A Welding Guide for Beginners

What are the tools you will need to begin welding today? What is the right machine for you? In this article, we will provide these answers plus additional tips to get you started with confidence. 

It all started while brainstorming ways to help new welders when I asked myself, “What are the basic essentials a beginner welder will need to get started?”

When I researched the topic, I could not find a beginners welding guide that sufficiently helped me select a machine, safety gear and that would help a beginner get started with some simple projects. So, I wrote my own guide!

As a new welder, you’ll need a good welding machine, some basic safety gear, and a dedicated space to build your new project. The basics should run you anywhere from $500 to $1000 or more depending on how advanced of a machine and gear you purchase.

Let’s start with the most important subject: Safety!

Safety

Welding is inherently dangerous. Practically, every tool that you touch as a welder can burn you, cut you or otherwise make your day a bit unpleasant, to say the least.

There are a few basic items you’ll need to keep you safe as a welder. No need to worry, you can purchase some good, affordable safety gear to start out with that will not break the bank.

Then, you can upgrade at a later time when you have a bit more cash to spend. I’ll include some links for affordable gear, so it’s easy and you don’t have to waste time hunting them down.

A Good Hood

This is the one area where I would buy the best item I could afford. Why? You need to see clearly to weld effectively. Higher end hoods like the ESAB have a wide lens and they are made extremely well.

I use this hood and you can see your project and the weld with unmatched clarity. Having said that, you’ll want to get a high-end hood like this eventually. But, to start off with you can get an entry level hood like one found in a previous article called, Top Ten Welding Helmets for the Beginner. 

A Heavy Duty Coat

Now, if you’re really on a budget you could pop on a flannel shirt which will cover your arms from spatter and sparks – and that’s ok in a pinch. But I highly recommend a good heavy cotton work jacket.

They are affordable and it’s a good habit to start out welding fully protected. I like the BSX welding jacket because it has snap closures on the neck and the wrists. These prevent stray sparks from jumping down your shirt.

In the event you are going to be stick welding, especially overhead, I highly recommend something a bit heavier like the Ironcat leather jacket. You will appreciate the protection from any spatter or molten metal. A cotton jacket might be a little thin in this case.

Heavy Gloves

Since your hands are going to be closest body parts to your welds they will be exposed heat and UV Rays. You will need some good gloves that ride high on your forearms.

If you’re doing MIG or stick work I recommend heavier gloves that are durable and well made. If you’re going to be doing TIG work you’ll want something a bit more flexible. Great examples can be found on our Recommended Gear page.

We have covered some basic essentials but don’t forget to wear a good pair of heavy cotton work pants and some steel toe boots. Once you have all of this, you will be ready to start welding.

Workspace

I want to briefly touch on the topic of your workspace. This is especially important if you’re a DIY welder. Mainly because you will probably start projects and come back to finish them later.

If you’re working a project in stages over time then a dedicated workspace is essential. For instance, you will not want to break down a project if it’s clamped together and waiting for tack welds.

Having a dedicated space is important. And in that space, you will need a good work table. You can buy one – but I would recommend welding together a table as your first project. Here is a link showing some tables for inspiration.

Decide on welding type

First, let’s quickly recap what we covered.

  1. Basic safety gear to get you started
  2. Finding a dedicated workspace
  3. Ideas for building a work table as a beginner project.

Moving forward, let’s cover the major types of welding. Below, I’ll provide a quick overview of each one. I will include the pro’s and con’s and then I’ll give you my opinion on where you should start as a new welder.

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Stick or Electrode Welding

Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is also known as stick welding. Stick welding is great for many applications. You will find electrode welders being used on farms, building ships and buildings and on production lines.

Pro’s

  • Inexpensive to start  – All you will need is a welder and some rods to start you off.
  • No gas needed – Since the shielding gas is built into the rod flux, you will not need a bottle of shielding gas.
  • Easy to learn – Some will argue that MIG is easier but I would argue this is the easiest type of welding to learn as a beginner.

Con’s

  • The welding rods or electrodes must be kept away from moisture and humidity.
  • Not as refined a process as TIG welding for artistic or finished welds.
  • As opposed to MIG, slag is produced as part of the welding process and must be chipped away

With that said, I love stick welding. It’s how I began my welding journey and I highly recommend it. Below are just a couple of reasons:

  • Stick welding is relatively easy to learn and in a short time, you can get proficient in the skill.
  • While it is always a good idea to clean your metal for a good, solid weld, stick welding is more forgiving if welding on rusty, painted metal.  

MIG

Gas metal arc welding (GMAW) or MIG welding is also a process that is great in many applications. Such as when welding thinner metals.

MIG welding is used in production lines, manufacturing and is popular with small businesses. It was developed in the 1940’s and can be used with both steel and aluminum.

What I like about the MIG process is that leaves clean welds with no slag. Plus it too is fairly easy to learn. The machines are portable and it’s pretty inexpensive to operate.

Pro’s

  • Machines and consumables are affordable
  • Easy to become reasonably proficient in a few weeks
  • Fast welding speed
  • Leaves clean welds
  • No rods to keep changing out as they are used up

Con’s

  • Limited use outdoors if in windy conditions
  • Entry level machines are limited to thinner metals 

Now you know some of the good and the bad of MIG welding. I recommend MIG welding to anyone who needs are to strictly weld thin gauge ( ½” and under) mild steel.

You will still be able to weld most home and garage projects. This also includeds most art projects. Also, you can choose to switch over to flux core wire welding. Flux core allows you to weld outdoors in windy conditions.

It also allows you to ditch the tank of shielding gas. It will produce more smoke and you will need to remove the slag layer covering the weld.

TIG

Gas Tungsten arc welding ( GTAW) or TIG Welding is the hardest to master of these three types of welding. It takes the most coordination, hand control, and knowledge to really lay down a solid TIG weld.

With that said it can also be the most fulfilling type of welding to master. And, you can TIG weld a wide variety of materials from Aluminum to stainless to brass. 

Pro’s

  • High-quality welds are produced – ideal for artists and fine finishing applications
  • No spatter or sparks like in MIG welding
  • No cleanup necessary

Con’s

  • High skill level needed to become proficient
  • Material needs to be very clean for a proper TIG weld to be laid down.

I recommend TIG welding to anyone who has mastered stick welding or MIG welding first. The familiarity you will have with other welding processes will translate well into TIG. Your base of knowledge with Stick and MIG will shorten the time to successful TIG welding.

OK, we have reviewed the major types of welding. Again, I would like to suggest that you start with Stick welding if your brand new to welding.

Why?  Well, here are a few reasons:

  1. You don’t have to worry about cleaning and prepping your metal
  2. There is no gas to worry about – shielding gas is already part of the rod.
  3. The simplicity allows you only worry about proper technique and laying down a solid weld

I would like to drive home the importance of point #3. It is the most important. Getting practice time is what makes a great welder. The best tools and the best welder will only help you after you’ve built the skill.

If you want to learn a bit more about welding I wrote an in-depth article here.

Now that we covered the types of welding and you have some basic knowledge about the pro’s and con’s of each process, let’s dive into some welders you could purchase and why they might be a good choice for you.

Good Welders for a Beginner

The good thing about today’s market is that there are so many great machines available at an affordable price – but there are also a lot of machines that I wouldn’t touch if they were free.

I will give you some recommendations below and explain why I recommend them for a beginner

  • Stick
    • For the complete beginner, I like this Amico welder. It’s not a name brand or well known but for a newbie it gets the job done. It’s affordable, made in the USA and it has a TIG torch so you can learn on that once you get comfortable with stick welding.
    • For someone who is more advanced, you can upgrade to an  Esab. The rebel offers MIG/ TIG and Stick combination – so you’re covered with any process you want to use.
  • MIG
    • If you’re on a tight budget and want a decent machine I would go with this Forney. It’s a flux core only machine ( so no port for gas) however it’s well made and will help you learn MIG welding. If you want to get familiar with MIG and have some home projects you want to tackle, this is a good choice.
    • Hobart – it has a great warranty and still can run off 115v ( most home electric).
  • TIG      
    • I will recommend the same welder here as I did for stick, the Amico. It’s a great value for the beginner and will expose you to TIG welding
    •  This Everlast would be a good choice for you. It has a foot pedal, hot start option, and HF, and can still run off 110v. 
    • Now if you want a TIG machine that can weld thicker materials you can buy this upgraded Everlast. It’s dual voltage  ( 110v or 240v) and includes a pulse function – which is good for a quicker weld speed and a neater finished weld.

We’ve mentioned some good machines above for the MIG/TIG and Stick categories. And if you’re a beginner I would start with the cheaper option.

Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons but the main one is this: you don’t need to buy the most expensive welder just to build the skill set. You can learn on an affordable machine and upgrade later on.

Besides, who knows if you’ll prefer MIG over TIG. Or you may want to concentrate on stick welding only. 

Tips and tricks

Here are some top tips for welding with MIG, TIG or stick. I wish I knew these when I started welding. They certainly would have helped me improve much quicker!

I will give you my top tips for each welding discipline and link back to a full article that will give you even more tips to improve your welding skills.

Some Things to Remember when MIG Welding

1) Keep it Clean! The cleaner your metal, the better bead you will have. It’s that simple.

2) Bacon. It’s not just for breakfast anymore! Listen to your welder… when you hear the sound of bacon frying, it means you’re using proper technique.

3) Use both hands. The more support you have for your MIG gun, the more control you apply to the bead your laying.

For more tips, check out these 11 MIG welding tips.

Remember the Clams when Stick Welding!

Miller has some great tips in their full article, but the biggest take away that helped me is:

  • Current setting: amp setting is based on rod and material thickness, so make sure you have the right setting.
  • Length of arc: the best trick is to start your weld the tip the same distance away from the base metals as the diameter of your rod.
  • Angle of travel: make sure to adjust your angle to the position you are welding in, and use the push or backhand technique depending on your position.
  • Manipulation: as you practice more you’ll develop your own technique or weave, but to begin with a straight bead works well.
  • Speed of travel: make sure your speed of travel gives you the right “crown”

When You TIG Weld, then Remember :

  1. Support your hands: The more steady your hands are, the more control you have when laying a bead.
  2. Be aware of the angle of the torch for the specific weld, different angles are required for fillet welds and butt welds.
  3. Clean. With TIG welding your metal must be clean. Take the time and wipe it down with Denatured alcohol or a degreaser of your choice.

See the full list of tips here.

Beginner projects

Now we covered everything to get you started, let’s look at some projects that you can tackle once you set up your new welder. Keep in mind that the projects might be completed with MIG machines but you can use TIG or Stick since the projects will be using mild steel.

This project should only take you under an hour to complete and is super simple to do.  I like this project because YouTuber Cheapskateprojects is using some round stock and flat bar for a down a dirty tool rack. It’s simple, not pretty, but it works. This is a great beginner project and you’ll use it to get organized in your home shop.

  • Shop Stool

A shop stool is one of those items that are essential to your workspace – especially if you’re doing a lot of table work.

In this video, Jimbo’s Garage on Youtube builds a nice barstool that’s perfect for the shop. I like it because Jimbo really uses every piece of metal and wood to the max – zero waste here. It’s also simple enough that a beginner can complete this in an afternoon.

  • Cart

Now that you have built a shop stool and a rack for your tools, let’s build a cart for your welder.  YouTuber mikemanmade built a cart from scrap angle iron, and it came out pretty nice. This cart is simple to make and can hold both his MIG welder and his Stick welder. You can build one to your specifications, but this video gives you a nice idea of what you can do with some leftover materials.

  • Table

Finally, let’s build a table for our workshop. I really like a table that is adjustable, and Youtuber The fabrication series built an incredible table with tube stock. Now this table is inexpensive but it’s a little more complete and will take some time to build out. If you want a super quick table that’s simple to build check out mikemanmade and his video on a sturdy and simple table for your shop.

Conclusion

The goal of this Welding Guide for Beginners has been to not only introduce you to the most common welding processes used today but to recommend good safety gear, some solid machines for a beginning welder and to provide you with some projects and tips to start you along your journey.

Remember, welding is a skill that takes practice. So, take any spare time you have and lay down those welds!