Welding, or the process of using heat to melt and join two similar pieces of metal, is a useful way to fabricate metals or make repairs. While there are many different welding methods, only a handful are widely used. One of the most popular methods of welding, especially for beginners, is MIG welding.
One of the most popular, widely-used methods of welding is MIG welding. MIG welding is fairly easy to learn, especially when compared to other welding methods such as TIG, though it comes with some safety hazards to keep in mind.
If you have little or no experience with welding, you will need to know some fundamentals before learning MIG welding specifically. In this article, we look at some of the basics of welding and the most popular welding methods. Read on to learn more about MIG welding, its pros and cons, and how long it takes to learn MIG welding.
How Does MIG Welding Work?
There are over 30 different types of welding that exist today. MIG, or metal inert gas, welding is one of the most widely used welding methods. Another name for MIG welding is GMAW, or gas metal arc welding. It has been used in the US for over 70 years and is regarded as one of the easiest types of welding to learn.
The way MIG welding works is by forming an electric arc via a welding gun between a wire electrode and base metals to heat, melt and fuse the metal. A shielding gas is also used through the welding gun to prevent contamination of the weld pool, which is the section of heated and melted metals being joined.
MIG welding can be automatic or semi-automatic, depending on the process. Semi-automatic MIG welding is when the power source controls the wire feed rate and length of the arc but the user manually controls speed and wire position. Automatic MIG welding is when the user does not have to manually intervene during welding.
How Long Does MIG Welding Take to Learn?
For those who already have welding experience, how long it takes to learn MIG welding varies. Depending on who you ask, it can take as little as a few hours to learn how to MIG weld. The amount of time required to learn MIG welding is determined by the experience, abilities, and skill level of the welder and the quality of instructions received.
If you are new to welding, it is highly recommended that you obtain a welding certification through an official welding course, school, or training program before attempting to practice welding. Depending on the level of training you are receiving, the length of time a welding course will take to complete varies.
- A full welding course can usually be completed in less than a year
- Typical welding certification takes around 7 months to complete
- Classes on welding fundamentals can take up to two weeks to complete
- Additional welding courses can take up to a month to complete
One thing to keep in mind with any welding method is that the time it takes to learn is usually less than it will take to master. Once you learn the basics and specifics of a welding method, plenty of practice is required to actually master it. Welding is not exactly easy, and for many people it can take years to master.
What Makes MIG Welding a Popular Choice?
As with other types of welding, the pros and cons of MIG welding depend partially on the person doing the welding, and the welding tool itself. That being said, there are some general advantages and disadvantages to MIG welding worth considering before investing time and money into the method.
There are several advantages that make MIG welding easier to learn and use than other welding types. Some of these include:
- Higher productivity
- Less time-consuming
- Fewer manual adjustments and little cleanup during and after welding
- Easy to learn
- Simple process
- Better control
- Clean, efficient, and versatile
- Quicker welding speed
- Can be used for all types of metals available commercially
- Less fumes
- Produces high-quality welds
- Requires less operator skill
Though there are many benefits and advantages to MIG welding, it also has some downsides that can make it difficult or complicated, especially for those who are new to welding or MIG welding. These include:
- Uses complex equipment that can be expensive
- Not very portable
- Unable to be used for overhead or vertical welding
- Cannot be used outdoors
- Susceptible to contamination
- Quick cooling rates
- Not as suitable for thick metals
- Shielding gas can be a nuisance during welding or when replacing
- Requires clean metal without rust, causing longer metal preparation time before welding
- High radiated heat and light levels
- With thin metals, burn through is common
Can You Teach Yourself MIG Welding?
It is recommended that before attempting to weld on your own, you receive official training through a school or course. If you already have experience with welding and do not want to spend more money on a class, there are resources available that make learning MIG welding on your own an option.
Given the right information, tools, and preparation, it is possible to teach yourself MIG welding. There are several materials on welding basics, methods, and techniques available, including books, e-books, video tutorials, and websites with various resources.
For those that are new to welding, it is recommended to learn MIG before other methods (particularly TIG and stick welding) due to the fact that it does not require a lot of expensive equipment and it is one of the easiest methods to learn and use. Once you understand the basics, learning MIG welding mostly involves a lot of practice.
There are several resources available for those wishing to learn MIG welding on their own. It is important that if you do choose to teach yourself MIG welding rather than attend a class or course that you use quality instructional materials. Books on welding basics and techniques are a great starting point for beginners.
Online videos and written guides are also helpful for learning MIG welding, though some are better than others. By starting with a published textbook (or e-book) on MIG welding, you ensure you are building on a foundation of accurate, quality information as you learn more of the specifics of MIG welding.
The nice thing about resources that can be found online is the feedback available from others who have viewed and used the materials, whether it be textbooks, videos, or written guides. This way, you can get a better idea if the information you are about to learn will actually be useful in practice.
If you are learning MIG welding on your own, it is a good idea to start with an actual textbook that can provide detailed information and images to help with the process. Some good, basic textbooks on MIG welding are:
- Learn to Weld: Beginning MIG Welding and Metal Fabrication Basics – available on Kindle and in hardcover
- Welding for Dummies – available on Kindle and in paperback
- Farm and Workshop Welding: Everything You Need to Know to Weld, Cut, and Shape Metal – available on Kindle and in paperback
Some good, highly-rated videos for beginners on the basics of MIG welding include:
- Teach Yourself to Weld With This Video (MIG Welding)
- How to MIG Weld: MIG Welding 101 for Beginners – instructional video by the Director of Training at Tulsa Welding School
- Beginner Welding Series: Learn How to MIG Weld
There are several written guides available online on the topic of learning MIG welding. Some written guides on how to learn MIG welding include:
- Teach Yourself to Weld at Home: A Beginner’s Guide
- Learn MIG Welding Quickly and Easily: A Beginner’s Guide
What Experienced Welders Have to Say
One of the best sources of information on the differences between welding methods, including which methods are easier to learn than others, is the word of individuals who have experience with welding. These experienced welders overwhelmingly state that if you are new to welding, one of the best methods to start with is MIG.
Many say that if you have a decent MIG welder and proper safety equipment, along with basic information and visual examples as to what a good MIG weld looks like, you are already well on your way to being able to MIG weld. It is important to have a high-quality visual guide when learning any kind of welding, including MIG.
What to Know When Learning MIG Welding
When learning how to MIG weld, or any welding method, you will need to understand some of the basics and fundamentals of welding in general. Multiple different types of welding methods exist, including arc, friction, electron beam, laser, and resistance. MIG is a form of arc welding.
MIG welding is one of the four most commonly used welding methods. The other three are:
- TIG/GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding)
- Stick/SMAW (shielded metal arc welding)
- Flux/FCAW (flux-cored arc welding)
Regardless of what welding method is being used, there are certain safety measures to follow and facts to know. Let’s take a look at some of the basics to keep in mind when it comes to welding. It should be noted that this is not an exhaustive guide, but rather an overview.
Welding is a technical process that poses several safety hazards, including electric shock, hearing damage, exposure to UV/IR radiation, gases, and fumes, and burns. In order to reduce the risk of personal injury, it is imperative to wear personal protective equipment, take necessary precautions, and follow work safety procedures.
MIG welding specifically can produce small amounts of spatter, which is small pieces of extremely hot metal that can fly away from the metals being welded and ignite a fire. The process of MIG welding also creates high levels of heat, electricity, and light, which requires the use of protective equipment to prevent personal injury or property damage.
Welders should always wear a welding hood or helmet, safety glasses, flame-resistant jacket with long sleeves, gloves and boots (leather is recommended), and long pants. Before welding, remove any fire hazards from the area and make sure the area is well ventilated.
Proper safety measures, precautions, and practices are vital when it comes to welding. Always make sure you have adequate personal protective equipment, follow safety protocols and checklists, and have a fire extinguisher and first aid kit nearby before starting any kind of welding, be it practice or an actual project.
Welding Safety Checklist
Good welding practice should include the use of a safety checklist before beginning a welding project. This is to ensure personal safety and prevent fire, damage, or mishaps during welding, and is especially important if you are practicing at home or learning a new welding method on your own.
A general welding safety checklist includes making sure that:
- Proper protective equipment is being used – welding hood or helmet, safety glasses, welding jacket, gloves, boots, long pants
- Project instructions and specifications are thorough and understood clearly
- Work area is clean and free of flammable materials such as oil and grease
- Equipment, work area, and gloves are dry to prevent electric shock
- Equipment is in good working order – gloves, welding gun, and work leads
- Work areas are protected against flash
- Area is properly ventilated
In order to learn MIG welding, you will need the proper equipment. This includes a MIG welder, welding wire, shielding gas, clamps, and personal protective equipment. For those who are just learning, a basic MIG welder will suffice and allow you to practice without investing in overly expensive equipment.
For those who are new to welding, make sure to keep in mind the duty cycle and power requirements of a welder before purchase. The duty cycle refers to the amount of time a welder can be used continuously before the temperature becomes too high and the machine must be shut off to cool down before welding can resume.
Power requirements are also important for welders that are being used at home, as some welders require a higher level of power than is provided by standard household outlets.
Tips and Advice
If you are considering learning MIG welding, keep in mind these tips and pieces of advice from others who practice MIG welding:
- MIG welding should be done in a dry environment without wind, usually indoors
- Make sure you have the proper shielding gas for your project – if you are unsure, check the owner’s manual on your welder
- Adjust machine settings to the size and type of project you want to perform
- Always clean and prepare metal before MIG welding to ensure that is free from dirt, rust, or other imperfections
- Practice makes perfect – use pieces of scrap metal to practice MIG welding
Is MIG Welding Easier than Stick Welding?
Another one of the most commonly used welding methods is stick, or SMAW, welding. The difficulty of a certain welding method will partially depend on the experience, skills and abilities of the individual, but the general consensus is that MIG is one of the easiest methods to learn and practice, especially compared to stick welding.
However, MIG welding has more variables and a slightly more complicated equipment setup than stick welding. For beginners, MIG welding will typically be easier to learn than stick welding. This is because the welding process itself with MIG is cleaner, simpler, and produces high-quality welds.
The capabilities of MIG and stick welding also differ. With stick welding, thin metals cannot be welded, whereas MIG welding can be used with both thin and thicker metals. MIG welding equipment is considerably more expensive and less portable than stick welding, as well.
What is the Hardest Type of Welding to Learn?
Of the four most widely-used types of welding, TIG (GTAW) is considered the most difficult to learn. TIG requires the operator to perform multiple tasks at once, which can be tricky, especially for those without much experience. It is also a relatively slow process compared to other welding methods.
In TIG welding, the operator controls several aspects that are usually automated in other types of welding, including heat level, current, and gas cooling. If you are new to welding, it is not recommended that you start with TIG welding. Instead, gain some experience with an easier method, such as MIG, before attempting to learn TIG.
Of the over 30 methods of welding that exist, MIG is considered to be one of the most user-friendly methods as well as one of the easiest methods to learn. The equipment for MIG can be more costly than other methods, but the ease of use and high-quality welds produced by MIG make it one of the most popular methods overall.
Learning how to MIG weld can be a relatively short process for someone who is experienced in welding, though perfecting it will require plenty of practice as well as trial and error. For those who are new to welding, learning the basics and obtaining a welding certification usually takes several months and is very strongly recommended.