An Introduction To TIG Welding

If you’ve been welding for a while to make some money on the side or for some projects around the house, you might feel comfortable with MIG. If you’d like to try something new and deal with finer materials and a more aesthetic look, it might be time to look into TIG welding.

TIG is a newer welding process, developed after World War II. It’s grown in popularity for its ability to handle thinner metals like aluminum. But it’s also considered a bit tougher to learn since it requires a bit more hand-eye coordination and you have to have both hands working in unison.

Most beginning welders start by learning MIG welding and later may try their hand at TIG welding.

What Are The Uses of TIG Welders

TIG welding can be applied to many materials such as carbon and alloy steel as well as stainless steel, aluminum, nickel, magnesium, titanium, copper and cobalt alloys.

However, the thickness range of this welding type is more limited. Though you can weld both steel and aluminum with the same ease, the materials you will be welding are going to be thinner. Examples are bike and motorcycle frames, exhaust pipes etc.

Also, the tungsten electrode is thinner than stick rod, allowing you to make much more precise but much thinner welds.

That being said, TIG welding is the most aesthetically pleasing welding type of all. The thin rod and the outstanding precision of the weld make this welding type very useful for sculpture making and welds on motorbikes and car shells. Not only that, but this welding type is the cleanest and produces no splatter and no waste, making it a favorite among experienced welders.

How Does TIG Welding Work

TIG – also known as Heliarc or GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) – is a welding process where a non-consumable tungsten electrode is used to heat up the material and melt it, creating a weld puddle. Unlike MIG welding (GMAW), the weld is produced from a single metal type.

With TIG, you’re adding another rod to provide a filler material for you, so that the welding process can join two distinct materials. In MIG the filler is fed through your machine, but in TIG you have to use your offhand to hold it along the weld.

Like MIG, this welding process requires a gas bubble to protect the weld from contaminants. The gas used with TIG is usually argon or argon blended with helium. While MIG can also use argon, it’s usually as a complement to carbon dioxide.

Another difference between MIG and TIG is that there is no need to replace the electrode in TIG. The tungsten electrode does not become part of the weld or burn out. Your main consumables are gas and the filler rods..

That’s the basic difference between MIG and TIG welding. In MIG the electrode is also your consumable. It feeds on a continuous basis through the torch. In TIG welding, the electrode is not consumable and the filler is external to the machine.

MIG is a rather simple process. The welding wire continuously feeds through the torch; this wire melts and fuses the base metals together. It’s also a faster process than TIG.

On the other hand, TIG welding is a rather slow process and a more detailed sort of welding. One hand holds the torch, while the welder has to use his other hand to feed a filler rod right into the molten puddle.

With TIG welding, you can control the pressure of heat that fuels its welding properties. It also gives you the opportunity to start with fine pressure giving you the edge and control that MIG can’t offer.

How Hard Is It To Learn TIG Welding

TIG welding isn’t usually a good choice for a beginning welder as it takes much longer to master than MIG welding. That’s why beginners start off with MIG welding or acquire hybrid machines. This lets you slowly build up experience to take on TIG welding.

TIG welding is a very precise, controlled method of welding. Yes, you can learn it – don’t be discouraged! But it’s probably not the place you want to start.

What makes it so difficult is the amount of coordination It requires.  You have to coordinate both hands and one foot all at the same time. You need to hold the torch with one hand and feed the filler rod with the other. While both hands are busy doing that your foot controls the ‘heat’ of the torch via a pedal.

If you have had some experience with MIG welding, you’ll need to adjust to using your hands a little differently and learn to add the foot control into the process. Here are a few tips for those with some MIG welding experience trying to learn TIG welding:

  • Don’t stick the tungsten directly onto the metal. In MIG welding the filler wire is placed directly on the metal and the MIG welder touches both directly. In TIG welding, the filler rods touch the metal directly but the tungsten does not.
  • The type of gas you use in TIG welding is key. The Argon/CO2 gas blend that you use in MIG won’t work very well for TIG Welding. Pure Argon is your best bet for TIG.
  • Whatever metal you plan to TIG weld, spend a good deal of time and effort on getting it CLEAN. While MIG is little forgiving if the metal is not clean, TIG is not.
  • In TIG, manipulating the heat control with your foot pedal and moving the filler forward with your hands is tough to learn. Practice, practice, practice.

How Much Does TIG Welding Cost

TIG Welding requires a little more equipment and gear than MIG welding and thus can be more costly. You’ll need a TIG welding machine, a variety of tungsten and filler rods, Argon gas, a grinder and a supply of grinding and sanding discs. If you don’t already have it, be sure to get proper safety gear such as safety glasses, welding gloves, a welding helmet and  fire-resistant jacket.

If you get a heavy-duty machine – over 200A – or plan to do a lot of work, you should really invest in a cooler, as well. Duty cycles are already tight enough!

A TIG welder is generally more expensive than a MIG welder. Like anything in life, prices run the gamut based on the quality of the machine and the brand. But TIG machines can run from 50% more to double the cost of a MIG welder of comparable quality.

Sometimes, you can find used TIG welders on eBay or Craigslist. That might be a good way to go while you are learning to TIG weld. It is a pretty big investment, of course, so being able to try something out for a while is helpful before getting your own shiny new model. Look for one that is fairly easy to use and does not require you to dial in settings manually as this can get tricky.

Conclusion

TIG Welding is a sought-after process of welding because of its uses with thinner metals and the cleaner welds it creates. While it requires more time, practice and preparation than any other welding method, it is not that difficult a process to learn. It does require the use of some complex equipment and takes practice to master the different TIG welding positions.

So if you’re ready to move to the next step and try something new, TIG is worth checking out. With some patience and practice, it can definitely be a great skill to add to your repertoire!

Bio

Greg Sanders is the owner of Cromweld.com, a website devoted to all things welding. Greg is semi-retired from welding but likes to keep learning, as well as sharing his knowledge through his website. You can also find him on Facebook.

 

 

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