If you’ve ever watched one of those one-man-band performers at the fair, you’ve got an idea of what TIG welding is like.
Creating a good TIG weld requires two steady hands, one steady foot and a high level of co-ordination. If you can keep the tip of the electrode a constant 0.040 of an inch from the puddle at all times, chances are you’ll be a good TIG welder.
Welders hold the tungsten electrode with one hand, filler rod in the other hand and control the amperage with a foot throttle.
The technique is similar to gas welding, only it’s much more precise and more heat is available. Once you’re really good at it, you can weld two pieces of aluminum foil together.
TIG stands for tungsten inert gas. One of the reasons it creates a better weld is the operator has constant amperage control using the foot pedal. The control range is half an amp, but that precise control is of no value unless the welder has the ability to read the weld correctly.
You need a fair amount of welding experience and understanding to know just what to do with that foot pedal. If you can’t read a weld, then you are far better off staying with a stick machine.
This is why welders with TIG experience command a higher salary.
When moving up to TIG, experienced welders often fail to understand that everything must be surgically clean for the system to work properly. It’s like working in a science lab or an operating room. There’s no place to cut corners. You must do it right and it must be clean.
If you’re contemplating buying TIG for your own private needs, consider the cost because it is the most expensive set of welding machinery.
The filler material costs more and the argon gas is expensive. Most shops now charge in the range of $85 per hour plus consumables for TIG welding, which should give you an idea of how much more expensive it is to run TIG machines.
Top welder for top jobs
Machine shops often have a TIG machine and a good welder who knows how to use it. They save the process for high quality, precision jobs on high stress components such as drive hubs, gears and shafts. They don’t waste TIG on simple weld jobs.
Do I have a TIG welder at home? Well, yes I do. But I’m a welding instructor and a dedicatedwelding geek. I can only justify the investment by admitting I’m a welding aficionado.
My advice is don’t invest in TIG equipment unless you are already a good welder and have a definite requirement for high quality welds. If you have only occasional needfor such welds, bring it to a professional and save yourself the headaches.
In TIG welding, the gas is pure argon, whether you’re welding steel, aluminum or stainless. The electrode is tungsten and is non-consumable.
Although there are more than a dozen kinds of electrodes available, the two most common are the Red two percent Thoriated and the Green pure tungsten, which has a higher amperage capability.
Theoretically, one electrode can last a lifetime if it never touchesthe puddle.
But reality is different, of course. A pack of 10 electrodes is about $50, and a beginner can easily go through a pack a day before figuring out what he’s doing.
It’s critical to protect that tungsten electrode. One touch to the base metal or the puddle can ruin a brand new tip. A tungsten tip cannot function once it’s contaminated with other metal.
The business about holding the tip 0.040 of an inch from the puddle isn’t a joke. That’s the gap you need to strive for if you want to weld with TIG.
The tip must be maintained in a conical shape. You can use a grinding wheel for this, but it must be a sanitary, dedicated stone that has never been used for anything but tungsten tips.
If you try to shape the tip on a wheel impregnated with other metals, those contaminants immediately transfer to the tungsten and your electrode is ruined.
Keep welding tip clean
You don’t need an expensive grinding wheel because it doesn’t get much use.
However, make certain no other metals touch the stone. If you try to weld with a contaminated tip, the arc will wander instead of staying focused. The arc will also lose stability, causing porosity in the weld.
This will be a weak weld that will give you nothing but trouble, which is certainly not what you want from a system that’s intended to create superior welds.
Jason Feal is a nationally certified welder. He has experience in construction welding including bridges and towers. He began teaching welding at Winnipeg Technical College in 2005.