Thinking about being a welder?

If you think that welding may just seem like really hot glue (if the glue was molten metal), then you’re on the right track, but it goes deeper than the surface [literally].

I’m not going to drop into the entire history of welding, but basically welding is the heating of two metals to fuse them together with the addition of some “filler rod” which is usually a similar composition to the two base metals you’re joining together.

Welding uses electricity to conduct the heat needed to melt the base metals. Things like braising and soldering is not considered welding because they don’t melt the base metals, only the filler material is melted and bonded to the base metals with heat.

If you go back far enough to see blacksmiths (or maybe even the popular TV show “Forged In Fire”) you’ll learn about forge welding which takes two heated metals and a hammer; the blacksmith heats the metals in a forge, sandwiches them together and pounds them to fuse together and become one piece (fluxing material such as silica sand).

You’re going to need some protective gear to weld. I’ll recommend the following items:

  1. At the very least you absolutely MUST have a welding helmet. These have specialized lenses to allow the operator to see the weld puddle in the arc of the weld. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to keep your eyes open to see, and if you did, you’d do a lot of damage. Plus the UV rays hitting the skin on your face (and your eyes) would leave you burned like 1,000 sunburns over. So, do yourself a favor and get a welding helmet even if you don’t get the other items.
  2. Welding jacket – Yet another way to protect your skin from the damaging rays from the light emitted by the arc. You may not think you need a welding jacket, you could just use a long sleeve shirt… But the jackets are developed with a purpose and are more equipped to protect your body.
  3. Welding gloves – Heavy duty gloves that will keep you from getting burned on your hot work piece since you’ll find it easier to run your hand along your work piece to steady yourself and provide a more consistent weld by maintaining the same distance from the metal.
  4. Some type of ventilation is recommended because of the fumes emitted by the welding process. These fumes can be toxic and dangerous to your health, causing long term effects (such as cancer).

But enough of that, the reason you’re reading is because you probably want to know…

What types of welders are out there?

Which one works the best?

Well, I’ll tell you what I know about it below.

Types of welders commonly used today. There are 3 BIG ones.

The easiest welder to use (for beginners or experts) is likely going to be:

MIG Welder

  • MIG welding is an arc welding process that feeds wire to the gun in the operators hand from inside the welding unit (from a spool of filler wire).
  • Because it feeds the wire for you, this type of welding can easily be done one handed and in many different positions. Even over your head.
  • It is the most common industrial welding method because of its’ versatility, and ease of use for various levels of experience.
  • Shielding gas is used and directed to the torch head and focused on the welding area to prevent exposure of the molten weld pool to elements such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen contained in the atmosphere. The reaction could lead to porous welds, excessive spatter and a few other annoying side effects.
  • There are some circumstances when you won’t NEED to use a shielding gas; but you will need to use a flux-core wire and a machine that is set up to use it. Though this type of welding typically leaves a dirty weld compared to using shielding gas.

TIG Welder

  • Also an arc welding process, but it uses a tungsten electrode to produce the weld.
  • This type of welder uses a foot pedal (or button on the torch) for amperage control. Which allows you to “soft start and soft finish a weld”, since you can ease into the weld at low amperage and build up; then you can ease off the amperage toward the end of your weld.
  • TIG welding requires the operator to feed the filler wire manually to the work piece that is heated. There are a few methods of doing this, of which, I know two.
    • One is the “dabbing method” where you literally dab, dab, dab, dab the filler into the molten puddle as you’re traveling along the line you need to weld.
    • The other method is the “lay wire method” where you lay the wire down and feed it to the molten puddle that way.
    • There are advantages and disadvantages of both methods, but they’re options that can be considered depending on the project and the operators comfort.
  • Unfortunately for those uncoordinated folks out there… TIG welding may not be for you. You typically have to use both hands and one foot to weld.
  • TIG welding is mostly used in industries that require a cleaner weld than you can produce with other methods. Materials like stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium should be welded with TIG welders since they have much more “fine tuning” available to get a clean, strong weld.

Shielded Metal Arc Welder (SMAW)

  • The old timers will recognize this as “Stick Welding”
  • This process uses and electrode covered in flux instead of filler wire and a cover gas.
  • Arc welders are connected to a power source which creates alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) to form an arc between the electrode and the metal.
  • The arc causes both the electrode and the metal to melt and create the “weld pool” or puddle that it’s often referred to as. The heat from the arc also burns off the flux which forms a gas to shield the weld. Without this, the welds would be brittle and WEAK.
  • When cooled, a layer of what’s called “Slag” forms on top of the weld and will need to be chipped off.
  • This type of welding is used in heavy duty industrial applications of iron and steel but can be used in aluminum as well.
  • Stick welding is amazing because it does not require the mill-scale or even oxidation to be cleaned off of the material for it to weld. It will basically weld any steel in almost any condition as long as it’s solid.
  • I will also note that stick welding is probably the dirties of welding methods. There will be hot spatter in most cases. But the use of the right electrode can help with the neatness of this method.

Have you ever seen a heavy steel beam that is kind of shaped like a long “I”? You’ve probably seen a TV show where construction workers are sitting on one to have lunch. If those beams need to be welded when building sky scrapers or bridges, you’ll find the operator using the SMAW/Stick welding method because it’s the most heavy duty.

There is a big opening in the job market for good welders who can do all three of these methods (and other methods as well). It’s worth being trained for, and it’s a great skill to have.

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