (GMAW), and shielded metal arc welding (SMAW). Submerged arc welding (SAW) and electroslag welding (ESW) have limited applicability, as does arc plasma welding (PAW). Although the GTAW process is preferred for welding the precipitation-hardenable alloys, both the GMAW and SMAW processes are also used.

Nickel alloys are usually welded in the solution-treated condition. Precipitation-hardenable (PH) alloys should be annealed before welding if they have undergone any operations that introduce high residual stresses.

Postweld Treatment. No postweld treatment, either thermal or chemical, is required to maintain or restore corrosion resistance, although in some cases a full solution anneal will improve corrosion resistance. Heat treatment may be necessary to meet specification requirements, such as stress relief of a fabricated structure to avoid age hardening or stress-corrosion cracking (SCC) of the weldment in hydrofluoric acid vapor or caustic soda. If welding induces moderate-to-high residual stresses, then the PH alloys would require a stress-relief anneal after welding and before aging.

Nickel and nickel alloys are susceptible to embrittlement by lead, sulfur, phosphorus, and other low-melting-point elements. These materials can exist in grease, oil, paint, marking crayons or inks, forming lubricants, cutting fluids, shop dirt, and processing chemicals.

Work-pieces must be completely free of foreign material before they are heated or welded. Shop dirt, oil and grease can be removed by either vapor degreasing or swabbing with acetone or another nontoxic solvent. Paint and other materials that are not soluble in degreasing solvents may require the use of methylene chloride, alkaline cleaners, or special proprietary compounds. If alkaline cleaners that contain sodium carbonate are used, then the cleaners themselves must be removed prior to welding. Spraying or scrubbing with hot water is recommended. Marking ink can usually be removed with alcohol.

Processing material that has become embedded in the work metal can be removed by grinding, abrasive blasting, and swabbing with 10% HCl solution, followed by a thorough water wash. Oxides must also be removed from the area involved in the welding operation, primarily because of the difference between the oxide and base metal melting points. Oxides are normally removed by grinding, machining, abrasive blasting or pickling.

Nickel alloys, both cast and wrought and either solid-solution-strengthened or precipitation-hardenable, can be welded by the GTAW process. The addition of filler is usually recommended. Direct current electrode negative (DCEN) is recommended for both manual and machine welding.

Shielding Gas. Either argon or helium, or a mixture of the two, is used as a shielding gas for welding nickel and nickel alloys. Additions of oxygen, carbon dioxide, or nitrogen to argon gas will usually cause porosity or erosion of the electrode. Argon with small quantities of hydrogen (typically 5%) can be used and may help avoid porosity in pure nickel, as well as aid in reducing oxide formation during welding.

Welding of Precipitation Hardenable Alloys

The PH alloys require special welding procedures because of their susceptibility to cracking. Cracks can occur in the base-metal heat-affected zone (HAZ) upon aging or in service at temperatures above the aging temperature, as a result of residual welding stress and stress induced by precipitation.

Before welding these alloys, a full-solution anneal is usually performed. After welding, the appropriate aging heat treatment is performed. To further improve alloy properties, a full anneal after welding, followed by a postweld heat treatment, can be incorporated in the welding procedure.

Preweld and Postweld Treatments. Any part that has been subjected to severe bending, drawing or other forming operations should be annealed before welding. If possible, heating should be done in a controlled atmosphere furnace to limit oxidation and minimize subsequent surface cleaning.

General Welding Procedures. Precipitation-hardenable alloys are usually welded by the GTAW process, but SMAW and GMAW processes are also applicable. Heat input during the welding operations should be held to a moderately low level in order to obtain the highest possible joint efficiency and minimize the extent of the HAZ. For multiple-bead or multiple-layer welds, many narrow stringer beads should be used, rather than a few large, heavy beads. Any oxides that form during welding should be removed by abrasive blasting or grinding. If such films are not removed as they accumulate on multiple-pass welds, then they can become thick enough to inhibit weld fusion and produce unacceptable laminar type oxide stringers along the weld axis.

Welding of Cast Nickel Alloys

Cast nickel alloys can be joined by the GTAW, GMAW and SMAW processes. For optimum results, casting should be solution annealed before welding to relieve some of the casting stresses and provide some homogenization of the cast structure. Light peening of solidified metal after the first pass will relieve stresses and, thus, reduce cracking at the junction of the weld metal and the cast metal. The peening of the subsequent passes is of little, if any, benefit. Stress relieving after welding is also desirable.

Minimizing Weld Defects

The defects and metallurgical difficulties encountered in the arc welding of nickel include:
  • Porosity
  • Susceptibility to high-temperature embrittlement by sulfur and other contaminants
  • Cracking in the weld bead, caused by high heat input and excessive welding speeds
  • Stress-corrosion cracking in service.
Porosity. Oxygen carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or hydrogen can cause porosity in welds. In the SMAW and SAW processes porosity can be minimized by using electrodes that contain deoxidizing or nitride forming elements, such as aluminum and titanium. These elements have a strong affinity for oxygen and nitrogen and form stable compounds with them. Presence of deoxidizers in either type of electrode serves to reduce porosity. In addition, porosity is much less likely to occur in chromium-bearing nickel alloys than in non-chromium-bearing alloys.

In the GMAW and GTAW processes, porosity can be avoided by preventing the access of air to the molten weld metal. Gas backing on the underside of the weld is sometimes used. In the GTAW process the use of argon with up to 10% H2 as a shielding gas helps to prevent porosity. Bubbles of hydrogen that form in the weld pool gather the diffusing hydrogen. Too much hydrogen (>15%) in the shielding gas can result in the hydrogen porosity.

Cracking. Hot shortness of welds can result from contamination by sulfur, lead, phosphorus, cadmium, zinc, tin, silver, boron, bismuth, or any other low-melting-point elements, which form intergranular films and cause severe liquid-metal embrittlement at elevated temperatures. Many of these elements are found in soldering and brazing filler metals.

Hot cracking of the weld metal usually results from such contamination. Cracking in heat-affected zone is often caused by intergranular penetration of contaminants from the base-metal surface. Sulfur, which is present in most cutting oils used for machining, is a common cause of cracking in nickel alloys.

Weld metal cracking also can be caused by heat input that is too high, as a result of high welding current and low welding speed. Welding speeds have a large effect on the solidification pattern of the weld. High welding speeds create a tear-drop molten weld pool, which leads to uncompetitive grain solidification at the center of the weld. At the weld centerline, residual elements will collect and cause centerline hot cracking or lower transverse tensile properties.

In addition, cracking may result from undue restraint. When conditions of the high restraint are present, as in circumferential welds that are self-restraining, all bead surfaces should be slightly convex. Although convex beads are virtually immune to centerline splitting, concave beads are particularly susceptible to centerline cracking. In addition, excessive width-to-depth or depth-to-width ratios can result in cracking may be internal (that is subface cracking).

Stress Corrosion Cracking. Nickel and nickel alloys do not experience any metallurgical changes, either in the weld metal or in the HAZ, that affects normal corrosion resistance. When the alloys are intended to contact substances such as concentrated caustic soda, fluorosilicates, and some mercury salts, however, the welds may need to be stress relieved to avoid stress corrosion cracking. Nickel alloys have good resistance to dilute alkali and chloride solutions. Because resistance to stress-corrosion cracking increases with nickel content, the stress relieving of welds in the high-nickel-content alloys is not usually needed.

Effect of slag on weld metal. Because fabricated nickel alloys are ordinarily used in high-temperature service and in aqueous corrosive environments, all slag should be removed from finished weldments. If slag is not removed in these type of application, then crevices and accelerated corrosion can result. Slag inclusions between weld beads reduce the strength of the weld. Fluorides in the slag can react with moisture or elements in the environment to create highly corrosive compounds.

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