TIG Welding: What Is It, Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Tips

Think again if you believe that welding involves only one method.

Or that the variations you see are just special techniques that the craftsmen thought of doing to make the job easier.

It may not be that obvious to an untrained eye, but there are different types of welding that professionals make use of depending on the material they are using and the kind of project they are doing. These different types will also have different results, although they all achieve the basic goal, which is to join pieces of metal together.

If you can’t differentiate one method from the other just yet, don’t worry because it is a common dilemma and we are here to help you out, no matter if you want to find the right plasma cutter or simply keep reading this article.

For starters, we will talk about TIG, which remains one of the most widely used methods around. We will tell you what it is, some valuable tips if you want to try it out, and how it should be used when fusing materials such as aluminum and stainless steel.

So, let’s get to it!

What is it?

By now, you may be wondering what TIG welding is, especially if it is your first time to hear about it. It stands for tungsten inert gas, which is its main component. It is also known as gas tungsten arc welding, or GTAW, and is one of the arc types. Tungsten is used because of its high melting point, which is ideal for fusing.

When using it, an arc is made between the tungsten electrode, which is non-consumable and is attached to the torch, and the material. This arc is surrounded by an inert gas, typically helium or argon, that functions as a shielding gas to prevent oxidation and contamination of the metals while welding.

The arc produces enough heat to create a molten pool. As this molten pool forms, a filler material is typically added to it that melts and mixes with the pool. This filler material comes in the form of a rod and is separately held, which means you hold the torch in one hand and the filler rod in the other hand. The seam is formed when the molten pool mixed with filler material cools down.

Filler materials that can be used vary, and among these are stainless steel, aluminum, nickel, and mild steel. Doing it without using filler material is also possible, but it can affect the quality of the work.

Advantages and Disadvantages

With the different types available, you might ask yourself why you should choose TIG over others in projects where other types can also be used. To answer that, you need to discover its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Produces a high-quality result and superior bead that does not sacrifice the strength of the joint and is corrosion-resistant
  • A high-purity fuse is created because it requires working in a completely clean environment and with clean materials
  • Generally affordable
  • While it is typically done manually, automation is possible for orbital TI
  • No flux, which means any hassles or issues involving slag is avoided
  • Little to no touchups or finishing process needed afterwards because of the quality of weld made
  • Offers versatility because it can be used to fuse various materials
  • Its small heat zone lessens any possible distortions and allows the craftsman to work with thinner materials
  • No fumes, sparks, spatter, and flames produced in most cases
  • Allows you to work on even small joints, as well as hard to reach sections that other methods are not capable of
  • Offers more control
  • Torch with a pen-like design and size allows the welder to create intricate designs, that is why it is also used in creating art
  • Welding is possible in all positions
  • Ideal if you need gas-tight joints
  • Two-handed operation offers convenience if you need to switch filler rods
  • Autogenous or filler-free welds are possible
  • Defective results are rare
  • Continuous work is possible because of the non-consumable tungsten electrode used

Disadvantages

  • Working with dirty materials and environment will weaken the joint formed
  • Its deposition rate is low, which means you need to work slowly to get the kind of weld you need; a slow pace is needed for a successful result
  • Cannot be used to fuse thick materials
  • Using this method requires training; it cannot be done by anyone without proper knowledge of the process
  • It is harder to separate two metals welded together, such as when recycling metals, and doing so will likely damage both base materials
  • Requires the use of both hands and one foot for the pedal at the same time when working
  • Can be more expensive than other types, particularly because of the shielding gas and equipment used
  • Produces high levels of UV rays, requiring a craftsman to use the right glasses or helmet at all times when working

It is important to know all these advantages and disadvantages before deciding whether this method is suitable for your project or you should consider other types.

MIG vs TIG

MIG vs TIG – two different types that are often used interchangeably, and it is easy to see why.

For starters, even their names are already quite similar. Their basic function is also the same, which is to fuse two metals together, and they both require a shielding gas. But this is basically where their similarities end. By now, you are already quite familiar with TIG so it will be a lot easier to understand their differences.

Unlike TIG, MIG only requires one-handed operation and MIG is therefore considered a point-and-shoot process – you only have to point the gun at the location you want to work on and press the trigger to start. This makes it a method that is fairly easy to do even for beginners.

It requires a filler rod held separately, while the filler material in the form of a wire is directly fed to the gun in MIG, so it is automatically added as you work. This means the process is simplified and offers faster work, allowing you to work at a faster pace and increase productivity. Unfortunately, this also means that the joint created is not as strong as the one created via TIG.

MIG is much more suitable for thicker materials, whereas TIG is best for thinner ones. And while it offers a high-quality finish, the same cannot be said for MIG because small holes are often formed at the joints. And because MIG costs less overall, this makes it suitable for most applications, while the more expensive TIG is ideal for specialized ones.

There are also other minor differences between the two methods, but these are the major ones that you should be aware of.

Basic Tips for Beginners

If you consider yourself a beginner, these basic tips will be of great help to you once you learn the ropes through training, and they can also help if you’re currently in the process of finding that right TIG to get you started:

  • Keep it clean. If you want the best quality result possible, you must ensure that both your working environment and the materials you wild be welding are completely free of impurities, such as dust and rust.
  • Safety first. Never forget to wear your safety gear when working.
  • Choose the right tungsten. The method involves the use of tungsten, and there are different types available. Always match the material to the right type of tungsten.
  • Also, consider the thickness of the tungsten. If it is too thin, it can overheat quickly. But if it is too thick, it will need more heat once you start using your torch.
  • Less power is more. Choose the lowest power setting that you can handle or sustain because too much power will likely cause it to burn through the material.
  • The angle is key. While you can weld in all positions, make sure that there is a 15 to 20-degree angle between your torch and the metal and away from the travel direction. This allows you to easily work with the filler material and offers better visibility as you work.
  • Avoid the common rookie mistaking involving the filler. You should always allow the filler rod to be melted by the molten pool created by the torch because using the torch to melt the filler material will only result in a weak bond.
  • Never allow the tungsten tip to touch the molten pool. This will cause the tip to become contaminated. When this happens, you must regrind it first using a diamond grinding wheel before restarting if you want a high-quality weld. And when grinding, do it as even as you possibly can and in a lengthwise direction.
  • Keep it slow, steady, and consistent. You need to work carefully and at a controlled and steady pace to produce a uniform result. Also, there should be a small gap, ideally only 1/8 to 3/16 inch, between the base material and the electrode.

These are just some of the many tips that you need to take note of when you are still mastering this craft. TIG is a more specialized type, but it does not mean beginners like you should not attempt it.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a challenging material to weld because of its excellent heat retention, which can cause it to warp, rust, and become brittle when being welded. Because of these characteristics, only a few of the available welding types can be used for it, and one of these is the TIG method.

While it can be used for stainless steel following the usual process, extra care is needed when doing so. Aside from choosing the correct type of tungsten, gas, and filler material, ensuring that your workplace is clean, and that the tungsten tip is properly sharpened, you must also focus on the heat being applied to the metal.

Using too much heat increases the risk of warping, that is why it is important that just the right amount of heat is applied to stainless steel and this can be determined by the color of the weld. If you are using the right amount of heat, the color should range from a flaxen or light-yellowish to a salmon color. But if you see that the weld is grayish or dark in color, it means that too much heat is being applied.

To prevent this, increase the speed of travel of the torch and reduce amperage at the same time. You can also opt for a thinner filler rod so that it can melt much faster at moderate heat. And to prevent the coloring common to welding stainless steel, it is a good idea to stop every now and then as you work and allow the material to cool, especially once you start noticing discolorations while working.

Aluminum

TIG is often associated with aluminum because the majority of projects done through this method involves aluminum. But just like stainless steel, aluminum has properties that also make it complicated to work with. Additionally, there are no color changes as you weld, making it hard to determine if you are doing it right.

Not only is it an excellent conductor of heat, but the oxide layer present on the surface of aluminum has a higher melting point than the base material itself. This means you need precision in terms of the heat to surpass the oxide layer while at the same time prevent the base material from overheating. That is why when working with aluminum, remember the following:

  • Use a stainless steel brush to clean and remove the oxide layer before welding aluminum. Do so in one direction only and use the same brush for aluminum only.
  • Weld aluminum using an AC or alternating current polarity, as this will remove the oxide layer that quickly reforms after cleaning with the stainless steel brush.
  • To prevent burning through the base material and creating distortions, increase the speed of travel as you weld but make sure that the current is set high enough. If done too slow, it will burn through the base material.
  • The arc should not be high enough nor too close. Make sure that it is just close enough so that the heat is concentrated on a small area only.

It offers you more control as you work, which is needed in aluminum. This is why even if MIG can also be used on aluminum, TIG is the method of choice for many craftsmen working with this material.

Copper

Another metal that can be quite a challenge to work on but is doable using this method is copper. This metal is known for its high conductivity, which means it will quickly heat up once you start. But at the same time, this property means that the pool created quickly dissipates because copper cools it down quickly.

That is why when working with copper, you also need to work fast and hot. Not only that but pre-heating the entire material using a propane torch will aid in preventing the molten pool from immediately solidifying. Copper is also prone to warping so if you are working on thin sheets of copper and require it to retain its shape, this method may not work for you.

Proper cleaning and ventilation in your workplace are also important. Copper is known to oxidize and form a patina, which must be removed using a stainless-steel brush with fine bristles. While it is generally fumeless, any fumes generated when fusing copper is hazardous that is why proper ventilation is important. Also, the high heat required to work can be potentially dangerous if flammable items are in close proximity; it can get hot enough to ignite them.

Because of the versatility of the method, always make sure that you are using the right materials for your project, especially in terms of the tungsten electrode, filler rod, and shielding gas; they need to be appropriate for your base material if you want to produce a high-quality results, like the types that can be achieved with an engine driven welder. Also, make sure to undergo training before attempting this method. It requires specialization, but it can still be done by a beginner trained to do so.

Are you ready to buy your machine?

We hope that this informative article helped answer some of the questions that you may have, and that you now have a better understanding as to whether that is the right type for you, or whether you are perhaps going to be pursuing your interests in a different area.

While it may initially seem a little bit more difficult to get started with this method, it does provide a range of benefits over MIG, and now may in fact be the easiest time for you to get started with this new skill and really start incorporating it, before you become accustomed to an easier solution.

While you are now on your own to start exploring some of the other articles and videos on the topic, we would heavily encourage you to consider reading our article that compares MIG and TIG in greater depth than we did in the existing article. If you are ready to buy a welder at present time, we encourage you to visit our page where we have listed what we believe are the absolute best options for you to go wit, where we have also gathered 3rd party reviews for the different options, and we try to give you a thorough understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each of the machines that we have listed. While you will usually get more functionality when you are investing in a more expensive TIG machine, our ultimate mission is to ensure that anyone that makes it onto our website are in fact getting the service that best suits their budget and needs. We don’t want you to simply order one that is expensive when there is a cheaper option that could get the job done adequately well for you. Rather, we are on a mission to teach you everything that you need to know, so as to ensure that you are in fact making the right decision when you are ready to buy, whether you choose to do so from us or another company.

Our long term goal is that we end up becoming your trusted source of information, where you start your journey, no matter if you are looking to buy a fuel transfer tank, a wide belt sander, a waste oil heater or a portable sawmill.

When you get ready to pursue your interest in buying one, we have all the best options lined up where you can take a look at them and see which one best suits your needs.

It’s important to know that there are welders available in all sorts of different price brackets, so before you start buying the most expensive equipment, or the least expensive equipment for that matter, it’s a good idea to get a better understanding of which features would be good for you. Do you have a type of metal that you will typically be welding, where one type is far superior to another, then you may want to think about that as you’re looking at the different models too.

Other resources

While we are very much in the business of selling equipment to pros, especially welding equipment, there is so much more to our platform than that with a growing number of resources that you might find interesting. Some of the ones that we want to highlight right now include the one on oxy torch settings, our article on adding a shower to a half bath, and which gauge wire you should use for a 30 amp breaker. These are all resources that we have spent a long time putting together, and hope are useful for you!

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