Most Common Beginner TIG Welding Mistakes

by Steve Darnell
TIG welding mistakes

When you’re first learning a new skill, it’s common to make a mistake now and then. If you’re like many new welders, you probably started by learning how to MIG weld. But now that your skills have progressed, you’re ready to give TIG welding a try. 

To be frank, TIG welding can be hard when you’re first starting out. It’s a complex process and arguably one of the most difficult welding processes to learn. But that’s not to say it’s impossible. 

To help you navigate this learning process with a little more speed, we’ve compiled this list of beginner TIG welding mistakes and offered some tips on how you can avoid them.  

8 Common TIG Welding Beginner Mistakes

Beginner mistakes will happen. It’s to be expected when learning a new skill. 

If you’d like to master TIG welding, get comfortable with the process and give yourself time and opportunity to make and learn from your mistakes. 

  1. Contaminating the Tungsten

This is probably the biggest and most frequent mistake beginners make when learning to TIG weld

To achieve the correct arc, the tip of your tungsten rod needs to stay a few millimeters away from the metal. That’s not a lot of room for error. So, it’s natural that beginning TIG welders often bump the tip of the rod into the metal and weld pool. When that happens, steel melts to the tip of the tungsten rod and contaminates it. This causes the arc to suffer and, as a result, can lead to small bubbles or holes in the weld.

So how do you stop this contamination from happening? 

Simple. Lots of practice.

This is all part of the learning process that TIG welding beginners must go through. As you push the puddle of the weld pool forward, you add filler with the Tungsten rod. 

Just like surgeons need to have steady hands, so do welders. The Tungsten rod is usually held in your non-dominant hand. It’s natural at first not to be as stable as you need to be and bump the tip against the metal. If that happens, all you need to do is grind the tip of the rod off with a bench grinder or cut it back a couple of inches.

  1. Poor Coverage with the Shielding Gas 

Bumping the Tungsten rod isn’t the only way to contaminate your weld. Using too much, too little, or the wrong kind of shielding gas can also create a lot of problems for your weld. To avoid this from happening, make sure that you have your shielding gas set up correctly before you start.

First and foremost, always make sure you’re using 100 percent argon as your shielding gas. For some projects, you may need to use an argon and helium blend if you’re working with thick pieces of aluminum, for example. 

If you try to weld with a mix of argon and carbon dioxide as you would when MIG welding, you’ll create weld contamination immediately. Just because your welding machine might be muti-purpose and has TIG and MIG welding functions, it doesn’t mean the gas works for both types of welding.

Ensure that you set the gas flow rate to somewhere between 15 and 20 cubic feet per hour (CFH). You might be thinking that more gas flow equates to more protection and shielding. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Too much gas flow just results in added turbulence and can pull airborne contaminants into the weld. If anything, it’s better to have your gas flow be a tad lighter rather than heavier.

Don’t forget to check your hoses and fittings for any leaks. If your regulators are set correctly in the 15-20 CFH range and find that you’re not getting enough shielding gas coverage, there may be a leak somewhere. 

To test for this, you can rub a mixture of soapy water over the hose and fittings. If you start to see any tiny bubbles forming, you’ve found the leak and will need to replace the defective part.

If your regulators are working properly and there are no leaks to be found in your equipment, a tank contaminated with moisture might be causing your weld contamination. 

While issues like this rarely happen, they’re not unheard of. If you suspect this has happened, get in touch with your shielding gas supplier to resolve the issue.

  1. Not Properly Preparing Your Work Piece

While not recommended, it’s okay to get a little lazy now and then when preparing a piece of metal for MIG or stick welding. 

TIG welding, unfortunately, is not nearly as forgiving. Mill scale and oily surfaces can lead to poor-quality welds. When you’re just starting out, you might be too excited about starting a new project and fail to take the time to properly prepare your materials. To create quality TIG welds, the metal should be so clean that you can eat off it.

If you’re working with thinner gauge metals, it’s a good idea to clean both the front and back sides of the pieces you’ll be welding. The same is true for pipe welds. If you don’t take some time to clean the inside of the pipe, the TIG puddle can pull in contaminants from the uncleaned side. 

If you’ll be welding aluminum, it’s a good idea to use a wire brush to remove dirt, oil, and the oxidized layer on top. Just make sure that you use a clean wire brush that has not been used on other types of metals.

Prepping your materials isn’t difficult. It just takes a bit of time. Preparing the metal will help you create nicer-looking and longer-lasting welds.

  1. Amperage and Polarity Problems

Having your welding machine set to the incorrect amperage or polarity can create problems when TIG welding. 

First, let’s focus on amperage issues. More often than not, beginner TIG welders underestimate or overestimate how much amperage is needed. With aluminum, for instance, you’re working with a thinner piece of metal and will likely need to bump the amperage down to around 50 amps to avoid potential holes and burn through. If you’re working with mild steel and keep the amperage too low, you’ll have trouble just getting the puddle started.

Don’t forget your machine’s polarity setting, either. If you’re working with aluminum, you’ll need to switch from the direct current (DC) setting to the alternate current (AC) setting. If you try to weld aluminum on the DC setting, the weld will not break through the oxidized layer of the aluminum and create a bead of partially melted filler rod and oxidized aluminum. Switching the machine to the AC setting will allow the arc to remove the oxidized layer and melt the base metal.

To avoid any of these problems from happening, refer to the instruction guide or chart found on your machine to make sure you’ve got it set correctly for the materials being used.

  1. Dexterity Problems

Becoming a talented welder requires time and practice. The movements and steadiness needed to perform clean and strong welds are quite different from many other skilled trades. 

If your TIG welding machine has a foot pedal to control the amperage, you need to make sure your hands, eyes, and foot all work together in unison. 

Using a foot pedal can seem overwhelming at first. To get used to this, it’s recommended that you use your right foot to control the pedal. Think of it as the gas pedal when driving a car. When you do that, your hands, eyes, and feet all work together to operate the vehicle. While the level of touch and movements might be slightly different, the concept remains the same.

To get good at this skill, you need to practice. Don’t get frustrated and give up if you can’t get it right away. 

Remember when you first learned to drive. That was probably a lot of jerky starts and stops. It will be the same when you’re first learning to TIG weld with a foot pedal. But with a little practice, you’ll develop a feel for the controls and create perfect welds just as easily as you drive your car.

  1. Welding Too Slowly

It’s natural to have inconsistent welds when you are first learning how to TIG weld. Most beginners will spend too much time getting their puddle started and then have a slow travel speed. 

Travel speed is how you are moving the arc/puddle as you weld. If your travel speed is too slow, you might find that your hand causes the arc to move side to side as it travels. This is what often causes defects and inconsistencies. 

By learning how to increase your travel speed, you’ll find that you start to form stronger and nicer-looking beads. TIG welding requires a quicker travel speed to achieve a proper bead. 

If you find that you feel sluggish when welding, your travel speed is likely too slow. Remember, this isn’t a race, but moving quickly and smoothly is the key to performing quality TIG welds every time.

  1. Stainless Steel Sugaring

Sugaring, otherwise known as oxidation, happens around a weld bead on steel when the area is exposed to oxygen. This can occur when there is improper shielding gas flow or if you are welding outside and a breeze has impacted the gas coverage. 

Remember, you want to make sure that your regulators are set between 15 to 20 CFH and that you are using 100% argon gas.

To avoid this from happening, you may need to move inside to a sheltered area if it’s too windy where you are working. Or, you’ll need to adjust your shielding gas to get enough coverage. 

Sugaring can also happen if the weld area gets too hot. Having the amperage on your machine set too high is typically the culprit. Make sure you refer to your owner’s manual and set the machine to the proper level for the type of metal and thickness of the metal that you will be working with.

  1. Lack of Fusion

Several factors can lead to a lack of fusion near the root of a t-joint or fillet weld. 

Holding the torch too far away from the joint, incorrectly feeding the filler rod, or an improper joint fitting can all cause this to happen. If you’re working with a transformer-based machine, you may find that arc tends to jump between each side of the joint. This is because the arc wants to take the path of least resistance. To stop this from happening, you can reduce the arc length to have better directional control and create a deeper weld penetration.

Problems like this are easy to control with inverter-based welding machines that have more advanced output controls. These types of TIG welding machines let you create a narrower and more focused arc cone to control your weld puddle.

Join Welder101 to Make Fewer TIG Welding Mistakes

It cannot be said enough—mistakes will happen when you are new to TIG welding. When learning any new technique, you are bound to mess up from time to time. 

But, hopefully, this article has helped you understand what causes the most common beginner TIG welding mistakes and the steps you can take to avoid them!

Practice helps, of course, but so does proper instruction and training. With a program like Welder 101, you can learn a wide range of welding skills at your own pace. 

This comprehensive welding program combines 30+ years of welding experience into 50+ tutorial videos and knowledge-based articles. You’ll get to learn firsthand from experienced welders that show skills they’ve developed over years of experience.

Enrollment in the program comes with access to a private Facebook community group where you can chat, share, and ask questions of program mentors and other students. The ability to workshop and troubleshoot with welders from around the world is invaluable.

Welder 101 comes with a lifetime membership allowing you to continue your learning journey even as your skills progress. 

And finally, Welder 101 members will have exclusive access to tools and gear that can help you build the perfect shop and set yourself up for success. 

Get started with Welder 101 today!

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