Torch Position and Laying Welds

It pays to practice on scrap sheet until you have a good technique before trying any project welding. Welding fabricators are often happy to sell off-cuts from their scrap bins for cash. Select a few different thicknesses. A good thickness for a first practice session is 1.5mm.

That's thick enough to stop blowing holes being a big issue, and is a handy thickness for experimenting with power settings.

Preparing the metal

Metal needs to be completely clean of rust or paint before welding. Not just because it is difficult to arc against a dirty surface, but because any contaminants will tend to find their way into the weld and reduce it's strength. An area should be cleaned for the earth clamp mounting too.

Light use of an angle grinder or flap wheel will quickly remove surface rust and paint, and for more inaccessible areas an air grinder or dremmel can be effective.

Cleaning up the metal

Holding the torch

MIG can be used one handed, but it's much easier when you can use both hands to steady the torch. Throw away the hand held mask that came with the welder and buy a full face mask. Welding control will be further improved if you can rest an arm against something solid.

In the photo the left arm is resting on the chassis and supporting the neck of the torch. The back of the fingers are too close to the weld will get hot quickly, but this position should be fine for a short period of welding.

The head is angled to one side to make the weld pool visible (the gas shroud gets in the way).

Holding the welding torch in both hands

Positioning the tip

I tend to angle the torch at maybe 20 degrees from vertical with the shroud angled forward.

The contact tip should be about 6mm to 10mm from the metal to be welded, so cutting the wire about 10mm long and holding the torch so the wire touches the sheet is a good way to position a MIG welder.

Orientation of the welding torch

Welder movement

There are a variety of torch movements used in MIG welding. Generally some form of zig-zag or weaving motion is used to ensure the arc acts against both sheets to be welded.

For thinner metal I prefer a curved zig-zag as illustrated in the photo.

Welding motion

Video

It's much easier to lay weld onto a sheet of steel than to do a join, so it's best to practice technique that way.

After a couple of seconds welding a liquid weld pool should develop.

If the weld pool becomes too large (welding too slowly or too high power settings) it might create a hole in the metal. Weld too quickly and the weld will not penetrate through the metal.

600Kb Flash video preloads before playing and includes sound.

Welding direction

This page describes welding in the "push" direction. Pushing the torch rather than pulling is a good habit to get into as it improves coverage of shielding gas.

For thin mild steel welded horizontally the direction of welding doesn't make a great deal of difference to the weld, so if visibility is better with the pull technique then that can be used.

Push and pull travel compared

Practice laying welds until the welds start looking neat. It should only take a couple of hours practice to get a feel for MIG welding.

The welds in the photo were mostly made by a first time MIG welder using initial settings for wire speed and power setting from the calculator.

Spend a little time laying welds on sheet to get a feel for welding on different power settings before trying to join two pieces of metal. And keep working through the tutorial for more tips.

Practice welds

What mistakes are you going to make?

I've taught a few people to weld and the same mistakes happen every time. Here are some trouble-shooting tips for when the same thing happens to you:

  • You'll hold the torch too far from the metal. If you don't bang the shroud against the metal you are welding every now and again you'll probably be holding the torch too far away. Some DIY welders suggest touching the shroud against the metal to help hold position, but that's just a little a too close and you'll overheat the contact tip which makes the wire stick. I bang the shroud against the metal often even after 15 years of DIY welding.
  • You'll move the torch too fast. You'll end up with a tall thin weld doing it that way, and you'll have real trouble joining two bits of metal together later on in this tutorial. Use some sort of regular side to side movement as you go along. That'll make the weld wider and less tall, and will help control your speed of travel. If you blow holes then turn down the power and wire speed. If you still blow holes then practice on something a bit thicker until you get the hang of it.
Next: DIY MIG Welding > MIG > Tutorial > Fine tuning wire speedtop