For a beginner welder, I recommend choosing a TIG welder with sufficient amperage to weld the thickest metal you have in your workshop, a duty cycle of at least 30% depending on the work you will be doing, stick welding capability, a simple user interface and a reliable foot pedal.
TIG welding is a type of welding that uses a fixed tungsten electrode to create the arc. While TIG welding is a bit harder for beginners than MIG welding, that doesn’t mean you can’t attempt this technique without tons of experience. Many beginners find TIG welding a pleasant experience once they get the hang of it.
Choosing the right welding machine is one important factor in learning how to TIG weld when you’re a beginner.
Keeping these factors in mind can seem overwhelming. That’s why we put together this guide to choosing a TIG welder for beginners that can help you.
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Table of Contents
What Is TIG Welding?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of choosing a TIG welding machine, let’s analyze what TIG welding is in the first place. TIG welding stands for Tungsten Inert Gas welding. During this welding process, the welding machine uses a fixed tungsten electrode to spark the arc, instead of a consumable electrode wire such as in MIG welding. The weld is shielded by an inert gas.
TIG welding works by holding the electrode a short distance away from the base metal, sparking the arc. You turn on the inert gas to protect the area around the weld. Sometimes, you need to add a filler rod to create the weld pool since the electrode doesn’t melt to fill this space.
TIG welding is a bit harder than MIG welding for a few reasons. TIG welding machines require extra coordination because you also have to hook up the inert shield gas. Plus, most TIG welding machines require you to use your hands and feet to operate them—a far cry from most MIG welding machines which you can operate in one hand.
Why Choose TIG Welding?
If TIG welding is so much harder than MIG welding, you might wonder why people want to do it. Why not just stick to easy MIG welding?
TIG welding offers some advantages that other types of welding don’t have. One of the biggest ones is the quality of the weld. Once you master TIG welding techniques, you’ll see how much better the weld looks than one that you can produce with another type of welding machine. Not only will the joint look better, but it will be stronger and create less work for you because you don’t have to clean up afterwards.
TIG welding also offers a superior welding experience. You will have greater control over your machine as a welder when you use this method. Tungsten is stronger than other electrode materials, so you don’t have to worry about it melting or flopping out of position. You control the amperage of the machine every second with a foot pedal, while for other machines you can’t adjust the amperage in the moment.
Finally, TIG welding is a very versatile type of welding you can use in almost any situation. It does take some time to master this technique, but once you do, you’re set for any welding you want to do.
What to Look for in a TIG Welder
A few different factors can help you determine if the TIG welder you are looking at is right for you. These factors include:
- Duty cycle
- Foot pedal capability
- Stick welding capability
- Air-cooled vs. water-cooled torch
- Arc stability
We’ll examine each of these factors in more detail.
The duty cycle of a welding machine determines how long it can run at a certain amperage without overheating. The label will express duty cycle as a percentage at a given amperage. The percentage tells how many minutes out of ten minutes the welding machine can be turned on. For example, a duty cycle of 60% means you can run the welding machine at the specified amperage for six minutes.
Many welders think getting a machine with a longer duty cycle is always better, but that is not the case. It really depends on what you will be using the machine for. For example, if you are planning delicate welding or certain repairs, you won’t need to use the machine for long periods anyway, so you can get one with a shorter duty cycle.
TIG welders generally don’t require very high duty cycles, compared to MIG or stick welding. Picking a TIG welder with a 30% duty cycle is likely sufficient for a home-based beginner welder.
TIG welding machines come in many different sizes. What size you get depends on the type of jobs you perform. Smaller TIG welders weigh about 40-50 pounds, making it easy to move them around your workshop, take them outside, or even take them to another location. You’ll need a more portable welder if you work outside a lot or do house calls for work.
However, what you gain in portability you lose in power. Smaller welding machines are less powerful, which is fine if you’re doing small repairs, but not if you’re welding thick metal. Get a larger welding machine of over 100 pounds for a professional workshop. It is harder to move, but more powerful.
One unique feature of TIG welding is that these machines have foot pedals that allow you to deliver consistent amperage. Sometimes, the foot pedal can replace one of your hands, especially if you are welding out of position.
A reliable foot pedal is one of the most important things to look for when shopping for a TIG welder. Make sure the pedal is responsive and at an angle that makes it easy to use, even during prolonged periods. While you can always add a top-notch foot pedal, it’s easier to get a welder with a quality pedal in the first place.
Stick Welding Capability
Part of the versatility of TIG welding machines is that you can use these welders to perform other types of welding, including stick welding. These welding machines have an extra attachment that can perform stick welding. Some TIG welding machines even include plasma cutting capabilities. You can cut and weld metal with the same machine. Those are some pretty powerful accessories!
Stick welding capability is a nice feature, but not always necessary. If you already have a stick welding machine, or know that this is a type of welding you aren’t going to do very often, it’s not worth splurging the extra money to get a TIG welder that can double as a stick welder. You can get a perfectly good TIG welder for a much lower price without looking for these extra features.
Air-Cooled vs. Water-Cooled Torch
Most TIG welders have air-cooled torches. Some high-end models boast water-cooled torches instead. This means the torch has a built-in cooling system that circulates water or coolant to keep the torch cool.
If you often work at very high temperatures, a water-cooled torch will be much more comfortable and give you more control over the weld. However, a water-cooled torch might be a waste of money if you stick to medium temperatures.
Last but certainly not least, you should look at the arc stability of your welding machine. You want your arc to be steady instead of fluctuating and spluttering as you use it. Unsteady arcs will affect the quality and appearance of your welds.
Unstable arcs are a common problem with low-end models of TIG welders, so be sure to read reviews before you purchase a TIG welder. Spending extra money for more stability is worth it.
How to Start the Arc
There are three types of arc starting mechanisms for TIG welding machines. Deciding which one sounds better for you can help you narrow down the type of TIG welding machine you want to buy.
- Scratch Start: To scratch start an arc, strike the arc against the metal like you would strike a match. Most modern inverted welding machines don’t use this start anymore, but older transformer models do.
- Lift Start: Lift starts are some of the easiest arc starting methods. You touch the tungsten electrode to the metal and lift it off. A sensor tells the machine to start and it strikes the arc. This is only possible with modern inverted welders.
- HF Start: For an HF start, you don’t need to touch the tungsten to the metal at all. Instead, you put the electrode near the job, and press a trigger to start the arc. Most professional machines have this start option. HF starts are great for jobs where you’re worried about tungsten contamination.
Once you know which start type you need, you can look for machines with this capability.
There is a wide range of TIG welding machines, differing in terms of quality, price, and extra features. A few features can help you determine which welding machine is right for you, but look for good arc stability and a foot pedal first.