There is something magical about the act of welding metals together to create something new. Something strong, and durable and useful. Welding is creation and art and construction all fused together in its purest form. Part of the beauty is that anyone can learn the craft and run effective beads. Not everyone develops the eye and hand to run a bead straight and narrow to the utmost perfection, but nearly everyone can use welding basics to join metals and alloys into a functional tool or part.
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The world needs more qualified welders as there is a current shortage so read this guide to welding basics to help you decide if you are ready to start, pick up and welder and start welding.
Welding Through The Years
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Forged by fist and iron, the rudimentary history of welding began with blacksmiths joining pieces of iron together with heat and hammer. The practice is still part of blacksmithing and can be thought of as the first form of welding, though the modern world of welding did not truly begin until the 19th century.
The Arc of Origin
The principles behind arc welding got started in England in the early 1800s with the origins of arc welding. By the late 1800s, carbon arc welding led the way as the practice continued to evolve. Arc welding today still uses the same principles and techniques today, though the process has evolved and is far more efficient.
Can’t Resist New Ways
Elihu Thompson developed and patented the first forms of resistance welding. This took place right before the turn of the century, and the early 1900s saw new the development of many new processes such as spot welding, seam welding, and other specialized forms.
These new techniques along with the old ways were still being refined when World War I ramped up demand. The onset of war set out a growing market that created a number of welding based manufacturers and companies which spawned even more innovation.
A Growing Marketplace
This marketplace has fueled the advances on the welding basics for nearly a century now, and the industrial revolution would not have been possible without the advances in welding techniques.
From the start of basic arc welding, to high tech lasers leaders in the field continue to innovate. The welding industry continues to grow and expand as new techniques are developed. Because of this, even longtime experienced welders must embrace new knowledge and continue to adapt. Welding present new challenges and techniques and this makes the activity both rewarding and challenging.
Industrial welding. Image via Pixabay
Tools Of The Trade
The tool list for basic welding is somewhat dependent on the type of welding to be done, and personal preference, but use this list as a basic guide the welding tools you will need.
Personal Protective Equipment and Clothing
Wearing protective clothing equipment is a safety-must anytime you pick up a welder. Eyes, skin, and ears are all vulnerable without proper PPE so do not sidestep this category.
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Randy Rice, Agate Construction iron worker from Mason, Ariz., secures a knee brace to the frame of a multi-million dollar aircraft shelter to improve flightline Airmen’s safety, well-being and job environment along with providing aircraft protection from weather elements, Aug. 7. The shelters are scheduled for completion in February 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathan Bevier)
The tiniest speck of debris in the eye is enough to cause pain. Safety glasses are key for all metalwork from simple cutting and grinding on up. Cutting goggles over the top of those safety glasses provide the added light protection for cutting or welding. Ear protection is important too, from plugs and bands to the need for full-out muffs in some environments.
Leather is a welder’s best friend.
Airman 1st Class David Reid, 2nd Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight apprentice, welds steel plates together during training on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Dec. 6. Metals technology Airmen, weld, manufacture, and are capable of creating parts from raw materials. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Andrew Moua)
Leather gloves protect the hands from burns as well as scrapes, cuts, and impacts and depending on the job and environment leather jackets or sleeves, and/or an apron prevent burns to you and your clothing. A solid pair of steel-toed leather work boots, will save the feet from harm.
Are even a welder without a snazzy welding cap?
Star-Spangled welding helmet. Image via Pexels
Despite the colorful array of choices welding caps are for the protection of your head and hair more than a fashion statement.
Welding hoods shield your face and eyes and again often come with some flair or customization. Under it all, a Particulate Welding Respirator is a good idea for all jobs and an absolute requirement for most.
Your Very Own Welder
Owning or having access to a welder falls into the Captain Obvious category for welding basics, and since I break down different types of welding further down in this piece, there is no need to delve into the variations here.
If you plan to learn to weld as part of a school or educational program, you can probably put off buying a welder until you are more certain what type best suits you and your plans. But if you are going to learn the welding basics on your own, you will need at least one type of welder to practice with.
Hand Tools and Accessories
A tool list to cover all the bases is tough, but for welding basics, the following gear is a great start, and if you plan to attend classes through part of a training program be sure and ask them what is supplied and what you will need to purchase for your self.
A good two-pound ball peen hammer will allow you to do everything from striking punches and chisels to rounding edges and rivets. When it comes time to knock away the leftover slag a chipping hammer is what you need.
Wire cutters and needle nose pliers w/side cutters are not new tools to anyone, and they might not be items you first associate with welding, but you will need both. Wire brushes are essential for cleaning, scraping and prepping equipment and the area to be welded.
Channel Locks and More
Channel locks, Crescent wrench, and vise grips are all familiar tools to the mechanically inclined, and they too are staples in any basic welding toolkit.
You will need soapstone and a holder to keep it in so you can mark your work without worry of contamination. Speaking of marking without worry use a tape measure so you can “Measure twice and cut once.” We all need that reminded now and again.
Speed squares, also known as, rafter squares, or triangle squares are used to layout and form 45 and 90-degree angles.
US Navy rating badge signifying a Hull Technician. Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Combination squares do some of the same things, but you will want to have both types at your disposal. Fillet gauges measure the radius of pipe and other circular items. A quality set will come with both convex and concave leafs.
To state the obvious yet again, flashlights are handy in any low light situation, but a bright light behind the aforementioned fillet gauge is necessary to take that measurement. Another necessary vision aid is an extendable mirror. You will invariably need to see or find something in a place your craned head simple will not go.
As far as welding and cutting specific items do not forget backing tape because it will save you time, effort and produce more uniform welds.
Fuel tip cleaners will get you back working when used right, but get overzealous or use the wrong size or you will ruin the tip of your cutting torch.
There are dozens of types of welding but only four fall into the commonly used category. MIG, TIG, Stick, and Flux- Cored arc form the quadrant of welding basics so they are the four we will take a closer look at now.
MIG, aka Gas Metal Arc Welding or GMAW, is one of the most used welding methods. Commonly used to join an array of nonferrous metals and alloys. MIG deploys a solid wire electrode fed through a welding gun.
MIG welding tip cut-away. (1) Torch handle, (2) Molded phenolic dielectric (shown in white) and threaded metal nut insert (yellow), (3) Shielding gas nozzle, (4) Contact tip, (5) Nozzle output face. Image CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
This consumable wire forms an arc with the base material. This arc, in turn, melts the wire and joins to the base material. A shielding gas protects the weld from atmospheric contaminants such as nitrites or oxides.
Advantages of MIG Welding
Regarded as the easiest welding method, MIG welding is highly suitable for the entry level welders or beginners new to the practice. Other advantages include speed because of the high efficiency of the electrode—which results in a lesser waste of material parts and greater quality weld. Using less material the weld cleanup saves time and money. The need for lower heat input also saves operational costs as it means less input power is required to power the welder.
Disadvantage of MIG
The cons of MIG welding begin with the need for external gas shielding. Over time the cost of buying gas adds up making this one of the costlier methods. Thicker material will need welded in another fashion as MIG welders are limited to thinner material. Another limit is the position of the weld as MIG welding cannot be done vertically or overhead. All material must be thoroughly cleaned and prepped as well, adding time and cost to every job.
MIG welding is found from large manufacturers to garage hobbyists and is suitable for an array of work.
The acronym TIG comes from tungsten inert gas, but technically this form of welding is called gas tungsten arc welding, or GTAW. A non-consumable tungsten wire serves as the electrode and delivers the current of the welding arc. An inert gas, usually argon, cools and protects both the tungsten electrode and the weld puddle.
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TIG is Tough Master
TIG welding can be trickier than other types of welding because it requires two hands and one foot to operate. Used when attractive, clean beads are required TIG is the method of choice for much of the work in the automobile world, from stock bodywork to aftermarket components like stainless exhaust systems.
Chassis and frames, sheet metal, and visible piping systems, bicycles manufacturers, and metal art rely on TIG welding to produce the desired look and strength.
The downsides to TIG welding include time of use, and a tough learning curve. TIG welding is slower than the other methods on this list and is tough to master. The parts to be welded must be extra clean which also adds to the time factor. Quality TIG welders are also more expensive to buy.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding, SMAW, or stick welding is the standard bearer of arc welding processes. The term stick refers to the electrode which is comprised of a solid metal rod or stick surrounded by a coating of compounds and metal powders.
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Electric currents, either alternating or direct, form an arc between the electrode and the metals to be joined. The electrode acts as both a conductor and source material as it provides the filler for the welded joint.
How Stick Welding Works
As the electrode melts, the coating creates a cloud of gases that shields the weld to keep it from oxidizing. Thus the name Shielded Metal Arc Welding. The gas cloud eventually cools and settles out as slag which must be chipped off after work is completed.
One of the earliest welding processes, Stick Welding continues to be popular due to both its simplicity and versatility. Used mostly to weld iron and steel stick welding is the welding option for heavy steel structures.
Advantages of the Stick Welder
Comparatively easy to use and inexpensive, Stick Welding is very versatile and adaptable. The cost savings of not needing to purchase external shielding gas make it cheaper to operate. Stick Welding can be done on rain or wind or on painted surfaces, and it is easy to swap electrodes to use on different metals or allows.
Despite its inherent simplicity, Stick Welding comes with a learning curve that requires both skill and patience as the user gains experience. Especially tough on thin metals, Stick Welding, is not suitable at all for reactive metals such as titanium, zirconium, columbium, or tantalum.
Disadvantages of the Stick Welder
The slag left behind is dirty and messy and chipping it way adds a step to the process. Slow compared to other methods, Stick Welding eats up electrodes so only short lengths can be welded before a new electrode is needed.
Similar to the MIG welding in that an uninterrupted electrode is fed, Flux-Core differs in that a tube-shaped wire full of flux serves as the electrode instead of a solid wire.
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Flux-cored welding comes with two variants. Dual shield flux-cored welding calls for an external gas supply to help shield the weld along with the electrode. Self-shielding flux-cored welding relies on no external gas to protect the weld.
Flux-Core In Outdoor Elements
The self-shielding flux-cored process works great in outdoor applications even when windy conditions are in play. Flux-Core Welding is used for various heavy duty welding as found in steel erection and heavy equipment repair.
The two options make Flux-Core one of the most versatile welding processes, and the lack of a gas bottle in self-shielding flux-cure gives the welder added mobility. The high electrode efficiency minimizes waste of materials and comes with low heat input requirements. Flux-cored welding produces the least amount of fumes and typically needs little clean up after work is complete.
Plasma Arc is often used in the aerospace industry and is similar to TIG welding in technique but a recessed electrode.
Electron Beam and Laser welding run off of high energy applications and are used when highly precise work is needed.
Gas Welding was once one of the common methods but has been replaced by TIG for most applications.
How Do I Get Started Welding
You must first ask yourself a question. What are my welding goals?
Are you looking to make a career in welding, or to add another skill to your resume? Or are you wanting to learn welding basics for yourself as part of a hobby or desire to be more self-reliant?
A career in welding can offer solid pay and the reward of a good day’s work. There is a primal satisfaction from creating something tangible and real each day. That said, welding is not for everyone. The work can be hot, strenuous and demanding. As much art as craft, welding can be taught, but certain people just seem to have a natural feel and flair to run amazing beads.
The Others Demand on the Rise
The demand for quality welders is greater than the current supply, so the future holds promise for those looking to join the field.
The best way to do this is via a reputable school, training facility, or educational program — research before signing up for any such regiment. Many places graduate talented and respected welders, and these are the places job recruiters look to fill entry-level positions. Some programs tout job placement services or guarantees and with research can make an intelligent decision about the program that is right for you.
Part of your planning should also include a good long look at the type of welding you want to do, as well as the environment you would like to work in. Welding jobs span from high rise steel beams high above the earth to underwater climes deep in the ocean.
Underwater welding. Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Some career paths require you to be transient as the work moves while other opportunities fall into a nine to five pattern close to home.
Part of the beauty of a career in welding is the diversity offered. Both in the works to be done and the location you will call an office.
Specialized training is required for various welding processes, and certain jobs require certifications that can be earned by successfully passing an exam in that field. It might take a progression of experience and education before you achieve the level of certification for the dream job on your list.
Senior Airman Dalton Obenshain, 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, fabricates aircraft tubing by reshaping it, on Hurlburt Field, Fla., Oct. 22, 2015. Airmen with the 1st SOMXS aircraft structural maintenance shop the Air Force more than $100,000 a year, replacing damaged parts with items fabricated in their shop. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Released)
Plan for these stages by charting a course for degrees and certification and hours gaining hands-on experience. Establish realistic timelines and goals to avoid disappointment or burnout before you get where you hope to be.
How Long Does It Take To Complete A Welding Course
A single welding class typically runs three or four weeks, but to land your first jobs, you will need multiple classes. As is the case in most career fields, the broader your knowledge and skill-set the better job you are likely to land. Expect six months to a year of training before you are truly a desirable applicant for most employers.
Self-Taught Welding Basics
We live in the information age so you can teach yourself how to weld. The learning curve will be longer than through a top-notch school or program and job placement more difficult, but if time is not important or you are looking to pick up welding basics for yourself, this options might be right for you.
Begin by asking what you plan to weld. What type of metals will you be working with? What do you hope to make? The answers to these questions will lead you to your first step … buying a welder.
Cost of Tuition vs. Self-Taught Equipment Costs
The money you save on tuition will quickly be spent on equipment and tools. New welders range from a few hundred bucks up to tens of thousands of dollars. Which is right for you depends not only on your budget, but the planned workload and material that you will be joining.
Urban Blue Steel Pipe Sky Metal Construction Image viaMax Pixel
You can save some money by purchasing used equipment but doing so comes with obvious risks. This article provides a good comparison to start your search.
Good Resources For Self-Taught Welding Basics
The world is full of manuals, how-to videos, and other resources. Not all are made equal so check credentials and reviews and expect a lot of trial and error as your progress.
This article offers an in-depth look at the best books on welding. Watch a few videos or read excerpts of books because while the instructor or authors may be fully qualified, that does not mean their teaching methods speak to you.
Welding And You
No matter how you dive into learning, the welding basics are the same. There is no one path to learning, just as there is no one absolute method of welding. Every job calls for different electrodes and techniques, and every welder is created differently. Proper planning is needed before you begin to discover welding and the same thing is need before you tackle your first, or four hundredth welding job.
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Take your time to learn welding basics, and you will be rewarded with a skill and talent that can serve you as a career or merely a hobby.