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Last Updated on August 6, 2021

Frank Wilson

Frank Wilson 

Senior Editor

Welding and fabrication skills are essential in many applications, from hobbyists to highly specialized professional fields, such as aerospace engineering or pipelines in the oil industry.

Learning basic welding skills like MIG welding opens many doors and gives you access to different opportunities, whether you are an amateur or looking to become a professional.

If you’re new to MIG welding or looking to improve your craft, follow these tips, and you’ll avoid bad habits and start welding like a pro.

The Basics

If you’re completely new to welding, you may be wondering what MIG welding even is and why it’s the preferred method for beginners.

Metal Inert Gas welding (MIG), sometimes called gas metal arc welding (GMAW), is the world’s most common welding process.

The MIG welding process employs electrodes producing an electric arc, which heat two pieces of metal to the point of joining them together. MIG welding requires a shielding gas - most commonly argon, a noble gas - which protects the molten metal from reacting with air.

Compared to other methods, such as TIG welding, stick welding, or plasma arc welding, MIG welding is one of the easiest and most accessible ways for a beginner to learn welding.

Initial Setup

If you’re just starting with MIG welding, knowing which settings are appropriate for your welding machine, your wire’s size, and the types and thicknesses of the metals you intend to weld are essential to having a successful weld. 

Settings are not interchangeable between machines, so follow the charts specific to your welding machine.

Sound Testing

When welding, listen to the noises your welding gun makes. The ideal noise is a steady buzz or crackle, with consistency and no hissing. A good weld sounds like the consistent sizzling noises you hear when frying strips of bacon.

Diagnosing setting issues by noise:

  • If you hear an aggressive, high-pitched hiss, your machine’s voltage setting may be too high. 
  • If you hear jagged, popping noises resembling a sewing machine or an automatic rifle, your voltage may be too low.
  • If the sound coming from your welding machine is closer to that of a gas leak, your amperage may be too high.
  • If it sounds like crackling reminiscent of a stun gun or an electric discharge, your amperage may be too low.

How To Increase Your Weld Quality

Sound checking is not the only way to verify whether your settings are correct. Thorough visual inspection can reveal more information.

If all your settings are correct, your travel speed and wire speed are sufficient, and everything sounds as it should, you should get a good weld. You can visually inspect the weld to confirm that it looks right.

A good weld should have:

  • Solid appearance with no cracks, pores, or craters. It should look like a “stack of dimes.”
  • The sound produced is a consistent sizzle reminiscent of frying bacon.
  • Little or no sparks or spatter.
  • Little discoloration of the work material.

Proper Handling

One of the most repeated MIG welding tips is to use both of your hands whenever possible to steady your welding gun, which is why you should have heavy-duty welding gloves as part of your kit.

The term “push or pull” refers to the direction of your welding gun relative to your weld. Most experienced welders have been in lengthy debates on which is better. In reality, there’s no definitive answer. Both produce excellent results for different applications.

Push means you’re pushing the gun towards the direction of the weld (ahead of the weld puddle). This method produces lower penetration but a wider bead.

Pull, or drag, means you’re dragging the gun pointed in the direction opposite of the weld (when going from left to right, your nozzle points left). This method produces the opposite of the push method, resulting in a deeper penetration but a shallower bead.

Although both methods have their uses, beginners often rely exclusively on the pushing method. Pushing offers a better view of the weld and makes it easier to make corrections.

Watch Your Travel Speed

Most beginners have trouble moderating the travel speed of their welding gun. Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose whether it’s too fast or too slow.

Low travel speed is easy to recognize. The welding beads will look fat and cratered, and the work metal will look visibly discolored.

In contrast, if travel speed is too high, the welding beads will look narrow and ropey. Because of the excessive speed, the heat applied will not create proper fusion and penetration, resulting in a weak weld.

Stick Out, But Not Too Much

The stick-out length of your welding gun refers to the length of unmelted copper wire coming from your contact tip. Correctly setting your stick-out length significantly affects the welding gun’s amperage and your weld’s quality.

The standard stick-out length for most applications is ⅜“. If you’re a beginner, keep it at that length, and don’t mess with fine-tuning until you gain more experience.

Clean As Much As Possible

One of the most well-known MIG welding tips is the three C’s: “Clean, clean, clean.”

Your welding instructor will probably insist that you need to clean your working metals as much as possible. MIG welding is sensitive to contaminants, so failing to clean your working metals properly has a significant impact on your welds’ quality.

Clean your working metals using sanding disks to produce the cleanest surface possible. Remove as much paint, rust, oil, grease, and other potential contaminants as you can to ensure the best welding quality.

Insufficient Shielding Gas

Although most depictions of welding in popular culture show plenty of sparks and spatter, this a sign of lousy welding caused by a lack of shielding gas.

If your welding machine does not output enough shielding gas, the results will be immediately apparent. You will see a lot of spatter and many sparks flying in the air.

The weld will be full of pinholes and craters, indicating that atmospheric elements contaminated it.

Ensure your welding machine’s gas connections are tight and secure, your flow rate is appropriate (20-25 CFH is typical for most applications), and that your gas tank isn’t running low.

The Best Tip For Contact Tips

If you allow your welding gun’s contact tip to wear out, it will produce erratic arcs and reduce your weld quality. Contact tips are inexpensive, so always keep spares and replace them often.

Be sure to read more about the best MIG mig welder which we have also covered!

Final Thoughts

By following these tips, you can become a top MIG welder. Welding can be a fun hobby that allows you to explore your creative side or a lucrative career, opening opportunities worldwide. Whatever direction you decide to take, these tips can help you succeed.

Author

Frank Wilson, or the “Elder Welder” as he is now known in his late middle age, has 23 years of experience in the welding industry, across every project imaginable. Pipe welding and underwater welding were his stock in trade for years before his partial retirement.