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TIG welding is the most versatile method for fusing metals available today. This makes it a great option for all kinds of fabrication and repair projects. This also makes it a valuable skill for professional welders and hobbyists alike.
Because TIG welding is so versatile, there’s always more you can learn about it. The more you know, the better you’ll be—no matter the type of project, materials involved, or specific challenges that you come up against. Here are 5 tips to get really good at TIG welding:
- Get to know your machine
- Take time to get the fundamentals right
- Get comfortable with different materials
- Go beyond the basics with gas lenses and pulse settings
- Choose the right gear
For the pro’s this can mean the difference between having work waiting for you and having to chase after whatever’s left. For hobbyists, this can help you get to the point where any welding project is a Do-It-Yourself job.
The Rules of the Rod
It’s a pretty bad pun, we know! But before we dive into the tips that are going to help you get a lot better at TIG welding in a very short amount of time, there are a few things that we need to discuss.
First, this list will assume that you already have some familiarity with TIG welding. If you’ve never welded before and you’re trying to get things figured out while you’re tracking the shipping on your first machine, you’ll need to do some prep work before you try out any of the tips in this article.
This is important for at least two reasons:
- Safety: As with any power tool, TIG welders can be dangerous if they aren’t used properly. Be sure to know the safety information about welding in general and the manufacturer’s safety requirements for the machine you are using before starting any welding project.
- Clarity: To make this article as useful as possible to as many readers as possible, we’ll have to take it for granted that you know the meaning of some common terms and basic materials.
Second, the information that we’ll cover in this list is going to focus on what works for most welders, in most situations, most of the time. If you’ve been welding for a while then you’ve probably run into situations where the advice we provide didn’t or wouldn’t have worked out.
Because TIG welding is so versatile, there will always be a specific for-instance that you can point to as an exception to the rule. If you have that kind of advice, we’d love to hear it. If you need that kind of advice, there are a lot of great discussion forums on the internet where experienced welders swap stories and answer each other’s questions.
Let’s Get Down to Business!
As we said above, we’ll be assuming a basic familiarity with TIG welding in the advice that follows, but that doesn’t mean that we expect you to have an associate’s degree or professional certification.
We’ll cover everything from the basics of machines and materials to more advanced tips for refining your technique and avoiding common mistakes.
There’s no way we can cover everything you’ll need to know about TIG welding in general, much less what you’ll need to know to cover every specific situation.
But, by the end of this list, you’ll know enough to do professional quality work in a majority of cases, and you’ll know what questions to ask when you need to know more.
Tip #1: Get to Know Your Machine
Just because you can point to the right piece of equipment when somebody in the shop asks where the TIG welder is, doesn’t mean that you “know” the machine. Even if you can fire it up and lay a pretty sharp looking bead on one particular type of material, that’s a long way off from saying you’re familiar with what your machine can and can’t do well.
Most TIG welding machines on the market today offer a wide range of capabilities. Knowing how to set up your machine so that it performs optimally for a specific job, no matter what that job is, requires you to spend some time learning about it and trying out different options.
Simply knowing whether your machine is transformer- or inverter-based can eliminate guesswork when you’re trying to troubleshoot a common mistake like welds that lack fusion on the root.
From there, get to know what options your machine gives you for adjusting the settings on:
- Gas Flow
Once you know what options your machine gives you, you’ll be able to focus your attention on how those options play into an ideal set-up for the different materials you might find yourself working with.
Working with unfamiliar materials can be one of the greatest sources of anxiety for professional welders and hobbyists alike. But, if you know your machine and you know you’ve gotten the fundamentals of your set-up right, then a new material can be as easy as consulting a filler metal chart.
Having said that, let’s take a look at some tips that will help you get the fundamentals right the first time, every time.
Tip #2: Take the Time to Get the Fundamentals Right
There are so many little things that go into setting up your welding machine and materials that you might not even think about how you do some of them or how you might be able to do them better—much less, how doing those small things better could make a big difference in your results.
Before you ever throw the switch to turn your welding machine on, there are some things that you can do to set yourself up for success. Once we’ve taken a look at those in more detail, we’ll take some time to look at the fundamentals of good technique for TIG welding.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
- Abraham Lincoln
True professionals, no matter what the profession, are clean, organized, and pay attention to the details. They sweat the small stuff. So, if you want to get professional results, you should probably start out the way a professional would.
In TIG welding, this can include everything from the technique you use to clean the materials you’ll be welding to the way that you organize your workspace before you begin the job.
To a novice, something like the angle at the tip of your tungsten might seem insignificant. But to a professional, it is the key to getting strong, good-looking welds.
A novice might think you’re joking around or even being a bit condescending if you try to show them how to wire brush aluminum. But the professional knows that it will make a difference, and they know why.
The list of minor details that separate the rookies and hacks from the true pros could go on forever.
Fortunately, the guys at Weld.com have put together some great videos that you can check out.
The first one starts with assembling the torch and goes step by step until you’ve laid some good beads and made some common mistakes working with steel. The second one picks it up from there to cover aluminum.
The information they cover is a great supplement to what we’re discussing in this section and what we’ll cover in the next tip.
If you’re ready, let’s go ahead and flip the switch. Once the machine is on, we need to make sure the fundamentals of our technique are as solid as the fundamentals of our prep work.
Practice Doing It the Right Way Until That’s the Only Way That Feels Right
Something a small as the angle you’re holding your torch or your filler wire at can have a huge impact on the quality and efficiency of your work.
Fortunately, there’s an easy to remember rule for that one — the rule of 15°. Unfortunately, it seems like the rule can just as easily lead to confusion for some inexperienced welders. As a rule, you should always hold your torch 10-15 degrees off of vertical. Don’t confuse this with your filler wire, which should be 10-15 degrees off of the horizontal.
Once you’ve got your angles right, you can begin to focus on other basics like:
- Forward Motion: Unlike stick and MIG welding, TIG welding only works in one direction, and that direction is forward. If you’re coming to TIG from another method, you’ll need to get used to that before worrying about anything else.
- Travel Speed: This will determine the width of your bead. Getting the right speed and getting to the point where you’re steady and consistent is key to doing good work.
- Puddle: You’ll need to get your technique for feeding wire with your other hand down so that your hands work together smoothly and steadily.
- Terminating the Bead: This is especially important when working with aluminum as you’ll need to taper out to avoid cratered ends and cracked welds.
The fundamentals that we’ve discussed in this section will help you become a solid and reliable welder. If you apply them while you’re getting comfortable with a range of different materials, your welds will begin to stand out in a crowd.
Tip #3: Get Comfortable with Different Materials
As we said at the outset, TIG welding is the most versatile welding technology out there. So, why not be ready to take advantage of that? What good is having a machine that can weld almost any metal if you’re only confident working on one?
TIG welding gives you the ability to work on:
- Carbon and low alloy steels
- Stainless steels
- Nickel alloys
- Cobalt alloys
- Copper alloys
If you can think of a metal that you might need to weld that isn’t on that list, chances are pretty good that a TIG machine will be up to the task.
Being able to weld a variety of materials and knowing how to join different materials together are the kinds of skills that really set some TIG welders apart from the rest. But the materials you’re welding are just part of what you’ll need to know about materials.
When you’re talking TIG welding materials can just as easily refer to the type of electrode to use, the type of gas to use, or the thickness of rods you’re comfortable using. If you can confidently choose what’s right for the job from all of the possible combinations, you’ll be ready for anything.
A Quick Review Before We Press On
So far, we’ve been discussing the fundamentals that you’ll need to have down if you want to get really good at TIG welding.
If you’re just starting out, then focusing on everything we’ve covered to this point will eventually put you on par with the real pros out there. If you’ve been doing it for a while but know you could get better, then taking stock of where you’re at in these areas is the best place to start.
From this point forward we’ll be discussing things that will make the little differences that help the pros get great results faster, be more comfortable while they work, avoid the common mistakes the rest of us make (some more frequently than others), and recover from their mistakes when they make them.
Tip #4: Expand Your Horizons — Go Beyond the Basic Set-Up
There are a lot of options for you to choose from when setting up your TIG welder. There are probably just as many accessories and specialty tools that have been invented and brought to market in response to particular challenges that welders run into on the job.
We’ll assume that you know what your options are for all of the fundamentals we discussed above. If we also assume that you’ve gotten comfortable with putting them together in the right combinations to meet the requirements of any job, then there are still two fairly common tricks that you’ll need to become familiar with: Gas Lenses and Pulse Settings.
- Gas Lenses: “A gas lens improves shielding gas coverage and is essential for any TIG welder hoping to step up their game! A great video to show how to improve your welding”. You can use gas lenses on any material, but they’re especially helpful with stainless steel.
You can learn more about them in this video.
- Pulse Setting: We’ve held the discussion of pulse settings until now because it seems to be the single greatest point of contention between welders who know their stuff.
The general consensus seems to be that, if you have good fundamentals, then pulse settings are a big help in certain specific instances. At the same time, pulse can be a crutch that lets you get away with bad fundamentals.
Tip #5: Choose the Right PPE and Other Gear
By the time you’ve spent enough hours welding to get really good at the fundamentals that we covered in the first three tips, you will know the difference between the gear that just gets the job done and the gear that really works for you.
Professional welders will spend between 8 and 12 hours each day in their gear, so the difference between just-functional and functional-but-comfortable can change their entire outlook on life.
If you’re a serious enough hobbyist that you’re still reading this article, you probably already know that doing it for fun just isn’t as much fun when your gear doesn’t work for you.
One thing that most really good TIG welders agree on is that you’ll want to choose a thinner glove for your filler wire hand than for your torch hand.
Beyond that, it’s worth taking some time to think about your helmet and lenses, your jacket, your boots, and other elements that make up your kit.
Some professional welders find themselves on locations where head-to-toe Fire-Resistant Clothing is a requirement. This adds a whole other level to consider.
At the end of the day, choosing clothing and equipment that makes you comfortable will make your work more enjoyable, keep you fresher through those long days, and make it easier to look and feel like a professional when you’re at work.
If you’re already in the top 25% of TIG welders and want to distinguish yourself within that circle, choosing equipment that works, keeps you comfortable, and helps you stay professional even when things get rough is one way to do that.
As for most other skills, your welding also can be greatly improved by increasing your practical AND theoretical knowledge. This is useful in all kinds of ways. Be it hotfixes, tackling unknown projects and problems or improving results. Therefore I can recommend this resource to dive deeper into mastering TIG.
Let’s Wrap This Up
At the end of the day, becoming a really good TIG welder is just like becoming really good at any other skill. When you’re learning how to do it, you’ll see people who seem so much better than you that you’ll get frustrated. You need to remember that they had to start somewhere too—just like you.
The key is to build your skills on a base of solid fundamentals. If you get those right, take care to keep them sharp, and refuse to get lazy, then you’re going to become a really good TIG welder.
As you work through the processes that give you that solid base, try not to be distracted by the latest-greatest thing to come along. Stay focused on what you’re building.
Once you’ve gotten to the point where everybody else knows your really good and makes a point of telling you so, you can turn your attention to the little differences that will set you apart from the other folks who are really good.
Just remember, even the best welders out there know they can always get better. Stay humble, keep learning, and help those who aren’t as far along as you are.
Do all of this and you’ll definitely be a really good TIG welder.