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Welding Basics: How to Choose a Welder


November 24, 2022

Man welding a pipe

Welding is one of the most valuable skills you can learn, especially if you have a DIY spirit. Welding allows you to create or repair practically any metal product.

That being said, there are many different welding processes to choose from, and each one can be used for various applications.

Don’t worry, though. We’ve created this guide for welding beginners. In it, we will discuss welding basics and how to choose a welder that is right for you.

How Does Welding Work?

Man welding fence together

Welding is a process by which two or more pieces of metal are joined together. It’s an old technology, dating back to antiquity, but it remains one of the most important industrial processes in use today.

Welding is accomplished by heating the two pieces of metal until they melt using an electric arc or ignited gas and then heating them together to their melting temperatures to form a single piece. The melted metal flows together and melds at the seam when cool.

A welder is a machine that generates heat to fuse two metals. The American Welding Society defines the depth of the fusion (penetration) as “the distance that the fusion extends from the surface into the base metal or previous bead during welding.”

Getting the right amount of penetration is vital to creating a strong fuse between the two metals. A weld bead refers to the filler metal deposited in the joint between two pieces of metal.

Gas-shielded and flux-cored welders often produce slag, a waste byproduct produced when the flux melts in or on the weld zone and solidifies when cool. Slag can be removed after welding with a chipping hammer or needle gun.

Weld spatter is common in certain types of welding. Spatter is bits of molten material produced near the welding arc. Spatter can create a rough appearance on the material’s surface. In addition, spatter can travel through the air and burn clothing and skin, which is why proper safety gear is essential.

Safety Gear

Welding gear on wooden table

Welding can produce high heat, smoke, radiation, and other safety hazards. Protect every part of your body during the welding process with the following personal protective equipment (PPE).

Welding Gloves

Welding gloves should be able to resist high temperatures and offer insulation. Choose welding gloves that cover your hands and wrists and can fit within or outside your jacket’s arm cuff.

Welding Helmet

Welding helmets protect your face from sparks, radiation, hot slag, light, and debris. An auto-darkening feature can protect your eyes by automatically detecting the light produced when welding and blocking it out.

Welder’s Jacket

A heat-resistant welder’s jacket protects your body and clothing from sparks and heat during welding. Leather or flame-retardant welder’s jackets can do the trick. Be sure to close the pockets while you’re welding. In addition, double-check that the jacket fits your arm and torso length to offer complete protection when bending or squatting.

Welding Pants

Look for flame, spark, spatter, and slag protection when buying welding pants. Welding chaps are an alternative to pants that cover the front of the legs only.

Welding Respirator

Protect your lungs from invisible gases with a welding respirator, especially when working in workshops with limited ventilation. A dust mask will do when working outdoors or in well-ventilated areas.

Ear Protection

Full-cover ear protection can protect your hearing and your ears from sparks and other debris. Go with fireproof ear protection instead of your winter ear muffs made of synthetic materials.

Welding Work Boots

Welding work boots can ground you and protect you from a live current and an open flame. Work boots should provide excellent traction, be flame retardant, cover the ankle, and have a steel plate above the sole.

Types of Welders

The welding process can be used for many different applications, whether for your home workshop or the job site. There are several different types of welder machines available to suit your needs.

Stick/Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)

Man welding support beams

Stick welding, also known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), is a traditional, affordable, and versatile welding technique, perfect for home workshops and outdoor applications. This process uses an electrode covered with flux to create the arc between the electrode and the workpiece.

The melted flux releases carbon dioxide, which shields the molten metal from moisture or oxygen contamination, causing oxidation and leading to a weaker weld, and creating a liquid and gas slag. The slag byproduct can be cleaned up with a solvent and a sander.

Stick welding is one of the easiest welding processes to learn. Stick welding equipment includes a ground clamp, electrode holder, electrodes, and a constant voltage power supply. Most applications will use AC power with some exceptions for DC power.

Pros:

  • Affordable equipment
  • Works on most alloy metals, including rusty or dirty surfaces
  • Does not require outside-shielding gas and can work in light-to-moderate windy environments
  • Minimal equipment needed, perfect for portable welding
  • Can be done on rusty or dirty metal surfaces, meaning no pre-welding cleaning
  • Can change rods for different metals

Cons:

  • Slower process than other techniques
  • More slag clean-up compared to other processes
  • Produces rougher or more porous welds
  • Requires more hand-eye coordination than other welding techniques
  • Can be hard to weld thin metals
  • Requires replacement of welding rods

Gas Metal Arc Welding/Metal Inert Gas (GMAW/MIG) Welding

Metal inert gas welding (MIG), also known as gas metal arc welding (GMAW), fuses two metals by heating them with an electric arc between the continuously fed, consumable wire electrode and the metal workpiece.

With the wire electrode, the shielding gas is fed through the welding gun and is used to shield the welding process from oxidation from moisture and oxygen. Exposure to atmospheric elements can create porosity and spatter.

MIG welding usually uses four types of gases: Argon and helium, which are inert, and oxygen and carbon dioxide, which are reactive. Gas blends are also used. Aluminum wire requires Argon as a shielding gas. Mild steel wire requires C25 or CO2 gas. Stainless steel requires a tri-mix gas that includes CO2, Argon, and helium.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn and use for beginners
  • Affordable equipment and consumables
  • Can weld nearly any metal
  • Does not require cleaning slag like stick welding
  • Good for high-speed, high-productivity welding
  • Provides excellent control on thin metals
  • Ideal for out-of-position welding

Cons:

  • Does not work well in windy conditions
  • Requires cleaning rust and paint off the material before welding
  • Not as portable as other methods

Tungsten Inert Gas/Gas Tungsten Arc (TIG/GTAW) Welding

Man in welding mask welding pipe

Tungsten inert gas welding (TIG), also known as gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) is more complicated to use than other methods but provides the greatest precision level.

TIG welders use a non-consumable tungsten electrode to form an electric arc between it and the base metal. Since the non-consumable tungsten electrode is not used as filler, a separate filler rod is fed with your other hand. The two-handed process makes this harder to get the hang of.

Argon is an inert, shielding gas commonly used to protect the weld pool from atmospheric variables. Inert gas blends can also be used to protect the weld from corrosion. This method does not create slag or produce fumes or sparks.

TIG welders come with a foot pedal that you can use to control the amperage between the tungsten electrode and the metal surface. The foot pedal can be used to gradually decrease or increase the heat to reduce brittleness from thermal shock.

TIG welding is an incredibly versatile welding technique that can be used on many different metals, including stainless steel, nickel alloys, steel, aluminum, magnesium, brass, bronze, copper, and gold.

Pros:

  • More control of filler rod application
  • Can be used on a broad range of metals
  • Provides the ultimate precision for the cleanest weld
  • Able to weld thin metal surfaces

Cons:

  • Requires more practice and skill than other methods
  • Not optimal for outdoor use or in windy conditions
  • Materials must be cleaned before welding
  • More expensive than other welders

Flux/Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)

A flux arc welder works similarly to MIG welding. In this semi-automatic welding technique, the wire electrode continuously feeds out when you pull the trigger. The wire contains a flux compound that reacts with the welding arc and produces a shielding carbon dioxide gas.

Flux-cored arc welding differs from MIG welding because the electrode core is hollow and filled with a flux-cored wire. Since the flux produces its own shielding gas as it’s fed through the electrode, you can work outdoors without additional shielding gas.

Pros:

  • Easy to learn for beginners
  • Portable welding process
  • High welding speed
  • Ideal for out-of-position welding
  • Good for outdoor welding
  • Good for thick welds
  • Can work on dirty or rusty metals

Cons:

  • Requires post-welding clean-up of slag
  • Additional cost for filler material can be expensive
  • Produces more smoke and fumes than other welding techniques

Energy Beam Welding (EBW)

Electron beam welding (EBW), also known as laser beam welding, uses a high-velocity beam of electrons to join two metal materials. Upon impact, the kinetic energy of the electrons is converted into heat, melting the workpieces and welding them together. EBW is usually performed in a vacuum chamber to prevent electron beam dissipation.

Pros:

  • Works on thick and thin metals
  • High welding speed
  • High weld quality due to welding in a vacuum
  • Can melt metals with high melting points
  • Precise welding technique
  • Can weld a variety of materials
  • Does not require electrode

Cons:

  • High upfront and maintenance cost
  • Requires a lot of skill and training to use
  • Limited in welding thickness
  • Requires vacuum chamber for welding
  • Produces x-ray radiation

Atomic Hydrogen Welding (AHW)

Atomic hydrogen welding (AHW) is a welding technique that uses a welding arc between two tungsten electrodes and a hydrogen shielding gas. The electric arc breaks up hydrogen molecules, which recombine when they strike a relatively cold surface (weld zone) and produce high heat (6,000-7,000º F).

AHW produces one of the hottest flames compared to other welding techniques. These temperatures are hot enough to weld tungsten, one of the hardest metals to weld. The hydrogen shielding gas protects the weld zone from contaminants, eliminating the need for flux.

Pros:

  • Fast welding technique
  • Can weld thick or thin sections
  • Does not require flux

Cons:

  • Not cost-effective compared to other welding methods
  • High heat can be dangerous without PPE
  • Only works on flat positions
  • Requires a high degree of skill

Oxy-Acetylene Welding

Man welding metal onto boat

Oxy-acetylene welding, also known as oxy-fuel or gas welding, works via the combustion of acetylene and oxygen. This process is primarily used for thin metal welding or heating certain components such as frozen nuts and bolts.

When blended together at the proper ratios, the oxy-acetylene gas burns at high temperatures, generating a torch that melts metals. Flame temperatures can reach 5,500º F, making it ideal for welding many metal types.

Pros:

  • Good for hobby welders
  • Portable welding method
  • Low-cost
  • Good for many metal types
  • Does not require electricity
  • Portable welding method

Cons:

  • Not good for welding thick sections
  • Does not work with high-strength steel
  • Require post-weld cleaning
  • Does not have a high flux shield
  • Slow heating rate compared to other techniques
  • Does not reach the high temperatures of arc welding

Plasma Arc Welding

Plasma arc welding (PAW) works similarly to TIG welding because the welding arc forms between the tungsten electrode and the base metal. The difference is that the electrode in PAW is positioned within the torch’s body, separating the plasma arc from the shielding gas envelope. The plasma is then forced through a fine-bore copper nozzle, constricting the arc and shooting the plasma at high velocities.

Pros:

  • Can weld any metal
  • Provides excellent control of the arc
  • Provides better control of the weld
  • High welding speed
  • Low spatter levels

Cons:

  • Expensive equipment
  • Requires more skill and practice than other welding techniques
  • Produces excessive noise and smoke
  • Produces UV and infrared radiation

Multi-Process Welding Machines

If you are planning on performing different welding processes, a multi-process welding machine can be an invaluable addition to your workshop. A single unit is able to work with various welding processes, providing you with the ultimate versatility, depending on the project.

Although multi-process welders require a higher upfront investment than single-process welders, they are more affordable than buying individual single welders. Multi-process welders can perform TIG, MIG, flux-cored, and stick welding processes.

Shop Welders and Welding Tools Wilco Farm Stores

At Wilco Farm Stores, we have a broad range of welding equipment and tools available in-store or online. Whether you are a full-time professional welder or an occasional hobbyist, we have the perfect welder that fits your budget.

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