Each welding process requires a different type of welder.
If you are just starting your search for a welder, you may not know about the several different types of welders. Each welder meets a specific need and uses a different welding process. Before you start, find out which welder will best suit both the material you are working on and your skill level.
Stick welding, also known as arc welding, is one of the easiest options for joining steel and other metals. Stick welding uses an electrode holder and electrode to create an electric arc. This occurs when the arc is struck between the electrode and the work piece, creating a molten weld pool.
Pros – Stick welders have plenty of advantages. They’re great for use in windy, harsh conditions. They’re also perfect for welding dirty, rusty materials. You’ll find that they’re tough enough for thick materials.
Cons – Stick welders aren’t very portable, because they’re so heavy. They also have a heavy amp draw, causing a lot of energy use. These welders are a bit more difficult to use when compared to wire feed.
Wire Feed Welding
Wire feed is one of the most used processes in the world today. Using a welding gun, a power source, shielding gas and a constant feed of welding wire, it’s fast and easy to do. There are two different types of wire feed processes: MIG and Flux Core. Both have their own pros and cons.
MIG, or metal inert gas, uses both a continuous solid wire electrode for filler metal and externally supplied shielding gas. The shielding gas, which is usually carbon dioxide from a cylinder, flows through the gun and cable assembly, and out the gun nozzle with the welding wire to shield and protect the molten weld pool. Molten metal is very reactive, so the inert gas usually continues to flow for some time after welding to keep protecting the metal as it cools. A slight breeze can blow the shielding gas away and cause porosity in the weld. Therefore, welding outdoors is usually avoided unless special windscreens are put up. However, if done right, the weld looks excellent with MIG welding. Good technique will yield great results. The properly made finished weld has no slag and virtually no spatter.
Pros – This is your best choice when looks are important. The spatter levels are lower than with flux core welding, so there’s no slag to chip off and cleaning time is faster. If you’re a beginner, MIG welding is the easiest type of welding to learn. Using MIG welding, you can weld a wider range of materials, including stainless steel, nickel alloys and aluminum.
Cons – Shielding gas is required, so if you are looking for something that offers portability and convenience, this might not be the best choice. MIG welding also requires additional equipment such as a hose, regulator, solenoid (electric valve) in the wire feeder and flowmeter. Because MIG welders have a soft arc, they will not properly weld thicker materials. A 10 gauge would be the maximum thickness for this process. MIG welding is bad for outdoor use.
With Flux core, the shielding material is already in the wire. The flux-core process is only recommended on materials as thin as 20 gauge, which is a bit thicker than what is used in MIG. In general, this process is best for joining thicker materials with a single pass, especially if you need to weld outdoors, such as to repair a tractor out in the field.
Pros – Self-shielded electrodes are perfect for outdoor uses because the flux is built into the wire for positive shielding, even in windy conditions. The flux core welding setup is easier and faster than MIG welding. Flux core is best for jobs with thicker materials.
Cons – Flux core is not recommended for very thin materials (less than 20 gauge). The machine settings need to be precise. A slight change in the knob position can drastically change the arc. The gun must be held at a consistent and proper angle to make a good weld. Flux core creates splatter and slag that will need to be cleaned if the project involves painting or finishing.
With TIG, or tungsten inert gas, a tungsten electrode heats the metal you are welding and a shielding gas, usually argon, protects the weld pool from airborne contaminants. TIG produces clean, precise welds on any metal. Filler metal, when required, is added by hand. TIG welders produce a slower weld, which means you have unbelievable control with the arc. TIG welding is the most difficult of the three processes. However, if you need to weld on sensitive materials and are looking for a beautiful weld, TIG welders are what you need.
Pros – TIG doesn’t create as much spatter and spark as the other processes. You’ll also have a cleaner work environment with less fumes and smoke. You’ll have more control and precision when working with thin materials. This process makes welds without contamination.
Cons – The equipment used is more complex, which makes it more expensive. TIG is harder to do than the other processes.
Whichever welder you choose, remember to wear the proper safety gear. Whether you’re in the process, or chipping away slag, you need to wear safety glasses. You need to wear a welding helmet to protect your eyes and skin from arc rays. You also need to wear heavy duty welding gloves to protect your hands and wrists. Wear long sleeves, work pants and closed toe shoes or work boots. Don’t roll your sleeves because sparks can get caught between the material. Learn more about safety tips and the types of processes at our Welding blog.