GET YOUR WELD ON
ADVICE TO SET UP YOUR OWN WELDING STATION AT HOME
Stacking dimes, laying weaves, and dropping that sweet, sweet weld porn isn’t the kind of thing you’re going to learn with a five minute Google session and a couple of YouTube ‘how to’ videos — but having the right equipment behind you when learning to do such radness is always going to help. It’s that classic case of being prepared for the task you’re tackling, and with welding, be it MIG or TIG, there’s a bit more that goes into it than what some people realize — what amperage machine is best, filler rod selection, how tungsten treatments work, why cheaper isn’t always better with helmets, and much more. Having gear that isn’t designed for your intended purpose and getting the setup side of the equation wrong makes for guaranteed bird-shit results — the kind of stuff your mates rip you on for life — and will end up costing you more in the long run as you replace your ill-informed purchases.
So, to make sure you’re in the know when it comes to buying a new machine, and having all your consumables and safety gear in check, we wrangled together the top suppliers in the business to lay down the truth and debunk any misinformation that may be floating about on the interwebs. Here’s your comprehensive guide to kitting out the shed with the right equipment, straight from the horse’s mouth — you can thank us later.
Would you recommend people starting out with MIG or TIG welding if they have never picked up a torch before?
Chris at Welding Technology told us: “It depends on the job at hand. You’d need to take into account what kind of material you’re working with, the thickness of that material, whether or not time is a factor, and what kind of finish you desire from it. However, generally speaking, you’d opt for a TIG when you want a beautiful finish, and a MIG for speed. Both types of welding require practise to master, but MIG would be the easier of the two as it is more of a ‘point and shoot’ option. Set your wire speed and voltage, and away you go. Whereas with TIG, you’ve got a lot more settings to get right, and also feeding a rod with one hand and a torch in the other.”
How important is it to consider duty cycle when looking to buy a machine?
“Duty cycle is fairly important when it comes to selecting a machine — it’s a rating regarding what the machine can handle at its peak use. Measured over 10 minutes, duty cycle indicates the percentage of time for which it can run at peak before requiring a cool-down period. For example, if a machine has a 40-per-cent duty cycle at 200 amps, you’d get four minutes of straight welding before the machine required a six minute cool down.
“But most of the time you aren’t going to be running at that peak 200 amps or whatever your machine may be capable of, and if you’re running a lower amperage, you can generally weld all day long with it — the person at home will probably never hit duty cycle unless it’s a really basic machine for what they’re using it for. All our machines are duty-cycle rated independently to meet New Zealand and Australian standards.”
Do I need to purchase a foot pedal with a TIG, or will the torch button work in all situations?
“You can get away with using just the torch button most of the time these days, as newer machines will have a pulse setting that fluctuates the amperage, mimicking the way you would with a foot pedal. However, if you can have one, it is recommended for total control over your weld, especially when it comes to welding alloy where you’re going to require quite a few amps to break through, and then, as the material gets hot, back off — that foot pedal allows you to do it immediatly, and pump the heat as you go. Naturally, having more control over what you’re doing, you’re going to end up with a neater finish and make the job a bit easier.”
Should I be using a standard collett body or gas lens on my TIG torch?
“Well, a lens simply changes the way the gas is emitted. Imagine a torch without the standard collet body; the gas comes out, swirling uncontrolled, whereas a gas lens breathes it out through gauze to control the flow and direction to ensure proper shielding.
“A larger lense provides better gas coverage and you’re able to pull the tungsten out further, giving a cleaner weld, as any contamination is blocked from entering the process. It also makes for that rainbow finish on the weld that people like. The reason you are able to get smaller cups is down to fitting the torch into tighter spaces when welding, as the large cups simply cannot reach some areas, and ergonomically, a smaller torch is going to feel better in the hand.”
If my shed has only single-phase power, will this limit the size of welder I can run, and therefore the material I can weld?
Graham from Welding Direct says: “Yes, a single-phase power source is going to limit what machine you can run and therefore the size of the metal you can weld, depending on what material it is. It’s all about power in and out — if you can’t get the power in, then you aren’t going to get it out — meaning that you’re limited regarding what thickness you can penetrate. “Single-phase for steel is going to tap out around the 6–7mm-thick mark unless you have a machine in the higher amperage range, but to fully utilize its capacity, the power supply will need upgrading — this, like installing three-phase power, can be expensive. However, most vehicle-related material isn’t going to be thicker than that, so single-phase will be fine. The shed at home doesn’t need to have three-phase power; that’s more for industrial purposes where you’re looking to weld 10mm and thicker. Although, if you have the option there you can always use a three-phase machine to weld thinner. “While most panel beaters and those repairing vehicles will only need a single-phase option, something you need to consider is inverter versus transformer machines. There’s a misconception that you should have an inverter over a transformer, but this isn’t true, as there are benefits to both types. The inverter style is more modern, more adjustable, and precise in the settings compared to a transformer, which is step-controlled with switches, and doesn’t have the same amount of control. However, the advantage to a transformer type is that it is much more robust and will last almost a lifetime, whereas inverter types have a shorter lifespan.”
When I’m looking to purchase a welding helmet, is it a case of the more expensive, the better protection it will give?
“In this instance, the general answer is ‘yes’, most of the time the more you pay, the better quality helmet you’re going to get. Pricier helmets tend to give your eyes more protection. In the old days, if you wanted it to be darker or lighter, you’d need to change the lens itself — flipping the helmet up for natural light, and flipping it back down for a single-shader option — but modern helmets are digital and automatic. These are able to be set to a predetermined darkness that changes from light to dark as soon as the arc strikes. This gives you control over what you’re doing with better vision, while remaining protected. Where the difference in price comes in is the level of adjustability you have, and the speed at which it can act. “The cheaper options will generally have fewer sensors and be slower to react. Instead of darkening at 1/10000th of a second, it reacts at 1/30000th of a second — when it comes to protecting your eyes, multiple exposure can add up. “And take TIG welding, for example: you need more variation in the shade because the amperage is different to MIG or stick welding. We recommend a better quality for TIG, whereas you can get away with a cheaper option for MIG.”
With so many TIG filler rods available, how do I select the type of rod to use, and will I need to have all types on hand to cover my bases?
“For those TIG welding in the shed at a low-volume level, you can definitely get away with a few key filler rods for different materials. A lot of TIG welding is seen in alloy applications, and you can generally manage with a good grade of marine 5356 alloy filler rod, which will also weld lower grades of alloy material, so you don’t need a big range of alloy rods. “As for steel rods, they’ve very cheap as it is, so you can afford to have a few different types on hand. But again, you really only carry a big range when you’re looking to TIG more specialist materials. We generally recommended a marine-grade 316 for stainless steel. For modern cars, the car manufacturing industry is starting to use a lot more silicone bronze material in their construction, so a silicone bronze filler rod is also handy.
And how does the colour-coding system for tungstens work?
“Tungsten is used as the TIG electrode to pass the current (as an arc) as it has the highest melting temperature among pure metals, at roughly 3,400-degrees celsius. That means that the electrode isn’t consumed during welding, and while in the past, pure tungsten was the only choice, a number of tungsten have been standardized and form the colour-coded system for identification. “Pure tungsten electrodes are general purpose and low cost, and are only used for AC welding — they’re coded with green. Ceriated (CeO2, 1.8 to 2.2 per cent) tungsten perform best in DC welding at low-current settings, but can be used proficiently in AC to improve arc stability, starting while decreasing burn-off — they’re coded with grey. Lanthanated (La2O3, 1.3 to 1.7 per cent) tungsten has a similar effect to ceriated options and maintains a sharpened point well, which is an advantage for welding steel and stainless steel on DC — they are coded gold, black, and blue. Thoriated (ThO2, 1.7 to 2.2 per cent) tungsten is easier arc starting with higher current capacity and greater arc stability; however, it is radiated and makes inhalation a health risk — these are being phased out in favour of other options, and are coded with red and yellow. Lastly, zirconiated (ZrO2, 0.15 to 0.40 percent) tungsten is ideal for AC welding as it retains a balled tip and has a high resistance to contamination, but should not be used for DC welding — they are coded with brown.” “It’s about selecting the right tungsten for the material, size, and thickness being used, and some research is required for this.”