Getting Started with Welding: A Beginner’s Guide
Welding is used in everything from construction and transportation to agriculture and professional services, so it’s an incredible skill to possess as you can work in almost any industry.
Demand for skilled welders is at an all-time high, so whether you’re looking to improve your DIY skills or start a career, it’s a great time to get into welding!
In this beginner’s guide to welding, we’ll look at:
- What welding is
- How to get started
- The different types of welding
- The welding process
- Careers in welding
What is welding?
Welding is a versatile process that uses high heat to melt and fuse materials, usually metals, together. Unlike lower heat metal-joining processes such as soldering and brazing, welding melts the base metals, creating a stronger structure. A variety of sources can be used to create the high temperatures required for welding, including electricity, gas, lasers, electron beams, friction, and even ultrasound. This means welding can be performed almost anywhere - even underwater and outer space!
How to get started with welding
Welding can seem intimidating: it’s a process that creates extremely hot temperatures and usually involves electricity and gas. There’s a lot to think about! Don’t be put off though - some types of welding are relatively easy to pick up with a little time and patience. There are also plenty of introductory opportunities available, including:
- A college course or degree - welding courses are widely available from schools, colleges and even welding stores.
- Scholarships - scholarships can be an option for those undertaking a bachelor’s or associate degree in welding.
- On the job training - getting a job that involves welding is a great way to develop your skills and gain real-world experience.
- Metal art classes - try checking out a local metal art class to get some exposure to welding.
- Teaching yourself - if you have the time and budget, investing in your own welding kit can be a fantastic way to get into welding.
The different types of welding
There are several different types of welding. Some welding processes - such as MIG, TIG, flux core and stick - can easily be performed in the home with a relatively inexpensive store-bought welding machine. Others are performed by a machine, such as a laser and electron beam welding. There are a number of different welding methods and processes, but as this is a beginner’s guide to welding we’re going to stick to the four most common: MIG, TIG, Stick and flux-cored.
- Ideal for those new to welding
- Low cost
- Fast process
- Little cleanup required
- Can be used on a wide variety of metals and base metal thicknesses
- Ideal for most household requirements
- Not as visually appealing as other welding processes
MIG welding, also known as GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding), is one of the easier skills for beginners to learn and is a common entry point for DIY enthusiasts. It’s relatively easy to perform, doesn’t require too much equipment and it’s suitable for a range of plate metals of different thicknesses, making it versatile enough for most household needs.
MIG welding works by creating an electric circuit between the metal to be welded and an automatically-fed, consumable electrode wire. The wire is then removed a short distance from the metal, which creates an arc of electricity and partially melts the metal and electrode wire, resulting in a bead of molten metal that creates the weld. A filler material, usually similar to the metal being welded, is also fed alongside the electrode to further strengthen the weld. An externally fed gas source protects the metals from contaminants like oxygen and nitrogen during the process.
- Produces superior welds
- Suitable for almost all types of metals
- Filler material optional
- Minimal cleanup required
- Provides greater control over the weld
- Difficult to automate
- Slow process in comparison to other types of welding
TIG welding, also known as Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), is a precise form of welding that is a bit more advanced as it can be difficult to produce quality, attractive welds. Unlike most welding processes, filler material is optional, though it can be used. TIG is similar to MIG welding in that it works by creating an electrical circuit between the metal and a non-consumable tungsten electrode. A shielding gas is used to protect the weld - helium and argon are common choices. TIG welding is a manual process that provides the welder with greater control, thanks to the ability to alloy the electrode.
- Suitable for most types of metals
- No gas supply required
- Can be used with direct current
- Equipment is portable
- Best suited for windy or draughty environments
- Can be more costly than other types of welding
- Manual process that cannot easily be automated
- Not suitable for reactive metals
Mention welding to someone and they’ll probably picture stick welding. Also known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), this is welding the old-fashioned way: simple, easy to learn and versatile. Stick welding uses an electrical current and a fixed-length electrode that is coated with mineral compounds and metal powders. When the electrode is applied to the metal, the coating produces gases that act as a shield for the weld.
The composition of the electrode coating affects the outcome of the weld; many different types of electrodes and coatings are available, making stick welding an incredibly versatile process. This, and the lack of external gas source, means that it can be performed almost anywhere. Power can be supplied via alternating or direct current, or by a generator - making it ideal for remote areas.
Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
- Ideal for thicker, heavier metals
- Suitable for contaminated base metals
- Fast process
- Visually pleasing weld
- More cleanup required
- Good for windy environments
Flux-cored arc welding, also known as FCAW, is another easy-to-learn welding skill that doesn’t require too much expensive equipment, so it’s a good option for those just starting out. FCAW is often used in construction thanks to its suitability for thicker, heavier metals.
Similar to MIG welding, flux-cored welding uses a continuously fed electrode.
In fact, many MIG welding machines can also be used for FCAW welding. The difference is that, with FCAW, the electrode has a flux core that contains the filler material. When it melts, gases are released to create the shield, so an external gas supply is not necessary - though it can be used, and be advantageous, for certain applications. This makes it relatively portable and a good choice for external applications - though the results are usually not as aesthetically pleasing as other types of weld.
The welding process
Even though the methods vary, the welding process generally follows these steps.
1. Choose your welding method
The first thing you need to decide is the welding method required for the job. You’ll need to consider: the material being welded, the surrounding environment, how good the weld needs to look, and your budget.
2. Get your equipment
The right welding equipment is essential to the success of the job - and more importantly, your safety. You will need:
- The welder itself
- Welding helmet
- Safety goggles (optional)
- Leather gloves
- A leather jacket or welding apron
- Heat resistant clothing and work boots
3. Prepare the weld
Clean the metals to be welded of any oil, grease and contaminants. A wire brush and acetone is particularly effective. Cut your metal to size if you need to. Grind the edges of the metals where you plan to weld, to help add structural integrity and create space for the filler.
4. Prepare yourself
Make sure you’re equipped with all the appropriate safety equipment, including a fire extinguisher - you’re dealing with heat and electricity, remember!
5. Layer the weld
The first step of welding is called tack welding. This is where you weld along the edges of the metals, just enough to join them. The process is then repeated to create a second layer and the final weld. Your aim is to repeat a smooth, fluid motion to achieve the best results. When you’ve reached the end of the weld, let it cool down to finish the job.
Tip: Focus on the edge of the melt puddle, not the arc, to create a neater weld.
6. Grind the weld
This is an optional step to improve the appearance of the weld. If looks don’t matter, feel free to skip this step! Lightly grinding your weld with a right-angle grinder can help to create a smooth finish - just be careful not to push too hard as you may end up having to start over!
Welding Career Opportunities
Welding is a highly skilled trade that offers versatility, challenges, and decent pay on a daily basis. One way or another, welding spans almost every industry: construction, engineering, agriculture, industry, manufacturing, aerospace, maritime, military, education, business, and even sales.
There is a huge shortage of skilled welding technicians in the USA, UK, and many other countries, so with enough skill and experience under your belt, the world is your oyster.