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How a TIG Welder Works & How to Use One

TIG Welder
Image credit: Old Rollei, Flickr

You don’t want to become a professional welder, but you’ve heard of TIG welding and want to know a bit more.  Here’s the down and dirty description.  Remember all this and your friends will never again doubt that you know things.

How does it work?

A TIG welder is like a tiny flamethrower that gives you the ability to fuse metal with metal.  In one hand you hold a pencil-shaped gun that you aim at the point at which you want to start your weld.  In your other hand, you hold a metal skewer.  Meanwhile, your foot hovers over the pedal which will get everything going.  Once you engage the foot pedal, an electric current shoots out of the gun, generating temperatures measured in thousands of degrees and creating a pool of melting metal.  At the same time, you dab the metal skewer into the pool, melting small drops of it to mix in.  While all this is happening, the machine delivers an inert gas, such as argon, which creates a barrier bubble that prevents impurities from coming into contact with the molten metals.  As you move all this activity along the seam, the metal cools and solidifies into a bead, or finished weld.

tig welding a small support bracket
Image credit: Prowelder87, Wikimedia

How do you use one?

There is a lot to remember about using a TIG welder effectively.  Here is a list of tasks to do before you turn on your welder:

  1. Clean the metal to be welded as well as the filler rod. If you don’t, you risk introducing impurities into your weld and they will ultimately weaken it.
  2. Secure your materials with clamps and put in a few well-spaced tack welds to hold the pieces together.
  3. Make sure your tungsten is free of contaminants by sharpening it with a tungsten grinder, bench grinder, or belt sander.
  4. Decide on the settings you need for this project – AC or DC, electrode diameter, material, gas release rate, and thickness.
  5. When ready to begin, hold the torch close to the metal – about 1/8” away – and at a 70-80- degree angle.
  6. Be ready with your filler rod and hold it at a low angle to the welding point, at about a 15-degree angle.

TIG welding is an art

This is where the artistry of TIG welding comes in.  You’ll use your foot to control the temperature.  At the same time, one hand is shooting the torch along the seam and the other is periodically dabbing the filler rod into the puddle.  You have to juggle the temperature, the angle of the heat, the angle of the filler, and the amount of filler, all while steadily moving the whole operation along the seam.  A well-executed weld is pretty, symmetrical, and consistent, whereas a poorly executed weld looks messy and sloppy.  In TIG welding, the prettier weld is the stronger weld, so it’s worthwhile to make the effort.  You’ll want to give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice before you begin welding a serious project.

Conclusion

With TIG welding, you can build a spacecraft or a sculpture and repair a car or a bicycle.  TIG welding can handle any metal, including brass, gold, and even cast iron.  But welding is not a hobby you should learn about only from reading.  First-hand experience alongside an experienced welder is invaluable.  And remember how dangerous it can be, so don’t fire up your new welder until you’ve read up on safety precautions!

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