Attending a college welding course

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Attending college

A large percentage of people attend further education to improve themselves. Indeed, most of the people I met, at a recent college welding course, were seriously hungry for more weld-time.

Having just completed a City & Guilds welding course, I can't really define what made me do it. I'm strictly a hobbyist welder, but, I'm glad I attended the course. I learnt far more than I thought I would. I managed to; broaden & cement more technical theory in place, tighten up my welding techniques, learn to test welds & I got to play with some really nice kit! The most rare & favourable pleasure of all, for me though, was being able to converse with, openly watch, & learn from, other welders while they worked. Each had their own style and employed slightly different techniques to achieve the same results.

The course I attended, ran for 12 weeks, 4 hours per week as an evening session. The evening times were between 5:30 and 9:30. The course cost £400, but there was some talk of this fee being reduced later in the year (as of; May, 2011), to £200, to appeal to a broader audience.

City & Guilds Awards in welding are, a vocational course, allowing an individual to directly develop expertise, in a particular group of techniques, or technology, such as practical welding skills.

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Drew Peacock receiving his award for Arc welding. “Do not worry, Deirdre. I will find work!”

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Miller 200DX Dynasty AC/DC


The tutors, facilities, equipment & consumables were all excellent. I enjoyed the rare opportunity of using different (3 phase) professional equipment, to that which I have at home. Some of the equipment, at the college I attended, is listed below:

  • Miller 200DX Dynasty AC/DC with water cooler (TIG / TMAW).
  • Miller 200DX Maxstar DC with water cooler (TIG / TMAW).
  • Fronius TPS Inverter (ARC / MMA / SMAW).
  • Murex TransMig 350i with separate wire feeder unit TransMatic 4x4P (MIG / MAG / GMAW).
  • Murex TransTig 352 AC/DC squarewave.
  • Miller SynchroWave.
  • Quasi-Arc (oil filled) Arc-welders.
  • Saffire Oxy-Acetalene Set-up (Gas welding).
  • Vodex arc welding rods...


A large portion of the people, that attended, were paid to be there by the companies they work for. However a few off-beat individuals do attend (like myself) and, unlike myself, often have quite interesting back-grounds & reasons for attending.

There would be up to 12 individuals at an evening session, and this number will largely depend on the college's facilities (number of welding machines). Quite often, not all of the students would turn up, even though their time has been pre-paid for, which left more space and equipment free for the rest of us. Even with only half the people attending; the tutor is fairly busy during these sessions.

Everyone has a choice about what processes they want to do (unless a certain process is specified by a company that sends their employee there). I tried to get as much done, as possible, and competed with myself for all 4 processes on offer; TIG, MIG (MAG), MMA & Oxy-acetylene (the latter also included brazing).

There are options for full-time (day) & part-time (evening) courses at most colleges. Funding may also be available if one is currently unemployed, or one lives in a certain area. [1]

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Dr. Edward Noodles. Tutor “At level 2; you're learning how to prep & grind. You're learning how to become a welder!”

Welding processes.

Which processes should I choose?

Matt1978 (a highly respected industry professional & forum member):

“Gas welding is seldom used in industry now and as such is a dying skill. However, if you can gas weld, then you will be more likely to pick tig welding up easier.

MIG welding is mainly used on heavy production, especially structural steelwork. It is also used a lot in automotive construction/repair as well as run of the mill sheet metal fabrication.

Tig and MMA welding are still regarded as the highest skilled processes and are used extensively on pipeline construction, power stations and oil industry etc etc.” [2]

What can one expect from the course?

Some people take 12 weeks, to do an entire level 2 MMA (arc welding) qualification, while others, can get through 2 or 3 processes, in different levels, without too much difficulty.

The time it takes to complete a level, will, largely depend, in the first place on one's tutor. After that; aptitude, enthusiasm & experience will dictate one's ability & progress. It would be wrong to keep an individual on 'level 1 MIG' if they have paid for a 12 week course and clearly already possess the skills to go much further in that time.

The official line is that; in each level, & in each process, it should require an average individual, 70 hours to complete. In 'level 1' MIG welding (one of the easiest processes to pick-up), it took me an hour to complete all 5 test pieces. I would class myself as an average welder. During the practical sessions, one is left alone to; cut metal, sharpen tungstens, clean MIG shrouds, notching, guillotining, welding machine set-ups, gas usage, etc.

The written exams, at the completion of the practical pieces, are split into 2 sections; Health & Safety and Welding process specific questions. There is only a pass, or fail, grade.

  • Level 1 written exams: Health & Safety – 5 Questions (need all 5 to pass). Welding process specific questions – 10 Questions (need 5 out 10 to pass).
  • Level 2 written exams: Health & Safety – 8 Questions (need all 8 to pass). Welding process specific questions – 12 Questions (need 8 out 12 to pass).

A “Health & Safety” information booklet, is delivered with the exam, as well as “an introduction to each welding process”, both of which contain most of the information required, in order to complete the written exams.

All metal (called “coupons” for welding), use of tooling, tuition & equipment is provided within the course structure.

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"Get off me barra!"

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A failed macro test on 6mm thick horizontal / vertical T-fillet joint.

Is my welding good enough to pass?

If you are not used to testing welds; practice by trial and error is the usual method employed. The tutor, curriculum and faculty fully encourage this practice.

In hind-sight; this is one of the benefits of attending such a course. While there; I have had some some fantastic looking welds fail dismally, while some average looking welds pass with flying colours. There is no superficial way to tell if a weld is good, or not (apart from actual testing), unless one is an experienced welder laying the beads down with knowledge and utilising the correct techniques.

College tests include; visual inspection, root/face bend, side bend, nick break, macro & cupping. See here for more information. [3]

Some general advice, is offered, if you plan on attending

  • Get there early. Not many people, including tutors, have time to waste. Remember; the tutors are professionally employed welders not desk-jockeys.
  • Initially the tutor will ask what your background & experience level is. Be honest. They will advise you on the best route to take, may formulate an informal action plan for you and decide on what level of supervision & assistance you may need.
  • Tell the tutor what you are trying to achieve; welding for your vehicle restoration project, better job prospects, artistic aspirations, fun, etc...
  • C&G Level 1 is an "introduction to the process" mainly concerned with health & safety and good weld bead appearance (straight beads, no defects, good fusion, moderate penetration, good bead profiles, etc.).
  • C&G Level 2 is concerned with all of level 1, plus; good prep & penetration through-out. Different positions; vertical, flat & horizontal. And, if your a nosey git (like me) weld testing procedures.
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Well... maybe.
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6”x 2” & 8”x 2” coupons for welding test pieces (Starbar added for scale).
  • If you have completed one 'level 1' exam, then the other level 1's are not mandatory, so if appropriate, ask to start at level 2 for the other processes. The tutor will advise you.
  • The tutors were not very forthcoming about machine settings & prep. Whether done deliberately, or not, try to gen-up on your jobs beforehand. Play around till you find what machine settings, working & job set-ups', are right for the job & you.
  • Tutors won't offer the required literature for the next level / process - you have to ask!
  • Demo's, on a particular; joint, position, process & level, are available from the tutors. Ask!
  • The tutors are humans too, treat them with respect and don't be afraid to have a laugh with them.
  • I found the lack of literature 'a little wanting' as these courses are mostly a practical based endeavour. I was quite happy to supplement my theoretical education with the internet and fabulous resources like our very own mig-welding forum. The welding process videos by Steve Bleile are some of the best instructional welding videos I have seen. [4] And, Ed Craig produces great old style books and also has a very informative website. [5] Well worth the investment.
  • Welding is an expensive business and the colleges' budget will be tight. Even if you feel you have paid a premium for your welding course, it won't even begin to cover the consumables one can use during the 12 weeks. Don't waste good (new) metal while practising. It is the fastest way to annoy your tutor. Practice with old scraps until the tutor agrees to letting you attempt proper test pieces.
  • Become familiar with identifying weld bead characteristics and terminology; cold-lap, cold joint, lack of penetration, over penetration, under-cut, dry-edge, porosity, inclusion, contamination, tying-in, throat, leg, crater, touch-down, concave, convex, etc.
  • Become familiar with identifying 'weld prep' practices, attributes and terminology; grinding, mill-scale, root face, root gap, tacking, bevel angles, stop-starts, jigging, heat sinks/drains, joint types, etc.
  • Good prep underpins a large part of 'level 2' welding - don't dismiss it. Bad prep will cost you precious time and ruined pieces. Most of the metal available is "hot rolled" and will have "mill scale" covering it.
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Get down on Good Street.
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Testing root runs on 2” wide joints before the final 8” test piece runs.
  • A lot of students had trouble with poor penetration on butt-joints, as root gaps closed out, due to weld cooling. Do large tacks 15mm - 20mm long, to keep the gap from closing out as the weld progresses. Another method is to taper the root gap to allow for the contraction.
  • If your having trouble with techniques, & poor penetration, particularly on fillet root runs - experiment with smaller scale set-ups'; 50mm long metal pieces (& no caps) and 'nick-break' them yourself. It's a lot quicker than doing a fully capped piece, only to find "much later", that it fails.
  • All vertically welded pieces can be tacked in the flat position.
  • Jigged pieces (i.e. vertically welded pieces) can be moved up or down in the jig, to provide better comfort and/or visibility.
  • Tacking up joints – A fast method for tacking-up joints is to hold the two pieces firmly, by gloved hand, in the desired configuration, while in contact with the metal bench, and fuse the coupons where they meet.
  • Don't quench hot pieces. Let them cool naturally to avoid brittle welds.
  • Don't cut pieces, in the band-saw, while they're still hot. It will ruin the machinery and wont win any favours with; the faculty, other attending students & tutors.
  • Multi-task! If waiting for equipment & tutors to become free, do something else; prep for next level / process.
  • Choose a welding bay with good over-head lighting.
  • Become familiar with the equipment you will be using. User manuals for most of the welding equipment are freely available to download off the internet. Get familiar with setting the machines up, and trouble-shooting them, if they have previously been used differently or incorrectly.
  • Make sure the equipment (tungsten, shroud, ceramic, nozzle, etc.) & metal is thoroughly cleaned beforehand.
  • There's a fair amount of other tooling to consider, such as; guillotines, band-saws, shears, nibblers, etc. Ask to be shown how to use them (college policy requires an initial instruction).
  • Get comfortable while welding in the bays. Even if that means making your own jigs & fixtures out of scrap metal.
  • Required ppe, to be supplied by you, will include; flame retardant overalls & steel toe-capped shoes.
  • Use your own equipment if possible; helmet, safety glasses, tig gloves, etc. The college will provide welding specific equipment (mostly high grade too) but the amount of abuse they receive may impede your progress if left solely to rely upon them.
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Testing out by breaking welds...
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Root face bend test.
  • Take some drinking water (plastic bottle) - it gets very hot & thirsty (de-hydration is a relevant & very pertinent health & safety concern).
  • One can take breaks, during the sessions, as often as one likes. Apparently, this practice is common even as a professionally employed welder, to avoid heat-stress (de-hydration).
  • Take permanent marker / soap stone.
  • Parking was available at the campus I attended. If you can take a car, do so. It is important to be comfortable while welding, which includes not having; keys, wallet, phone, etc. stuffed into your pockets. A car is a relatively safe place to leave your possessions, while attending, when compared to a holdall kicking around on the workshop floor.
  • Take your unfinished 'test pieces' & 'preprepared work' home with you.
  • Don't leave test pieces lying around while attending your college group. I left a finished & tested piece, on the table, for 30 mins. When I returned to it - it had gone.

Qualifications & careers

From what I can gather; City & Guilds welding qualifications are commonly recognised, or at least have some equivalent, in most English speaking countries. One level 2 qualification is, according to City & guilds, roughly equivalent to grade A – C GCSE (general certificate of secondary education). I would concur, however, that 'level 2's' teach, and state, that one can weld to a competent standard for general purpose welding (i.e. Not pressure vessels, etc.).

Equivalent courses include [6]:

  • ABC Certificate in Fabrication and Welding Practice at levels 1 to 3
  • City & Guilds Award in Welding Skills, and Certificate in Engineering at levels 1 to 3
  • BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering (Fabrication & Welding) or Mechanical Engineering.

For more information on “Qualification Types”, see here. [7]

For more information on “City & Guilds Qualification Levels”, see here. [8]

For more information on “The Qualifications and Credit Framework - (QCF)”, see here. [9]

With the practical aspects of welding aside; having recent qualifications, on one's CV, certainly shows current industry knowledge & a continued interest in the subject. Two things that are sure to impress any decent employer.

Most of the welders I spoke to, said that when applying for employment positions, in the UK, as a first-time welder, CV's & qualifications are merely viewed as "an indication of potential", but typically, a "trade test" will be required, to see if a potential employee can weld to a competent standard. At the higher, more professional levels of welding employment, employers like to see varied experience and the employee having completed some "coded" work experiences in their career.

As a career welder; starting salaries may range from around £15,500 to £17,500 a year with first year craft apprentices starting at between £8,000 and £10,000 a year. Qualified welders are likely to earn on average £23,000 a year although this can be higher with overtime and shift work. Highly skilled welders with specialist qualifications or those carrying out specialist work overseas or underwater work, can earn over £31,500 a year. [10]

See if there's a college course in your area. [11]

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They're back & they're good to go.

Further information

  • ECITB (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) - ECITB
  • TWI (Welding Institute) - TWI
  • SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance) - SEMTA
  • UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service) - UCAS
  • City & Guilds - City & Guilds
  • ABC Awards - ABC Awards
  • Doosan Babcock - Doosan Babcock
  • Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation - Ofqual
  • The Engineer - The Engineer

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Useful links

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Source references

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