What TIG Welding is Used For (& How to Know When to Use It) 


So, has learning how to weld caught your interest lately? If so, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between TIG welding and MIG welding, and when you should use TIG welding. TIG welding offers you the opportunity to finish projects with thinner metals as you weld. Most welders use TIG welding when melding very thin metals that MIG welding can’t handle, or to touch up and finalize projects. 

What is TIG welding used for, and how do can one know when to use it? TIG welding stands for tungsten inert gas welding because a tungsten electrode runs the current through the metals being joined as you weld. You typically use TIG welding to complete welds when metal objects are very thin, and it allows you to touch-up your welding projects.

Since there isn’t a lot of information on the Internet today covering TIG welding and when you should use it, we created this article to help you out. Below we’ll include what TIG welding is used for, how MIG and TIG welding work, and when you should use TIG welding. We’ll also finish by discussing how to weld with a TIG welder.

What is TIG Welding?

Before we get too heavily into how you’ll be using TIG welding, we first need to define what TIG welding is, and when you’ll use it. So, we’ll start with the definition of TIG welding and give you a brief overview of what TIG welding will do for you.

TIG is short for inert tungsten gas, and TIG welding refers to gas tungsten arc welding or GTAW. TIG welding starts with a non-consumable tungsten electrode charge that consistently provides current so that a person can weld with their welding arc. 

As the TIG welding is completed, the tungsten and weld puddle are both cooled off with an inert gas, which is usually argon, providing you with safety and protection. In many ways, TIG welding resembles oxy-acetylene welding because you’re using filler material so that you can reinforce your welding creation. 

How Do TIG Welders Work?

If you’ve ever done welding with an oxy-acetylene torch, then you already know most of the steps involved with TIG welding. With TIG welding, you’ll be using an electric torch with a welder hand that will be feeding filler rod into the molten puddle as you weld.

With TIG welding, you get the capability to soft start and soft stop, which is the significant action that distinguishes TIG welding from other kinds of electric welding. Many experienced welders enjoy using an accelerator pedal to keep the heat under control if they like working at a bench. Other skilled welders prefer using the fingertip remotes on the torch when welding because the remote gives welders the ability to modify their heat while they are in the process of welding.

Parts of a TIG Welder

Before you jump into your first TIG welding project, you’ll need to know how to use the TIG welder. So, we’ll familiarize you with the parts of a TIG welder and the functions of each specific piece to get you started on the right foot immediately below.

The Work Lead

The first important part of a TIG welder is the work lead, which is also known as a ground cable that features a clamp. Before you start welding, you’ll need to attach the workpiece so that it is combined to the metal surface you are planning to work on as you prepare to begin. If you’re not sure how to identify the welding lead, you can find it by knowing it has the electric TIG torch at the end of it.

You’ll also found a cable connected to the work lead, which carries the argon gas (or another coolant type inert gas on the TIG welder if the TIG welder doesn’t use argon). The inert gas helps to coat the electrode and protects the weld from being contaminated by the outside air. So, you’ll need to make sure you are also using a gas bottle and a regulator. However, you don’t want to use the same gas that you use in your MIG welder.

The Small Tungsten Rod

We can break down the TIG torch in a little more detail because there are several parts involved on the inside of the TIG torch. The small tungsten rod (which can come in many different sizes) on the inside of the torch works as the electrode. This electrode is designed to not burn up like a filler rod would under the same circumstances. You can also sharpen the tungsten as you see fit, making it a point or a ball so that you can match it to what you are welding.

The Copper Collet

On the tungsten, a copper collet can be found holding it together. That copper collet will help you adjust the length on the tungsten since the tungsten sticks out of the welder’s cup. The ceramic cup, which is usually pink on most TIG welders, can be unscrewed, removed, and replaced whenever you need to modify it. There are many different sizes of cup outlet diameters on the market, and you need to match that to what you’ll be welding.

The body of the collet features many cross-holes that permit the gas to move into the cup and then circle the tungsten. Oxygen is left out of the mix because of oxygen contaminates welding projects. If you want to reduce the collet’s hold on the tungsten, you can loosen the back cap on the collet. If you want to remove the tungsten to sharpen it or replace it for any reason, you’ll need to loosen the back cap on the collet.

Foot-Operated Mechanisms

Also, many TIG machines utilize foot-operated mechanisms that provide for varying amperage control. Typically, the maximum amperage you’ll want will be already pre-set on your welder. During the process, you might want to change up the amperage, and you’ll be able to do that with this mechanism.

Many welders find they need this part when they are welding alloy steels because the foot control lets them slowly bring up the heat, and then gradually reduce the heat once they are done. By doing a soft start and soft stop like this, the temperature won’t shock the metal. It’s crucial to avoid shocking the metal because if you do, you’ll wind up with a brittle weld.

Controls

You’ll also find numerous controls on your TIG machine. Probably the essential command you’ll need to know on the TIG machine when you are welding is balancing, which is very important when you are welding aluminum. The balance helps you keep the cleaning versus the penetration of the aluminum to a minimal amount. The more you up the balance on the machine, the deeper your weld will penetrate the metal.

Other controls you’ll find on your TIG machine include a choice between a normal or a pulsed mode. If you use the pulsed mode when welding aluminum, you’ll discover that the amperage on the TIG welder varies itself automatically. That helps you keep down the heat on your workpiece so that your weld comes out better. Most welders use pulsing to create a “stacked dimes” appearance or to create a wave-like pattern in their weld.

Now that we’ve covered the essential parts you’ll need to know on a TIG welder, we’ll discuss how MIG and TIG welding work and when you’ll use TIG welding versus MIG welding below.

When is TIG Welding Commonly Used?

TIG welding is commonly used in the following scenarios:

  • TIG welding works best on small, thin metals, especially aluminum. Since TIG welding provides the welder with more accuracy, it’s easier to perform actions on thin metals as a result. 
  • Whenever you need a precise, pretty weld, you’ll want to consider opting for TIG welding since TIG welding gives you more control, allowing you more precision.
  • When you need a nice weld bead appearance for your project, you should use TIG welding. Since TIG welding allows for more control and precision, you’ll get a better appearance with your weld when you use TIG welding. There are some jobs out there that require TIG welding for a good bond and a more stylish appearance. For example, piping, high-profile consumer goods, and nuclear work often require TIG welded bonds. 
  • If you are welding materials that are very thin, or if you are welding materials that are in the five-thousandths inch range, you won’t be able to use other types of welding. The only type of welding that will work when looking at thin, small areas is TIG welding because of the greater amount of accuracy you’ll get
  • TIG welding can also be used for a variety of DIY projects like making a bicycle, tools, carts, furniture, shelving, and can even be used in jewelry repair.

MIG welding and plasma arc welding have replaced TIG welding in many industries like aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing.

MIG and TIG Welding

For you to understand more about TIG welding, and when you’ll be using TIG welding, we need to break down both MIG welding and TIG welding. We’ll cover when you’ll be using MIG welding, and when you’ll be using TIG welding so that you can successfully create your first welding project.

So, we’ll start by breaking down MIG welding in a bit more detail. MIG (metal inert gas) welding uses a constant feed through a metal wire into the weld you are creating. The cord uses the supply it’s getting like it’s filler material so that you can combine two metal objects easily. Some also call MIG welding GMAW or Gas Metal Arc Welding. By contrast, TIG welding uses inert tungsten gas to join the two metal objects together, and may or might not use a filler as you weld.

MIG welding uses a consumable filler while you weld to combine metal objects. That means MIG welding is easier to use when you are trying to weld together larger, thicker metal objects. Typically, if you are working with more abundant metals, a MIG weld can melt together those denser objects in far less time than a TIG weld could weld them together.

Since TIG welding doesn’t always use a filler material, the TIG torch needs to be able to get hot enough to meld the two objects together. You can see why it would be easier to do that with thinner pieces of metal compared to thicker ones. If you use TIG welding with more abundant metals, you might wind up cracking your metal and experiencing other issues, like a brittle weld.

So, when you start welding, you’ll need to know that you’ll use MIG welding for very thick, heavy-duty pieces of metal. However, when you are welding thinner pieces of metal, you’ll want to use TIG welding instead.

To give you a little more insight about when you’ll be using TIG welding and when you’ll use MIG welding, we’ll discuss the type of control you’ll have with both types of welding so that you’ll better understand when you should use TIG welding.

Control in MIG and TIG Welding

When doing TIG welding, you need to have a lot of control over things like timing, electric current, and pressure as you are welding. That’s why many newbie welders like starting with an automated, computer numerically-controlled (CNC) welding machine. These machines give welders a lot of control over their welds when doing TIG welds. Also, these machines are very reliable and much easier to use than a manual welder.

So, is one of these types of welding options better than the other? When trying to answer this question, it depends on what you are trying to weld. Like we mentioned earlier, you’ll want to use MIG welding when completing heavy-duty welding work with larger, thicker pieces of metal because of the filler you’ll get when using the MIG welder. On the other hand, when you are joining smaller pieces of metal together, like wires, you’ll want to use TIG welding. TIG welding directly joins two pieces of metal, meaning you don’t need to use a filler when TIG welding. 

That saves you money in the long-run when you are completing your welding projects. TIG welding also typically requires a lot less maintenance than MIG welding because the welding electrode in TIG welding isn’t continuously consumed while you are welding. Still, when TIG welding, the welding electrode has to be cleaned and polished correctly between uses. You’ll need to especially make sure you are cleaning your TIG electrode whenever you weld stainless steel.

So, you’ll be using TIG welding when you are melding smaller pieces of metal together, and MIG welding when melding thicker pieces of metal together. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to welding. You’ll have to decide what type of welding process to use on a case-by-case basis to produce the best results.

To help you how to analyze that case-by-case basis a bit better, we’ll cover below when you should use MIG welding, and when you should use TIG welding in a bit more depth.

When to Use TIG and MIG Welding

So, you probably want more specifications about when you’ll be using TIG welding, and when you’ll be using MIG welding. We’ll cover what type of welding you’ll want to use for which kind of project in a bit more detail below. To figure out which welding technique you’ll want to use, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions and consider the answers. 

What’s the Thickness of the Metal?

Metal thickness is something you’ll need to consider because the thicker the metal, the harder it is to join with just heat alone. So, with very thick pieces of metal, your TIG welding torch probably won’t be enough. So, when metal is very dense, you should skip TIG welding and use MIG welding instead.

What Electrical Conductivity Do You Need?

You’ll also need to take a look at how malleable the metal is that you are joining together. If you are working with highly ductile metal, you’ll need to heat the metal for a more extended period, and that uses up more energy. However, a metal that is electrically-resistant typically gets hotter faster, so you can weld it without filler material and use your TIG welder for that.

Are You Welding Dissimilar Metals?

We don’t recommend that you weld dissimilar metals since a lot of weak bond problems could result, but sometimes we understand that you might need to do it anyway. If you are welding together two dissimilar metals, then you’re going to want something that uses a filler and bonds. So, you’d use MIG welding for this.

Does the Metal Need to Be Smooth?

You’ll also need to factor in how smooth you want your result to be. Using filler materials means you’ll have more weld splatter and more work when you want something smooth. That’s where doing direct metal-to-metal welding comes into play, and you’ll want your TIG welder for that.

Now that you have a better understanding of when you’ll be using TIG welding, we’ll cover the process of how to complete a TIG welding project.

How to Complete a TIG Welding Project

Since we’ve covered enough up to this point to give you a good idea of when you’ll need to use TIG welding, we’ll now cover how to complete a TIG welding project. You can use TIG welding for a variety of metals like copper, titanium, and aluminum. Also, TIG welding is excellent when you are completing tricky projects, like curves or rounding off any metal object.

Below we’ll outline the steps to help you complete your next TIG welding project.

Step #1: Select Your Electrode

First, you’ll need to select the electrode you’ll be using. More than likely, you probably have the right electrode on your TIG already. If you’re welding aluminum, it’s best to use a pure tungsten rod. Throughout this example, we’ll be using the specific alloy 6061 aluminum as a point of reference. 

Step #2: Get the Electrode Ready

Next, you’ll want to grind the tungsten rod to an excellent point so that you’re getting your electrode ready. You’ll need to complete this step if the rod is brand-new or it isn’t pointed or rounded on the tip. As you weld, the tip rounds out because of the heat. We suggest using a ballad tip for AC welding, and when DC welding, use a pointed tip. 

Step #3: Place the Electrode in the Collet

Next, you’ll need to unscrew the electrode holder, put your rod in, and then screw the back in again. You can skip this step if you already have your electrode ready.

Step #4: Select Your Settings

With a TIG welder, you’ll have three options in settings—DCEP, AC, and DCEN. When welding aluminum, you’ll use AC, so that’s the setting we selected for our aluminum project. However, for future reference, we’ll also describe the other parameters. DCEP refers to “DC, Electrode Positive,” which you’ll use when balling your tip or stick welding. The setting, DCEN, stands for “DC, Electrode Negative,” and is the setting we use when welding steel. 

Next, you’ll need to set the “Cleaning/Penetrating” setting, so it’s more on the penetrating end. We suggest around seven if working on a scale from 1 to 10. Next, put the “Air on” setting to around five seconds if you can. After that, set the “Max Amps” setting so that it’s high. We suggest putting the “Max Amps” setting at around 250. 

If you need other information about specific settings, you can use this handy settings calculator

Step #5: Get Your Gas Ready

Since our example is using aluminum, we’d use pure argon as our gas. If you are welding steel, you’ll use a mix of argon and carbon dioxide.

Step #6: Get Your Metal and Welding Table Ready

You’ll need access to a large metallic area so that you can allow electricity to flow through the metal you are welding. We typically use a welding table that’s made just for this reason. However, if you don’t have the funds to purchase a welding table right now, a large, flat sheet of metal will work just fine.

We recommend using a wire brush to scrub off the surfaces of the metal and keep that brush separate from what you use to clean steel. Keeping the surface of the metal clean means, you’ll wind up with prettier welds. It’s also a good idea to wipe the welding rods down with acetone.

Remember, you’ll need to clamp your metals so you can keep them in place as you are welding. We also recommend spraying down your welding table with anti-spatter. That way, when metal leaks off, it won’t stick when it lands.

Step #7: Get Geared Up

To keep your TIG welding days as safe as possible, you’re going to need the appropriate gear. So, after you’ve got your TIG welder ready to go, you’ll need to get yourself prepared to go to make sure you stay protected. You’ll need some thick leather welding gloves, a welding helmet, and closed-toe shoes. Also, since you can get sunburned from TIG welding, you need to wear a welding coat. You also might want to get a good, bright flashlight so you can see what you are doing while you weld. 

Step #8: Do a Final Check

Now you’ll need to do a final check and get ready to weld. Place the electrode in your dominant hand and test it out. Ensure that the electrode moves freely and is easy to work with before you start.

Step #9: Let’s Get Ready to Weld!

Now you’re ready to start welding with your TIG welder! Start with the electrode about one-inch away from the metal with which you are working. You don’t ever want to touch the metal with the electrode. If that happens, you’ll wind up with molten aluminum on the electrode. If you do wind up accidentally touching the metal and you get aluminum on the electrode, you’ll need to stop, turn off your welder, take off the tungsten rod, and grind it down again. 

Next, press down on the foot pedal so that you wind up with a rush of current and heat into your metal. You want to heat the metal quickly and start up your weld pool. To get the pool to start forming, you’ll need to start on an edge. After the pool forms, you need to touch the rod in and make sure you don’t heat the metal for too long. If you cook the metal for too long, it will warp. 

After the pool forms, ease off the pedal and start aiming to control the heat that the metal is getting. Remember, as you are doing this that welds shrink as they cool, so you want to alternate sides so that your welds remain even. Also, by rotating sides, you’ll be preventing the metal from warping. If you don’t change sides, you might wind up warping the metal. 

Step #10: Draw a Bead

Once you are done tacking, you’ll remove the clamps from your metal. Then, you’ll start your weld pool. After your weld pool is going, you’ll want to lighten up on the pedal, just like we described above. Now you are ready to draw a bead, but you’ll need to keep an eye on a few things.

If the metal burns too fast or starts melting too quickly, then you’ve got too much current going into the metal. If that’s the case, ease off the foot pedal. On the other hand, if you notice the metal getting flaky but not liquid-like, then you’ll need to push the pedal down harder. 

Since our example is aluminum, we’ll start with welding aluminum. When using aluminum, move the electrode in the direction of the rod while you are feeding the rod into the pool of metal. You’ll want to keep the rod to the electrode’s side, a process known as “leading” the electrode. 

When working with steel, you want the electrode to travel down the weld line first, with the rod chasing, or “following” the heat

Final Thoughts

 Now that we’ve covered what TIG welding is, how it is used, and the steps to getting started with TIG welding, you should be all set to begin your welding project. Knowing how and when to use TIG welding means you should be able to create beautiful pieces once you are finished, and enjoy your new hobby for hours on end. 

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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