TIG welding is widely considered to be one of the most difficult types of welding to learn, but it’s also well worth the effort since it’s a much cleaner process, you get more control, and better overall welds.
The process works by using a torch with a non-consumable tungsten rod on the inside, which delivers the current and produces the arc. In order to shield the weld from air while it hardens, argon gas is typically used and is also distributed through the torch.
Some TIG machines have an optional hookup for a foot pedal, which is used for better control over the arc, giving it more or less current depending on what you need.
Since the whole process can be difficult and a bit confusing, I thought it would be helpful to go over TIG welding basics. So even if you aren’t a beginner in the field, you should still be able to get some use out of this and brush up on some things.
As I’ve said in other articles, preparation is one of the most important parts of the welding process. If you’re not properly prepared for the job, you’ll probably end up with poor results.
To start out, one of the most helpful things to have when welding alone is an “extra hand”, or a good set of clamps. The extra hand can be purchased or just created out of scrap metal. It’ll help you keep the work piece secure while you work. In TIG welding you’ll need to use both hands if you’re using filler metal, so the extra hand or clamps are really convenient to have.
As for your clothing, make sure you’re properly clothed with protective gloves, a protective mask, and a shirt that covers your arms. The arc of a TIG welder produces ultra-violet light that can easily burn your skin and your eyes. Even just welding for a few minutes unprotected can be very dangerous, so make sure to cover up.
As for the lens on your mask, if you don’t know what to use, just try out a #10 lens at first and then you can adjust higher or lower based on your eyes and personal preference.
By far the best kinds out there are the ones with auto-darkening lenses. These work by darkening the lens when an arc (or other really bright light) is detected (happens within a few thousands of a second). There are sensors placed around the helmet to detect this, so you’re unlikely to accidentally get flashed.
A lot of people don’t want to shell out a bunch of money for helmets, especially if they’re hobbyists or beginners, but you can find some out there for around $50, which isn’t much more expensive than the cheap non-darkening ones. Believe me, it’s worth every penny.
The first step in preparing your torch is to get the tungsten rod ready. You’ll want to grind the tungsten tip to a point using a grinding wheel. Just make sure that when you grind the rod, you should be grinding the opposite end of the colored tip, otherwise you won’t have any indication as to what the rod is rated for.
Also, grind length-wise and not on the side of the rod. This will provide you with a better arc since there isn’t as much friction for the current.
Another important thing to note is that you should always clean the grinding wheel before use. Or, even better, designate one of the wheels as “tungsten only”. If you grind other materials, like wood, without cleaning it, then the leftover material can contaminate the rod.
When you go to position yourself to actually do the weld, there are a few things you should think about before getting started. You’ll end up with the best bead if you can do the entire thing continuously and not have to re-position yourself halfway through.
To do this, make sure to balance your hand and don’t put too much weight on it. Try doing a dry-run (no arc) across the joint to make sure you can do the whole thing (or at least a large portion) in one pass without re-adjusting. You’ll get a much cleaner-looking weld this way.
As for your grip on the torch, get in the habit of holding it like a pencil and then use your other hand to stabilize (or for the filler rod). Another option is to hold it with your whole hand, like you would a baseball bat or golf club. You’ll get a bit less control this way, but it still works.
I’ve seen a bunch of people hold it the wrong way, and I can tell you it makes a world of difference when you get it right. For example, don’t ever hold it by the back cap. Not only is this hard to control, but you could break off the back cap in the process. Also, don’t hold it too close to the ceramic. It’s dangerous and sooner or later you’ll end up burning your fingers.
Starting the arc
This can be surprisingly hard compared to some other types of welding. It’ll definitely take some practice, so don’t get discouraged too easily.
To start an arc, get the tungsten really close to the work-piece, almost to the point where it’s touching. If you’re brand new to this, you could even just rest the tungsten on the piece to start off. Then, start to raise up the torch off of the piece as you press the button on the torch. With the right timing, this should initiate the arc.
I’d suggest practicing this over and over. Don’t even start laying the bead, just turn the arc on and off about 50 times, or until you can do it on command just about every time.
Laying a bead
Once you’re comfortable getting the arc started, you can start laying your first bead. The best way to learn and practice is to just lay your bead on a flat plate, and not even on a joint. This will help give you a feel for it without the distraction of the weld joint.
Like the arc-starting, just run a bunch of these welds over and over until you get the feel for it. You’ll need to get used to the pace so you don’t over-run the weld puddle. A good pace to keep is about 5-8 inches per minute.
As for the type of metal you practice on, I’d say just stick with something simple like steel or stainless steel. There is no need to get in to anything too complicated for your first practice runs. Plus, you should be able to find these scraps to practice on pretty easily.
One technique you might hear about is ‘manipulation’ of the bead, which is when you make patterns across the joint for stronger welds. I’d suggest holding off on this for the first few weeks you’re learning. Although it can be very helpful in some situations, it isn’t always required, so don’t rush in to it too fast. Just stick with doing a straight, steady bead until it gets to be really easy.
Once you’ve had enough time to practice this, you can move on to adding filler metal. This may be a bit more difficult at first since you won’t have two hands to steady the torch, so take it a bit slower if you need to.
Once you have a good arc and puddle going, slowly place the filler metal directly in to the arc/puddle as you move along. It doesn’t need to be a lot. Start out by adding a little more every 1/8th inch or so, and adjust according to the size of the joint gap. For some gaps you’ll need to add much more than others.
And finally, when you’re done with the weld, stop the arc but be sure to keep the torch near the bead. You’ll want to do this so the argon keeps flowing over the drying puddle (post-flow gas). If you pull up too quickly and let it get exposed to the air then you’ll have a weak and poor-looking weld at the end.
If you haven’t noticed yet, one of the things I want to stress the most right now is to not rush through the learning process. So many people that do this end up getting discouraged and either give up or don’t enjoy it. Even if you just take a week to practice the basics over and over, you’ll see a huge difference.
Got any more tips for TIG welding beginners? We’d love to hear them!