7 Tips for the first time welder

If you have a passion to learn how to weld, here are some things you might find helpful before getting started.

1- Know the fundamentals of welding

The process of welding is simple. It consists of heating two pieces of metal to the point at which they melt. The molten liquids then combine in the weld pool and will become one when the molten metals solidify.

A third source of metal also known as filler is usually introduced and melted together with the two base metals to add to the total mass of the weld.

These filler metals will either be electrodes, filler rods, or continuously fed wire depending on the welding process chosen.

Done correctly, a weld will have no imperfections such as pinholes and will tie in nicely with the base metals on its outer edges. A good weld will also have penetrated through to the bottom of the base metals and completely fused them together.

To learn a few basic welding terms, go here.

2 – Decide which welding method to learn first

It’s a personal preference but I believe learning to arc weld with an electrode is a great place to start. One thing you need to consider, however, is what kind of projects you plan to work on.

Keep in mind, there is no single method of welding that is best for all applications. 

Considering the top three methods, there is some crossover between them, but there are also specific things that each one does better than the other two.

For instance, TIG welding is the choice for welding Chromoly, brass, copper, magnesium and titanium. The welding of aluminum requires either the MIG or TIG method. But, you will need a stick welder to weld cast iron.

You can pick from all three methods if you choose to weld steel or stainless steel. Just bear in mind that it will take you considerably longer to weld steel with a TIG welder than a MIG or stick welder.

And, if you are welding outside or in drafty areas you won’t want to MIG weld steel unless you switch over to a flux-core wire first.

Don’t be intimidated by the choices as hobby welders work with steel almost exclusively. Thus, narrowing down your choice of welding methods to the Electrode or MIG methods.

If you plan on welding up to 1/4″ to 5/16″ thick metals outside or in the barn with the doors open at the farm or ranch, you will probably be happier stick welding.

If you are working with thinner steel and will be indoors with almost no breeze to speak of, then you will probably want to learn to MIG weld first.

The modern equivalent of my 30-year-old AC/DC shop welder, which I still use regularly, can be found here!

The MIG welder I use in the shop is the Lincoln Easy MIG 180!

3 – Protect your eyes when welding or observing

Never look directly at the welding arc, even for a split second without a welding helmet. Even as a bystander, indirect exposure to the welding arc can also damage your eyes.

A quality welding helmet is a must. No matter if you plan on observing a welding instructor, friend or mentor, it is a good idea to have your own welding helmet. Don’t get discouraged by the assortment and price ranges available.

Start with a good auto darkening helmet with an adjustable shade feature. A good one can be had without breaking the bank. Having said that, your eyes are one of the most treasured pieces of equipment you own.

If taken care of, a new helmet should last many years. I’ve had several over the years and the one I am using now is the Lincoln Electric VIKING 1840.

As a new welder, your experience will be enhanced with the adjustable shade feature. A great way to familiarize yourself with its effectiveness is to watch someone else weld.

This gives you the opportunity to adjust the shade on your helmet under fire without being distracted.  Your weld quality should improve quicker by having the ability to see what you are doing with more clarity.

You don’t want the adjustment to be too light to the point the arc blinds you. On the other hand, too dark and you won’t be able to see where you are going with the weld.

4 – Find a welding mentor

If available, plan on taking welding courses. If that is not an option for you, a good mentor could prove invaluable. That could be a friend or acquaintance with experience in the type of welding you would like to learn first.

As previously stated, I suggest you learn either electrode, a.k.a., “Stick,” welding, or MIG welding first. Being able to interact with another individual by asking questions specific to your understanding, will help you learn much quicker.

But there are other ways to learn the fundamentals if you don’t have a mentor.

A great set of beginner training DVDs starting out with the stick welding process, are the Steve Bleile Arc Welding I and II videos.

Even if you have a mentor, being able to reference back to fundamentals introduced by a seasoned welder like Steve might keep you from picking up bad habits that you will have to unlearn later.

5 – Practice, practice, practice

Spend some time in the beginning simply laying beads on top of a single piece of thicker steel. Concentrate on the pool, which is the small molten pool of metal at the base of the arc. Generally speaking, the pool should be fairly round.

Welding is all about the pool and how it is formed and maintained by the welder. Stacking dimes is a term coined to describe a good weld. Imagine a dime laid on its side at a very slight angle with the trailing edge slightly elevated.

Now imagine that same dime with half its mass below the surface of the metal being welded and the other half above the base metal. Now imagine a string of dimes overlapping each other for the length of the weld.

If done at the correct amperage, speed and arc length you will have stacked some dimes.

If the bead is narrow and appears to be laying on top of the base metal instead of being part of it, the current is either too low or you are welding too fast.

Conversely, if the bead is more oblong to teardrop shaped with the point of the teardrop at the trailing edge you may be welding too slow or the voltage may be too high.

6 – Set yourself up for success

Depending on the size and scope of your project, you may find yourself welding out of position at least some of time. But, in the beginning, set up a small welding area, preferably a metal table or something similar.

Sit in front of your base metal with it laying flat on the table. From a comfortable position get good at creating good beads, consistently.

Once you have increased weld quality and feel you are ready, butt two pieces of metal together edge to edge leaving a slight gap between them and practice welding them together. Next, set up a tee joint.

Have one piece of metal laying flat on the table with the other sitting perpendicular to it so that you have formed an upside-down T. Weld the two base metals together where they meet up.

Another common joint is the lap joint. You can practice this by laying two pieces of steel on top of each other and sliding the top piece slightly to one side.

Weld them together at the point where the edge of the top piece runs along the bottom piece. When you get good welding these three types of joints, you are on your way to becoming a welder.

7 – Welding Protection

Since we have already discussed the welding helmet lets discuss some of the other items designed to protect you when welding. UV rays thrown off from the arc will burn all exposed skin in close proximity.

Make sure your neckline and upper arms are not exposed. The resulting burn is much like a very bad sunburn.

Glowing red hot sparks and molten metal falling from the welding area will do a number on your skin and clothing not designed to handle it.

If you have ever had a hot spark land on your tennis shoe and burn through it as well as your toenail below, well… you get the idea.

In addition to your leather welding gloves, wear long-sleeved, heavy cotton, button-down shirts, and blue jeans at a minimum. I recommend FR or flame resistant clothing.

A great welding shirt with a closed collar at a great price is the Miller Electric Welding Jacket.

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Marry some metal today!