An Ultimate Guide To Welding – ALL You Need To Know To Become A Welder

In some ways, discovering the art of welding is a contradictory experience.

Initially, it seems simple. 

After all, most people know that welding is just the act of joining two pieces of metal together, right?

But you begin to read more about the subject and then it appears much more complicated than you first thought.

There are so many types, applications, joints and machines, that the whole project starts to become overwhelming.

And that’s before you actually get down to fixing that car fender (or whatever you want to weld).

This ultimate guide to welding will show you that this process is not as complicated as some videos, books and blogs would lead you to believe.

Once you understand the process, and the different types, it’s actually quite simple.

So, read on and discover everything you need to know about this process called welding.

Two Guys Welding

As I’ve mentioned, the actual concept of welding itself is simple.

Practically, it’s the joining of two (or more) pieces of metal together. In effect, so that they can then act as one piece.

Think of the chassis on your automobile. The frame is constructed from separate horizontal, lateral and diagonal steel tubes and boxes, all of which have been welded together. They do not move or rotate—it is one solid construction.

Usually, welding involves applying heat to the materials to be joined. In doing so, melting occurs, which fuses the two pieces together as the metal cools again. Often, a filler material is added to increase the strength of the bond.

However, just for anyone who is shouting, “that’s not all strictly true!”, there are a couple of exceptions:

  • It does not have to be metal—some thermoplastics can be joined through the welding process
  • Heat is not always required—some welding methods, such as ultrasonic and pressure welding, can be done cold

What Is the History of Welding?

Even if you know very little about welding, I am sure you are familiar with the popular image.

You know the one, typically a masked man or woman wielding a white-hot torch with sparks flying through the air.

But this is the face of modern welding; it’s been around for much longer.

Here’s a brief historical overview (don’t be put off, it’s interesting).

Bronze and Iron Ages

Examples still exist today of Bronze Age gold boxes that had been formed through pressure welding.

These old fabrications (1,000 to 500 BCE) are assumed to have been pounded with a hammer to create the bond.

In addition, Herodotus wrote in "The Histories" that Glaucus of Chios single-handedly invented iron welding.

It’s not mentioned what he made, and it’s doubtful he applied for the patent. However, this is probably the earliest written record of welding.

Middle Ages

Male Blacksmith

Whether you recall from school texts, or are addicted to Game of Thrones, you will have seen the image of a blacksmith pounding hot metal with a hammer.

The Middle Ages saw the rise of this forge welding. Metals were heated to high temperatures and then bonded together by the blacksmith’s blows.

As most Middle Age history seems to consist of men piercing each other with swords, one must assume that someone skilled in welding had a profitable business.

The 19th Century

Humphry Davy discovered the electric arc in 1800, but it was to be over 80 years before the first actual arc welding method was created.

This was developed by Nikolai Benardos and Stanisław Olszewski.

In 1881, they found a way to join metal using carbon electrodes with the arc principle.

The 20th Century

The arc method was continually improved and developed up to the beginning of the First World War.

During the war years, demand naturally increased for welded machines and weaponry.

Post-war, this led to the development of automatic welding—a faster and more efficient process.

Further progress included gas tungsten arc welding in 1941, plasma arc welding in 1957 and electrogas welding in 1961.

Why Is Welding Important for Industrial Production?

You don’t have to look far from where you are sitting now, to see the application of welding. It’s everywhere.

Coffee pots, cupboard door handles, stovetops, even curtain rails. Chances are that if it consists of more than one piece of metal, it has been welded. Industry and manufacturing rely on this process.

This is due to the fact that:

  • It creates the strongest bond between two pieces of metal with similar melting points
  • It’s cheaper and faster than other joining methods, such as bolting or riveting
  • In certain applications, welding can be automated—this can reduce labor costs, increase production and lead to more consistent quality
  • With a strong join comes safety—your car will not fall apart on the freeway and the handle of your coffee pot will not fail and cover you with hot liquids
  • Two pieces of metal welded together are often stronger than trying to heat and mold an unusual shape—this can stress the metal, causing weak spots

Due to these factors, welding is most commonly found in the following industries:

  • Manufacturing—over 270,000 people are employed in the US alone
  • Transport industry
  • Construction
  • Repair and maintenance

What Is the Difference Between Brazing, Soldering and Welding?

Brazing, soldering and welding all have one thing in common—they are designed to join two or more pieces of metal together. But there are differences.

Brazing

Metal Brazing

This method involves the use of a filler metal to create the bond.

Unlike welding, it does not melt the base metals to make a join.

A blazing torch heats up the filler metal around the joint. Through capillary action, this filler flows into all the hard-to-reach areas to create a firm bond.

As the base metals are not required to melt, it’s a practical solution for joining metals with different melting points.

Soldering

Soldering Iron

This is a very similar method to brazing, but with one distinct difference—the temperatures involved.

The filler metal in soldering is usually just called “solder” (a tin and lead alloy). Generally speaking, solder melts around 390 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brazing involves temperatures above 800 degrees. Soldering is most often used in electronic bonds, such as circuit boards.

What Are the Different Types of Welding?

As Seba Smith wrote in The Money Diggers (1840), There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

I’m not an expert on felines, so I cannot comment on that statement. However, I can tell you, with some authority, there’s more than one way to weld metal.

Here are the main types:

Oxy-Fuel Welding

Using Oxy Fuel Welding Technique

Sometimes referred to as gas welding, this is one of the oldest methods, being developed back in 1903.

The name simply refers to the flame creation mechanism of this welding process. It’s really simple.

A torch is connected to two different gas tanks—one contains pure oxygen, the other gas fuel. Hence, oxy-fuel.

Most often, this “other” fuel is acetylene, which has given this method its other name—oxy-acetylene welding.

Whatever the fuel used, this is the part which burns and creates the flame.

The 100 percent oxygen raises the temperature of this flame to around 6,332 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hot enough to melt metal into a pool and create a weld.

Despite being very simple, this method has virtually disappeared from industrial use and  been replaced with arc welding (all discussed below). That being said, it is sometimes used by hobbyists or small home-based businesses.

Pros Of Oxy-Fuel Welding

  • Electricity is not required—you can be in the middle of a field or desert and still be able to weld
  • Very simple to use
  • Plus Circle
    Equipment is often cheaper than MIG or TIG welding
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    Adaptability to “cut” metals as well as join

Cons Of Oxy-Fuel Welding

  • Rough appearance—these welds are less aesthetically pleasing once completed and may require “finishing” if they are to be visible
  • Minus Circle
    Heats the surrounding area more than arc welding, which may affect the metal’s integrity
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    Limited metal application—can only effectively be used on low to mild steel

Shielded Metal Arc Welding (Stick Welding)

Using Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is also known as flux shielded arc welding (FSAW) or manual metal arc welding (MMAW).

However, unless you are at an industry conference, you will not often hear it referred to as such. In general, those “in-the-know” call it stick welding.

Hence, that’s how we will refer to it.

Instead of a welding torch, an electrode is used—which looks like a long stick (hence the name).

This electrode is covered in another material, or “shield”. Imagine getting a pencil and dipping it in paint—the pencil is the electrode, the paint is the shield.

This electrode is consumable. That is, as welding takes place, it becomes shorter and therefore at some point requires replacement.

The electrode is connected to a power supply (AC or DC, it doesn’t matter) which enables the arcing to take place.

The stick touches the metal to be welded, and then withdrawn, which creates the arc. Amperage is usually controlled through a foot pedal.

As the arc is created, three things happen:

  • The area being worked begins to melt into a pool
  • Drops of the electrode fall off under the heat into the weld pool forming a filler
  • The shield coating breaks down and forms a gas

The first two steps are creating the actual weld, the third provides a protective layer. As the shield disintegrates, the gases created prevent the weld from being exposed to oxygen. This could otherwise damage or ruin the integrity of the weld.

Furthermore, some of this shield (or flux) forms as slag over the welded joint, again protecting it from oxygen. Once the weld has cooled and hardened, this slag layer can be removed, to expose the weld beneath.

This method is still popular in industry, but due to the time it takes to complete, is being superseded by other processes. It is generally used in the welding of both iron and steel.

Pros of Stick Welding

  • Equipment is inexpensive
  • Additional shielding gases are not required, it is all in the electrode
  • Plus Circle
    If done outside, it is less affected by wind than other methods
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    Can be used for tight or narrow welding areas
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    Although usually used for iron and steel, is also useful for aluminum and copper alloys

Cons of Stick Welding

  • As it’s a manual method, the “dipping” action required is difficult to replicate accurately by mechanization
  • Minus Circle
    Needs skill—the electrode has to be at the correct angle to prevent it from “sticking” to the weld
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    Time consuming—the “dipping” action of welding, replacing the electrode and removing the slag all takes time
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    Can incur a lot of “splatter”—meaning a messy weld that needs to be cleaned
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    Costly—while equipment is cheap, the above time issue can cause increased costs for industry use

Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (TIG Welding)

Using Gas Tungsten Arc Welding Technique

Remember how at the beginning of the article I mentioned welding always appears over complicated? Even when it is actually quite simple?

In my opinion, I think that a lot of this is down to the over-explanatory “proper” names of the welding process.

In this case, gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). All of the welding types have these elongated nomenclatures.

Luckily, my favorite two methods have short names—TIG and MIG. Which is easier to say and more memorable.

MIG is discussed below, but gas tungsten arc welding is also known as TIG (tungsten inert gas welding)—and that’s what I’m going to call it.

The process was perfected in 1941 by Russell Meredith. Although it may at first sound a little technical, in essence it’s quite simple.

In one hand, the welder holds the welding torch, which has a tungsten tip. Unlike stick welding, this tip is not consumable, due to its ability to withstand high temperatures.

This welding torch has two functions:

  • It connects to the welding machine (typically working on the same principle as a Tesla coil) to create the arc, and therefore the spark
  • It feeds an inert gas (often argon) to the weld, to act as a shielding gas

Once the arc is created, the welder should move the torch in a circular motion making the weld pool. This is where the welder’s other hand comes into play.

Filler metal is added to the weld via means of a rod that is “dipped” into the weld to add to the pool.

This is done in an alternating pattern—weld torch goes in, filler rod comes out and vice versa. With a little practice, this action becomes second nature.

Just one thing to bear in mind. The filler rod should not be withdrawn completely, it needs to remain inside the gas “shield” to prevent its oxidation.

TIG welding and MIG welding (below), in my opinion, are the two most satisfying welding methods—both in enjoyment and final results.

If you want a good example of TIG welding, check out the film “Aliens”—where the characters protect themselves from the Xenomorphs by welding a door shut.

Although, please take more safety precautions than they did (including not going to an alien-infested space colony).

Pros of TIG Welding

  • A very precise process
  • Extremely strong welds
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    Clean, tidy weld beads, suitable for visible display
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    Satisfaction, once the technique is mastered, is immense
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    Used on a wide variety of materials, including aluminum, magnesium, steel and alloys of copper
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    Affordable and efficient

Cons of TIG Welding

  • Slower than using the MIG method below
  • Minus Circle
    Takes a little time to develop the correct technique
  • Minus Circle
    Involves two hands for the weld and the foot to control amperage

Gas Metal Arc Welding (MIG Welding)

Gas Metal Arc Welding

You already know what I am going to say. I’m going to call gas metal arc welding (GMAW) by its other name, MIG welding (metal inert gas).

I have already confessed that TIG and MIG are my favorite methods.

As explained above, I like TIG due to its neatness and the satisfaction of the two-handed technique. 

For MIG, my attraction is down to one thing—it is so simple.

I have heard some people compare using a MIG welder to using a glue gun. Ok, it’s not exactly that easy, but it’s not far off. That’s what makes MIG welding a perfect choice for beginners.

To be honest, the only complicated aspect of MIG welding is the equipment.

Not that they are difficult to use, but the workings inside are quite complex, which takes the stress off the user.

I always think of it as being similar to my laptop. It can do amazing things, and I find it easy to use. I mean, through some magic I am writing this article to be read around the world. I cannot explain the internal processes—but then I don’t care as long as it fulfills its function.

Luckily though, I do know how a MIG welder works. That’s probably because I am somewhat obsessed with it. It’s addictive. So here’s my brief explanation.

The welding gun is where the “magic” happens. The nozzle on the end of the gun contains a solid electrode wire. When it touches the base metal, an arc is formed.

This electrode is consumable: it forms the filler metal for the weld pool. As the electrode is used up, it is fed continually down the gun nozzle; no other hand is required to feed it.

Furthermore, the shielding gas also comes down the welding gun nozzle, protecting the weld from oxidizing or absorbing water vapor.

All these actions are controlled by a “trigger” on the welding gun itself. There is no need to use three limbs as in TIG welding. You can do it with just one hand. It can also be set to automatic mode.

That being said, I often MIG weld with two hands—I find I achieve better accuracy, have greater control and receive better results.

Although the welding gun does do everything, you still require a machine to provide the current, electrode wire, gas and—naturally—you need safety equipment.

MIG welding is the most common form of industrial welding—suitable for use on most metals. However, as it requires shielding gas, it is not often used outside.

Pros of MIG Welding

  • It is probably the easiest form of welding for beginners
  • Faster than many other types
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    Shield and flux are provided by the torch
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    Often has an automatic function
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    Low cost—relatively cheap to start up and wastage during use is small
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    Can create continuous welds easily

Cons of MIG Welding

  • Complex equipment sometimes means more things to go wrong
  • Minus Circle
    Sometimes can leave deposits which can rust

Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)

Close Up Of FLux Cored Arc Welding

Flux-cored arc welding is, in many ways, a cross between MIG welding and stick welding.

Like MIG, it relies on an electrode that is continuously fed through the nozzle to both create the arc and provide the filler metal.

Like stick welding, the electrode, when burned, creates its own shield gases to protect the weld.

This is opposed to MIG welding, where a separate supply of shielding gas needs to be fed down the nozzle.

This makes flux-cored arc welding highly transportable.

As it is required to do less work, the welding apparatus is generally smaller than for MIG, and no gas bottles are needed.

In certain circumstances, for a “dual-shield” effect, an external gas can be applied to the weld for increased protection.

But in general, this is not the case. If that much protection is required, an alternative welding method might as well be used.

Flux-cored arc welding is not recommended for thin materials, ideally no thinner than 20 gauge (0.0359 inches).

Whereas MIG welding can be used on much slimmer metals. Hence, if dealing with small models or objects, flux-cored is not an ideal method.

Pros of Flux-Cored Arc Welding

  • Can be used quite effectively outside
  • Does not require additional shielding gas
  • Plus Circle
    Highly portable
  • Plus Circle
    Little skill required

Cons of Flux-Cored Arc Welding

  • Sometimes there are issues with the wire feed mechanism
  • Minus Circle
    Generates a lot of smoke during use
  • Minus Circle
    Is a hybrid of other methods

What Is the Science Behind Welding?

No, it’s not time to switch off. Knowing how welding works is not only quite interesting, it will also help you enjoy your welding more and produce better results.

I will take you through a simple step-by-step welding process, and let you into the science behind it.

As we have already seen, there are many different types of welding methods, but all work on very similar principles. For this overview, I will use the Alien-preventing TIG method.

The Welding Process

The Arc

Illustration Of Arc Welding

As Tim Curry says in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you need “...that elusive ingredient, that... spark."

Most modern welding—excluding oxy-fuel—uses a spark, or rather an electrical arc, to generate the heat.

For this, you need a power supply (welding machine) to provide the energy itself. One lead works as a “ground” and is attached to the welding material. The other attaches to the handheld gun.

Electricity always wants to complete a circuit—a little like “Rocket” Rick Mears in the Indy 500. The welding gun has a conductive tip, in the case of TIG, made out of tungsten.

The tungsten is quickly tapped on the base metal and then withdrawn a little. This creates an arc—the electrons in the air are ionized as the electricity fights to complete the circuit.

Arcs create a phenomenal amount of heat and light (hence safety precautions, discussed later, are required). The more current passed from the power supply, the higher the temperature of the arc.

The Melt

Illustration Of Melt Welding

Due to the high temperature of the arc (around 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit), the base metals being joined begin to melt. It is important that the arc is moved in a circular motion to create a weld pool.

As the two (or more pieces) melt, a process known as welding fusion takes place. This enables the two molten pieces, in effect, to become one. 

This is why welding is considered the strongest method of connection.

It needs to be observed that the two pieces being joined must have a similar melting point. Otherwise, one will melt much earlier than the other resulting in either a failed or cracked weld.

The Filler

Welding Filler Method

In TIG welding, the filler is added separately, once “the melt” has started (in MIG, if you recall, it flows down the nozzle).

Theoretically, if the two metals being joined are of identical composition and very close fitting, a filler may not be required.

However, “better safe than sorry” is always a good saying to live by, especially when welding. Using a filler rod will not weaken the join, only strengthen it.

The filler rod in TIG welding is “dipped” into the weld pool, depositing a small amount of metal. This creates a stronger bond and fills any spaces or gaps between the two pieces.

It is important that this rod has a similar composition to the metals being joined—a variety are available to ensure you have the correct material.

The Shield

Shield Welding

As the melt and filler stages are being completed, another important factor is at work.

Arc welding requires a shield.

As the name suggests, this protects the weld itself. But as you cannot use a metal shield (it would end up being attached to your weld), gases are used.

These gases in the case of TIG and MIG are passed onto the weld through the welding gun.

They prevent nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and water vapor from contaminating the weld pool.

If these unwanted elements enter, they can lead to holes (weakening the join) and metal “spatter”.

The main quality these gases need is that they are inert. In essence, they do not react with other substances. Most essentially, not highly flammable—otherwise, you personally will join the weld pool.

The most common gases used are helium, argon, and carbon dioxide. Their use depends on cost, preparation and type of the weld. In general:

  • Helium—usually used with non-ferrous metal, is expensive
  • Argon—cleanest looking and reduces splatter, used with magnesium, aluminum and titanium
  • Carbon dioxide—one of the most common and cheapest, useful for thick metal

In addition, the above gases can be combined into different mixes for the ideal weld result.

The Cool

Man Welding

As you are aware from school, matter exists as solid, liquid or gas.

Actually, just in case any scientists are reading this, that’s not altogether true. There are two further states—plasma and Bose-Einstein condensates (just saves me from having to respond to irate emails at a future date).

In welding, the metal is taken to the liquid stage to enable welding fusion. As it cools, it returns to the solid stage again to form one solid piece.

Some welders cool the weld with water once completed, known as “quenching”. My advice is always, “if you don’t have to, then don’t.”

I understand if time is pressing, and the weld is not “critical” (i.e. if it fails, someone will die), then quenching can be a possibility.

Otherwise, leave it to cool down naturally. Reducing the temperature too quickly can lead to it becoming brittle, due to thermal shock.

The weld will harden after just a few minutes (but don’t touch it with your fingers to check). There is always plenty to do while it’s cooling. Clean up, pack away your equipment or have a coffee.

The Clean

Cleaning Weld

Doesn’t sound like science, but it is.

Studies have shown that, in some circumstances, beauty can be quantified.

Cleaning the weld improves its appearance and makes both you and others appreciate the time and effort that you have taken.

What’s more, if the area is to be painted, having a clean and smooth base will allow the coating to bond better.

How Does Underwater Welding Work?

Before I was into welding, I always wondered how ‘fire’ could work underwater to weld metal together. Luckily, I now know. It’s not fire.

There are two types of underwater welding.

Dry Underwater Welding

Underwater Dry Welding

This method involves creating a sealed ‘chamber’ around the area to be welded. It is then filled with a gas mixture, relevant for breathing at that depth.

The welder does not, therefore, need to wear diving equipment.

In this scenario, although deep beneath the water, the welder is still operating at around surface pressure (as the chamber is pressurized).

This makes welding at this depth virtually the same procedure as on the surface. The biggest restriction is the lack of room to operate in.

Wet Underwater Welding

Wet Underwater Welding

In my opinion, this is a wonder of science. As previously mentioned, there is no “fire” involved. Instead, it is just an electrical arc, as done out of water.

However, there are a couple of significant differences. Firstly, as electricity and water are not the greatest of friends, the electrode required for the arc is waterproof. The most common method used is stick welding, as discussed earlier.

Secondly, something amazing occurs underwater. I know what you are thinking, surely the arc and weld is interfered with by all the surrounding water? Luckily, it’s not. The water creates its own protection.

As the weld is started, carbon dioxide is created as part of the melting process. This builds a bubble around the weld which prevents water from touching the welding area.

Underwater welders are some of the most well-paid in the entirety of the welding industry.

What Is Submerged Welding?

Twin Wire Welding

Surprisingly enough, it is not another name for the underwater welding discussed above. It is done on land.

The “submerged” part refers to the actual weld. Prior to commencing work, the area to be welded is covered in a granulated flux—hence it is submerged.

A continuously fed electrode is then pushed into this flux to begin the weld.

As it is covered in the granules (typically silica or lime), the weld is shielded from contaminants.

In addition, it eliminates splatter, sparks and ultraviolet light. Normally, the arc cannot even be seen as it is beneath the blanket of flux.

This type of welding is commonly used in industrial applications. It is most often an automated or semi-automated method, completed by a machine.

There are instances where handheld welding is possible, although it is somewhat rare.

What Are the Types of Welding Joints?

Unsurprisingly, a joint is where two pieces of metal are joined together to form one piece.

I know I keep mentioning it, but welding is simple. So simple, in fact, that there are only five types of joints. That’s it.

The Butt Joint

Square Butt Joint

This is probably the most common type of welding joint.

It is when two pieces of metal are joined together, side by side. This includes welding together pieces of pipe of the same diameter.

Not only is it common, it is also the easiest of all the joints to do. Making it an ideal starting place for beginners. It’s also known as a square-groove weld—but most people just call it a “butt”.

The Lap Joint

Welding Lap Joint

This joint is used when two pieces of material “overlap” each other.

Think of it like this. Take two square drink coasters and place one on top of the other. Now just push the top coaster about an inch to the right, leaving the other one stationary. Where they meet is the lap joint.

If added strength is required, these two metals can be welded both on the top and on the underside.

A joint like this is often used where the two surfaces have different thicknesses, making a butt joint difficult.

If you’re a healthy type and attend the gym frequently (unlike me,) check out the weight machine frames—they often have lap joints.

The Corner Joint

Welding Corner Joint

Corners of equipment often receive the most “punishment” during their lifetime. It is not unusual, therefore, for these joints to be repaired or replaced frequently.

The joint is made so that the two metals are pushed together to form a right-angle, or L-shape.

When welding, the weld goes on the outside of the joint, not the inside. Typically, this joint is used to create boxes and square frames.

The Edge Joint

Edge Joint Weld

Most often used when one of the metal parts has edges that are flanged. Imagine placing a nickel standing on its edge on a flat piece of steel.

Joints like these often require filler metal to ensure that they remain as strong as possible. This is due to the lack of surface area where the two parts actually meet.

The T-Joint

Welding T Joint

As the name suggests, a joint that, when viewed from the side, looks like a T-shape. For example, take two pieces of identical steel measuring 2 inches high by 1 inch wide.

Lay one piece on a work surface with the 2-inch side flat to it. Take the other piece and lay it on top, with the 1-inch side abutting it.

What Materials Are Used in Welding?

As we have seen, welding does require the use of other materials, in addition to the welding equipment and metal.

Here are three of the most common types:

Covered Electrode

Covered Welding Electrode

These are steel electrode rods surrounded by a flux material.

This electrode works to both create the arc and act as the filler metal.

The flux coating reacts with the heat to provide a gas shield. The covered electrode is used in stick welding.

GMAW Solid Wire

Welding Wire

Used in MIG welding, this wire is small in diameter and is continuously fed down the welding torch.

These are supplied on spools, for home and small business use, or on large drums for industrial work.

As they contain no protective flux, an external supply of shielding gas is required when in use.

SAW Flux

SAW Flux

Earlier, we discussed submerged arc welding. SAW flux is the granulated material that provides the “blanket” over the weld. Most often, these are supplied in a large sack format.

Different types are available, depending on the heat being used and/or metal to be bonded.

How Do You Check the Quality of a Weld?

Once you have completed your weld, you inspect it, and yes, the two pieces of metal are definitely joined together. The question is—will it stay that way?

If you have just re-attached an arm to your metal statue of Wolverine, and after a month it drops off, then there’s no issue (well, except to Wolverine).

However, if you’ve replaced a metal ladder rung, and it fails while attaching the Christmas lights to your house, that’s more serious.

Checking the quality of a weld is always something I recommend, even if it is not life threatening.

You want the satisfaction of knowing your handiwork is going to last. Hence a quality check.

Generally speaking, there are three types of quality assurance—visual, non-destructive and, you’ve guessed it, destructive.

Unless you work in the industry, you are unlikely to do any other quality checks apart from visual. However, I have included brief details on the other two. Knowledge is power, right?

Visual

Visual Weld Checking

Many issues can be spotted simply by inspecting the weld. Or, if someone else has done the weld for you, it’s even more important to examine their work.

Visual checks are the easiest way to check quality, and require no equipment. Here are the things you should be looking out for.

Existence Of Waste

How “clean” is the weld? It should be free from any extraneous materials. Firstly, there should be no slag.

Even if some is generated during welding, it can easily be removed via peeling or a hard brush.

If other elements are obvious (dirt, metal shavings, small animals) it means that the metal was not sufficiently cleaned before welding. A dirty weld is a weak weld.

Allocation Of The Weld

There should be an even distribution of the welding material in the join with no lumps, bumps or gaps.

Porous Holes

If small holes have appeared in the weld, alarm bells should start to ring. This is known as “porosity.”

This will radically reduce the strength of the weld, and should be rejected if you see it. Usually, this is caused by a lack of, or insufficient, shielding gas during the welding process. It means that oxygen and water have been allowed to enter the weld pool.

Gaps

Where the metals meet, the joint should be tight and without visible gaps. Air spaces create weak spots.

This has usually been caused by poor preparation and failure to secure the metals properly during the welding phase.

Does It Leak?

If the weld has been done on an item that can (not necessarily by design) hold liquid, test for leaks.

Mix a little soap detergent in water and tip into the welded object. If water or bubbles are seen, you know the weld is insufficient.

Non-Destructive Testing

Checking Weld Quality

These are ways to check the integrity of the weld, which still leaves it usable after use. These methods do involve some specialized equipment.

  • Radiographic—using X-rays which can expose defects beneath the surface of the weld
  • Magnetic particle—an electric current is passed through the weld, magnetic powder illustrates any points where the electric is leaking, i.e. a fault in the weld
  • Penetrating liquid—dyed liquid is placed on one side of a joint and left for a few minutes—if there is a leak, capillary action will move the dye to another part of the weld

Destructive Testing

Weld Testing

As the name suggests, this test pushes the weld to literally breaking point.

This may initially sound a little strange. If the weld breaks past its intended limit, it was a good weld—sadly, it is now broken and is rendered useless.

Hence, this method is only used in specific areas, mainly:

  • Sample testing—a welder may supply an example of their work for a specific application, and the customer checks the integrity of the weld—hopefully, successfully leading to future work for the welder
  • Qualification—some welding examinations may include testing the strength of the weld to allow the welder to become qualified
  • Investigation—if an accident has occurred from a failed weld, similar welds by the same welder/company may be tested to see if they are at fault

The tests for these reasons include:

  • Fillet break—used on welds that have been joined on only one side; pressure is applied to the unwelded edge to see how much pressure is required for it to break
  • Transverse break—welds are pulled apart laterally to test integrity
  • Bend break—the weld is bent until failure occurs

What Equipment Is Used in Welding?

If you are anything like me, it’s all about the equipment.

Naturally, it’s essential, as without it there would be no welding.

But there’s nothing as satisfying as going into your garage or workshop and seeing a whole host of equipment.

Here are the most important pieces for the welder:

Welding Machines

MIG Welder Reviews – The Best on the Market

Theoretically, it is possible to use a car battery as a power source, although I would never recommend this. Instead, welding machines provide the power supply for the welding process.

Plugged into the mains, these machines convert the input power into a low voltage and high current suitable for welding.

Many of these convert the AC into DC through an inverter.

DC current can produce less splatter when welding, however, AC is required for aluminum.

In addition, it is possible to buy welder generators. These can supply the correct current and voltage, with the use of a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

These are particularly handy for use where there is no mains supply, for example in the middle of a field.

Furthermore, some welding machines include a wire-feed system. This provides the welding torch with a consumable electrode to create the arc and provide filler metal (for example in MIG welding).

Regulators

Gas Pressure Regulator

If you enjoy having a gas grill cookout in the summer, chances are you already know what a regulator is.

We have already looked at the importance of shielding gas in welding. However, if you were to link your gas bottle directly to your torch and turn the flow on, all the gas would be used in around 15 seconds.

The regulator brings down the pressure to a usable level, allowing a steady stream of your chosen gas to protect the weld.

In many cases, the regulator will have two gauges. One shows the pressure in the tank (i.e. how much gas remains) and the other the flow rate to the welding gun. The flow rate can be altered by simply turning a dial.

This allows you to set the correct rate for your work. Thick wire and dense metal requires more shielding gas and vice versa.

Welding Consumables

Torch Argon Gun

The consumables are those materials which become used up as the weld progresses.

In general, these consumables form the heat source, act as a filler metal and, in some cases, can protect the weld with shield gas.

They include such things as covered electrodes (for stick welding) and solid wire (for MIG).

They can be consumed by using a welding gun (in the case of MIG) or as a separate piece (as with stick welding).

Choosing the correct consumable depends on:

  • Style of welding—TIG, MIG, stick etc
  • The metal being used
  • Strength required by the wel

Welding Torches

Gas Flame Torch

Sometimes, welding torches are referred to as “guns”. This has become quite commonplace and the terms are now pretty much interchangeable.

Usually, however, guns are distinguished by the fact that they have a trigger to control the welding procedure.

The welding torch has numerous functions, including:

  • Striking and maintaining the electric arc
  • Creating and “shaping” the weld
  • Providing shielding gas in certain welding methods

Choosing the correct torch depends on its application. Aspects to consider are:

  • The style of welding (TIG, MIG etc.)
  • The current used in the weld
  • Size of electrodes being used
  • Form of gas shielding

It’s not surprising to discover that these torches can become hot during use. Due to this, they are usually cooled either through air or circulating water.

Safety Equipment

Welding Equipment

If anything, safety equipment is probably one of the most important factors to consider when welding. So much so, I have given the topic its own section below.

Welding Safety

Let me be honest.

Wielding a torch in your hand that can generate temperatures up to 11,000 degrees is probably not the safest thing you will ever do.

However, as long as you are sensible, there is no reason that it should be any more dangerous than driving your car.

Furthermore, I find something about this “theoretical danger” quite appealing. 

The idea of doing something that other people would never consider gives me a little buzz.

That being said, welding can involve quite a few hazards, and therefore possible injuries, when not done properly. Common occurrences include:

  • Arc eye—basically sunburn to the cornea of the eye, due to exposure to ultraviolet light from the welding torch
  • Combustible burns—clothes can catch fire leading to burns
  • Respiratory problems—inhaling chemicals and fumes can create chronic breathing conditions and, at worst, idiopathic Parkinson's disease
  • Electric shock—when two parts of the base metals touch

Despite the above, wearing the correct safety equipment when welding can prevent most, if not all, of the above risks.

Welding Safety Gear

The items listed below are essential when welding. Never start your project without these being in place first.

Welding Clothing

Man In Welding Clothing

It’s not just about looking like a professional, it’s acting like one too. Wearing the correct welding clothing is the simplest way to protect yourself from common burns. 

As welding is definitely a process that is going to make you warm, there can be a temptation to strip down to shorts and a T-shirt to keep cool. Do not do this.

Exposed skin can become burnt from the heat or fire, or just through exposure to the ultraviolet light. Covering yourself completely is the best way to stay safe.

At the very least, if you have no purpose-made welding clothing, wear non-combustible attire—denim jeans and a thick, closely woven cotton shirt, for example.

However, ideally, you should invest in proper fireproof welding clothes. Unlike the products of the past, many of these are now lightweight and allow the body to “breathe,” keeping you cooler.

Look for—at least—a jacket, trousers, and gloves. Many companies now offer “ready packs,” including every piece of clothing you require in one box.

Welding Glasses

Retro Welding Glasses

These glasses, or goggles, protect the eyes from ultraviolet and infrared light, and any debris that could make its way into the eyes.

Side shields can prevent light from seeping in from the corners, which can still damage the eyesight.

These glasses contain very dark filters. They allow the welder to see the weld clearly when working, while keeping them safe.

Often glasses are designed for specific types of welding. So, if you are arc welding, do not use those designed for oxy-fuel.

Frequently, the glasses are worn under the actual welding helmet.

Welding Helmets

Leather And Plastic Helmet

Welding helmets offer full face protection, as opposed to just the eye protection of welding glasses.

These, too, include filters that prevent ultraviolet and infrared light from entering the eye, as well as reducing the risk of flying sparks or chemicals. They are often combined with leather caps if the welding is taking place overhead.

You may have seen the typical welders “nod” to bring down the helmet visor over the face. This is done because the visor is too dark to see through to prepare the weld, it can only be seen when actually welding.

To counter this, some companies now provide clear visors that darken automatically when the arc light is produced. This allows the weld to be first prepared with the mask down.

In the United States, it is recommended that the welding helmet achieves the industry standard of ANSI Z87-1. I would, therefore, suggest you check that your helmet meets this standard.

Welding Respirators

Respirator For Welding Helmet

Most people know of the dangers of looking at a welding arc, less understand the dangers involved by breathing in the fumes.

We all now understand the dangers of smoking, but many welders often ignore the fact that inhaling weld fumes can create even greater problems.

Out of all the mistakes I see welders make, failing to use a respirator is the most common.

Not only can it create short term side effects, such as coughing and breathing problems, long term effects can be fatal.

Respirators range from the very basic (disposable) to the advanced (air-fed respirators) and many in between. The requirement depends on the type of welding that is being completed.

Many of these respirators are designed to be worn beneath a full welding mask.

Is Welding a Good Career Option?

If you dislike heat, are useless with your hands and dream of a career in a cozy office, then welding is probably an awful career choice.

However, if you like being “hands-on,” want a job with great employment prospects and the satisfaction of making things that only a select few can, then it could be the ideal career.

In the U.S. alone, there is forecast to be a shortage of around 270,000 welders by the year 2020. This means that finding an available position should not prove too difficult.

What Are the Pros of a Welding Career?

Salary

Money In Envelope

As Marco Rubio said in 2015, “We need more welders and less philosophers.” Income-wise, he was probably right.

I am not aware of a wealthy philosopher, however, I do know some very comfortable welders. Welding is a career with good pay prospects.

Employed Or Self-Employed

Welding is a career that can be done either working for a corporation or off your own back.

Many self-employed welders have the freedom to work as and when they choose, and pick the area in which they want to specialize.

Conversely, other welders prefer the “company” environment, with the benefits and career progression it can offer.

Variety Of Work

Welding is involved in so many industries, meaning that no two welding jobs are likely to be the same. For example, welding is used in:

  • The military
  • Construction
  • Automotive industry
  • Oil and gas
  • Manufacturing
  • Undersea
  • Space exploration

It is, therefore, perfectly feasible to combine an interest in welding with an industry that interests you.

Doing Something You Love

Many people never work as a welder, but it is their hobby.

As pastimes go, I consider it one of the most rewarding.

If welding is your passion, surely there can be nothing better than getting paid for something you actually enjoy doing.

What Are the Cons of a Welding Career?

Comfort

Welding isn’t for everyone. It can be noisy, hot and dirty. Plus, it can mean working in awkward positions, or outside in the wet or cold.

Injury

Even with a “safety-first” attitude, accidents can happen. Not only is the injury itself unpleasant, but it might prevent you from working for a while.

Working Hours

As working to a deadline is often a feature of welding, this can involve long hours. Plus, depending on the industry, it can mean working nights too.

How Do I Become a Welder?

Man Showing To Apprentice How To Weld

If you are planning on becoming a hobbyist welder, there are a few options, including:

  • Find a local welder and see if they are willing to give you some time—paid or unpaid—to teach you the basics of welding
  • Watch approved online tutorials
  • Check local universities and community colleges for available courses

However, if you’re considering welding as a career, here are my recommendations to get on the ladder.

High School

Take math, shop and science lessons; some schools even have welding classes.

Become Trained

Some employers may train you “on-the-job,” while others offer full apprenticeships.

Colleges, universities, technical schools and the military can all offer welding programs. You are more likely to be employed if you have some formal training as a basis.

Obtain A Certification

Some employers have their own certification and training programs, but these may only be useful for working with that particular company.

To make yourself available for the most opportunities, look toward obtaining the American Welding Society’s Certified Welder accreditation.

This certification is open to all, regardless of current educational qualifications.

In this examination, your ability to complete welding tasks required in the petroleum, sheet metal, and chemical refinery industries, is tested.

In addition, certain industries provide their own certifications, dependent upon the work required. The two largest are:

  • American Petroleum Institute—with emphasis on materials related to gas and oil supply and refining
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers

What Is the Average Wage of a Welder?

According to research conducted by PayScale, the average wage for a welder in the US is $17.50 per hour, which amounts to an annual salary of $44,000.

If you are a total newbie, the entry-level salary is about $35,000. However, career progression and specialization can take salaries much higher.

For example, if underwater diving is your niche, sub-surface welding can earn you on average $65,000 per annum, with the top ten percent enjoying over $100,000.

Will Robots Take My Welding Job?

Robot Welding In Car Factory

We have all heard about advances in artificial intelligence, and seen movies with robots taking over the world.

It seems like there is a certainty that whatever occupation we are in, welding or not, we are going to be replaced by a machine.

However, the outlook may not be quite that bleak. To be fair, robots are already utilized widely in manufacturing.

They have been used since the 1980s in automotive production, mainly for spot welding.

Currently, it’s estimated that there are about 60,000 robots used in the U.S. for welding, as opposed to 500,000 humans.

So, we are still winning in the numbers stakes.

It’s true, robots have their advantages. They do not need breaks or holidays, can operate at speed and, as yet, do not get bored by repetition.

But, despite advances in technology, there are many instances in which humans still take the lead.

  • Innovation and creativity—robots cannot “think on the job” or improvise to solve a problem
  • Adaptability—an automotive robot can only do one thing, spot weld a car—humans can adapt their skills to most welding applications
  • Bendability—numerous times I have found myself in an almost impossible yoga position trying to reach a weld, robots are too inflexible to do this

Personally, I would not concern myself with robots taking over the welding industry. Yet.

Conclusion

So, that’s everything (almost) you need to know about welding.

Hopefully, this ultimate guide to welding has been helpful. I would recommend using the in-site links to discover more in-depth information on the areas that interest you the most.

In either case, it will provide you with both satisfaction and the feeling of a job well done.

Always put safety first, and take your time. Welding is not a job to be rushed. The longer time and more care you take, the better the results and the more enjoyment you will receive.

About the Author Gregory

Hi, my name is Gregory! I have been welding practically all of my life and love it. As I have gotten older I have started to weld less and less, so in order to continue my love for welding I created this website. I like to write about my experiences and help you all become welders. I hope that you enjoy the site!

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