17 Pipe Welding Do’s and Don’ts
When it comes to welding, skill equals money. This means the better your ability to weld together different metals and parts, especially curved metals of different thickness, the more clients will pay you for your services.
Welders tend to agree that pipe welding is possibly the most difficult process for industry professionals. What makes pipe welding so difficult are the positions welders find themselves in to do the work. Working on a pipe that is fixed with limited access can be strenuous and stressful.
Companies pay professionals who become accredited pipe welders quite well. This makes pipe welding certification one of the most sought after certifications in the industry. To help you get that accreditation, we have 17 do’s and don’ts you should remember.
1. Do Learn How To Plate Weld First
Because pipe welding is so difficult, it is imperative that you perfect your plate welding technique before you tackle pipes. What you gain by learning how to plate weld first includes both structural welding basics and an overall expertise in welding principles and fundamentals. This foundation will serve you well when you are ready to pursue your pipe welding certification.
2. Don’t Reach For the Cleaning Solvent
A dust pad, or small piece of fabric used to combat final contaminants from the wire coming from the drive roll system, is a common strategy used by many welders. When welders add lubricant or cleaning solvent to the pad, ostensibly to clean the wire, they are actually doing the exact opposite. The solvent will contaminate the wire and cause weld defects.
3. Don’t Assume You Can Automate Your Way To Success
Pipe welding is a challenge in and of itself. While you may think you are making things easier by automating part of the process, you may actually make things more difficult.
If you are thinking about automation, make sure you truly understand how the entire welding process works from beginning to end. No one likes to invest a lot of money in a machine that cannot run because of problems upstream or one that causes bottlenecks downstream because it is producing too quickly for manual processes to keep up. If you spend time understanding the problem you want to solve with automation, you may learn that a simpler setup will suffice, rather than an expensive machine.
4. Do Figure Out Which is Your Best Side
Every welder has a “best side.” By this, we mean the side of the pipe that is easier to work on than the other. Typically, the side you cannot see because your hand is blocking your view — which inevitably happens when you are pipe welding — is your “bad side.”
More likely than not, your dominant hand determines this. If you are left-handed, the right side will be your “bad side,” and vice versa. Similarly, gravity will work against you a bit, likely making the top of the pipe easier and cleaner than the bottom.
5. Don’t Mix Gases
Some welds will call for a mix of gases, such as argon and helium. Rather than try to mix the gases yourself using two tanks and flow regulators, it is better to go ahead and buy cylinders for the gas premixed. You could also buy a quality mixer to do the job. Trying to mix the gases yourself may lead to all kinds of issues and a lot of wasted time and effort.
6. Do Tack Weld Materials Together
To ensure you hold your materials in place securely, tack weld them together at the beginning of the job. Now you can take your time to finish the project properly, with a little less worry about how the job will go. Cutting and feathering your tacks will reduce defects in the final weld.
7. Don’t Go Heavy On the Shield Gas
Many welders make this common mistake. They assume that more shielding gas, inert or semi-inert gases meant to protect the weld area from oxygen and water vapor, is better. This is not always the case. Besides wasting gas and costing money, too much shielding gas can agitate the weld puddle and draw oxygen into the weld, causing porosity. Avoid this problem altogether by using a flow meter and sticking to recommended flow rates.
8. Do Mind the Gap
Start and stop each weld on the side well. Do not do so in the gap. Arc first and then weld pool. Afterward, slowly move across the open root to the other side. Then zigzag along the open root until you need to change position.
9. Don’t Forget to Feather Your Tacks
Often, the person completing a weld is different from the person starting a weld, known as the fitter. If you are preparing a pipe weld for someone else to complete, remember to cut out and feather your tacks to ensure a consistent final weld.
Make doubly sure the welder knows what you used to tack, or fit, the metal. The welder will consume those tacks in the final weld, and if the tacks have defects or you accidently used the wrong filler metal, it could cause defects in the weld. Combat this with good cutouts and feathering.
10. Do Work Around the Clock
No, this does not refer to working 24-hour days to get the job done. It refers to how you should approach each pipe weld. A lot like working in chunks or dividing a big job into a series of smaller jobs, experts suggest approaching the pipe like a clock face. Start your weld at what would be the 12 o’clock mark and work your way to the 3 o’clock mark. Stop, check your weld, and if you are happy with it, move on to the next quarter. Keep going until you have circled the clock and finished.
11. Don’t Cut Costs When Cutting
One mistake many weld shops make when taking on pipe work is cutting that pipe with substandard band saws. This can create a poor cut, in turn rendering the fit-up unworkable, or worse, close but not close enough.
Many welders will go ahead with the weld, filling the gaps with filler metal. The added heat of the weld can cause further distortion and ruin some corrosion-resistant metals. In some cases, the welder will have to rework the job, costing both time and money. Shops should go ahead and invest in dedicated pipe cutting equipment to avoid the hassle and costly mistakes.
12. Do Use a Groove Weld
Because you likely will not be able to weld from the inside of the pipe, you will want to use a groove weld. A groove weld is defined as a weld that “consists of an opening between two part surfaces, which provides space to contain weld metal.” Using a groove weld will help ensure good welds on heavy-duty materials with which penetration can be poor.
13. Don’t Assume Your Power Source is Causing Porosity
The truth is that power sources do not cause porosity, a common misconception among some professionals. Investigation often leads welders to discover porosity occurred when a gas cylinder was changed or new wire spool added. Maybe the materials were improperly prepared or some other contamination occurred. The best way to figure out what is causing porosity is to start from where it began and work back from there.
14. Do Run Hot
While it is true that running your TIG welder too hot could result in metal distortion, don’t go too far the other way and run too cool. That will only lead to a weak weld and, eventually, lost time and money. Learn how to run your welder as hot as possible without going too hot. You will know you have hit the sweet spot when the heat is breaking down the edges of the workpiece and you are getting strong fusion with the material.
15. Don’t Forget What Kind of Metal You Are Welding
A lot of the do’s and don’ts we have shared pertain to heavy-duty metals, so understand what it means to weld the metal you are working on. In other words, if you are welding steel, you can fill gaps. However, with aluminum pipe, you will not be able to do that. Aluminum must fit together tightly with no gaps.
16. Do Enjoy the Travel
Because pipe welding is a highly skilled discipline, there is a lot of demand for great pipe welders. If you enjoy seeing the country — maybe even the world — you likely can find work wherever you want to go.
17. Do Take Advantage of the Job Security
Welders are highly sought after, but pipe welders are in a league of their own. Skilled pipe welders who keep up with training will likely stay employed until they decide they don’t want to weld anymore.
Pipe welding is not restricted to the oil and gas industry, either. Welders have the opportunity to expand their skill set and work in many different industries, from industrial construction to utilities and shipping.
If pipe welding sounds like the kind of career challenge you would like to take on, do some research and consider a certification training program. Once certified, your newfound skill may reveal a career path you never thought could happen.