If you’re like many welding professionals or hobbyists, you learned the practice on the job, from other professionals, a parent or a neighbor. Unfortunately, this informal training often results in errors in your technique or setup and these, in turn, can lead to results that don’t really satisfy your inner perfectionist. If you can get the job done, and you’d like to improve your abilities, check out some of the best MIG welding tips gleaned from skilled professionals.

Consider These Factors for Each Project

During the arc welding process, and in MIG welding specifically, there are several areas that affect the end results, including:

  • Equipment preparation
  • Material preparation
  • Establishing proper parameters
  • Gas selection
  • Wire selection
  • Gun mechanics
  • Welding positions
  • Safety

Keep these factors in mind as you prepare for any welding task. Use the following roundup of tips to help you improve your results and stay safe while working.

Prep Your Work Area

Many hazards are part of the job for welders. These include electric shock, inhalation of fumes, burns from hot parts, and damaged skin and eyes from infrared light rays. Of course, there are many other dangerous possibilities to add to this list. Review the following tips for preparing your work space for safety and great results.

1. Research Your Equipment and Materials

There’s plenty of access these days to information, such as which practices are best for certain types of wire, and how to handle too much wire stick-out. Get this information online, from experienced professionals in your community or from the manufacturers of your equipment and materials. For example, you can research the specific parameters for the diameter of your wire, and the proper feed speed, amperage and voltage, best electrode extension and the best shielding gas. The more information you have, the more likely that you’ll get a stable arc and effective low-voltage penetration.

2. Clean Your Workspace and Equipment

One thing that ranks high on the frustration charts of farmers and fabricators is the failure of a MIG weld. This annoying, yet sometimes frequent, problem can often be avoided by simply cleaning the surface of your weld. However, dirty workspaces and equipment can contaminate those newly cleaned surfaces. In addition to improving your results, a clean work area can go a long way toward ensuring your safety while you work.

Some of the most common contaminants are dirt, dust, oil and paint. Any of those impurities could get caught in a weld and lead to enough holes to compromise its strength. The solution is to keep your workplace and equipment clean, and grind paint, rust and everything else off the surface of your project. Pay special attention to cracks where contaminants may be out of sight.

3. Dress for Your Safety

When you’re working with the extreme temperatures welding requires, be sure to protect your face and body from injury. This means wearing sturdy, leather, closed-toe shoes; heavy-duty, full-length pants and a shirt with long sleeves; and a welding helmet and gloves. Some materials, such as leather, are flame-resistant and more likely to protect you than synthetic fabrics that could melt if hit by flying sparks. Wear clothing without pockets and cuffs where sparks could land. You may also need to use a respirator.

An auto-dimming helmet is the best choice for welding because it provides better visibility. Static darkness welding helmets were the go-to choice in the past, but modern advancements in welding accessories have made those older helmets obsolete. Increase your comfort while working with a helmet that makes it possible for you to see your work area before you begin, while you’re working and once you’ve finished.

Set Up Equipment Properly

This step involves making sure the stick-out is the right length for the type of welding you’re doing (typically, the best wire stick-out is the shortest one allowed for the application), calibrating the welding machine as necessary and making adjustments for a smooth, even weld.

4. Pay Attention to Gas Levels

Too many welding projects are sidetracked because the gas coming out of the nozzle isn’t perfect for the task. Remember that there are several factors that can influence the effectiveness of your gas, such as moving air from a fan, as well as factors that affect the amount of gas needed, such as the type of surface you’re working with. Many professionals prefer to use a shielding gas for clean welds that don’t require much clean up.

5. Make Sure Connections Are Secure

MIG welding is inherently dangerous, but you can do a lot to keep yourself and your project safe. Securing all connections before you start is an important step. Begin at one end of your setup and work your way to the other end, making sure everything has been appropriately secured.

6. Check Your Grounding

If your machine isn’t working smoothly, or if your weld just isn’t taking hold, the most likely problem is a poor ground. This can lead to issues such as an overheating gun or a sputtering, uneven weld. Protect your own safety and the weld quality with a good grounding. This includes providing an appropriate grounding spot and keeping it clean.

Attach the ground cable to bare metal, and keep it as close to the arc as possible. If you don’t have a place to clamp, weld a bolt or a stud to your work station. The electrical current you’re using to achieve a viable welding arc will naturally take the path of least resistance. If your welding ground is too far away from your arc, the current may travel in another direction.

Watch and Listen for a Smooth Weld

You can get a lot of information from your finished welding bead. For example, if the bead is ropy, your setting is probably too cold. A concave bead could mean you don’t have the right amount of heat, or your work angle is wrong. Keep a close eye on your work, and don’t forget to listen to your welder.

7. Watch for Spatter

Spatter is a problem for many reasons. It’s a pain to clean up, it’s a waste of your materials and it often leads to burns. Making the necessary adjustments to avoid spatter isn’t just for your convenience, however. If you have spatter, you could have one of the following problems.

  • Your work surface is contaminated with dirt, oil, paint, rust or other impurities.
  • The wrong amount of amperage, voltage and/or electric stick-out; research your materials and adjust your settings.
  • Fluctuations in amperage; check your wire feeder for issues.
  • Low-quality consumables; research the best wires for your applications.
  • Low-quality shielding gas; check your label for high argon content to avoid spatter from carbon dioxide.
  • Work angles are too steep; keep your drag or push angle between 10 and 15 degrees.
  • Short arc and globular transfers cause a lot of spatter; choose a shielding mix with at least 83 percent argon.

Some welders use an anti-spatter; this prevents spatter from sticking to a material. However, the use of anti-spatter shouldn’t replace correcting the cause of spatter.

8. Adjust Stick-Out for Best Results

The appearance of your weld can tell you a lot about the quality of your work, and it also lets you know if any of your settings are wrong. For example, if your weld is slightly concave, the stick-out is too short. If you’ve created an oval-shaped weld, the stick-out is too long. Ideally, you should achieve a consistent rounded edge. The most common length is ½ inch of stick-out.

9. Consider Your Options

Many welders have strong feelings about whether to push or drag when welding. However, the appearance and depth of your weld is affected by these different techniques. For example, a pushed weld has a slightly more discreet profile than a perpendicular weld. A drag technique results in a slightly flattened profile. Maybe the most important aspect of different welding directions lies beneath the surface. A perpendicular gun results in a deeper penetration, and a pushed weld results in the shallowest penetration.

10. Listen to Your Arc

Some experts describe the sound of a beautiful arc as bacon sizzling in a pan. A smooth, even sizzle is the result of correct settings. If you’re hearing a lot of popping, your settings probably aren’t right. The most common adjustments are to turn the wire speed down or increase the voltage. In addition to listening to the arc, you may find that the wrong settings cause your bead to pile up. For the best results, listen for a smooth sizzling sound, and watch for a bead that is consistently flat. Experienced welders sometimes begin with scrap metal so they can adjust the machine as necessary before getting started.

Many welders have found that it doesn’t take long to get a good handle on MIG welding, but perfecting their work often takes years of trial and error. Put our tips for better MIG welding to the test, and find out whether they affect your results. Even if you just make adjustments in one area, you’re likely to notice some improvement.