Aug 29, 2023
How to Start Welding
Step One: Buy a Grinder hankohop We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more › While welding might not be a skill that you'll use
Step One: Buy a Grinder
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
While welding might not be a skill that you'll use every day, it opens you up to a whole new realm of possibilities. What was once a death sentence for parts or an out-of-the-question project altogether, is now suddenly within range.
It's not as simple as it seems, though, as welding is rather complicated, with layers of information regarding different machines and different projects and all the variables that need to be taken into account. It's intimidating, to say the least, and it can be hard to tell where to even start if you're on your own. Well, that's what I'm here for.
I'm still just learning the craft myself, so I don't exactly have the qualifications to teach you the finer points. But I can at least help you get started. After all, I'm teaching myself and know what the initial shock is like for those just jumping in. That said, you pros reading along are encouraged to drop some knowledge for beginners, including me, in the comments section.
You're eager to grab a machine and start practicing, but just like anything else, learning how to weld starts with research. Again, there's a lot to welding, and trying to learn it all at once is only going to slow you down. It's helpful to narrow your focus by determining what kind of projects you intend to tackle, as that largely determines what type of machine you need to start practicing with.
There are three primary types of machines: MIG, TIG, and Arc. Arc, or stick welding, is generally better suited for projects requiring thick pieces of metal, such as plate steel and angle iron. MIG and TIG are more popular for sheet metal and other thin materials. Resistance spot welders are another option for auto body work and are great for specific projects, but lack of flexibility makes other machines far more desirable to the typical DIYer.
Most of us in the automotive realm will pick up some type of a MIG welder to get started as it's the easiest to learn and can lay the types of welds most commonly used in this industry. However, TIG is ultimately superior for welding materials other than steel, working with thinner metals, and is generally more capable of creating clean, aesthetically pleasing welds.
To determine which machine you need to consider, start by reading about those with similar projects to yours and find out what they are using. Don’t just look at one source, though. Spread your research out a bit and get takes from a few different qualified individuals as it's the best way to get a feel of what’s best for your niche.
Don’t forget to pay attention to the power source any welder you’re considering runs on. Whether or not you’re willing to upgrade your existing power supply adds yet another layer to the process that you will have to factor into the decision-making process.
Once you determine the machine, now’s a good time to read into the common techniques that are used. Even if you can’t really take a crack at them until you have a machine, doing some homework ahead of time will give you an edge when the time comes to practice.
Unless you have a friend who’s willing to let you use their machine to practice, you’re going to have to hunt down your own. There are two schools of thought you can apply here. One, and the most attractive to beginners, is to buy a cheap welder to learn on and to grow into a professional unit as your skills advance.
I personally went with a cheap welder, as many do. Knowing that a MIG welder was the right fit for me, I started my research there. I took an interest in flux-core wire welding as it’s just the same as MIG in practice, but it doesn’t require costly bottles or machines to get up and running. This is an effective solution to the problem and is exceedingly popular for DIYers because of how affordable it is and it’s still able to do much of the work DIY mechanics take on. In fact, that's what I use to this day.
The downside to this approach is that there is a huge difference between cheap and premium welders as far as performance goes, especially with a wire-feed unit. Also, starting with a machine that can only use flux-core wire means I need to buy a different machine if I want to MIG weld. That brings me to the other school of thought, “buy once, cry once.”
A quality welder provides consistent performance and is easier to learn. Not only that, but the better units do last longer, and you'll have it for years on end, and you might not ever have to replace it as your skills progress. While it may be more expensive up front, you will save in the long run as you won’t need to buy another machine for a long time.
The welder might be central to this work, but it isn't the only tool you need to weld. There’s actually a whole subcategory of different tools you’ll invest in over time, and we can spend days talking about them. But to keep things moving, we’ll cover a few of the basics.
A welding helmet is the first additional piece of gear to invest in, as it’s just as critical to your performance as it is to your safety. Trust me, welder's flash sucks, and you don't need to learn that first-hand. You need a helmet that will prevent you from experiencing that while giving you a clear view of your puddle. I’m not saying you need a state-of-the-art helmet to get rolling, but it’s beneficial to buy something a few steps up from the cheapest model you can find. That said, a little bit of research into different helmets is worthwhile as rebranding is commonplace here, and you can find pro-level helmets with different stickers that really bring down the price.
Dedicated welding gloves and protective leathers are must-haves for this type of work, too.
Regardless of the work you’re into, a grinder with the right attachments is a key component of your arsenal. You'll need it to clean metal prior to welding, cut pieces to length, and, of course, dress down welds to pretty up the workpiece. A corded angle grinder is great for just starting out, but I highly recommend investing in a cordless right angle die grinder as the flexibility makes a massive difference in the tight spaces you’ll find yourself in.
What other tools you'll need depends on the work you intend to do. If you're into bodywork, spot weld clamps, riveting clamps, and butt weld clamps are just a few things you'll want on hand. And don't forget that welding often comes with the fabrication of your own panels, and you'll need some equipment to get into that as well.
To make a long story short, you need to think outside of the main piece of equipment. Take the time to research what tools are used for the work you’re about to take on so that you can arm yourself adequately.
With everything in place, all that's left is to go out and practice. It’s that simple. To get the best experience, it's worth going out and buying some sections of metal that resemble what you'll actually be working on and using it to learn. Practice on some pieces of sheet metal if you're going to do body work, small sections of tubing or exhaust, and so on.
At first, you'll want to practice the basic techniques, like getting a puddle to form and laying a bead without sticking pieces of metal together. Then, you'll want to start replicating real-world scenarios.
There are a lot of different welding techniques, and it can be frustrating to decide where to start. I found it made the most sense to practice welds I knew I’d put to use later based on the research I did earlier. For example, I started out by practicing spot welds. To do so, I’d take two sections of sheet metal, drill some holes in one, stack them together, then fill the holes.
Practicing lap welds is another great place to start. For that, you stagger two sections of scrap metal and practice joining them together where they overlap. These are very simple, but you can build off of the knowledge you gain from practicing them and grow into other, more complicated joints.
Trial by fire works best here. No. I don’t mean you need to set anything on fire, but do keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case. I’m saying that you just need to study the common practices put to use for the type of welder you’re using and the different joints you’ll encounter, but reading will only take you so far. You need to practice and fail, then practice some more.
One aspect to pay close attention to is your machine settings. While this may seem confusing, it couldn’t be more simple. The machine should have the settings you should use laid out for you printed on a sticker stuck somewhere to the surface, if they aren’t listed in the manual. This information tells you what the machine’s settings should be dialed to based on the thickness of the metal you’re working with. Over time, you will learn to tweak them to your hand but start by using the machine exactly as it tells you to. This eliminates as many variables as possible, giving you a better position to practice your form from.
The internet really is your friend here. You might not get the experience of a masterclass for free, but you will get the next best thing from the internet. It’s all about finding the right instructors for the type of welding you intend to take on. There are plenty of YouTube channels that do an excellent job of walking you through the basic and even some advanced techniques. It’s also great to regularly watch content with welding in the field as it gives you a good idea of the different challenges that are presented, and how to adapt.
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