Tungsten inert gas welding, better known as TIG welding, is a process that uses tungsten gas to create welds on a piece of metal. It's suitable for both aluminum and steel welding and can work on other types of metal too. With TIG welding, you can create joins that last for years.
Whether you're looking at welding programs or just finished a program, you may need some information on how to use these welders and the best options for you. We'll give you some tips on setting up and using a TIG welder and take a look at the best TIG welders on the market.
What is TIG Welding?
Welding is one of the oldest processes in the world and a method that dates back to ancient times. It involves using heat and gas to join two or more pieces of metal. Russell Meredith introduced the concept of TIG welding during the early days of World War II while working at Northrop Aircraft Corporation.
TIG welding became very popular during WWII because it allowed workers in aircraft plants to quickly create parts for those vehicles. It uses tungsten gas and prevents splatters and other issues that can injure workers. Most of the TIG welders sold today come with built-in safety features.
How Does a TIG Welder Work?
Though TIG welding is a popular method, it's not your only choice. You can also do MIG and stick welding. Before you use one of these machines, you need to make sure that you understand how it works.
Melting and Liquid Pools
These machines essentially melt a filler rod into a liquid pool that you can use then use to weld. Unlike other welders that reach a high temperature in seconds, TIG welders have a soft start that both reduces the temperature and the power used in the first few minutes.
Foot Pedal and Other Controls
Most models come with a foot pedal that functions as a remote control. You can press your foot down on the pedal to increase the heat and lift your foot to decrease the heat. A foot pedal is especially helpful when you work from a seated position such as a bench.
With a TIG welder, you can also use remotes built into the fingertip areas. When you need to work from a standing position, you can squeeze and release the triggers to adjust the heat produced.
Clamps and Cables
TIG welders come with a ground clamp that attaches to the machine. It also has a welding lead attached to a TIG torch. An included cable connects to the gas line and keeps the gas moving to melt the metal. To use a TIG welder, you must have a regulator that monitors the flow of gas and a gas bottle that provides the gas you need.
TIG Torches and Caps
One of the most important parts of the machine is the torch, which features multiple parts. It has a tungsten rod inside and allows you to pick different sizes based on the applications at hand. You can change the shape of the rod to make it rounded or pointed.
When welding, the machine forces the tungsten gas through a cup. Small holes inside the cup let the gas flow through. You'll move it across the metal to slowly melt it and produce a weld. If you need to switch out the gas, you can loosen the cap.
Settings and Modes
These welding machines have various settings that you can choose from too. You will want to adjust those settings based on both the amperage that you need and the metal you use.
With a TIG welder, you can also opt for a pulse mode or a normal mode. As the name implies, normal mode is the mode designed for most jobs. You do not need to do anything special to use it.
The pulse mode adjusts the amperage used and can give your finished work a different look. It can create a wave pattern that gives a piece more dimension. The way you move the torch will affect the final pattern and look.
While you need to know how a TIG welder works, you also need to know how to use one. You'll find a section below that goes over the basics of using one of these machines and steps on how to set one up as well as tips on using the machine for welding applications.
How to Use a TIG Welder
Now comes the point where you stop reading and start TIG welding. You can use the steps below to set up a new or existing machine and then use our guidelines to weld.
As You Start Out
Once you have the machine set up and your metal in place, you can adjust the settings. While wearing the right gear, carefully place your foot down on the pedal. You should see a soft spark or arch come from the torch, which tells you that the machine works.
As you hold the torch in one hand, place it close to the metal, making sure that it's around one-inch away from the surface. You should see melted metal appear on the rod.
To make sure that you have enough melted metal in your weld pool, press your foot down until you see a small amount of molten metal. Move the torch to the edge of the metal and dip the tip of the rod into the pool before moving it back against the edge. You'll want to move quickly as the heat from the rod can warp or melt the metal you need to weld.
Tack and Bead Welding
For tack and bead welding, you can take off the clamps and keep one hand on the torch and another on the metal. This technique requires that you dip the rod in the weld pool and carefully drop it onto the surface of the metal. You'll lift the torch slightly and dip it back low against the metal. Keep following the line to create beads of metal.
Once you have some momentum, you can lift your foot off the pedal and use the residual heat of the torch to weld. If you notice that the metal appears warped, you can move to the opposite side to even out the weld before returning to the first side.
How to Set Up a TIG Welder
Select and Shape the Electrode
Though you can use the electrode that comes in your machine, you can also select from a different type. This lets you use both pure tungsten and tungsten alloys.
The right shape for your needs will depend on how and what you weld. When you use a rounded shape, the arc will move more. With a pointed shape, you get an arc that goes exactly where you need it.
If you use the electrode that came with your welder, you're ready to go. Otherwise, you will need to open the collett in the torch, insert the rod and close it.
Pick Your Settings
Now is when you need to choose between AC and DC options, though some models come with only one mode. You will also want to adjust the amperage to a higher level and select the other settings you want to use.
You must use gas when working with a TIG welder to keep the metal from rusting. Depending on the job, you may need argon or a combination of gases.
Get Your Metal Ready
No matter what type of metal you use, you need to have some clamps on hand. Those clamps will keep the metal secured to your work table and keep the pieces from moving as you work. Using an anti-splatter product is also helpful because it keeps metal from attaching to the table.
Wear the Right Clothing
The best gear to wear when welding includes a welding helmet. You can opt for one that darkens as you produce sparks or a basic helmet. Long gloves and protective clothing are also helpful.
Always take a few minutes to double-check your work before you begin welding. This can prevent accidents and injuries later.
How to Set the Gas Flow on a TIG Welder
A TIG welding calculator is one of the best tools that you can use because this online tool lets you enter information about your job and find the gas flow rating that you need. Most professional welders choose a minimum flow of 35 cubic feet per hour up to 50 cubic feet per hour. This shows how many cubic feet of gas pass through every hour.
Choose the Right Rate
The rate that you need will depend on the sizes of your cups and electrodes. For cups of up to five, you need a maximum flow of 12 cubic feet per hour. Most jobs only require a flow rate of 20 cubic feet per hour.
Use the Valve
To set the gas flow, you need to look for the markings on the side or end of the TIG torch. Those markings appear on a valve that you can turn to the left or right. You will turn the valve until it reaches the maximum flow rating that you want to use.
While you can set the gas flow on a TIG welder before you start, you should not make any changes while the machine is on. If you need to adjust the flow later, turn the machine off and wait for it to cool down first.
Tips for Beginners for TIG Welding
Change the Torch's Angle
Changing the angle of the torch and the way you hold it against the metal is one of the best tips that you can use. This will adjust the amount of heat that touches the metal to prevent warping and gives you better access to the weld pool.
Wear Heat Shields
Professional welders often use finger heat shields when they work on projects. This is a small item that you wear on each finger to prevent damage caused by the heat from the welding machine. You risk burning off your prints and creating blisters when you don't wear protective gear.
Protective gear can include jackets with long sleeves that keep the machine away from your skin. Whether you work from a seated or standing position, make sure that you wear long pants too.
Though you might feel tempted to use the machine at the highest power possible, you should always use less power than you think you might need, especially as a beginner. This keeps you from burning through the metal and reduces the risk that you might warp it.
Keep Your Distance
You'll also want to keep the electrode that extends out from the rod away from the metal. If you press the electrode directly against the metal, it will create a weak hold that might last for just a few hours. When you keep the electrode at least one inch away from the metal, you can create the complex welds that you need.
Learning How to Use a TIG Welder
Learning how to use a TIG welder is easy when you know where to go. You have a few options, including:
Apprenticeship programs are popular among those who want to learn on the job. You'll work with a professional welder and go through training that shows you how to use and set up the machines. To learn about these programs, you should contact the unions in your area.
Both vocational schools and community colleges offer programs for students fresh out of high school, those who have a GED and adults who need job training. Some of these programs also offer financial aid such as student loans that will reduce the amount you need to pay to enroll.
Another way you can learn how to weld is with a machine that you buy and use at home. The more you experiment with the machine, the more comfortable you'll feel welding. We included short reviews of the four best TIG welders below.
Best TIG Welders
Finding the best TIG welder is often confusing, especially when you consider all the options out there. To help you find the right one based on your experience level, we ranked the best TIG choices in categories such as the best overall welder and the right one for beginners. You can view all the info you need below.
Best Overall: AHP AlphaTig 200X
- New torch that is easier to use
- Upgraded pulse frequency mode
- Works with both 6013 and 7019 steel
- Suitable for use with mild steel and aluminum
- Creates welds of between ¼' and 3/8”
- Front pedal helps you operate the machine and gives you better control over your welds
- New technology better maintains the pulse rate in some applications
- Includes a flexible hose
Best Professional Choice: Everlast PowerTig 250EX
- Good upgraded choice for professional welders
- Works in DC and AC modes
- Has a low start mode that reduces the power produced when it starts up to prevent accidents
- Control stick lets you get more control over the airflow to stop splatters
- Two flow control options shield the tungsten gas and prevent leaks
- Comes with a TIG torch
- Includes a 12-foot flexible hose in the box and multiple cables
Best for Beginners: Lotos TIG200
- Practical and affordable option for beginners
- Designed for AC usage
- Works on all types of aluminum, steel and stainless steel
- ARC start provides just the right amount of power when you turn on the machine
- Features an advanced cooling system for plasma cutting jobs to keep the temperature of the machine down
- Includes a foot pedal for good control from a seated position
- Comes with a TIG torch
Best Value: Amico TIG-160DC
- Good value welder and worth the money
- Functions as both a TIG and stick welder in multiple applications
- Duty cycle regulates the temperature to keep the machine from overheating
- Compact design and built-in handles make it one of the easiest welders to carry
- Works with both 230V and 110V outlets
- Tested by Amico before it ships to customers
TIG welding is a type of welding that uses tungsten gas to create lasting welds and joins. Though most use this method when working with aluminum, it is suitable for jobs involving stainless steel or steel too. Though you can learn quite a bit from the welding programs offered at community colleges and vocational schools, you can use the web to learn even more.
We hope that you found our article helpful, especially in terms of the tips you can pick up and the information we provided on setting up TIG welders. You can also use our TIG welding 101 guide to find the best machines around.
Also read our other basic welding post on MIG welding 101.