Does TIG Welding Produce Sparks and Fumes? A Safety Guide


TIG welding is one of the most versatile welding methods out there. Since the tungsten electrode is non-consumable, the option of a filler rod allows for flexibility in the use of this technique on a variety of metals. The lack of sparks and fumes makes this a reliable method for hobbyists and professionals alike. If you’re considering TIG, here is an in-depth guide of the technique and the necessary safety precautions.

Does TIG welding produce sparks and fumes? TIG welding does not produce sparks because of the non-consumable tungsten electrode. Unless there are contaminants such as oil, grease, paint, etc., the TIG technique does not produce fumes apart from the shielding gas.

There are over 30 different methods of welding, each with their strengths and disadvantages. TIG welding is one of the most versatile techniques, due to its non-consumable electrode and a wide range of positions in which it can be performed. It can be used in projects of a home welder or even in the automotive industry, but it’s important to be aware of precautions necessary for safe and optimal welding.

Does TIG Welding Create Sparks or Fumes?

TIG welding does not create sparks or fumes like other methods for many reasons. Like many techniques, a shielding gas protects the molten metal. This prevents the metal from reacting with oxygen or water vapor in the immediate atmosphere and also creates a clean weld. The use of shielding gas rose in popularity in the ‘40s and has increased the popularity of the use of aluminum in welding. 

This shielding gas is reduced to a usable level from a pressurized cylinder and released at the point of the weld. Typically, the gases used for shielding are argon, helium, or a combination of the two. When used together, the gases enhance the speed and penetration of the welding process. Argon usually is the preferred gas by most welders, as it is heavier and provides better coverage. 

Additionally, TIG welding does not create sparks because the tungsten electrode is non-consumable. Since only the necessary amount of filler metal is added to the weld, along with the protection of the shielding gas aiding in a clean weld, no sparks are produced.  

Smoke and/or fumes are also not a byproduct of TIG welding unless there are contaminants like oil, grease, paint, lead, or zinc introduced to the welding process. The best way to avoid introducing such contaminants is to clean the base metal before welding. 

What Causes Sparks and/or Fumes When Welding?

Fumes caused by welding can be hazardous and harmful to the health of the welder. Proper security measures must be taken to ensure the safety of workers if there is potential for the emission of fumes during the welding process. 

Welding fume can be a mixture of various gases and fine airborne particles. This mixture is directly influenced by the welding technique and the metal composition of the workpiece. Some gases and particles that may be emitted in the form of welding fumes are shown below:

GasesParticles
Nitrous OxideChromium
Carbon DioxideNickel
Carbon MonoxideZinc
OzoneManganese
Shielding GasCobalt

Lead

Copper

It is extremely important to note that shielding gas is a fume produced by the welding process. The only way to avoid this is by using an alternative technique like fluxed core arc welding, which uses a wire to protect the arc instead of shielding gas. Shielding gases can displace the oxygen in a closed environment and suffocate the welder, so proper ventilation is vital when welding.

Sparks

Welding requires extreme heat – metals can get up to 9,900˚F! The discharge of electrical current (the arc) is essentially a tiny lightning bolt. When the electrode makes contact with the workpiece(s) and is then removed, the air between the electrode and workpiece(s) becomes ionized, resulting in electrons leaping across this gap. 

This generates energy in the form of light and heat. When the arc is drawn along the join, the tip of the filler rod and the metal workpiece become liquid and fuse together. The molten metal bubbles and “spits” bright droplets, which are the sparks. These sparks can get up to 2,500˚F, so always take the necessary precautions in terms of safety gear. 

The production of sparks while TIG welding is usually a sign that something is very wrong. This can indicate that either the metal is dirty or that TIG welding is not the most appropriate choice for the metal you’re working with. Galvanized metals or bronzes containing zinc will result in sparks with TIG welding. A faulty connection with the ground clamp may also contribute to sparks. 

To solve this, you can try increasing the heat and positioning the TIG electrode on the right side of the weld, then run over the join with your torch in a side-to-side motion. Alternatively, you can simply switch electrodes. 

What is TIG Welding?

TIG Welding stands for the Tungsten Inert Gas welding, whereas the American Welding Society refers to it as Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW). It is also known as “heliarc” welding. TIG welding uses a tungsten electrode, which has a considerably high melting point. 

This allows the tungsten electrode to reach extremely high temperatures without melting, making it a “non-consumable” electrode. In other welding methods, the electrode melts and becomes “filler metal.” These are “consumable” electrodes. 

How TIG Welding Works

With TIG welding, the tungsten electrode is held inside of a collet which is then tightened in the collet body. The length of the electrode exposed from the holder can be adjusted with the end cap. When the end cap is tightened, the collet clamps down on the electrode, holding it in place. Loosen the end cap if you wish to extend or withdraw the electrode. 

TIG welding works by melting the base metal, that is, the metal of the two pieces that are to be joined together. The heat required for melting the base metal is achieved by the heat generated by an electric arc between the base metal and the tungsten electrode. The intensity of the heat can be controlled with either a foot pedal or controls on the torch itself. 

For most welding, the current used is a direct current (DC), one connection positive, and the other, negative. In the context of TIG welding, the electrode is typically negative, while the piece to be welded is positive. This is called “straight polarity,” and most of the heat with this method is on the metal being welded. An alternating current (AC), used with aluminum, the heat is evenly distributed between both.

A work lead is required for TIG welding, as this completes the electric circuit, which goes from the machine to the torch, to the piece, and back to the machine. You also have the option of working with or without filler metal when TIG welding. 

Advantages of TIG Welding

TIG welding is a lot more versatile than other methods for quite a few reasons. Although steel and aluminum are the most often used, there is a wide variety of weld types you can perform on several different types of metals. Additionally, the optional choice of using a filler rod with the TIG welding method allows for the reinforcement of the workpiece. 

This is accomplished by choosing a filler rod composed of the same material as the workpiece. You can use this to reinforce joints, especially on heavy metals. The butt joint, lap joint, corner joint, and t-joint are all designed to be used with the TIG method. 

TIG welders can be used with steel, Chromoly, aluminum, nickel alloys, magnesium, copper brass, bronze, and gold. There are also many different appliances you can use TIG welding for like wagons, bikes, and even art pieces. The direct control you have over the heat input is a massive advantage for precise control of the weld bead for those projects that emphasize aesthetics.

Additionally, the tungsten electrode can be individually shaped to the needs of your work, as it can be sharpened to a point or grounded to a rounded end, another aid in precise aesthetics.

Hazards of TIG Welding

Although TIG welding is one of the safest welding techniques, many hazards come along with this method. The primary hazards you need to keep in mind when TIG welding falls under the following categories: 

  • Electrical and Magnetic Field Safety
  • Compressed and Inert Gases
  • Radiation
  • Heat
  • Noise
  • Solvents

Electrical and Magnetic Field Safety

There are many electrical components necessary for TIG welding, including “add-on” components such as welding torches, leads, and connectors. The power sources needed for TIG welding can be either AC/DC or DC and can be sourced from a 3-phase supply, industrial single-phase supply, or a 13-amp domestic power supply. They can even be operated with a high open-circuit voltage (OCV).

With this said, you must keep in mind that one of the primary hazards of using the TIG welding process is the risk of electric shock. To avoid the potential of electric shock, the following precautions should be taken:

  • Only qualified personnel should be allowed to install and operate TIG welding equipment. 
  • TIG welding equipment must be tested beforehand to ensure proper operation and safety.
  • Welders should never remove panels from a welding power source if it stops working properly. Touching a lead inside the welding set while the power is on can result in a voltage shock.
  • If welding is temporarily interrupted, welding torches need to be placed in a safe location where the switch cannot be accidentally activated.

Compressed and Inert Gases

Remember that, although TIG does not produce any major fumes like many other welding techniques, shielding gas is still considered to be a fume produced by any welding process that uses this method of protection (unlike flux-cored arc welding, which uses a wire instead). Shielding gases are inert – in terms of health and safety – and, as an inert gas, are not toxic, but are also harmful to your health.

The two main gases used for as shielding gases for TIG welding are helium and argon. Argon is the heavier of the two and can gather in low-lying areas if the atmosphere is still. Helium is lighter and less likely to gather in such a way, but it is essential for both that you provide a fan or other ventilation, such as a hood, to avoid the displacement of oxygen.

Welding Fumes and Gases

Again, the fume generated by TIG welding is minimal to none. However, it is possible, depending on the metal and condition of workpieces and the electrode, that fumes can be produced by TIG welding. There are three main types of welding fumes that can be produced, and despite the low risk, you should still be aware of what they are and their associated dangers.

  • Particulate fume: This is mostly formed during the vaporization of the welding consumable (in the case of TIG welding, the separate consumable rod) when the consumable is transferred across the arc.
  • Gaseous fume: The open arc used in the TIG welding process increases the likelihood of the formation of gaseous fumes due to the interaction of UV light and heat on atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen.

It is important to keep in mind that all components of welding fumes may pose health risks; however, with a high enough concentration, some welding fumes present more significant hazards than others. The possible effects of welding fumes depend on the composition of the fume and the volume of welding fume produced.

Radiation

As can be expected with nearly any welding technique, TIG welding uses an arc to generate heat between the electrode and workpiece. With this use of arc welding comes the production of electromagnetic radiation over a considerably wide range of wavelengths. These wavelengths include three main types of non-ionizing radiation:

  • Ultraviolet (UV)
  • Visible Light
  • Infrared (IR)

Exposure to arc radiation can result in burns to the skin and eyes and may not become physically apparent until an extended period after the injury occurs. Keep in mind the following points regarding radiation to exercise the proper safety precautions:

  • Radiation can only be generated while the arc itself is generated. The amount of radiation emitted will generally increase as the welding current increases.
  • You can avoid burns by wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), primarily ensuring that no skin is exposed.

Heat

When using the TIG welding technique, many sources of heat can potentially cause injury if the necessary precautions are not taken: the collet and hot or discarded electrodes, particularly, can cause severe burns to the skin.

Another aspect that many don’t typically think of is the risk of heat stress, where a hot environment (one that is not well ventilated) causes the body to overheat.

To avoid or reduce the effect of these hazards, always assume that any metal object you are working with is hot and provide ample ventilation to your workspace.

Noise

Just like all welding processes, TIG welding can produce quite a bit of noise even though it is one of the quietest welding processes of all. Protect your ears when TIG welding by using earbuds or earmuffs.

Solvents

You must keep in mind that flammable solvents may have been used to clean workpieces or other components before the welding process, so those solvents may still be present to some extent in the welding area. These solvents can present a fire or explosion hazard.

Allow ample time for these solvents to completely disappear from the surfaces of all components needed in the welding process and ensure the removal of the solvent in or near the work area before beginning welding.

General Safety Tips for TIG Welding

Although TIG welding does not pose the same hazards that many other methods do, it is still essential that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from potential hazards of the overall welding process. 

As mentioned earlier, although TIG welding is known for the absence of sparks in the process, certain metals and conditions can still cause this to happen. Because of this, it is highly recommended that you wear an industrial-grade helmet to protect your eyes and face when welding. Other personal PPE you will need include an apron, safety glasses, and flame-resistant gloves. 

Remember that shielding gas is fume and has the potential to displace oxygen in closed spaces, so working in a well-ventilated area is critical to your health and safety. Exposure to welding fumes can cause asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases. In professional spaces, fans and an exhaust system should be provided. Work as close as possible to the hood for maximum safety.

Lastly, avoid excessive currents and/or long welding, as this increases the chances of undercut occurring. (Undercut is a groove that forms in the base metal near the root of the weld. The filler metal causes it failing to fill in the groove.) With proper preparation and safety precautions, TIG welding can be one of the best techniques for both the hobbyist and professional. 

Alexander Berk

A bit about myself: I am a certified international welding engineer (IWE) who worked in different welding projects for TIG, MIG, MAG, and Resistance Spot welding. Most recently as a Process Engineer for Laser and TIG welding processes. To address some of the questions I frequently got asked or was wondering myself during my job, I started this blog. It has become a bit of a pet project, as I want to learn more about the details about welding. I sincerely hope it will help you to improve your welding results as much as it did improve mine.

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