As the industry continues to face a shortage of skilled labor while also seeing an increase in reshoring, training new welders has become an increasing necessity for companies. For welding operations focused on TIG welding, training is a greater challenge because the process is considered the most difficult to learn. Some key best practices and new technologies, however, can help.
Along with teaching new welders how to TIG weld, it’s also critical to instill a solid knowledge about welding safety. From the use of proper personal protection equipment (PPE) to ensuring a safe, clean work environment, new welders must understand how to safeguard themselves and others while welding.
TIG tips and tech
In some cases, welders learning TIG welding may already have experience in another process, such as MIG or stick welding. This experience can expedite the TIG welding learning curve because they will have an understanding of welding fundamentals, such as gun or torch angles and travel speeds. Further establishing these skills, along with reliable hand-eye coordination, is critical to TIG welding success. For those entirely new to TIG welding, patience and practice are of utmost importance.
In both cases, starting slow is a good first step. Trainers should have new welders start by working on a simple operation. Tacking small pieces together can give welders a feel for holding the TIG torch, as can creating autogenous welds – joining two pieces of metal together without the addition of a filler metal.
Autogenous welding provides a sense of how to control heat input, establish appropriate travel speeds and read the weld pool while also encouraging good hand-eye coordination. As a next step, welders can try welding an inch or two at a time with a filler rod on a flat plate before attempting an actual joint.
As welders gain more confidence and start to weld on joints, they should follow these additional tips:
- For the best results, hold the TIG torch at a 70- to 80-degree angle. Tungsten distance to the workpiece is usually equal to tungsten diameter.
- New TIG welders should experiment with controlling the heat input using the foot pedal to gain control over weld pool size, which is determined by material thickness and amperage.
- After practicing autogenous welds, take the next step in TIG welding by adding filler metal. Hold the rod so it rests horizontally at approximately a 15-degree angle to the workpiece. Gently but quickly dab the filler metal in the weld pool after heating up the base material and keep a consistent travel speed.
- Keep practicing. Remember, not only are new TIG welders learning how to hold the proper torch angle and manage the filler rod, they are also learning to control the current level during the process.
As a side note, welding on mild steel, aluminum and stainless steel, particularly sections 1/8 in. or thicker, is ideal for learning to TIG weld.
In addition to employing these best practices, investing in the right welding technology can help simplify the training process for new TIG welders. Today’s inverter-based power sources, particularly when used in AC mode, offer better directional control of the arc than older transformer machines, and they provide balance and frequency adjustments to improve performance. They can help ease and expedite the training process.
Some new TIG welding power sources or multi-process machines feature preset functions that eliminate the guesswork when setting welding parameters. For example, the welder can select material thickness and the machine will set the balance of frequency and amperage automatically, making it easy to start welding right away.
In addition to training new welders on TIG welding techniques, it is absolutely necessary to teach them about welding safety.
Using quality PPE and employing safe welding practices must be a top priority. Welding PPE includes, but is not limited to, eye, face, hand and body protection. In addition, welders should understand the importance of having a clean welding environment. The welding area or facility should be evaluated to ensure appropriate ventilation and respiratory protection.
A welding helmet is one of the essential pieces of PPE for any welder. The welding helmet provides vital protection from infrared and ultraviolet light while still allowing the welder to see the arc clearly enough to create a quality weld. Safety and compliance are foundational features of any helmet. In the United States, welding helmets need to meet ANSI standards.
Specific to TIG welding, welders should be certain their helmet darkens to the recommended ANSI Z49.1:2012 shade guide of 10 to 14, pending the arc amperes output. With low-amperage TIG welding, welders may consider selecting a helmet that offers optic enhancement to gain a better view of the weld puddle. Also, train new TIG welders to always wear safety glasses under the welding helmet.
Welding jackets, gloves and apparel can be found in every welding facility, but not all products are created equal. It is important to select protective welding apparel made of materials that will perform best according to the specific application. This apparel should be rated and meet the appropriate OSHA/ANSI and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. TIG welders may want to consider a lighter weight jacket because they are not subjected to as intense heat as with other processes, and the lighter material allows greater dexterity.
It is also critical that the apparel is comfortable. Apparel that is too big or small can decrease performance and increase the risk of injury.
As with any welding process, making sure new TIG welders know that wearing the best protection for the application is critical. It not only helps reduce injuries and downtime, but it also helps ensure optimal performance. If the protection is comfortable, has a good fit and provides the necessary protection, the welders will keep it on – increasing productivity and compliance.
Companies may continue to face a welder shortage for some time. In addition to providing new welders with hands-on TIG welding training, offer other resources to build their skills. Many equipment manufacturers have valuable training manuals and tutorials on their websites as well as safety information. These materials can help new welders gain additional knowledge to put to work as they are learning the TIG welding process.