Can you teach yourself to weld?
While teaching yourself to weld isn’t easy, there are many ways you can learn and practice welding at home. There are many books, tutorials, YouTube videos, classes, and in-person opportunities that can teach you the basics of welding. Focusing on one type of welding will set you up for success. We recommend starting with MIG welding if you want to teach yourself how to weld.
Learning how to weld can be both rewarding and a frustrating, painful process. But that can be said about learning anything new, when it comes down to it. In this article, we’ll give you a quick guide to what you can do to learn how to weld at home. There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get started.
Why Learn How to Weld
- Take up a new hobby
- Repair and/or restore possessions
- Create unique projects and artwork
- Start up your own business
- Dabble in the DIY space
- Practice for your welding career
- Have fun!
So, let’s talk more about this whole “welding” term. After all, you’ve probably heard about many types of welding. Get ready for some clarity because it’s all about complexity and technique.
What Are the Different Types of Welding
Before we get into the most common types of welding you’re likely to encounter, let’s talk about brazing. Now, brazing is a term you will hear about in connection with welding. However, it is NOT the same as welding. As MakeMoneyWelding.com states, “Brazing is the process of joining 2 metals together using a brass filler rod, and often dissimilar metals without actually melting the base metals.” Just be aware of this as you move through the welding sphere. If you want to learn how to braze, that’s another article entirely.
Now, brazing aside, there are 3 main welding types: flux-core, TIG, and MIG. Though we won’t spend too much time on the first 2 types of welding, the rest of the article will focus on MIG welding, since it is one of the easier types of welding to learn. But, it’s good to have a basic understanding of flux-core and TIG welding so that you can differentiate one type of welding from the next.
Many hobby welders pick up flux-core welding if they’re looking to complete small projects or do household repairs. The name flux-core refers to the center of the welding wire, which is made up of material called flux. This flux allows the weld to occur in a clean environment. By incorporating the cleaning agent within the welding wire, flux-core welding eliminates the need for a gas bottle and accompanying accessories. Not only does this save you money but it also allows you to carry the flux-core welder around without much hassle.
Also known as gas tungsten arc welding, or GTAW, TIG welding takes a bit of experience to pick up and master. Learning how to TIG weld is something most people do after they’ve established a solid base in welding and want to widen their skill set. Because “while TIG basics are fairly easy to grasp, it takes a lot of control, skill, and coordination to master.” You’ve really got to know what you’re doing if you plan on TIG welding. The margin for error is much smaller than in other welding applications. However, knowing how to TIG weld will get you a job in a variety of industries, from food and aircrafts and race car and motorcycle frames. Since it is a more intense welding process, the returns are equally higher.
If you’re going to begin your welding career, start with MIG welding. It’s one of the easier types of welding to pick up and doesn’t require a huge investment right off the bat either. MIG welders use either flux-core or solid filler rod. As we discussed with flux-core welding, the flux center allows you to weld without gas necessarily. With solid filler rod, however, gas is necessary.
Unlike many other welding applications, MIG welding leaves little spatter and thus requires less clean-up time. Most welders will invest in a small cart to store their MIG welder on, along with the gas bottle, extra filler rod, and other accompanying accessories. We recommend beginners start out with MIG welding, so our discussion of why that is—and what makes MIG welding so easy to pick up—continues below.
What Type of Welding is Best for Beginners
MIG welding should be the direction you take if you want to begin welding. Whether it’s as a hobby or in preparation for a career, learning to MIG weld allows you to gain a basic understanding of the welding process without (a) a large up-front investment, (b) super-fine motor skills, (c) cumbersome machinery, and (d) eating up your spare time.
To better understand why MIG welding is easier to pick up, let’s consider a form of welding we haven’t talked about: stick. The stick in stick welding describes the consumable filler rod that’s coated in flux. When you stick weld, you must strike the arc like a match using the stick, which can be hard to do. Besides that, it can be hard to see the weld puddle and there’s a lot of cleanup involved when it comes to slag.
In a similar fashion, TIG welding requires skill and dexterity. Not only are you holding the torch, but you’re also dipping in filler rod and controlling the voltage with your foot. TIG machines can also take more out of your monthly budget since this particular process is all about slowing down and focusing on the weld. Many TIG welding machines also run on 220 volts, which isn’t always available to most folks. This is especially true if you live in an apartment or condo.
MIG welding, in contrast, uses a combination of filler rod and shielding gas. There’s much more room for error built into MIG welding. You can see the weld puddle as you move the torch along the part and there’s no need to dip in filler rod as you would with TIG welding. Spatter decreases immensely as well. So you’ll spend less time cleaning up and more time dreaming up those metallurgic creations.
How Much Does it Cost to Start Welding
Considering what kind of money most people spend on their hobbies, welding actually comes in under budget. For example, “you’ll likely spend $200 to $400 for a quality welding machine.” That’s for your typical MIG welder. If you’re financially able and are looking to MIG weld more than a few times a month, spend a bit more to get a better welder. Like anything else, you get what you pay for. Most MIG machines will come with a flip-up cover that tells you everything you need to know for what types of materials you’re welding. If you’re interested in continuing your learning to other types of welding, consider a combination machine. Able to MIG, stick, and TIG weld, these machines will put you out over $1,000. Just remember that on top of your welder cost, you’ll also want to invest in safety gear, accessories, and a tool cart.
How and Where to Practice MIG Welding
After you’ve tooled up and gotten yourself kitted out with a welder, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to practice your newfound welding skills. And we’ve got some handy resources you can tap into to speed up your learning curve.
One of the best ways to receive formal welding training is to enroll in classes. Whether it’s at a community college or high school level, these classes will allow you to gain a lot of the resources you’ll need to succeed as a welder. Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of attending welding classes.
Alongside welding classes, you can also practice on scrap metal in your welding space. There are a number of YouTube videos recorded to help welders achieve the results they’re looking for, so take a look at the virtual video space and see what you can find. Many videos tackle troubleshooting your welding, welding techniques, and a variety of other useful resources.
Another great way to practice welding is with other welders. These environments foster a sense of camaraderie and allow you to swap techniques, tricks, stories, and maybe to show off a bit as well. Plus you can find a lot of inspiration just by being around people who love to do the same thing you do.
The Benefit of Taking Welding Classes
Teaching yourself to weld isn’t the same thing as teaching yourself how to play the trumpet. A musical instrument doesn’t have the innate capability of shocking you, starting you on fire, or many of the other safety hazards welding brings with it. That’s why many people supplement their at-home learning with welding classes.
Whether or not you want to participate in welding classes—if they’re offered locally—it’s good to know what knowledge is available to you in case you need more practice or instruction. Most welding programs last anywhere from 9 to upwards of 18 months. Like many skills associated with muscle memory and physical labor, welding requires practice and repetition. So expect to be welding for most of the day.
That being said, you’ll know quite a lot after you’ve completed the welding program. For example, most programs teach pipe and plate welding, all major welding processes (including the ones we’ve mentioned above), welding positions, advanced mathematics, decoding technical tasks, and much more. One of the greatest things about enrolling in a welding program lies in the instructor-student relationship. Asking experienced welders about the problems you’re encountering leads you to expert knowledge. And the ability to form partnerships, friendships, and working relationships as well could make enrolling in a welding program invaluable to you. It’s something we encourage you to look into if welding is a large part of your future.
Basics Needed for MIG Welding
Even if you decide against taking a welding class, there are a few materials you’ll need to invest in before you start melting metal.
Obviously, a MIG welder comes first. You’ll want something that’s in your budget but there are a few characteristics you’ll want to pay attention to as you shop. For example, welders have what’s called a “duty cycle.” This number “means it will overheat and stop welding if used continuously.” Hypothetically, a 50/50 duty cycle would mean that you could weld for 5 minutes and then you’d have to let the machine cool down for 5 minutes. Most duty cycles, however, aren’t this balanced.
Making sure you have the proper power source for your welder is another key component to setting up to MIG weld. These days, welders can work off either 110 or 220 in most cases, but make sure the unit you purchase is compatible with the outlets in your work space. Adapting your welder is doable but not always efficient—or worthwhile.
Shielding gas is important, too. You should also be aware of home insurance policies when it comes to welding. “Some home insurance policies have limits and exclusions that get invoked if a home contains pressure vessels, including pressurized gas tanks.” If you have further questions, call your insurance agent to verify your policy details.
A welding helmet, gloves, and protective clothing are also essential. If you’re not sure what your outfit should look like when you weld, just remember you’re working with molten metal.
Welding carts make it so much easier to weld efficiently. You can easily store your gas bottle, extra accessories, and of course your welder on this handy cart. Clamps are another accessory you’ll probably want to invest in, since most welders are only blessed with two hands.
Teach Yourself How to MIG Weld
After you’ve gathered all the materials necessary, it’s time to weld! Really, welding is a process that happens quickly in the moment but takes much preparation and post-processing. Though you’ll only be melting metal for a few minutes at a time, those metal pieces you’re joining need to be in the best shape possible for the best results.
To that end, let’s start our welding process with what goes on before the gas even starts flowing.
Before You Weld
Preparing to weld often takes more time than the actual act of welding. However, it’s incredibly important to set yourself up for success. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Prepare the metal pieces you’ll join. The welding surface should be free of any contamination, including paint. Bare metal welds best.
- To guarantee a stronger weld, bevel the edges of your work pieces. “This ensures the weld penetrates as deeply as possible and countersinks it so you can grind it flush.”
- Clamp your work pieces if necessary. Make sure they sit on your work surface in such a way as to allow you to weld efficiently. There’s nothing worse than having to weld in an awkward position because you don’t want to take your clamps off and redo them.
- Ready your welder. Check your gun to make sure the electrode is sticking “out between ¼ and 3/8” of an inch. Be sure the shielding gas is flowing. Lay down a few test welds if you prefer.
- Don your safety gear and protective clothing. Make sure others in the immediate vicinity are aware that you’re welding, so they can shield their eyes if necessary. Properly ventilate your working space to disperse any welding fumes.
You’ve set the stage: now it’s time to light the fire. Or let the gas flow, that is.
The reality of metal is that there are many elements that make up each type. These alloys burn at different rates and can cause a number of problems when welding. Put that together with the elements existent in the air and you’ve come to the reasons why MIG welding works best when done with shielding gas.
In a nutshell, the shielding gas—typically argon, sometimes mixed with smaller amounts of helium, oxygen, carbon dioxide, or hydrogen—creates a clean environment for the metal to merge. You’ll want to invest in bottles of shielding gas if you plan on welding often. Many gas supply companies will allow you to rent a bottle, or enter into a bottle-swapping program. Paying for shielding gas and the corresponding bottle is something you should budget for with each project. Obviously, the more you weld, the more shielding gas you’ll need.
Another important factor in the welding process is temperature. As you weld with different metals, you’ll learn how much heat you need to apply in order to achieve the weld puddle. For example, mild steel starts melting around 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s actually a low melting point considering oxy-acetylene torches and arc welders have tips that are typically anywhere from 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. While more heat can be a good thing, it’s best to dial in your welder settings so you can control the rate the metal is melting at in order to achieve a better weld.
The MIG Welding Process
MIG welding and the various techniques associated with it could be a whole guide in itself. Here, we’ll just touch on some of the basic procedures you’ll want to go through as you weld. Because like with any hobby, the more you practice welding and the more videos and tutorials you watch, the more you’ll learn and perfect your techniques and processes.
Welding Hand Positions
The most important part of the welding process is you. As Popular Mechanics advises, “The steadier your hands, the better the weld.” Steadiness of hand is one of the reasons why mechanical welders are desirable, because they can physically control the speed at which they weld. Besides holding steady, you’ll also want to hold the MIG torch at a 45-degree angle. If your head is perpendicular to the work surface, your hand holding the MIG torch should be resting on its side, as if you’re going to write something. In fact, you should pretend as if you are writing lowercase “e” letters as you move the puddle along the weld. This circular motion will aid penetration and result in a better weld when you’re finished.
We mentioned above that you’ll want to adjust your welder settings to get the right temperature so the metals you’re working with puddle together seamlessly. But how do you know what to adjust your settings to?
Most welder manufacturers list guidelines on the welder itself, typically in the cover of the machine. This listing will tell you roughly where you should begin for the thickness, type, and size of metal that you’re welding. In many cases, you’ll need to fine-tune those settings for your environment. Another thing to keep in mind: “avoid excess welding heat and avoid more passes than necessary.” This is why it’s handy to have scrap metal of the same type as you will be welding so that you can practice and dial in those settings before you even heat up the work pieces themselves.
Enough talk! Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of MIG welding.
Once you’ve got your settings adjusted, your safety gear on, your welding helmet in place, and the work set out before you, it’s time to weld. First, position your torch above the area you want to weld. Depending on your welding helmet, you may/may not be able to see anything until you strike the arc.
After positioning yourself, engage your welding helmet and the trigger on your welding torch. The electrode wire should start to feed at the rate you specified. Your shielding gas should also start flowing, creating a clean environment for the pending weld. The metal work pieces will begin to liquify. Once you’ve established a small puddle of molten metal, slowly and deliberately move the torch in small “e” motions across the gap. Your goal is to bring the puddle with you across the two pieces, in such a way that melts them both together. It’s easier said than done, but with practice, it can be accomplished.
If you do find yourself having trouble with any part of the process, from starting the puddle and achieving proper penetration to consistency across the weld itself, review videos and tutorials of that feature those instances. Welding requires a sense of spontaneity, in that it’s not a simple on-off process. You’ve got to work with the metals in front of you. Mastery demands copious amounts of experience and perseverance.
For all that build-up, welding only happens in a few minutes. However, there are many processes you’ll need to consider after you weld in order to finish the process and ensure a strong connection.
“An old adage is to weld a little and cool a lot. After welding, pounding on the welded joint with a chipping hammer reduces stresses in the weld.” You’ve probably seen videos of forges and sword-makers pounding out the red-hot metal into the desired shape. Pounding out the metal actually releases some of the heat trapped within the material—because as the temperature rises, molecules expand, and contracting them forcefully requires them to return to a smaller size. This is just one way you can ensure your welds hold tight.
Another finishing touch you can put on your welds requires an angle grinder. When you hear welders say, “I need to grind my welds,” they want the weld to look better. It’s a tedious job sometimes, especially if you’ve welded quite a bit; however, the overall aesthetic of your work pieces will increase if you take the time. If you like the look of your metal, you can leave it unpainted and simply spray it with a rust-preventative coating. Powder coating and painting are common ways of finishing off metal pieces as well. It all depends on what your end goal looks like.
MIG Welding Tips
As you MIG weld, keep the following tips in mind. And remember, practice only makes you a better welder. With time, you’ll achieve the weld quality you’re looking for.
- There’s always a learning curve when it comes to knowing what you need as a welder but don’t be afraid to spend a chunk of money if you know you’ll benefit from it.
- Penetration is key: “you should be able to turn over the welded pieces and see where heat has transferred through the metal and is evident by discoloration on the opposite side from the weld.” Make sure you’re melting both metals together enough that your welds can stay strong for years to come.
- “Repeat the motion of drawing a lower case letter “e” or “u” as you weld to control your speed and keep the puddle flowing.” You can practice with or without the welder actually on. This should help your muscles get back into the memory of welding and set you up for success.
- Consider all the variables of your project before you begin. For example, a “slower wire speed works better on thinner pieces of metal.” You don’t want to burn through your work, but you still want a good amount of penetration. As in many things, welding is a balancing act.
- “Remember that welding is a mix of art and science . . . Continue to practice, but don’t get stuck on one characteristic.” Most welders take years to perfect their art. Be patient with yourself.
There’s plenty more advice out there on how to weld better. Mastering the art of melting metal isn’t as easy as it sounds. Keep reading for resources on welding, from books and websites to YouTube videos and more.
Continuing Education: External Resources
If you’d like to continue your welding education, there are plenty of resources available, both in print and on the web. You can also connect with welders in your area. Your local YMCA and/or community college may offer welding classes. You can easily join online forums and groups that support welders.
Check back with us for more welding tips and tricks as well! Because as with any hobby, practices change and new techniques appear all the time. Keep yourself up-to-date with all that’s going on and immerse yourself in welding. It’s a skill you’ll be thankful for many times over.