How to Set Up a Welding Machine for Beginners

Written By: Liam Bryant

Reviewed By: Russell Egan

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Most welding machines require you to set the voltage, which affects the heat. The steps for setting up a welding machine vary based on many factors, including the type of welding. 

MIG welding, TIG welding, and stick welding machines use different settings. Here’s what you should know. There are more than a dozen different types of welding machines depending on your requirements, so make sure you understand what metal type and thickness you are going to be working on most frequently.

lincoln electric welding machine setup

Setup for Different Types of Metal

Many settings for a welding machine depend on the type of metal you plan to bond. Commonly welded metals include copper, carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. 

The type of metal determines the best settings and options, such as: 

  1. Metal thickness
  2. Shielding gas
  3. Electrode/filler wire
  4. Polarity
  5. Voltage
  6. Wire feed speed
  7. Gas flow rate

Each metal has different melting points and levels of thermal conductivity. The different properties impact the effectiveness of different welding techniques and settings.

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Setup for Metal Thickness

The thickness of the metal is an important consideration when setting up different welding machines. 

Knowing the thickness of the metal helps determine the best electrode for stick welding and TIG welding. Certain electrodes offer deeper penetration, which helps ensure a stronger weld with thicker materials.

For MIG welding, the thickness of the metal determines the required amperage. You need about 1 amp of power for every 0.001 inches of thickness:

  • 1/16 inch: 65 amps
  • 1/8 inch: 125 amps
  • 1/4 inch: 250 amps

The maximum amperage of the typical welding machine is about 250 amps. The rule of 1 amp per 0.001 inches of metal tapers off at around 1/4 inches. A 250-to-300-amp MIG welder should be able to weld 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch steel without difficulty. 

Choose the Right Gas

MIG welding and TIG welding require a shielding gas for high-quality welds. The shielding gas prevents exposure of the weld pool to the surrounding atmosphere.

The gas shields the weld from oxygen and hydrogen, which can lead to porosity and excess spatter. Common shielding gas options include:

  • Argon
  • Helium
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Oxygen
  • Nitrogen
  • Hydrogen

Argon is the most used shielding gas. Argon is a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas. It’s often used as the base gas for creating a blend of shielding gasses for different welding situations.

Helium has high thermal conductivity, which helps maintain a hotter arc for producing a wider, deeper bead. Using helium as a shielding gas is useful when working on metals with high thermal conductivity, such as copper, aluminum, and magnesium. 

Helium costs more compared to argon and needs a higher flow rate. Adding 5% to 10% argon can help make the gas more cost-effective.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most affordable shielding gas and offers deep penetration, but it lowers the stability of the arc. It’s often used to dilute argon or helium.

Oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen are semi-inert or active gasses. Shielding gasses typically protect the weld from these elements. However, adding a small amount of oxygen can improve arc stability.

An argon-oxygen blend may be used for welding carbon steel and stainless steel. Yet, adding too much oxygen can create a more brittle weld.

Hydrogen improves the fluidity of the weld pool. Adding hydrogen may produce cleaner welds when working with stainless steel and nickel. It also narrows the electrical arc and helps maintain a higher temperature, resulting in better penetration. 

High concentrations of hydrogen shouldn’t be used on cast iron, carbon steel, magnesium, or aluminum, as it may make the base material more brittle. Nitrogen can stabilize the electrical arc when welding stainless steel or aluminum. 

If you’re unsure which shielding gas is right for your setup, start with 100% argon or a blend of argon with a small amount of carbon dioxide. If the weld appears porous, use less carbon dioxide. 

Choose the Right Electrode

MIG welding uses a filler wire/electrode, stick welding uses a filler rod, and TIG welding uses a filler rod/electrode. 

Companies make different types of stick electrodes for working with different metals. A classification system helps you understand the properties of each electrode, such as EXXXX.

The letter “E” indicates that the product is an electrode. The two subsequent numbers indicate the tensile strength. The third number indicates the position that you can use the electrode in, such as:

  • 1 = flat, horizontal, vertical, or overhead
  • 2 = flat and horizontal positions only

The fourth number refers to the type of coating and current. A “0” digit stands for a high cellulose sodium coating, which is only used with DC+ current.

The E6010 electrode is the most common electrode for stick welding but only with DC+ power. The E7018 electrode works in all positions and AC or DC power. 

The filler wire/rod type is also important when using MIG or TIG welding. You may need a nickel-based filler metal when welding steel or another metal with a high melting point to a metal with a lower melting point. 

Setting the Polarity

The polarity is necessary on stick welding machines and TIG welding machines. You need to choose between:

  • Direct current electrode positive (DCEP) 
  • Direct current electrode negative (DCEN)
  • Alternating current (AC)

DCEP and DCEN are often used when welding steel. DC welding offers smoother, more stable arcs. AC welding is recommended for thick workpieces, as the alternating current can generate higher temperatures.

Setting the Voltage

The voltage is set based on the information provided on the chart or manual that comes with your MIG welder. The voltage determines the width and height of the bead.

A TIG welding machine allows you to adjust the voltage and frequency. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for these details.

lincoln electric amperage table

Setting the Wire Feed Speed

The wire feed speed is another important setting when using a MIG welder. Most MIG welding machines include a chart. You look up the wire thickness and voltage to determine the ideal wire feed speed, which is often 240 to 290 inches per minute (IPM).

Setting the Gas Flow Rate

The gas flow rate is necessary for TIG welders and MIG welders. You need to adjust the gas tanks’ regulator valves to release the shielding gas.

The typical flow rate is about 10 to 35 cubic feet per hour (CFH). You may need a gas flow rate of at least 25 CFH in a typical shop setting.

Along with these suggestions, remember to read the instruction manual with your welding machine. Pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions to find the ideal voltage setting, wire feed speed, and other essential details.