What you absolutely need, what would be a decent set-up and, what would be nice to have to get started in TIG welding in your home shop.
The last couple of weeks i have seen the same question pop up in several different places, facebook groups, forums, etc. And these questions didn’t come from people looking for a job, but hobbyists, guys messing around in their garage.
“I want to get into TIG welding, how should i do?”
It might have something to do with that i fixed up an old welder recently (Link to youtube), you know how you tend to notice things you are interested in all around you.
Well that strikes me as an excellent article.
One thing to remember is that the learning curve is different depending on how much money you are willing to spend to get a TIG welding rig. The curve looks something like this:
The cheaper options are not the best way o get started. The learning curve is really steep, up to a point where it straightens out. And where it straightens out is where you get the most bang for your buck.
But on the flip side, if you learn to get god welds with the most basic setup you can get good welds with anything.
I’m going to assume you don’t know anything about TIG welding so lets start with a short introduction to it. (If you already know the basics you can skip ahead).
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding or TIG, Tungsten Inert Gas, is manual welding method where you create an electrical arc from a Tungsten electrode in the handle (torch) to the parent material.
The arc can be started in several ways, the most common is High Frequency start, where a high frequency pulse helps to ionize the gas for the arc (make the gas conductive). Since the tungsten is not in contact with this method the risk of contaminating the parent metal is minimal.
The arc is protected by a shielding gas that usually is pure Argon but different Argon helium mixtures are used as well.
Filler material is added by hand so changing material is as simple as picking up another rod. This makes the method an attractive one to have access to in my mind.
There are also semi-automatic TIG torches with a wire feeder as well as fully mechanised and automatic versions.
For optimum results it is beneficial to have an electronically controlled power source that can regulate the welding current in the following manner.
- Gas pre-flow: this ensures that the oxygen is removed before the arc is lit.
- Slope up: A gradual increase in the welding current that prevents the tip of the tungsten to burn off.
- Welding current: The current use for welding.
- Slope Down: This prevents the formation of Pipes.
- Gas post flow: To ensure that the hot metal is protected from oxygen while it cools.
They come in all sizes, from 80 amps to 450-500 amps and the cost increases with the power output. For your home needs something between 150-200 amps for a DC welder is usually more than enough.
If you want an AC welder, for Aluminium, you might want to look for something around 250 amps, Aluminium is a better conductor of heat so you need more power to weld it.
Now that you know what TIG welding is, let’s talk about what you need.
This will get a bit basic but bear with me.
First and foremost you need a welding helmet. There are several options available, from 10-20 Eur to 1000-1500 Eur. In the lower end we have a piece of dark glass in a plastic helmet and at the higher end we have auto-darkening helmets with fresh air supply and grinding visor.
If you want a nice helmet for a decent price, stay away from the cheap chinese auto-darkening helmets. They look good on paper but after a while they stop darkening as reliably and then they start blinking as you weld and that sucks, quite literally.
Instead go for a non auto helmet from a known manufacturer, something similar to this one: Hobart Flip Front Welding Helmet.
If you are determined to get an auto-darkening helmet, don’t get the cheapest one you find. Be prepared to pay at least a 100 eur for a good one. Both Milller and 3M has good entry level options. Although the 3M helmet is a fair bit more expensive.
A pair of thin gloves, preferably with leather on the back of the hand as well. You don’t have to get specific welding gloves if you don’t want to, a trip to the landscaping store might suffice to find something decent.
The one more thing I would recommend, but it is not a necessity, is some type of fireproof coverall or work coat. At least try to not wear to many synthetics when you weld, they tend to burn quite easily.
The bare minimum
The MVP, minimum viable product, for TIG welding actually is an arc welder. Any arc welder, DC or AC, can be used for TIG welding. You only need to two things: A torch/hose with a gas valve, a gas bottle and you’re all set.
This is called a scratch-start TIG. It is called that because you actually scratch the tungsten against the metal to light the arc. In opposition to HF start you do run the risk of contaminating the parent metal With this method.
One way to avoid this is to flick the back side of your filler rod between the metal and tungsten. This way you only contaminate the back end of your filler metal. Click here if you want to see it in action. I have no affiliation with weldingtipsandtricks.com by the way.
Since the power source is not electronically controlled you don’t have slope up or down functions. Without slope down it is difficult to avoid pipes at the end of your welds.
- It is cheap.
- Many already have access to an arc welder.
- Harder to learn.
- Risk of contaminating the metal.
- The welding process is not electronically controlled.
The decent set up
This is where i think most of you should start out. For this you actually need to get a TIG welder. An electronically controlled power source with HF start.
You will need to spend a bit more money here but in return you get a much shorter learning period and better results from the first time you start the arc.
This is also the type of machines that 95% of fab and pipe welding shops use so if you would be interested in making your new hobby a career the transition would easy.
There are 2 ways to get started at this level:
Buy an older used machine from a known manufacturer. If you keep an I on the used market you can make some good deals here. I myself recently got an old pulsed DC TIG for 150 Eur (Fixing the TIG 180 Part 1). (We can talk about what pulsed welding is at a later date)
Things to look out for is older high end machines.
My TIG 180 is an old, transformer, machine. These usually have a very stable arc but they are heavier, bigger, and if they break down it might be hard to get them fixed because of the age. You could also get a more modern power source, but they tend to cost more.
Brands to keep an eye out for is Fronius, EWM, Lincoln, Miller, Esab etc. If you do a quick search and check some forums it Is quite easy to see what most people consider to be quality machines.
- You get a high quality machine.
- Good support from dealers.
- Easy to find information about the product.
- It might take some time to find the machine you want.
- You might not get the exact machine you want.
- The price can still be high if you want a bigger machine.
You can go the import route.
The last couple of years the market has been flooded with cheap welding machines from China. You only have to do a quick Ebay search to find a ton of them.
You can find the same machine in different colours and with different logos but they are still the same.
As with everything there are different levels of quality here as well. I think you should stay away from the cheapest ones you can find on Ebay. But one level up there are some OK options.
These machines usually have a local importer, that either use their brand name or the brand name of the producer. These machines are not clones of each other as often, it looks like they are actually built in different factories in China.
I have even come across machines were the components are sourced from China but assembled in Europe.
I myself have a welder of the brand Stahlwerk. It is cheap multi machine with combined TIG welder and plasma cutter. It has HF start and post gas flow but that’s it. No other settings apart from the current.
I have had it for 10 years now and it still works. I haven’t used it too heavy since it is only in my home shop, but 10 years is still a good lifetime for a cheap machine.
- You get a full fledged TIG welder with all the settings you want.
- You get a new welder at a decent price. Usually between 500 and 1000 Eur for a good sized machine of ok quality.
- The quality is hit or miss, if you’re unlucky you may have some issues.
- The support from the local dealer can vary so do your research before buying.
- The cheapest ones might not fulfill the basic electrical safety standards of your area, again, do your research before buying.
The nice to have rig
This is really not for the beginner. When you get to this level you know what you need, know how to use it, and have the money to buy it.
You should fully expect to pay between 1500 and 4000 eur for a machine in this category. Even if it is a used one. I made an absolute killing when I bought my Fronius Transtig 1750 PULS for 1150 eur used 6 years ago. If I were to have gotten it new it would have cost me 2700 eur.
But at the time this machine helped pay my bills.
Unfortunately it broke down recently and the cost to fix it would be almost what I payed for it 6 years ago, and right now that machine doesn’t pay the bills so i can’t justify the cost.
I fully intend to fix it because it is an absolute joy to use, but not right now.
The machines in this category are Fronius, EWM, Oerlikon, Miller, and Selco just to name a couple. There are some more but not too many.
These are machines you can use and abuse year out and year in without a problem, and in the home shop they will last a lifetime.
The dealers are helpful, if the machine does break down you will get the support you need and they will in almost every case be able to fix the machine. You will get premium service, but expect to pay a premium for it.
I called this section the “nice to have”,and that is what these machines are, nice to have. But in the home shop they are not necessary.
- Good support.
- Easy to find information about dealers, accessories etc.
- They are expensive, very expensive.
The decent set up is what I think most home gamers should look into. There is an entry level cost yes, but this is where I think you would get the most bang for your buck so to say.
The cost isn’t to high, the machines are of a decent quality. and the learning curve isn’t to steep. TIG welding is not the easiest welding method to start with, so to make it as easy as possible is a good idea.
So now that you have your welder, how do you weld with it? That is an entirely different subject though. If you want me to write something about it or maybe shoot a film, please let me know. Or there are several different sources, such as http://www.weldingtipsandtricks.com/, you can find more with a quick youtube search.
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Til next time.