Despite the advancements made in welding technology, the operator is still the most important piece of the puzzle.
I get a lot of questions through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my website regarding the TIG setup I use and my specific machine settings. “What tungsten/cup/amps did you run that bead at?” “Did you use pulse?” “Where was your gas flow?” “What frequency?” “What machine did you use?”
Some people are just genuinely curious about how I go about my work, but most are looking for a magic bullet. Like there’s one trick they’re missing—one button they didn’t push on their machine, and that’s why they aren’t getting the welds they want. They think they must be using the wrong tungsten; or maybe their old transformer is holding them back; or their frequency on their inverter is set too high, or maybe too low. The truth is, no matter how slick your welding machine is, no matter what kind of top-of-the-line setup you’re using, it’s only as good as the cat behind the torch.
Hand-eye skills, and then experience, still are the most important assets a welder can have. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone complain about his or her machine, or settings or both, swearing up and down that something is wrong with the machine. Then I’ve personally gone on to use that machine, with their settings, to lay down a proper weld. This goes for every process: As many variables on the machine side can be compensated for on the operator side by torch angle, motion, and/or speed.
I’m bringing this up because, in my opinion, too many beginning welders (TIG especially) get hung up on ancillary details and machine functions. Here are just a few examples of what I get asked about the most:
- Gas lenses. They really do smooth out flow, and you can increase tungsten stick-out to get into some tricky places with them, but my main reason for using them in my shop? Saving gas. I turn down the CFH and get more bang for my buck. However, they don’t make an ugly bead pretty.
- High frequency. I know an inverter has all kinds of high-frequency adjustments for AC welding of aluminum, but most of us grew up with it “stuck” at 60Hz and somehow managed just fine.
- Pulse. The pulse function shines for certain tasks and situations, like reducing heat input and increasing corrosion resistance in stainless steel. But, no, I don’t use it to lay down a stack of dimes or that perfect weave. If you’re trying to set it up to do that, you’re wasting your time and energy. The question “Did you use pulse on that?” literally is the most asked question about welds on social media, and for me the answer is “no” pretty much 100 percent of the time.
Last spring my dad got a deal on an old Miller Dial-Arc. It’s pretty much a stick machine that you can hook a TIG setup to if you’d like, so he did. He hadn’t TIG welded in 35 years or so, so I went over to help him dial it in. It’s “ancient” technology, and we literally used a coat hanger to run a few beads. No pulse even available, waves tailored for SMAW, a beat-to-hell torch, and coat hanger filler. But we could still lay smooth beads.
I don’t want to disregard the modern welding machine; that’s not the end game here. My personal go-to machine is a Miller Dynasty 200DX; it’s never let me down. Having the ability to fine-tune the frequency for an outside corner joint or a tight fillet on aluminum is nice, as is being able to crank up the pulse per second into the triple digits for stainless. But neither of those things replaces the need for skill in the first place.
Whether it’s your setup, the machine, or the settings, chances are you’ll develop personal preferences as you gain skill and experience. But in the meantime, just weld with what you’ve got. The difference between a weld being good or bad isn’t in any of those things, it’s in you. Technology isn’t going to make you a better welder; practice will.