5 Beginner Welding Mistakes


Have you heard the saying, “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know?” There is also a saying which has been passed around the skilled trades, “It’s not about what you know, it’s about being able to look up what you don’t know.”

Since the welding industry is constantly evolving with new technologies and emerging methodologies, even the most experienced master welder needs to look up information regarding welding practices from time to time.

If you are just starting your welding career and learning about welding, you made the right choice to research the most common welding mistakes. This leads us to the question: What are the 5 most common beginner welding mistakes?

The 5 most common beginner welding mistakes are:

  • 1) Not Wearing the Correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • 2) Utilizing an Incorrect Welding Process
  • 3) Not Becoming Comfortable During the Weld
  • 4) Not Preparing the Base Material Well Enough
  • 5) Giving Up After Welding Failures

The summarization of these 5 most common beginner welding mistakes is meant to help the beginner welder learn to avoid these mistakes altogether, if possible, so that the beginner welder can have a higher chance of success.

Not Welding Safely

Safety is always the highest priority on a welding job site – a worker can always repair a piece of equipment or grind out a weld and re-weld a joint. But a personal injury can be permanent.

Hazards in welding can include burns, arc burns, hearing loss, dismemberment, and loss of eyesight. All of these hazards are taken very seriously in the industry. Which is why there are plenty of product offerings to choose from in the personal safety category.

Before starting any welding operation, safety essentials should be purchased or borrowed and used. Please consider obtaining these 7 safety essentials, listed in order of importance.

Safety glasses

Purpose: Your eyesight is your greatest tool, hands down. You should treasure and protect your eyesight at all times. The welding process has the potential to be hazardous to your eyesight on a continuous basis. This is could be from stray bits of flying metal from a grinder, spatter from a welding arc, or hazardous arc rays. 

An all inclusive article about how dangerous welding might be for your eyes can be read here. We recommend it highly.

You should get into a good habit of always wearing safety glasses while inside of any industrial area.

Always wear clear safety glasses while in any welding or cutting areas. It is also recommended to wear specially tinted glasses while cutting with a torch or gas welding, also known as brazing.

As a general rule of thumb, wear a #3 shade lens for cutting with a torch, and a #5 lens for brazing.

Since application vary, consult the lens manufacturer’s recommended shade level for your use.

Hearing Protection

Purpose: Your second most important piece of personal protective equipment – directly after safety glasses – is hearing protection.

Hearing loss is serious because it is permanent. Loud jobsites, indoor or outdoor, can easily reach and exceed the 85-decibel level at which OSHA requires hearing protection.

Welding processes are inherently loud; for example, an angle grinder can be 110 decibels and a carbon arc gouge process can be 118 decibels. (carbon arc gouging is used for cutting thick plates of steel in the field.)

The equipment looks similar to stick welding, but there is a high pressure air current which ejects the molten metal – in a loud manner. In the example of carbon arc gouging, 118 decibels is considered very loud, in the same category as an airplane taking off – 120 decibels.

The rule with decibel levels is that prolonged exposure to higher decibel levels such as carbon arc gouging or grinding will cause permanent hearing loss unless you wear your protective equipment.

Safety Steel* Toe Boots

Purpose: The purpose of steel toe boots is quite simple – to protect your feet from falling objects, which in a welding shop would most likely be a piece of metal.

It is extremely important to fully comprehend your application since the environment you work in will dictate your footwear. Whereas, a small welding shop might only require composite* (the alternative to steel) toe boots for a certain level of safety, a shipyard with multi ton objects being moved into position would require a different pair of boots.

If you ask any seasoned welder they will tell you that comfort is key in your equipment because comfort equals concentration.

Read our far-reaching article about proper footwear for welders, here.

Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet

Purpose: The most obvious necessity to perform any welding operation is the welding helmet. Welding helmets come in 2 main categories, auto-darkening, and non-auto-darkening.

Auto-darkening welding helmets have ultra-sensitive sensors in the front, facing the weld. Once the welding arc starts the auto-darkening mechanism darken the lens.

It can be hard to believe that the automatic lens can darken in such a quick manner. Incredibly, the technology is such that the auto-darkening feature turns the lens from lightly tinted to full dark in milliseconds by sending an electrical current to liquid crystal cells inside the lens which turn the lens dark.

Depending on your welding application and environment, you might not want to use an auto-darkening helmet. Especially if you are stick welding due to the greater amount of welding sparks.

It really just depends if it is beneficial for you to see through the lens to see what you are doing with the work piece prior to starting the arc.

One of the advantages of having an auto-darkening helmet is the fact that you can usually adjust the lens darkness and sensitivity with a simple turn of a knob.

This comes in handy when you are TIG welding. The TIG arc is small. So, you need the lens to sense the arc better. And, you don’t want the lens to be as dark as you would have it for stick welding or MIG welding.

We spent a great deal of time researching 10 of the best welding helmets for the beginner. You can find that article here.

Not Using the Correct Welding Process

Whether you are a seasoned professional who works in a fabrication shop or as an HVAC technician, or if you are simply a beginner who is starting to explore different metal joining technologies, at some point we all have become curious about the different kind of metal joining technologies.

One mistake which beginner welders make is using an incorrect welding process. In certain instances, it is challenging to determine which welding process to choose.

One of the more common mistakes with beginner welders is not knowing which process to use. There are volumes of information regarding the differences between different welding processes.

We have a post that covers just about every aspect of welding for the beginner. You can read that comprehensive article here.

It is no surprise that beginner welders commonly utilize an incorrect process for their application. As an example, showing the numerous intricacies between processes, we will take a look at the differences between welding, brazing, and soldering.

One of the main differences between welding, brazing, and soldering is the type of materials being joined.

The types of materials joined in each of these three processes are unique to each of the welding, brazing, and soldering processes. The process of welding can permanently join almost any metal together in a very durable joint.

Welding technicians very regularly weld together carbon steels, stainless steels, aluminum, as well as specialty alloys such as coppers and high nickel content alloys.

Not as commonly welded together are castings, forgings, and extrusions, but there are welding techniques to achieve these types of joints. The process of welding is so highly durable that it is used in joining together super-thick structural steel plates.

In addition, the process is so versatile that it can join together materials as thin as an aluminum soda can.

The types of materials which the process of brazing can join together are numerous.

The brazing process can join together the same metals as welding. Metals such as steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and exotic alloys. But the main advantage which the brazing process has over the welding process is the ability to join dissimilar metals together.

As hard as you try, you cannot weld together dissimilar metals such as a steel and an aluminum tube – the materials simply won’t melt together and form a joint.

There are certain filler materials which are determined to be best for different material combinations, and the brazing operator will look up these specifications as called out by an engineer.

The brazing process can join together thick and thin materials, but it does not have the penetration qualities which the welding process has in order to permanently join thick pieces of material together.

The types of materials which the soldering process can join together are limited to the low-temperature qualities of the process. Process engineers save soldering operations for smaller workpieces such as joining together wires and thin pieces of material.

The soldering process regularly joins copper, aluminum, and steel materials, but is limited by the workpiece thickness. Similar to the brazing process, the soldering process can join together dissimilar metals since the metals do not actually melt together to become joined (as in welding), instead the filler material acts as a kind of “metal glue” so to speak.

Not Becoming Comfortable During the Weld

A common mistake with beginner welders happens when they strike an arc to begin their weld. They may tense up in the beginning. This happens when trying too hard to concentrate on the bead. Their welds then turns out unsatisfactory afterward.

This can be challenging to master. The welder must first recognize how comfortable or uncomfortable he or she may be.

But being comfortable during your weld is very important in order to achieve high-quality welds.

If you intend on welding longer, after your first weld bead of the day, you simply won’t last if your body is tense and uncomfortable. You will be fatigued and your subsequent welds will suffer.

It comes with practice, but if you put yourself in a relaxed state prior to starting your arc and continuing that relaxation through your weld, you will see more positive results.

Being able to relax allows you to better focus on things like your weld puddle, your filler dipping technique, or on your heat affected zone.

Select welding processes, such as TIG welding, often times allow the welding operator to sit at a bench and weld the workpiece in position. If at all possible, you should take advantage of being able to sit down and weld.

Many times, a weld will come out looking poorly if the welding operator is welding from extreme positions. For example, a crooked wrist, a strained back, or a hurt ankle due to an out of position foot pedal can all cause the operator to be distracted and result in a poor weld.

Making small adjustments can result in big improvements in your weld quality. There will be times when you are not able to get completely comfortable. For example, if you are welding out of position on an unmovable, fixed workpiece.

In this case, try to get as comfortable as possible by stacking as many variables in your favor as possible. For example, take short breaks to rest your arms, back or whatever needs it the most. Reposition if possible and weld different areas before coming back to finish the difficult part.

Not Preparing the Base Material Well Enough

Probably the most common mistake which beginner welders make is not preparing the base material well enough prior to starting the weld.

Preparing your material prior to welding is always very important to do correctly. To learn more about just how much time to spend cleaning, see also: Do I need to Remove Paint from Metal before Welding?

Ferrous metals such as cold rolled steel do not require significant cleaning, but aluminum materials require thorough cleaning.

There are two reasons why you have to clean your raw aluminum material, firstly because aluminum naturally forms an oxide layer on its exterior surface while it is cooling off at the raw material factory.

Secondly, and highly important, cleaning oils and contaminants on the surface left by handling the material. There are two steps to cleaning the surface of your aluminum prior to starting your weld.

Step 1: Remove the oils and contaminants from the surface of the material. It is important to perform this step before any brushing so that brushing does not push contaminants further into the material. You can use acetone to clean the surface of the material or there are other surface cleaners specifically for aluminum preparation, on the market.

Step 2: Brush the surface of the aluminum material to remove aluminum oxides. This oxide layer is usually not difficult to remove from the surface of the material using a brush. Always use a stainless steel bristle brush for this step since using a carbon steel brush will only introduce ferrous contaminants into your aluminum. This causes weld quality problems due to the impurities.

As you can see, keeping your weld materials clean, especially aluminum, is very important. You will notice a major difference in the weld quality between a non-cleaned and a well-cleaned joint.

Tip: Mark your different brushes with “Steel, “Stainless,” and “Aluminum,” so you don’t get the different brushes mixed up. You don’t want to accidentally use a brush which you always use on carbon steel on your aluminum material – this will result in an impure and low-quality weld. 

Giving Up After Welding Failures

You have probably heard this throughout your life, but don’t give up! Welding is quite difficult to get just right. And beginner welders are going to make lots of mistakes just starting out. The way to mitigate this issue is through practice.

This might be as obvious as it sounds, but in the case of welding, it is extremely true. Welding aluminum and welding in general is no less than an art form.

There are numerous conditions which you must be aware of while you are under your helmet, welding. Experience and skill will tell you how to fix many of these issues on the fly.

There is no substitute for experience in the field of welding. Education and practice will help accelerate your gain of that valuable experience.

Conclusion

As the workforce in the welding industry ages and more of the workforce moves to retirement there are innumerable experienced welders who would be happy to pass on the trade to someone who is willing to listen and learn.

You are bound to eventually get frustrated with learning the welding process. There are so many small techniques and tidbits of experience which you need to learn in order to master the trade.

Do not be discouraged if you cannot achieve a good-looking weld bead after three or four weeks of trying. Instead, reach out to an expert and ask for help.

This help can be found in many different places, whether at an instructional welding course at a vocational school or community college, from senior coworkers at your job, or even from YouTube videos found online.

The resources are out there. It is just a matter of realizing that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.