Tungsten Inert Gas welding, or as it’s more commonly called, TIG welding, is a welding process very similar to stick welding. The biggest benefit of TIG welding is cleaner, higher quality welds when compared to other welding methods.
Another major benefit to TIG welding is that it is one of the most versatile welding processes available. This technique can be used to weld a range of different metals, including:
- Stainless Steel
Because of the versatility and high-quality welds that can be made, you’ll find TIG welding machines in almost every metal shop.
If you’re reading a blueprint for a project, TIG welding is often referred to by its proper terminology, “Gas Tungsten Arc Welding” (GTAW). However, most DIYers and welders on job sites simply call it TIG welding.
How TIG Welding Works
Essentially, there are three main components in this welding operation—heat, shielding gas, and metal. The process involves using two hands to control the welding torch and the filler rod.
TIG welding uses a non-combustible tungsten electrode to heat the metal you are welding. An electric torch with the electrode is used to deliver the current to the welding arc. Shielding gas is also used to help protect both the weld and tungsten from any potential airborne contaminants and debris. A filler rod completes the process and helps solidify the weld. The welder will dip the tip of the filler rod into the arc to control the weld puddle and size of the bead.
Any time a weld is going to be visible and needs a clean appearance, TIG welding is the way to go. If you’re doing any welding operations at home, like repairs to lawn mowers, bike frames, fenders, and door handles, it can be accomplished cleanly with TIG welding.
Advantages of TIG Welding
Aside from a clean finish, there are many advantages to TIG welding.
TIG Welding Can be Performed in Any Position
Certain welding operations require you to keep the torch pointed down to complete a solid weld.
One of the biggest benefits of TIG welding is that you can complete this type of weld in almost any position. Whether you’re welding above your head like on piping, or out to the side, or facing downward, there’s no difference in the quality of your welds. If you find you have to get into an awkward position to complete your weld—grab your TIG welding equipment.
TIG Welding Offers Better Control Over the Heat
Most TIG welding machines use a foot pedal to help control how much heat is being produced. Because of this, you’ll encounter fewer problems with burning the metal and the discoloration that this produces.
The pedal works very similarly to the one in your car or truck. The more you press down on the pedal, the more heat will be produced. Anytime you find yourself using one of these machines, make sure to press the metal down slowly, don’t just floor it! By gently using the pedal, you’ll be able to raise the heat to the level you need to complete your welds successfully.
TIG Welding Allows You to Dial in Your Amperage
TIG welding allows you to be very precise and exact. Unlike other welding techniques that might require you to work with a higher amperage than needed, TIG welding allows you to dial in your amperage.
By being able to control your amperage and set it to the appropriate level for the metals you’re using, you’ll be able to avoid the small flaws and imperfections that you’ll face with other welding techniques. This level of control means TIG welding can be used on thinner metals and on projects, like jewelry repair, where precision is essential.
TIG Welding is a Cleaner Option
TIG welding has less of an impact on the environment than other welding techniques. Unlike other techniques, you won’t produce nearly the same amount of fumes and smoke. Just make sure to clean the area you are welding first to remove any potential contaminants like rust or oil.
Compared to the gases used in other welding techniques, Argon gas has a minimal impact on the environment if it gets leaked into the air.
Things to Consider with TIG Welding
TIG welding is a little tougher to master than other welding techniques. Here are just a few of the things you need to keep in mind when giving it a shot:
Don’t Forget The Right Polarity
TIG welding is very versatile, but it also means you need to know when to adjust the polarity of your current. Strong and solid beads can be made on most metals using a direct current. However, thinner metals like aluminum require you to adjust the machine to an alternating current. If you don’t switch to an alternating current when required, you’ll likely find yourself with a contaminated bead.
With aluminum, always remember that you can’t start creating a bead until you see a puddle form with a tiny and shiny dot in the center of it. This lets you know that it’s safe to start adding your filler.
Overheating Can Happen Quickly
Certain metals like stainless steel or aluminum have a tendency to overheat. If the materials get too hot, you’ll find this leads to discoloration and degrades the strength of the materials.
When this happens, you’re out of luck, and that working piece becomes scrap metal. To avoid having to start your work over again and again, make sure to use your foot pedal conservatively and take time to learn how to properly use the machine and control things like your amperage and travel speed.
Different Materials Yield Different Results
Any welder will confirm that filler rods have different qualities depending on the manufacturer. Each manufacturer has its own quality standards, and the differences can impact your work.
Before you start any project, make sure to check what type of filler material is best suited for the job. Also, make sure that you take some time to thoroughly clean the surface of the weld area to achieve the best results.
It Takes Time To Learn The Proper Technique
To truly master the TIG welding technique, you’ll need to spend time practicing. Because it is so versatile, make sure you work with different types of metal in your practice. Doing so will allow you to learn how to make adjustments to your machine’s settings and your actual technique.
Learning to control your amperage, adjust the flow of shielding gas, and achieve proper travel speed all take time, practice, and patience. Putting in that work will ensure you create strong and precise welds every time, regardless of the materials being used or the position of the weld.
Notes About Shielding Gas
Every aspect of TIG welding is precise, and that includes the shielding gas. The inert gas you use helps protect the weld pool and tungsten from other gasses in the air (like oxygen), which can contaminate the weld.
To make sure you have the proper shielding gas coverage, you’ll need to make the proper adjustments.
Optimal Flow Rate
You’ll need to use the regulator on your bottle to adjust how much gas is used. Different materials will require different gas flow rates.
You’ll also need to factor in things like the atmospheric conditions when you’re working outdoors. Generally speaking, the optimal gas flow rate is usually between 10 and 35 cubic feet per hour.
Shielding Gas Blends
Shielding gas is used to protect the weld from contaminants in the atmosphere. However, the type of gas you use can also impact the heat and arc. For most TIG welding operations, you’ll use one of the following three options for shielding gas:
- 100% Argon is used most often. This is the most affordable and available gas for TIG welding. Argon is the preferred option because it produces a more consistent and stable arc compared to helium.
- 100% Helium is used to produce a higher heat input. This is helpful when welding thicker materials. One thing to note, Helium requires a faster travel speed and can have inconsistent arc starts due to the higher ionization potential.
- A 25% (Argon) – 75% (Helium) blend can be used when you want to get the higher heat inputs from Helium but maintain the consistent arc starts achieved with Argon.
When to TIG Weld
TIG welding is one of the most versatile welding operations. The ability to weld a variety of different metals makes it a very useful skill to learn. The best time to perform a TIG weld is when you need to make a precise and clean-looking weld. TIG welding allows the operator to have more control and create a strong bond that is more visually appealing.
If you’re welding thinner metals like aluminum, TIG welding is the best option. Thinner materials require precision, and other techniques don’t perform nearly as well.
While MIG welding has become the primary technique used in the automotive and manufacturing industries, TIG welding is still used to complete a lot of welding operations. TIG can welding can be used to complete bicycle and other home repairs, furniture assembly, shelving projects, plumbing, and even jewelry repair.
Any skilled welder should spend time practicing this operation. As you can see, there are plenty of occasions where the simplicity and precision of a TIG weld can be preferred over other welding operations.
TIG Welding Equipment
To complete your TIG welding operations, you need a direct current power supply, TIG torch, and a bottle of Argon gas with a regulator. You can even use a direct current stick welding power supply if you already have one.
The only time you really need to make any adjustments to your power supply is if you’re TIG welding aluminum. In this case, you need an alternating current instead of a direct current.
TIG Welding Safety Tips
TIG welding may be very popular and versatile, but like any welding operation, it does have risks to consider. Before you start any TIG welding operation, make sure you’re working in a safe environment with the proper equipment.
Protect Your Eyes
A TIG welding arc produces an intense amount of ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Without the proper eye and face protection, you could experience damage to your cornea or retina. All it takes is a few seconds of this powerful UV light to develop what’s known as arc-eye.
However, the painful effects may not be felt until hours later. If you do develop a case of arc eye, this can be treated with pain medication, eye drops, and limiting exposure to light until the symptoms improve.
To avoid this from happening to you or someone watching you work, make sure everyone is wearing a welding helmet and lens shade.
Protect Your Skin
Your eyes aren’t the only thing that can be damaged by the ultraviolet radiation produced. Your skin can react as well and lead to a skin burn which is essentially a sunburn (but it happens much faster).
In as little as 15 minutes, TIG welding can cause a skin burn. To prevent this, make sure you’re wearing gloves and a long sleeve shirt or welding jacket to protect your hands and arms.
Work In A Ventilated Area
Make sure that you always work in a ventilated area. If you’re working with thinner metals that can overheat and burn easily, it’s possible to produce harmful fumes and gas.
To help limit this, make sure there is good airflow in the workspace and have proper ventilation in place.
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