Are Welding Machines Hard to Use?

If you have just purchased a new welding machine or are thinking about buying one, one of your biggest concerns may be about how difficult the welding machine actually is to operate.

Some machines can be very complicated. Especially, for the beginner. But, there are machines that are quite simple to use. Some basic welding knowledge will go a long way in understanding the machine’s settings.

Several factors can affect how difficult a particular machine is to use. For example, an AC electrode welding machine will have the fewest adjustment settings to deal with.

What Makes Welding Machines Hard to Use?

Since there are three mainstream welding processes we will begin by discussing the one adjustment that is common to all three.

But first, lets identify the three main types of welding:

  • Electrode or “Stick” Welding
  • MIG or “Wire” Welding
  • TIG Welding

The one setting that is common to all three is the “Amperage,” setting. This setting determines the amount of heat that will be generated during the welding process.

The amount of heat needed is primarily determined by how thick the metals being welded are. In order for the weld to do its job, it must fuse the metals together completely. From the top side all the way through to the backside.

If the heat, or amperage, is too low the metals will not completely liquify from top to bottom. This lack of “Penetration,” will reduce the strength of the weld.

Conversely, if the heat, or amperage, is too high the metals will liquify too much. Consequently, the molten metal will fall away like melted wax dripping from a candle. This will leav a hole that must then be filled back up.

For more detail on how to find the proper amperage setting, please read a previous Beginner Welding Guide article on that subject, here.

Which are the Easiest Welding Machines to Use?

If we are looking at just the machine itself the electrode machines are the simplest to get set up properly.

If the electrode machine is an AC current machine only, there is only an on/off switch and an amperage adjustment dial.

On an AC/DC electrode machine, there will be one additional knob that switches from AC current to DC current.

Most machines will have a plate or decal on them to guide you in choosing which rod to use when welding certain thicknesses of metals and where to set the amperage. For the beginner, this is all one needs to get started.

MIG machines require more adjusting as do TIG machines. Ironically, a MIG machine that is set up properly may be easier for some beginners to learn on. Having said that, I believe a beginner would be well served to learn electrode welding first as opposed to MIG and TIG.

Differences Between the Welding Processes

The welding processes are these three main processes:

  • Stick (Shielded Metal Arc Welding, or SMAW)
  • MIG (Gas Metal Arc Welding, or GMAW)
  • TIG (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, or GTAW)

There are other welding technologies which can be discussed but these three welding processes are the most commonly used.

TIG Welding

TIG welding, in general, is reserved for those welders who have the greatest hand-eye coordination. In addition most TIG welders require hand, eye, and foot coordination – almost like driving a car! 

The unique characteristic of TIG welding when it comes to amperage is that the foot pedal on the TIG welding machine controls the amperage.

The foot pedal starts at 0 amps in the resting state and will gradually increase in amperage as the welding operator pushes the foot pedal down.

A tungsten rod is used to create the arc with one hand while the off hand holds and feeds the filler rod into the puddle.

MIG Welding

The typical heat setting adjustment on a MIG welder uses voltage in lieu of amperage settings which other welding technologies use more commonly. 

The voltage settings on a standard MIG welder determine the power used during the MIG welding operation. A balance between voltage and wire feed speed must be found for a good MIG weld.

Especially since the wire feed speed needs to increase as the voltage increases or else the weld puddle will not be adequately fed with filler material. 

MIG welder machines are inherently consistent as long as the base materials do not change too much. For instance, a welding operator could have a MIG welder setting set for years if he or she does not change the type of material used.

Stick Welding

The good news about stick welding is that there are charts which can be easily found online or in a welding store. Many times there is one attached to the machine.

If you follow the amperage levels shown on these charts, you should be in good shape.

If you need to make minute adjustments to the heat of the weld while “under the hood”, the easiest way to achieve this is to pull the welding rod away from the weld puddle to “long-arc” slightly. This will achieve a wider and hotter puddle.

Which is the Best Welding Process for Beginners?

The most basic welding method is electrode welding. The machine is simple, the choice of rods to use is not all that complicated and the base metals do not always have to be all that clean. Of course, the cleaner the base metal, the higher quality the weld will be.

In addition to proper rod selection and amperage setting, other parts of the actual welding process that will quickly improve your welds are steadiness, welding speed, arc length, and rod angle.

To break it down further, steadiness refers to how much control you are able to impart to the rod tip. Erratic movements will take away from the quality of your weld.

Welding speed is defined as how fast you pull the electrode along while you are welding. Too fast and there will not be enough heat generated to properly fuse the base metals together.

Welding too slow may build too much heat causing a burn through.

Arc length is the distance the rod tip is being held from the base metal. Too much arc length will create more heat and cause excess spatter. Too little and the rod may tend to weld itself, “Stick,” to the base metal making it necessary to pull it loose and start the arc again.

Rod angle is fairly self-explanatory. The rod, or electrode, should always be held in a straight line along the path to be welded. However, it should lean slightly in the direction the weld is to go. Picture a straw in a glass of tea an approximate the angle as the straw leans to the side of the rim.

Get yourself a machine and start welding today! Just about everything you will need to know to get started can be found inside the articles of this website.