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Out of the 3 main welding processes, TIG is often considered the hardest to learn. In other words, it is the least beginner friendly process in the welding world. Newcomers will often be confused as to why it is so hard, and this article will break down the main reasons.
Once mastered, TIG is one of the most fun and rewarding welding processes out there. Success won’t come overnight, and newbies will need to spend lots of hours under the hood to hone their TIG welding skills.
As mentioned in our other welding articles, TIG welding classes are often the last courses that students take while attending welding school. Once a student becomes proficient at stick and MIG, TIG will come a bit easier. We recommend playing around with a stick or MIG machine before jumping right into the TIG game.
While stick and MIG require coordination, you don’t need the hands of a surgeon to succeed with these processes. Steady hands are a plus, but you can lay down some nice beads with a bit of movement.
Not only does TIG require steadier hand movements, it also involves using two hands. As you are controlling your travel speed and maintaining a good arc length (distance from electrode to the steel), you must also feed filler rod with your other hand.
Beginners can struggle with this, and they often bump the filler rod on their tungsten electrode. When these two touch, it contaminates the tungsten and it must be re-sharpened before welding can continue. If the bump is really bad, you may have to cut your tungsten back to remove all of the contamination.
The video below by Jody Collier gives insight into using both hands while TIG welding.
Most commonly, TIG welding is done with a foot pedal. This pedal initiates the arc through a high frequency start. It also controls the amperage based on how far you press it down. Now that you have 3 limbs working simultaneously, you’ll see where the struggle comes into play.
If you have a lower end machine that doesn’t have high frequency start, it will probably have what is called “lift arc”. This means that you quickly touch your tungsten to your steel and lift up to initiate the arc. Although this can slightly contaminate your tungsten, it is pretty easy to get the hang of.
The most primitive TIG arc start is called “scratch start“. This means that your amperage will remain the same as no foot pedal is involved. Simply scratch the tungsten on your steel (like striking a match), and the arc will be initiated.
Although high frequency starts are the most beginner friendly, the lift and scratch start processes are great skills to have as well. Beginners that are used to high frequency can have a tough time with lift arc and scratch starts, but you can get the hang of it relatively fast.
With lots of practice, this complex process of TIG will become second nature – and you won’t have to think about it as much. Some beginners will progress faster than others, but if you practice consistently, the quality welds will come.
With MIG and stick welding, getting consistent beads is relatively straightforward. If you maintain a good travel speed, angle and arc length, you can lay down some beautiful beads. This is partly due to the fact that the deposition rate of a MIG machine is preset by the wire speed. Once you decide your wire speed (inches per minute), you’ll know exactly what kind of weld you’re gonna get.
TIG’s deposition rate is based on the frequency of your “dabs”, as well as the filler rod diameter. The dab is simply a term for dipping the filler metal in the molten puddle.
Less dabs will mean you’ll get a smaller bead with less filler metal. Very frequent dabs will result in larger, wider beads. Getting the timing right and feeding rod consistently can be tough, but once you find your rhythm you’ll see some nice results. Beginners will find that early on, their TIG beads will be inconsistent and vary a lot. This can be discouraging, especially during a welding class.
TIG welding also requires very clean metal. The steel must be prepped by removing rust, oil and mill scale before you strike an arc. The characteristics of a TIG arc don’t allow it to penetrate through any contaminants. Stick and MIG welds can tolerate mill scale and bust through it, but TIG just isn’t capable of this. For aluminum TIG, the aluminum must be brushed properly with a stainless steel brush. This will remove oils and grease.
The video below by weld.com shows some easy ways of prepping material.
Although learning how to use an angle grinder isn’t too hard, beginners will still need someone to teach them proper metal prep before they begin TIG welding.
We mentioned contamination stemming from touching your filler rod to your tungsten, but there’s another way this can happen. If you touch your tungsten to your steel while you’re welding, the tungsten will get contaminated as well. This is very common for newbies as they are figuring out proper arc length. A good puddle can be ruined by bumping your tungsten.
Beginners will find that tungsten contamination is the biggest problem they face. Dozens of trips back to the bench grinder (to re-sharpen) can leave newbies extremely frustrated.
Although TIG is often considered the hardest welding process, this can vary from person to person. Some folks will find TIG much easier than stick welding, and vice versa. Different welding skill sets are interpreted differently by the way you like to do things. I thought TIG was the hardest to learn, but that’s just me.
TIG welding is a more finite process that has more factors at play. You can’t just pull the trigger and go like you can with a MIG machine. It is a slower process that requires more care, coordination, and patience.
With this being said, TIG is a process that can produce some of the most eye catching welds. It really is an art form and clients will pay big money for TIG welded pieces. It is the choice of professional fabricators who are doing high end car work, interior trim etc.
So all in all, we recommend that newbies remain patient and practice TIG welding consistently. If you are a student at welding school, really try to maximize your time in the TIG booth – It can payoff big time down the road.
We have also found that getting frustrated while welding just causes even worse results. The best welds are performed while remaining calm, cool and collected. This is why you’ll see professional welders holding very steady while they are completing different welds.
Controlling your breathing can also help with TIG welding. If your whole body is at ease, it will show in your welds. Avoiding extra caffeine has also helped us out. During the days where we were taking an AWS test, skipping the coffee helped contribute to a passed bend test. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Thanks for reading.
Featured image credit : Pickpik.com