The art of welding has been around since the middle ages. Through its evolution, welding has been refined to the point that just about anyone can learn the basics.
And, within a short amount of time, the new welder can be handling small to medium sized projects. Having said that, it will take time to gain the knowledge and obtain enough practice to procure the necessary skill to tackle more complex jobs.
Jobs that require a high level of structural integrity for instance.
For the scope of this article, we will be concentrating on the methods I believe most people think of when they think of welding. Arc welding for most is understood to be the use of an electric machine with a consumable electrode.
This type of welding is also referred to as, “Stick,” welding. But, it can be rightly said that Metal Inert Gas (MIG) and Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding are also forms of arc welding. Today, we will be discussing Stick and MIG mainly.
As a beginning welder, what kind of welding machine will I need?
MIG welders have surpassed stick welders to become the most common machines purchased for industrial work. The continuous wire feed eliminates the need to stop work to discard and replace a used up electrode.
The inert gas shield of MIG welding performs the same duty as the solid flux coating on the rods used in electrode welding. Both are used to shield the molten pool from contamination.
Contamination that may lead to pinholes a.k.a. porosity, brittle welds and other issues. A finished MIG weld will not have slag covering it. Therefore, saving you time by not having to buff slag off to inspect the quality of the weld.
Performing MIG welding indoors away from wind and large fans is best. The shield gas blowing directly onto the weld will easily get blown away when wind currents are present.
It needs to shield the weld from atmospheric gases and otherwise perform its duties. Be that as it may, the wire machine does have some flexibility. One can change to flux core wire on most machines, replacing the need for shield gas.
The flux core wire will allow you to weld outside in windy conditions but will deposit flux on the weld.
When it comes to price, MIG welders are typically more expensive than stick welders. To read a review on Lincoln Electric’s Pro MIG 180 go here.
What type of welding projects will I be doing?
You will need to ask yourself if the majority of your projects will take place indoors, outdoors or a combination of both.
If you think you will be welding outdoors a good portion of the time, stick welding may be the right choice for you. Learning to weld with an electrode or rod has other benefits as well.
Learning the basics of stick welding will probably help you learn MIG and TIG faster if you intend to increase your welding prowess at a later time. You will also be able to securely weld much heavier materials with a stick welder.
And, a variety of rods can be purchased for different circumstances. Thus, providing a greater range of confidence in weld strength and quality.
If you decide that you will always be working indoors on lighter, thinner projects and like the simplicity of MIG welding, then this could be the best route for you to take. You may find the learning curve to be shallower with MIG, than with stick welding.
If I choose a stick welder will an AC machine be OK, or do I need an AC/DC machine?
Beginning welders may be tempted to purchase an AC only machine to start out with. They are cheaper and if you decide you don’t enjoy welding much, you are not out very much money.
The quality of the welds can be very good. Good enough that for most jobs, an AC machine will do just fine. And, it will hurt less seeing it sit over in the corner of the garage not being used if that is the life your machine ends up being relegated to.
When welding AC, remember that you must use rods strictly made for AC welding.
With alternating current or AC for short, the current flows back and forth, switching polarity sixty times per second – (60 Hertz). A noticeable buzzing sound can be heard during the welding process which is absent when welding with DC.
There are a few people who actually choose to do all their welding with AC. However, the majority of welders prefer welding with DC most of the time when it’s available.
So why would I spend a couple of hundred extra to buy an AC/DC Welding Machine?
An AC/DC machine provides you with three polarity options. You can weld with AC or you can choose to weld with DC or direct current.
With DC, the electrons flow in only one direction as opposed to changing polarity sixty times per second as with AC, as we discussed earlier. In addition to the first two options, you can also choose to weld with the DC current flowing in the opposite direction.
When you switch the direction of electron flow by going from DC+ to DC-, you are manually changing the polarity.
Having the ability to choose between these three options can improve the quality of your welding. And, you will notice the difference right away when switching from AC to DC welding.
Five of the biggest differences are:
- The welding process itself will flow much smoother
- You will have a more stable arc, less sticking, etc.
- On DC there will be no more buzzing sound
- There will be less spatter, welding with DC
- Welding rods made for AC or DC can be used when welding with DC.
Purchasing an AC/DC unit may be the best choice considering you might eventually want to tackle a variety of different projects in the future.
If you feel you will never need more than an AC welding machine, then that is what you should purchase. They are cheaper and simple to use and great for gauging your interest and skill.
As a beginning welder, what kind of welding helmet should I get?
The first time I struck an arc over forty years ago, I used a flip helmet that had a fixed filter lens. I graduated from that helmet to one with a fixed filter lens that would flip up and down.
That seemed like a great improvement at the time. If you needed your off hand to hold something in place you could do the old head nod to flip the whole helmet down into welding position.
If your off hand was free you could use it to flip the filtered lens up and down instead.
Today, the choices of helmet styles seem endless. The self-darkening lenses changed the welding world when they first hit the market.
And, the self-darkening lenses keep getting bigger and bigger. Being able to see a larger portion of the work area before and after striking the arc helps tremendously. Especially, if you find yourself welding out of position a lot of the time.
Adjustable shade range lenses, yes or no?
The adjustable shade range lenses were an awesome upgrade as well. With this feature, the welder can fine-tune the auto-darkening lens to match the brightness of the arc.
This is often different for each individual due to the sensitivity of his or her own eyes. You now have the ability to quickly find the most advantageous filter level allowing you to see what you are doing with less eye strain.
These helmets are now priced so that it makes very little sense not to buy one with both self-darkening and adjustable shade functionality. Your eyes and your welds will thank you for it!
See our: Top 10 Welding Helmets for the Beginner, here.
As a beginning welder, What type of welding gloves are best?
Like helmets, the choices for welding gloves are abundant. Gloves come in different sizes, shapes, colors, leathers and cuff lengths just to name a few
There is no need to get exotic in your choice of glove leathers if you are just starting out. Unless you have very large or very small hands, a large fourteen-inch glove should be adequate.
Look for a glove with kevlar stitching made with cowhide and lined with a cotton liner. There should be several options depending on where you shop.
Cowhide can be readily dyed with just about any bright color and while new, they are pleasing to the eye. But don’t get too caught up on color because if you do much work with them at all, they won’t stay pretty for long.
As a beginning welder, what other personal protection equipment or PPE is recommended?
Safety note: Never wear polyester clothing of any kind when welding!
There are three things the welding process produces that we need to protect against. We need to protect ourselves from hot sparks, UV rays, and hot metal.
Our welding helmet is going to protect our eyes and face from UV rays and hot sparks. Our 14″ welding gloves are going to protect our hands and most of our forearms from UV rays, hot sparks, and hot metal.
The UV rays produced by the welding arc can leave severe burns similar to sunburns on all other exposed skin. Since we have our eyes, hands, and lower forearms covered already we need to make sure our upper forearms and chest are taken care of.
The most practical upper body clothing for many is a cotton t-shirt covered by a long sleeved, flame resistant welding shirt or jacket.
The cotton undershirt will help protect your upper chest from the direct UV rays, be a second layer of protection from hot sparks and also help wick up perspiration on hot days.
The flame resistant welding shirts can be purchased with an extended collar to keep UV rays off your upper chest and lower neckline.
They will also help keep hot sparks from going down your shirt. Extended collar or not, consider buying an extra size larger in order to fit over your regular clothes for welding under colder conditions.
Other options for protecting your upper body are sleeves, capes, and aprons.
Protecting below the belt
We must protect everything from the waist down from the same hot sparks, UV rays, and hot metal. Heavy denim jeans will work for most situations.
However, any heavy cotton and flame resistant cotton welding pants will work to cover you from the ankles up. One thing you don’t want are cuffs on the legs. They make great spark traps.
It is best to wear leather shoes or boots. Do not wear tennis shoes with thin tops.
What to wear when cutting and grinding
Once outfitted with your PPE for welding you have the majority of equipment necessary for grinding and cutting. If you purchased a new helmet with auto darkening and adjustable shade range that includes grinding shade, then you are set.
If not, you will want to pick up a plastic face shield, safety glasses which will be worn together when grinding. A pair of cutting goggles will finish off your ensemble.
Safety note: Always wear hearing protection when grinding!
Which is better for the beginner, a plasma cutter or an oxygen/acetylene torch?
When deciding between purchasing either a plasma cutter or cutting torch to start out with, you will need to have an idea of what kind of metal work you plan on doing the most 0f.
For me, even though I have both, I use a plasma cutter most of the time. However, I would rather have an oxy/acetylene torch if I could only have one.
As a matter of fact, I lived without a plasma cutter up until about three years ago. They are great for doing what they are built to do but are limited in versatility compared to an oxy/acetylene setup.
For instance, when you purchase an oxy/acetylene kit they will typically come with the handle, the two necessary gas regulators, a gas welding tip and the cutting assembly.
With this, you will be able to gas weld, cut steel, warm up frozen nuts and bolts for easier removal, heat steel for bending or reshaping into something more useful and many other things. See more detailed information about cutting torches for the beginner, here!
What peripheral equipment is needed for a plasma cutter and oxy/acetylene torch?
Both the plasma cutter and oxy/acetylene cutting processes require you to have peripheral equipment in place before either can be used.
A plasma cutter needs an outside air supply, therefore, if you do not have an air compressor of adequate size one will need to be purchased beforehand.
You will need to either purchase or rent an oxygen and an acetylene bottle, in order to utilize your gas torch. The size of the bottles will depend on how often they will get used.
If rarely used, then purchasing a small torch kit with the small bottles may be right for you. If you will be using it a few times a month you are probably going to want to rent some larger bottles from your favorite welding supply store.
You can always start with the small bottles and upgrade to larger rentals later. This will allow you to keep the smaller bottles in case you need to go mobile with your torch. They will be much easier to carry.
Once you have your compressor hooked up to your new plasma cutter, you will be ready to start cutting much more precisely than you can with a gas torch. A good thing about plasma cutters is that they will not heat up your base metal as much.
This helps keep your thinner materials from warping due to the heating and cooling process.
As a beginning welder, will I need a grinder of any kind to start off with?
To start off every welder should have a couple of medium to large metal files in the drawer. A chipping hammer and a wire brush are also essential items.
Unless you will be working on just pint-sized projects there should be at least a small angle grinder in your future. There is more versatility with a portable grinder than a bench grinder.
A bench grinder can come later as your experience and projects expand. If you need a table grinder for your projects to start off with, be sure to have a sturdy table on the heavy side to bolt it down to.
This will keep it from walking all over the floor due to vibration and pushing your work against the wheels during the grinding process.
When it comes to angle grinders the 4.5″ will be perfect for most newcomers. All your favorite power tool manufacturers make one. There is a diverse selection of wheels and discs that can be used with just one 4.5″ angle grinder.
Of course, there are the typical discs for grinding steel. There are discs for grinding masonry. Different cutting wheels can be bought for cutting either steel or masonry. Another good tool is the course, knotted wire wheel for cleaning and buffing tough stuff.
If you need a lighter touch, a cup brush is available with the choice of nylon or steel bristles. The flapped wheel grinding/sanding disc is one of my favorites.
The hook looped sanding pad that sheets of sandpaper with varying grits will attach to, is a great accessory.
There is at least one kit that comes with most or all the above accessories for a very reasonable price.
As a beginning welder, do you recommend that I purchase a chop saw?
If you have a cutting torch a chop saw is not a mandatory piece of shop equipment. But it’s darn close. It’s kind of like cruise control on your car, you can live without it, but it sure is nice to have.
Chop saws are very handy for quickly cutting straight edges with the option on most of them to cut angles up to 45 degrees. When the torch hoses are all rolled up on the rack and you don’t really feel like breaking out the heat, open up the chop saw.
You can have the material clamped down and cut in less time than it takes to pull out the flamethrower. The bonus is, you won’t need to do much if any, grinding before you start welding. Always keep at least one extra cutting wheel on hand.
Most major shop tool manufacturers make chop saws. I have one that uses a steel blade. The blades are quite a bit more expensive but last much longer than I thought they would.
The good part is, you can use either a steel blade or fiber/abrasive type of wheel on it. You need to always wear hearing protection when using a chop saw, but with the steel blade, your neighbor’s dog will probably also need hearing protection.
As a beginning welder, do I need a welding table and vice?
Welding tables are very handy to have around. You can get by without one depending on a couple of things. Welding smaller items that are time-consuming warrants a table. Find one that fits your working area and is large enough to hold your stuff.
For larger things, if you have enough concrete floor, driveway or patio space, you can get by without one. Granted, the younger you are the easier it will be to get by without it.
Having a piece of angle iron welded to one edge making a trough is very handy. If you are welding lengths of the material end to end this is the best way to keep everything lined up nicely. Just lay them in the trough and butt them up together before tacking.
Attaching a vise is a great addition to the table as well. Vices come in handy for everything from holding your torch handle so you can clean the tip to acting as a third hand to hold your welding pieces while you tack them.
Be sure to pick the best quality vice, large enough to do what you need it to do. Then buy the next size larger.
As a beginning welder, are there other tools that I might need?
Again, depending on what you plan on building or repairing there could be a lot of smaller items that would make your experience easier.
For marking metal prior to cutting you are going to need some soapstone. I prefer the cylindrical sticks shaped like a pencil.
Soapstone is akin to hard chalk and shows up fairly well when looking at it through a dark lens when cutting. Buy it by the handful because I swear they crawl away when the lights go out.
You will, of course, need a tape measure. The 25′ ones may be more than you will need but I would have at least one nearby.
An assortment of squares is a must. You can probably get by with a 1′ adjustable square and a framing square to start with.
For a lot of projects, you may need a level. A torpedo level with a magnet along one side may be enough to get you started. You will want a longer one when the economy picks up.
I find myself using vice grips quite a lot. Start with a standard pair of straight jaws. There are a probably a dozen designs with different style clamping jaws. You will quickly learn which ones will assist you best for your type of work.
Nothing comes in handier than a standard pair of pliers for picking up and holding hot pieces of metal.
As a beginning welder, what are some terms and definitions that might come in handy?
Abrasive – Slag used for cleaning or surface roughening.
Alloying – Adding a metal or alloy to another metal or alloy.
Alternating Current (AC) – Electric current that reverses direction periodically, usually many times per second.
Arc Welding – A group of welding processes which produces coalescence of metals by heating them with an arc, with or without the application of pressure and with or without the use of filler metal.
Arc Welding Electrode – A part of the welding system through which current is conducted that ends at the arc.
Backfire – The momentary recession of the flame into the welding or cutting tip followed by reappearance or complete extinction of the flame.
Backhand Welding – A welding technique where the welding torch or gun is directed opposite to the direction of welding.
Backing – A material (base metal, weld metal, or granular material) placed at the root of a weld joint for the purpose of supporting molten weld metal.
Base Metal (material) – The metal (material) to be welded, brazed, soldered, or cut. See also substrate.
Bend Radius – Radius of curvature on a bend specimen or bent area of a formed part. Measured on the inside of a bend.
Bevel – An angled edge preparation.
Braze Welding – A method of welding by using a filler metal, having a liquidus above 840 °F (450 °C) and below the solidus of the base metals.
Burr – A rough ridge, edge, protuberance, or area left on metal after cutting, drilling, punching, or stamping.
Butt Joint – A joint between two members lying in the same plane.
Cap Pass – The final pass of a weld joint.
Coalescence – The uniting of many materials into one body.
Complete Fusion – Fusion that has occurred over the entire base material surfaces intended for welding, and between all layer and passes.
Complete Joint Penetration – Joint penetration in which the weld metal completely fills the groove and is fused to the base metal throughout its total thickness.
Covered Electrode – A filler metal electrode used in shielded metal arc welding, consisting of a metal-wire core with a flux covering.
Crater – In arc welding, a depression on the surface of a weld bead.
Crater Crack – A crack in the crater of a weld bead.
Cutting Attachment – A device for converting an oxy-fuel gas-welding torch into an oxy-fuel cutting torch.
Cylinder – A portable container used for transportation and storage of a compressed gas.
Deposited Metal – Filler metal that has been added during welding, brazing or soldering.
Deposition Efficiency – In arc welding, the ratio of the weight of deposited metal to the net weight of filler metal consumed, exclusive of stubs.
Deposition Rate – The weight of material deposited in a unit of time.
Depth of Fusion – The distance that fusion extends into the base metal or previous pass from the surface melted during welding.
Direct Current – Electric current that flows in one direction.
Direct Current Electrode Negative (DCEN) – The arrangement of direct current arc welding leads in where the electrode is the negative pole and work-piece is the positive pole of the welding arc.
Direct Current Electrode Positive (DCEP) – The arrangement of direct current arc welding leads in where the electrode is the positive pole and work-piece is the negative pole of the welding arc.
Duty Cycle – The percentage of time during a time period that a power source can be operated at the rated output without overheating.
Filler Material – The material to be added in making a welded, brazed, or soldered joint.
Fillet Weld – A weld of an approximately triangular cross-section that joins two surfaces approximately at right angles to each other in a lap joint, T-joint, or corner joint.
Filter Plate – A transparent plate tinted in varying darkness for use in goggles, helmets and hand shields to protect workers from harmful ultraviolet, infrared and visible radiation.
Flat Welding Position – A welding position where the weld axis is approximately horizontal and the weld face lies in an approximately horizontal plane.
Flashback – A recession of the flame into or back of the mixing chamber of the torch.
Flux – Material used to prevent, dissolve, or facilitate removal of oxides and other undesirable surface substances.
Forehand Welding – A welding technique where the welding torches or gun is pointed toward the direction of welding.
Fusion – The melting together of filler metal and base metal (substrate), or of base metal only, which results in coalescence.
Gas Welding – Welding with the heat from an oxy-fuel flame, with or without the addition of filler metal or pressure.
Groove Weld – A weld made in a groove between two members. Examples: single V, single U, single J, double bevel etc.
Hard-Facing – Surfacing applied to a workplace to reduce wear.
Hot Crack – A crack formed at temperatures near the completion of weld solidification.
Hot Pass – In pipe welding, the second pass which goes over the root pass.
Inclined Position – In pipe welding, the pipe axis angles 45 degrees to the horizontal position and remains stationary.
Incomplete Fusion – A weld discontinuity where fusion did not occur between weld metal and the joint or adjoining weld beads.
Incomplete Joint Penetration – A condition in a groove weld where weld metal does not extend through the joint thickness.
Inert Gas – A gas that normally does not combine chemically with the base metal or filler metal.
Joint – The junction of members or the edges of members that are to be joined or have been joined.
Kerf – The width of the cut produced during a cutting process.
Keyhole – A technique of welding in which a concentrated heat source penetrates completely through a work-piece forming a hole at the leading edge of the molten weld metal. As the heat source progresses, the molten metal fills in behind the hole to form the weld bead.
Lap Joint – A joint between two overlapping members in parallel planes.
Liquidus – The lowest temperature at which a metal or an alloy is completely liquid.
Melting Range – The temperature range between solidus and liquidus.
Melt-Through – Visible reinforcement produced on the opposite side of a welded joint from one side.
Open-Circuit Voltage – The voltage between the output terminals of the welding machine when no current is flowing in the welding circuit.
Peening – The mechanical working of metals using impact blows.
Plug Weld – A circular weld made through a hole in one member of a lap or T joint.
Porosity – A hole-like discontinuity formed by gas entrapment during solidification.
Post-Heating – The application of heat to an assembly after welding, brazing, soldering, thermal spraying, or cutting operation.
Postweld Heat Treatment – Any heat treatment subsequent to welding.
Preheating – The application of heat to the base metal immediately before welding, brazing, soldering, thermal spraying, or cutting.
Reinforcement – Weld metal, at the face or root, in excess of the metal necessary to fill the joint.
Residual Stress – Stress remaining in a structure or member, as a result of thermal and/or mechanical treatment. Stress arises in fusion welding primarily because the melted material contracts on cooling from the solidus to room temperature.
Reverse Polarity – The arrangement of direct current arc welding leads with the work as the negative pole and the electrode as the positive pole of the welding arc.
Root Opening – A separation at the joint root between the workpieces.
Root Crack – A crack at the root of a weld.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) – A process that welds by heat from an electric arc, between a flux-covered metal electrode and the work. Shielding comes from the decomposition of the electrode covering.
Shielding Gas – The protective gas used to prevent atmospheric contamination.
Soldering – A joining process using a filler metal with a liquidus less than 840 °F and below the solidus of the base metal.
Solidus – The highest temperature at which a metal or alloy is completely solid.
Spatter – Metal particles expelled during welding that does not form a part of the weld.
Straight Polarity – Direct-current arc welding where the work is the positive pole.
Stress Relief Heat Treatment – Uniform heating of a welded component to a temperature sufficient to relieve a major portion of the residual stresses.
Stress Relief Cracking – Cracking in the weld metal or heat affected zone during post-weld heat treatment or high-temperature service.
Stringer Bead – A weld bead made without transverse movement of the welding arc.
Tack Weld – A weld made to hold parts of a weldment in proper alignment until the final welds are made.
Tensile Strength – The maximum stress a material subjected to a stretching load can withstand without tearing.
TIG Welding – See Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW).
Torch Standoff Distance – The dimension from the outer face of the torch nozzle to the workpiece.
Underbead Crack – A crack in the heat-affected zone generally not extending to the surface of the base metal.
Undercut – A groove melted into the base plate adjacent to the weld toe or weld root and left unfilled by weld metal.
Weld Bead – The metal deposited in the joint by the process and filler wire used.
Welding Leads – The workpiece lead and electrode lead of an arc welding circuit.
Welding Wire – A form of welding filler metal, normally packaged as coils or spools, that may or may not conduct electrical current depending upon the welding process used.
Weld Pass – A single progression of welding along a joint. The result of a pass is a weld bead or layer.
Weld Pool – The localized volume of molten metal in a weld prior to its solidification as weld metal.
Weld Puddle – A non-standard term for weld pool.
Wire Feed Speed – The rate at which wire is consumed in welding.
Work Lead – The electric conductor between the source of arc welding current and the work.
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