What is a TIG Welder?
TIG stands for Tungsten Inert Gas. It is a form of arc welding, in which the arc is produced by a tungsten electrode.
Unlike MIG welding, TIG welders use a non-combustible gas, which makes it great for thin metals.
TIG welders use a constant-current power supply to conduct electricity across the arc. Ionized gas and metal vapors meet the electrical output to produce a plasma arc.
The electrically produced welding arc enables accuracy and precision in making thin, small, or delicate welds.
The accuracy control of the TIG welder produces superior, stronger welds than that of gas metal arc welding, metal inert gas welding and other welding processes. But, it is more time consuming, labor intensive, and presents a smaller margin of error for beginners.
Other Types of Welding Processes
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is another type of electrode arc welding process. It is, also, a form of stick welding. This type of welding produces an electric arc between the welding stick and the metal. It is seen commonly in steel architecture and industrial iron and steel manufacturing facilities.
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) employs a gas that runs along the torches wire electrodes. The resulting arc heats the pieces of metal that are being joined, using a constant-current power source. It is the most popular method of welding for industrial manufacturing.
Apart from shield welding, Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW) is a standard welding process in construction. It is a semi-automatic process of welding, which, is portable to enable efficient and speedy welds.
TIG Welding Operation
If you are looking for the best TIG welder, you better know your stuff. TIG welding is difficult, but if done well, produces a very strong bond between metal materials.
The TIG welding process requires acute coordination on the part of the welder. Welders use both hands to weld with a TIG welder. One hand operates the welding torch, while the other feeds the filler metal into place.
When using a TIG welder, you have to keep the arc short, as to keep from dispersing the heat over too wide an area. At the same time, you must keep the arc from touching the metal material.
Once you strike an arc between the metal and the torch, the welder keeps the torch a half inch to an inch from the metal. You move the torch in a circle to create a welding pool, where you place the filler metal. As you place filler on the far end of the welding pool, you expand the pool in the direction of your weld.
To create the welding pool, a welder faces their torch directly at the material. Before the filler goes in, the welder angles the torch, from 10 to 15 degrees, and filler metal is put into place as required.
Pro TIG Welding Technique
Experienced welders will alternate in quick succession, between expanding the welding pool in on the front end of the weld, to adding filler metal. The trick to TIG welding is to keep the filler rod inside the zone of your gas shield.
If the rod leaves the gas shield zone, the weld will oxidize, compromising the durability. On the other hand, if you keep the torch too close to the rod, your filler metal will melt before contacting the weld point.
Once the weld is almost finished, the current is backed off to ease the material into a solidification. When cooling happens too fast, the weld can crack.
Best TIG Welder – Features to Look For
The best TIG welders feature several components that are custom for this form of a weld. When performed correctly, TIG is much less smoky and cleaner than other forms, however, more complicated to operate. Because it uses a lower amperage, TIG offers heat control precision for aesthetic welds, structural projects, and fragile metals.
The best TIG welder features to look for, include…
Pulsed welding provides fine control of your arcs heat output, to keep from cutting straight through your metal. Many low-quality welders advertise duel functionality, but they don’t offer fine controls for aesthetic or structural welds.
TIG welders feature an adjustable current pulse, that ranges from a few per second to around 5,000 pulses every second. The more pulses per second, the more focused and controlled the heat from your torch.
For thin metals, or if you are worried about rust damage, a low pulse rate will keep the torch from penetrating the metal. TIG welding is the only form that can serve precision welds with accuracy and control. But, the weld might take a while to perform if the pulse rate is low.
Inexpensive TIG welders offer less fine-tuned pulse control than the best TIG welders.
Big or Small? – Mobility vs. Duty Cycle
A great benefit of small TIG welders is their portability. Mobility for larger units requires a handcart.
The best TIG welder units for taking around to job sites and tight spaces weigh between 25 to 50 pounds. Large TIG welding units can weigh up to 150 pounds, but these are for industrial manufacturing facilities and large metal shops.
A small TIG welding system is the right choice for automotive repairs and around-the-house projects. It is also a good tool for jobs in a highly visible area.
Mobile TIG welders have a shorter duty cycle than that of their larger counterparts. Thus, the duration of welding time available for your project is limited to the power supplies output.
Foot Pedal – Precision Heat Control
If you have three arms, then you don’t need a foot pedal-but if you are like the vast majority of welders, that only have two arms, you need a foot pedal. A foot pedal controls the amount of heat produced by your welding torch.
The TIG welding process requires the welder to use one hand to manage the welding torch and the other to handle the filler rod. For precise, strong welds you need constant control of your heat source. The foot pedal ensures that you have control over the size of your welding pool.
The best TIG welder foot pedals feature an angle between 15 degrees and 40 degrees from level. The smaller the angle from the floor, the less fatigue to your foot and longer duration you can work. The larger the foot pedal angle, the more control you have over the heat precision, but your foot becomes fatigued quickly.
Controls and Unit Settings
If you are new to TIG welding, it is best to go with a unit that is single phase. Though your project time will be constrained to the single setting power output of the unit, it is the best way to get good at TIG stick welding.
No matter your skill level, look for a welding unit with covers over the controls. That way, accidental contact with the welding system won’t present a hazard to the welder. High-quality TIG welders feature secure-snap buttons that are not easy to accidentally alter.
Dual TIG Plasma and Stick Welder Combo
The best TIG welder systems feature customizable amperage and extension compatibility. Cheap units often feature a fixed low amperage, which is good for weld cleaning and thin metal. The best TIG welder systems feature high amperage settings, as well, for plasma cutting.
If you want to cut your own customized metal pieces, look for a unit with a dual functionality of welding and plasma cutting.
Air vs. Water Cooling System
The best TIG welder systems feature, either, an air-cooled or water-cooled torch. Small, low-amperage units are fine with an air-cooled torch. The best high-amperage TIG welder designs have water-cooled torches.
Water systems are a more effective method of cooling your welding torch. Experienced welders are used to getting a little hot under the collar when they are welding. But, when working in tight spaces or area’s of low-ventilation a water-cooled system is of great benefit.
Power Source and Output
When you look at TIG welder units you see a few different power output classifications. They feature DCEP, DCEN, AC, and DC. Each of these output specifications is essential for different metals and welding types.
Alternating Current or AC is the power output setting you use to weld on soft metals, like aluminum, tin, magnesium, and other self-oxidizing metals. Direct Current (DC) is for welding hard metals, like steel, copper, stainless steel, and other deoxidized hard metals.
The alternation of currents, from positive to negative, is essential for deoxidizing soft metals during the welding process. The negatively charged electrons deoxidize the metal, and the positive electrons melt into the metal, facilitating the structural bond.
DCEP stands, for Direct Current Electrode Positive, in reference to the welding arcs electrode. DCEP is for TIG stick welding and is the type of output that balls the tungsten rods tip. DCEN or Direct Current Electrode Negative output is the setting used for steel welding.
DCEP produces a positive electric charge, and DCEN produces a negative charge which flows in the opposite direction.
With a positive charge, the electricity flows from the electrode into the metal. A negative charge acts oppositely, from the metal to the electrode. DCEP produces more heat than DCEN, which is a crucial consideration when dealing with metal welds.
The amperage range afforded you by your TIG welder is proportionate to the cost of your system. The more amperage range, the more versatile the unit, and more powerful.
A small, portable TIG welder is good for thin metals, but it falls short of the power requirements of larger material. The best TIG welder systems feature an adjustable amperage range, from around 5 to 200 amps or more.
Any units with less than a 200 amperage output limit your ability to weld aluminum and steel of more than a quarter inch in thickness. For structurally weight bearing welds that require a clean finish, look for a unit that offers over 250 amps of output.
TIG Welder Safety Tips
Welding produces a lot of heat and requires specialized equipment and training in order to weld safely. Not only does welding produce strong heat, but the arc of a TIG welder creates dangerously bright ultraviolet light. TIG welding produces significantly more ultraviolet light than shielded arc welding.
TIG welders must wear an armory of protective gear when working. Wear welding gloves when using the torch to keep your hands and forearms safe from burning. Special shirts protect your skin from sunburn that comes from the arcs strong ultraviolet light.
TIG welders use a welding helmet designed with a special, dark, opaque face cover. The helmet cover the entire head and neck, and welders also wear a high-neck shirt to protect the back of their neck.
TIG welding produces noxious gases and particulate contamination in the nearby vicinity. To prevent the inhalation of dangerous nitric oxides and ozone, make sure your work area is properly ventilated. In tight working conditions, TIG welders use an oxygen mask.
TIG welding is the only way to produce a clean finished product that retains structural integrity on thin, soft metals. If you’re looking for a TIG welder, consider the features and options to decide which welding system will best serve your needs.
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