Whether you are looking for a career, a cool hobby, or want to improve your current welding skills, it is important to understand all the different welding types that are available to you.
To help you navigate in the world of welding, we’ve put together this helpful guide of the most common welding types.
Here’s everything you need to know about welding types:
Most Common Welding Types
The following are the most common welding types and will be appropriate for most professional and personal uses.
MIG Welding or GMAW
As one of the easiest welding techniques to learn, Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding or Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) is very common.
MIG welding uses a hard wire combustible electrode that is fed through the welding gun and into the weld pool. To protect the weld and prevent oxidation that can weaken it, an inert gas is run through the welding gun. This gas, typically carbon dioxide or a combination of carbon dioxide and argon, acts as a shield against outside elements.
MIG welding is easy to learn and can be used on a number of different metals making it versatile and applicable to a number of different types of projects. You can use MIG welding on carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, magnesium, copper, nickel, silicon bronze, and other alloys.
This welding type is often used for automobile maintenance and repairs because it can provide a strong weld on thin materials. You will also find MIG welding used at construction sites and in high production manufacturing.
It is important to understand, however, that the MIG wire does not combat rust, dirt, oil, and contaminants. Use a grinder or a metal brush to clean the metal before you begin.
TIG Welding or GTAW
Tungsten Inert Gas Welding (TIG) is sometimes called Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) or Heliarc welding.
Unlike MIG welding, TIG welding does not use a consumable electrode. Instead, the welder uses an external rod which creates the molten metal needed to forge a weld. TIG welding requires an inert gas shield. The gas used is typically argon or an argon mixture.
TIG welding requires more skill and experience than many other welding types but it is worth the effort as it is a method that produces clean, high-quality welds.
Due to its clean finish and greater degree of accuracy, TIG welds are often used on very small or thin metals or to finish projects.
Use TIG welding for a number of DIY projects like jewelry repair, furniture, shelving, or even bicycle builds. Professionally, you will find TIG welding used in piping, nuclear work, and in the manufacturing of consumer goods.
Stick Welding or SMAW
Stick welding, or Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), is a common welding type used most often in construction, pipeline work, steel fabrication, and repairing heavy equipment.
Stick welding uses an electric current that runs between the electrode and the substrate. In plain language, the electric current acts like a lightning rod, running between the welding rod and the metal you are welding.
This welding technique uses a consumable electrode which means that the welding rod melts as it creates the weld. To prevent oxidation that can weaken the weld, the electrode contains a flux core.
Stick welding is perhaps one of the most forgiving welding types and comes in particularly handy what all that is needed is a simple attachment. Because stick welding leaves a somewhat messy finish, it is best used in situations that don’t necessarily need to look “pretty.” If you are working on a car, sheet metal, or a project that requires a cleaner finish, it is best to consider one of the other techniques on this list.
There are many steps to consider when using stick welding. You will need to think about:
- Current setting: The electrode you use determines the settings for the equipment (DC positive, DC negative, or AC). Based on the type and diameter of the electrode, you will choose the amperage setting. But don’t worry too much, this setting is typically indicated by the manufacturer of the electrode.
- Arc length: Proper arc length will depend on the application and the electrode you are using. In general, the length of the arc should not exceed the diameter of the metal core of the electrode. Beginning welders will often create a longer arc to get a better look at what they are doing but instead, it makes more sense to change the angle of the body. This will allow a better look at the weld pool while maintaining control of the electrode.
- Angle of travel: Depending on the application, you will need a different angle of travel for the electrode. Flat, horizontal, or overhead positions use a drag or backhand technique which requires holding the electrode perpendicular to the joint and moving the top towards the direction of travel at an angle between 5 and 15 degrees. Vertical welds, on the other hand, use a forehand or push technique meaning the top of the electrode is tilted 0 to 15 degrees away from the direction of travel.
- Speed of travel: It is important to move the electrode at a speed that will enable the arc to remain in the leading one-third of the weld pool. If moved too slowly, shallow penetration and cold-lapping become a risk. Too quickly and there is a risk for narrow or crowned beading and recessed areas developing outside of the weld.
With so much to consider, stick welding can be complicated to master. One of the best things you can do is to watch other welders to see how they manipulate the electrode and determine what produces the results you are looking for. Another important step is to practice. The more work you put into hands-on learning, the more quickly you can produce the welds you want.
Flux-cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
Flux-cored Arc Welding (FCAW) uses a continuously fed wire, much like MIG welding, but in this instance, the consumable electrode (the wire) has a flux core. This means that during the welding process, the flux reacts with the arc to produce carbon dioxide. This gas creates a shield and eliminates, for some applications, the need to add an inert gas shield.
FCAW is great for outdoor applications where there is a lot of wind and clean welds aren’t necessarily important. But, it is important to note that FCAW welding can add an external shield for welding with structural steel and thicker materials.
Known as “dual shield” welding, this method adds an inert gas shield from an external high-pressure gas cylinder. Essentially, the weld pool is protected from oxidation by the external gas, while the weld metal is also shielded by the slag formation caused by the flux melting.
The most used shielding gases in dual shield welding are carbon dioxide or a combination of carbon dioxide and argon. Typically, you would use a 70% argon and a 25% carbon dioxide mix. This is the preferred method when welding structural steel or welding vertically or overhead. You will want to avoid using the dual shield method in windy conditions as the airflow can disturb the gas shield and weaken the weld.
Because there are many different kinds of electrodes with different classifications available for FCAW, you will need to check to make sure that you are using the appropriate electrode for the task at hand.
Other Welding Types
While not as common as the welding types listed above, here are some other techniques you should know about.
Plasma Arc Welding
Plasma arc welding is like TIG welding in that they both use a smaller arc to create a more precise weld. One of the big differences, of course, is that plasma arc welding uses a different torch, one where the electrode is recessed and the ionizing gases inside the arc create heat.
The torch used in plasma arc welding can achieve extremely high temperatures. The gas inside the wand becomes pressurized and creates plasma. The plasma is then ionized which allows it to conduct electricity. The conductivity is what creates the arc and produces temperatures hot enough to melt base metals. This is why you can perform plasma arc welding without a filler metal.
Plasma arc welding requires a relatively high level of skill and the equipment required can be on the expensive side.
You will see plasma arc welding used in the manufacturing of stainless steel and titanium alloy tubing, instrument manufacturing, and even aerospace applications.
Plasma welding applications are in the low-current range, typically 100 amperes or less. This low current allows for the welding of metals at a foil thickness. In aerospace applications, metal thickness is just 0.015 of an inch. This technique can also be used in applications that have small components made of thin metal like butt joints in wall tubing.
Electron Beam and Laser Welding
Electron beam welding and laser welding are techniques most commonly found in manufacturing processes. They are both controlled through automation and robotics to produce high-energy welds with extreme precision.
Electron beam welding uses a high-velocity beam of electrons to create heat via kinetic energy, welding two materials together. This is a rather sophisticated process so you are most likely to see it performed by a machine, in a vacuum.
Laser welding is used in the manufacturing sector, most commonly in the automotive industry. It relies heavily on robotics and uses a laser to create the heat necessary for a weld. This method can be used on carbon steels, stainless steel, High-strength low-alloy steels (HSLA), titanium, and aluminum. The type of welding is used on both metals and thermoplastics.
For the most part, TIG welding has replaced gas welding but it remains a technique that is still used in some applications and industries.
Gas welding is one of the oldest forms of heat-based welding and relies on a combination of gases to produce the required heat. Most often, gas welding uses oxygen and acetylene in equal parts which is why you will sometimes hear this method referred to as Oxy-Acetylene Welding. But depending on the required heat temperature, gas welding can also use oxygen mixed with hydrogen, gasoline, propylene, or butane. The gas that is chosen will depend on the type of project being done, the materials being used, and the level of control the welder wishes to have.
When welding steel with this technique, it is not necessary to add a filler metal although one can be included manually by feeding a rod along the front edge of the weld pool. But if welding other materials, like cast iron, stainless steel, aluminum alloys, and copper alloys, it will be necessary to use a flux to keep the weld clean and free of oxidation.
Learn to Weld with Welder 101
Welding is a useful skill, one that can be learned and developed, enabling you to create interesting projects around the house, finally build or restore your dream car, or change to a more challenging and lucrative career.
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