Ask any of the excellent welders that you know how long it took them to learn, and you’re likely to get the same response. “I’ve been doing it for (insert number of years or decades), I’ll let you know when I get good.” It’s a good reminder to stay humble and that there’s always more to learn. It’s not very helpful, though, if you’re trying to decide whether to pick it up yourself.
How long does it take to learn TIG welding? Many factors will influence the amount of time that it takes you to learn. But as a general rule, expect it to take a few months to learn the “what’s” of TIG welding and around 100 hours under the hood to get good at each new skill you add to your resume.
Because TIG welding is such a versatile method, there is always going to be something else to learn. The advice that we give you in this article will help you navigate all of the options that are out there so that you make the decisions that are right for you.
What Makes TIG So Challenging to Learn?
Even if you’ve never seen a TIG welding machine before, there are still several factors that will have an impact on how quickly you pick up the knowledge and techniques that you need to have to be considered competent. These include:
- Previous Experience with Other Welding Methods
- The Machine You’ll Be Using
- The Kind of Projects You Need to Be Able to Do
- Your Definition of Good
Whether or not you have experience with other welding techniques is one factor that will definitely make a difference. While the knowledge of welding you bring over from another technique will give you a head start in terms of understanding how the machine works and what a good weld is—it could go either way when it comes to technique.
Folks who’ve been around for a while will be happy to tell you how much easier TIG welding has gotten as the technology of the machines has evolved. The upside of that is that some machines will get you from the starting line to proficient welds in less time. Of course, you won’t have to learn as much to get there, which could be a downside in certain situations.
Another significant factor in determining how long it will take you to learn TIG welding is the kind of projects that you’ll need to be able to do before you feel comfortable saying that you “know” TIG welding. If you only have one type of project in mind when you set out, you’ll (probably) get there a lot quicker than somebody who wants to be able to do it all.
Here’s the Skinny
One of the most significant differences between TIG welding and every other method out there is that it requires you to develop a technique where you’re using your eyes, both hands, and one foot all at the same time. Some people take to this like they were born doing it while others, even experienced stick and MIG welders, have a tough time with it.
Another challenging aspect of TIG welding is the variety of materials that you can work on with TIG. Some are more challenging than others, but each one you want to work on will require its own investment of time and effort before you can say that you know it.
There’s a big difference between the welder who knows what it says in the book and can get through a butt joint on the workbench with mild steel and the welder who can work in any position, on any material, repairing in the field.
Let’s look a little closer at the decisions you’ll have to make if you want to learn TIG welding.
If you don’t have any background in welding, whether from shop classes in high school, on the job training, or self-taught, then you should probably consider taking some classes that will give you the basic knowledge you need. This will be a lot faster and a lot more orderly than figuring out for yourself what you do and do not need to know.
Even if you’ve been stick welding or MIG welding for years, you might want to consider taking a course that will focus specifically on TIG welding. While you probably have enough knowledge to understand the written material without assistance, you’ll still benefit from the dedicated practice and expert advice.
Of course, you might know somebody who is a pretty solid TIG welder. If so, having them give you lessons might be the right option for you.
How long it takes you to learn to TIG weld will also depend on the machine that you’re trying to learn on. Newer machines have become so advanced that they not only offer some settings that older machines don’t but might even adjust themselves for you so that all you have to do is weld.
Compare that with a decades-old transformer-based machine that will only run DC current, and you’ll quickly understand how much of a difference the machine can make. The upside is that if you’re only concerned with getting to good welds quickly, some machines can get you there faster. The downside is that you’ll be taking a short-cut past all of the knowledge that folks who learned on older machines had to develop to get to “good.”
As with all of the factors we’re discussing, there is no one right decision here. It all depends on what you want to be able to do and what you have or can get access to. The best machine to learn on is the one that you have. If you’re shopping for your first machine, weigh your options before you buy.
Your Definition of Good
What do you need to be able to do with a TIG welder before you tell yourself that you’ve learned TIG? Do you want to be able to work with steel and moly-chrome only, or do you want to be able to work aluminum too? Are you going to be fabricating in a controlled shop environment or doing repairs in the field?
If you do all of your learning in the practice room of a tech school, you should be aware of the limitations of what you know. Even if you’ve done every kind of joint, in every position, on every sort of metal—you’ll be in unfamiliar territory the first time you go out into the field.
If you just want to learn TIG welding to repair your own equipment while you’re in your garage or shop at home, this won’t be a big deal. If you take a job as a TIG welder with a heavy equipment repair company or some other industry that will put you in more challenging environments, then you should be ready to start learning all over again.
Summing it All Up
It’s undoubtedly true that TIG welding is the most versatile welding skill you can learn. It’s also true that most folks find it to be the most challenging. The techniques you need to learn are unique because of the demands TIG places on your filler rod hand and your pedal foot. The machines have a lot of settings that you’ll need to get to know.
The most important thing to focus on if you’re starting from scratch is being able to operate the machine safely. After that, the fundamentals of technique should be your focus. Once you’ve got that, you can work at getting good with the skills that are most important to you right now.
If you embrace the idea that there is always more than you can learn and that there will always be somebody who is better than you, TIG welding can offer you a lifetime of challenges and rewards. Not every hobby or career choice can say that.