I check in on a few welding forums from time to time. There really are some great ones out there. There are some really knowledgeable people giving out some great advise. If you are looking to learn as much as you can about the welding trade, forums can be a great way to do it.
One of the most common mistakes I see people making has nothing to do with technique. It has to do with where they buy steel for their projects. Time after time I see guys mentioning that they bought their steel from some big box store. Box stores are great for many things, but they are not a good place to buy steel. I have yet to see a box store sell steel without marking it up at least 200% from what you would pay at your local welding shop.
A box store might be able to sell enough lumber to pass the savings on to their customers, but they just can’t sell enough steel to do the same. The steel industry itself is not big enough and it’s not geared towards consumers. The average person living down the street from you doesn’t buy steel. He has however, probably bought some 2 x 4s some time in his life.
The next time you need steel for your weekend welding project, it will surely be worth your time to check out your local welding shop or steelyard. You might even want to look at your local scrapyard or recycling place. Sometimes they get some pretty good stuff that companies just throw away.
If you just need a few small pieces of steel, a lot of welding shops will just give you what you need out of their scrap bin. They can’t afford to keep every piece of left over scrap iron. I used to work at places where guys would come in looking for a few small pieces of steel. We would tell them to have a look in the scrap pile and they were happy as hell. Even if you need a few odds and ends, the owner of the shop might just give it to you for scrap price. He would just be throwing it out anyway. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.