Man welding large square pipe on ground of construction site

Arc Welding 101: A Beginner's Guide

If you’ve ever worked with metal before, chances are you’ve at least wanted to weld at some point. The process of arc welding is an essential skill for any handyman or metalworker to learn.

It lets you efficiently join metal together for various tasks in various fields. Plus, once you get good at it, it becomes much easier and eventually becomes one of those quick and easy repair jobs you could feel comfortable doing in your sleep.

However, if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re pretty far from that being your reality.

We get that arc welding can be an intimidating type of work to get involved in. Not only does it look particularly dangerous with its electrical beams and high-temperature flames – it truly is dangerous to get involved in, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing.

That’s why we wanted to put together this beginner’s guide. The more you understand arc welding and how the process works, the more you’ll be able to identify the needs for certain steps in the welding process.

When you know how something works, you can better identify when things have gone wrong and that you need to take action. Let’s get into arc welding and how it works!

Welder using torch to weld metal pipe

What Is Arc Welding?

Let’s assume that you’re a total newcomer to welding. You see a welder holding a machine that spits lightning, and you have no clue what you’re looking at. Why are they wearing a mask? What supplies the electricity?

What parts make up the welding machine that they’re using? The less you know, the simpler the process might appear, but you are going to need to fully understand all the different parts that make up the welding process if you’re going to be able to approach arc welding with any confidence.

There are four kinds of arc welding. These are gas metal arc welding, shielded metal arc welding, flux cored arc welding, and gas tungsten arc welding. Generally, arc welding occurs when an electric arc (imagine a tiny lightning bolt) is established between an electrode and a piece of metal.

This arc aims to heat that piece of metal so that it can be melted to join two other pieces of metal together. The arc welding process results in the two metal pieces being bonded together so that it is very difficult to break apart.

You can use many different kinds of electrodes to bond different types of metals together. If you’re new to welding, you might not know about all the alloys, but each can require a different kind of electrode.

Welders will also often need to use flux, a cleaning material that is added to filler metal to ensure it is bonded properly between the two pieces of metal being joined.

Now, we know what you might be thinking – that this is all quite a lot. And you’d be right! Arc welding is a complicated process with a lot of moving parts to it.

Safety Equipment You Need to Start Arc Welding

If you’re looking to start arc welding for the first time, there is quite a lot of equipment you’ll want to get your hands on. We’ll do our best to name everything you’ll need. Firstly, we should discuss safety equipment.

Arc welding works by utilizing voltage and turning it into an electrical arc to melt metal – not only is this arc harmful to your eyes, but its high temperatures pose another threat. You also need to be on the watch for sparks and molten metal, as they can turn any flammable substance near you into an instant conflagration.

The safety equipment you’ll need for arc welding includes the following items:

  • Face shield – A welding helmet will come with a face shield for several purposes. It will protect your face from flying sparks, hot slag, and more, and it will also help keep your eyes from being damaged by the brightness emitted by your welding arc.
  • Respirators – Arc welding heat metal, causing it to melt, spark, and smoke. Depending on the type of metal you’re interacting with and the type of flux you use during the welding, many harmful fumes might be emitted into the air. The proper respirator can protect you and your lungs from harmful fumes and gasses that enter the air due to the arc welding process.
  • Proper clothing – Not only is it a good idea to invest in clothing that has been treated to be resistant to heat, but you should also wear the right kind of pants and shirts. Pants should have no cuff, and any shirt pockets should be covered and taped down. This is because you will want to minimize the chance of molten metal from becoming trapped in your clothing. If it lands in your pant cuffs or shirt pocket, it could be quite difficult to separate from your person. You’ll also want to ensure you wear tight shirt sleeves and that the opening around your neck is skin-tight.
  • Ear muffs – While you might think that ear muffs aren’t necessary because arc welding is a pretty quiet activity, the truth is that you’re going to want to be covering up every part of yourself as much as you can. Ear muffs can protect the inside of your ears from the harmful metal being splattered and the unnecessary intrusion of sparks.

Industrial welder working in automotive factory

Arc Welding Equipment You’ll Need to Get Started

Now that we’ve highlighted the safety equipment you will need to make your arc welding dreams a reality, let’s get to the main course: the arc welding equipment itself.

Now, some arc welding processes aren’t required for every piece of equipment we go over here, and we’ll do our best to explain why that is for certain processes, but we want to be as thorough as possible with our equipment list.

  • Welding machine – A welding machine is a piece of equipment that’s integral to the arc welding process. It enables you to convert electricity into the proper welding voltage. Different welding processes might have welding machines made up of various components, but they are generally made up of a transformer, a fan for cooling purposes, and a dial that allows you to select your amperage. Amperage refers to the amount of electricity being transferred to the electrode, the tool on your welding machine that transmits the arc to the filler metal.
  • Electrodes or welding rodsElectrodes refer to wire rods that may be consumable or non-consumable. A consumable electrode is a wire rod covered in flux, which burns away during welding. Non-consumable electrodes can be made of tungsten or other sturdy materials, which are not burned away during welding. Electrodes can be made of different alloys and metals – this is because certain metals being joined will need different types of electrodes to join them properly.
  • Leads – Leads are conductors typically made of copper, insulated to properly guide the electricity to whatever is being welded together. Leads are essential to ensuring the high amperage current gets to where it needs to go safely.
  • Ground clamps – These clamps also play an important role in welding. They help to ensure that any excess electricity is grounded so it doesn’t go where it shouldn’t. In other words, it helps ensure that everyone stays safe during welding.

Types of Arc Welding

We also briefly discussed the four types of arc welding that we mentioned previously. While we won’t go in-depth on these types, we think it’s important to distinguish them from one another so that our readers will at least have more knowledge about their purposes.

Gas Tungsten Arc Welding

Also known as TIG welding, gas tungsten arc welding uses inert gasses such as argon to shield the welding process (which utilizes a non-consumable tungsten electrode) from harmful atmospheric effects such as oxidation.

This complicated type of arc welding can prove challenging to master for newcomers. As a result, it is typically forsaken for the more commonly seen shielded metal arc welding because it is harder to learn and takes more time.

Now, you might be wondering what the benefits of this arc welding process are, and that is a bit easier to comprehend. TIG welding gives the welder more control over the entire welding process and results in stronger welds being formed.

Flux-cored Arc Welding

Flux-cored arc welding is a process that is usually run automatically so that no human welder controls the welding process. This arc welding process makes use of a consumable electrode that is fed continuously into the rod holder.

This process usually doesn’t make use of a shielding gas or metal. Instead, it relies on using flux to protect the weld from harmful environmental factors, such as oxidation or atmospheric contaminants. However, some variations of a flux-cored arc welding process use an externally-supplied shielding gas.

Gas Metal Arc Welding

One of the most common types of welding, gas metal arc welding, uses a consumable electrode to form an electric arc between the welding machine and whatever metal is being welded. It is possibly the fastest welding process, making it a favorite for steel and aluminum welding.

The process makes use of shielding gas to protect from environmental factors. Although this process initially primarily used inert gasses to shield from atmospheric effects, semi-inert options such as carbon dioxide became available.

Gas metal arc welding is usually conducted indoors because it relies on gasses to protect it from the atmosphere. If conducted outside, too many contaminants and possible weather effects could interrupt the process.

Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Our last type of welding process is shielded metal arc welding, which uses flux-covered consumable electrodes to protect the process from external factors.

This is probably the most popular welding process in the world, as it is highly efficient and perhaps the easiest and most accessible type of welding.

It is also a highly versatile process that you can apply to welding many different kinds of metals, including stainless steel, copper and copper alloys, iron, nickel, and aluminum.

Understanding Arc Welding

Arc welding is a complicated process that isn’t easy to break down. In fact, it’s one of the more complex kinds of jobs that you’re likely to get involved in if you’re just getting into the trades.

However, once you get the basics of arc welding, each type becomes more approachable. If you’re intimidated by the arc welding process and its variations, you’re far from alone.

However, don’t let your lack of experience deter you from learning how to weld yourself. It is an incredibly useful skill with all kinds of real-world applications, and we hope our brief guide on the topic proved educational to you. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your future welding endeavors.

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