MIG Welding Tips for Beginners

Congratulations on deciding to foray into the wild and wonderful world of MIG welding. Are you looking to learn a new trade, develop a new skill, and leverage that into a steady job? Or are you a do-it-yourself fabricator, looking to handle some garage projects without shelling out the money to hire someone? Looks like you can use for MIG welding tips for beginners.

Whatever the case may be, you have come to the right place. MIG welding is easily one of the most valuable skills you will learn, whether as an at-home metalworker, or someone looking for a stellar career as a professional welder.

MIG welding tips for beginners: Why MIG Welding?

If this is your first time ever picking up a torch and working with a MIG welding setup, there will be a slight learning curve to get used to. However, once you get the hand of things, it’s a breeze.

Compared to SMAW (or stick welding), the applications for MIG are almost limitless. You can do anything from simple vehicle frame repairs to industrial-level metal fabrication, from building iron furniture to repairing pipes to artistic metalworking and beyond.

In this post, we will go over some of the basics of MIG welding. We will cover some of the tips and tricks that can be used to speed up the learning process, and get ahead of the game.

What is MIG Welding?

Let’s start with the most basic of basic. MIG is an acronym for Metal Inert Gas. A more accurate acronym is GMAW, though, and sometimes it is shown as such. GMAW stands for Gas Metal Arc Welding.

The basic process of welding metal using MIG/GMAW is relatively uncomplicated in theory. A welding machine pushes a small wire through a spool gun. This is done along with a mixture of shielding gas, and then electric current is run through the wire. The resistance of electrical flow between the gun and the workpiece creates extreme levels of heat at the point of contact. This creates a small puddle of molten metal, which is the basis for the weld.

Welding Safety Tips

Before jumping straight into welding pointers, it’s important to start with some basic safety information. When dealing with extreme electrical currents, molten metals, flying sparks, and blinding rays of light, there are many things that can go wrong. For this reason, following proper safety procedures is highly important.

Here are some of the top safety tip to keep in mind to ensure a safe weld every time:

Always wear eye protection

One of the most common and careless mistakes we see for first-time MIG welders is a lack of proper eye protection. To reiterate what is heard time and time again by professional MIG welding instructors: Your welding helmet is not sufficient eye protection.

Although your helmet might cover your eyes, there are still going to be gaps where metal dust, sparks, and other flying objects can enter. One of the interesting quirks about metal sparks is that they always know a way to get in. If you have made it to any stake in the welding process without safety glasses, and have yet to be smacked in the eye by molten metal spatter, then you should consider yourself extremely lucky.

A cheap pair of two-dollar clear safety glasses is the way to go. It can make the difference between going blind early and having a career as a successful MIG welder.

Wear a jacket

A good quality, thick jacket can easily run you $100 or more. However, they are worth every penny of the expense. These jackets accomplish two things:

  • Protecting the upper body from sparks
  • Protecting the skin from harmful UV rays

Nothing can ruin your day quite like having a flannel work shirt catch on fire from sparks being thrown during a weld.

Make sure you have a solid helmet

A MIG welding helmet is by far one of the most essential pieces of gear that can be purchased by a new welder. It is vital to buy a full-face shield, and not just a pair of goggles. Obtaining a full-face shield will work wonders to protect the head, scalp, and neck from flying sparks and ultraviolet radiation. Most importantly, it will save your eyes from potential burn-in due to the sheer power of the light being radiated.

Arc burn-in occurs when the cornea of your eye is exposed to extreme radiation from welding flashes. It will feel as if a hot piece of sand is stuck in your eye, and won’t go away for days. This is surely not the kind of experience that you want to deal with, especially not as a beginner MIG welder.

Get some thick gloves

One should never underestimate the heat of metal after welding for just a few minutes. Steel melts at around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if directly avoiding touching the weld, surrounding metals can still be 1000 degrees or more.

It should go without saying that this is hot enough to immediately lead to third degree burns upon contact with skin. Thin gloves can melt to your skin in these extreme temperatures as well. Do yourself a huge favor and obtain a thick set of rawhide or leather gloves, and use them always when MIG welding.

Grab some high-quality work boots

You should always be wearing a good quality pair of steel-toe work boots when MIG welding. The sparks flying from your workpiece during a weld will quickly and effectively eat through any pair of cheap boots you may have on. Don’t spend a ton of money on these boots, but opt for a full-metal toe instead of melt-able plastic composite.

Setting up Shielding Gas and Metal Wire

The first thing that needs to be done before sitting down to start welding is setting up the gas and wire that will be used in the process. When it comes to MIG welding, there are two choices of wire: flux core and solid.

The gas being used will typically be a mixture of argon and carbon dioxide. However, some shielding gases have helium mixed in. This is all dependent on the material that will be used.

It is important to take note of the material worked with, so that you can ensure the proper gas settings and tools for the job.

Flux Core versus Solid Wire

The difference between a flux core wire and a solid wire is that you don’t need an external shielding gas with the flux core. The flux in the wire will be burned and create its own gaseous shield to protect against any foreign contaminants. Flux core, while more convenient, can be a bit more expensive.

Often, MIG welders will utilize solid wire for their needs. As the MIG welding machine pushes the solid wire through the spool, it releases small amounts of shielding gas through the nozzle. This keeps the welds both shielded from external triggers and clean.

Adjustments in Polarity

Depending on whether solid or flux core wiring is being used, MIG welders might need to adjust the polarity of their welder.

  • If a solid wire is being used, the machine needs to be set to DCEP, which is electrode positive
  • If a flux core wire is being used, the machine needs to be set to DCEN, which is electrode negative.

This is very important to remember, as a mistake here can ruin a great welding piece. Some machines can do this with the flip of a switch online. On others, you might need to switch out some wires and lugs on the side of the machine to get things moved around.

Gas Mixtures

It is vital to utilize the proper mixture of gases to shield welds without causing issues. The typical mixtures are carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum focused, and are metered as such:

  • Carbon steel gas mixtures are 75 percent argon and 25 percent carbon dioxide.
  • Stainless steel gas mixtures are a tri-mix of 90 percent helium, 7.5 percent argon, and 2.5 percent carbon dioxide.
  • Aluminum gas mixtures are 100 percent pure argon gas.

These can either be ordered separately and linked together per individual needs, or can be purchased as pre-mixed gas packs that are already hooked up and ready for use.

Eight MIG Welding Tips for Beginners

There are eight important tips for beginner MIG welders to ensure that the welds come out looking beautifully and no accidents occur:

  • Improve your ground clamp
  • Adjust wire feel speed accordingly
  • Never forget to perform proper prep
  • Control your speed when welding
  • Keep your body steady and sturdy
  • Maintain a consistent distance
  • Manipulate the puddle as needed
  • Utilize the machine’s guide for reference

Let’s dig into each one of these to tease out the most important details.

Improve your ground clamp

Unfortunately, many MIG welding machines come “stock”, riddled with cheap ground clamps. These ground clamps don’t grip onto your work properly. This issue can cause the quality of your welds to suffer greatly. If you keep “sticking” or getting unexpected sparks and cracks while welding, it’s likely that your clamp isn’t making a good connection.

The easiest way to fix this is to take a handful of thin copper wires and twist them through the teeth of your clamps. This will create a larger contact area, and allow the electricity to flow smoothly and evenly through the circuit.

Adjust wire feed speed accordingly

Welding machine wire feeds work in a similar fashion to a bait casting reel when fishing. If you don’t adjust the tension and release speed in tandem with progression on a MIG welding piece, you might end up with deep or shallow puddling. This creates sloppy welds.

If your weld is cracking, popping, or producing too much spatter, a quick fix is to check the pace at which the wire is being fed through the spool and nozzle. If this is the case, the optimal solution is to slow down.

Never forget to perform proper prep

One of the easiest steps that can be done do to ensure clean welds is to properly prepare your workpiece. Although you can usually strike an arc and weld on almost any metal, it’s always good practice to take your grinder and brush and polish your work area down to bare metal. This helps to remove contaminants on the metal’s surface and helps electricity flow better.

Control your speed when welding

As a welder, you need to learn to develop complete control over your body if you want your welds to be straight and solid. Depending on the thickness of your workpiece, the size of your wire, and the voltage/amperage you’re running, you may need to run faster or slower to achieve a deep connecting weld.

Keep your body steady and sturdy

As mentioned previously, body control is one of the most important things a welder can learn to properly perform. Besides just keeping your speed under control, however, you also need to keep your body steady and under control.

It can be easy to get tunnel vision staring directly at the puddle. If this happens, your beads aren’t going to turn out very straight. To ensure that all your welds are of high quality, you need to ensure that your arms are properly supported, your breathing is steady, and that your hands aren’t shaky.

Maintain a consistent distance

Another thing you can do to keep your welds consistent is to always maintain the same distance between the wire and your work. If you let it the wire get too close to the metal, then your puddle might become too wide, or your wire might fuse to the metal.

If you let the MIG weld get too far away, then the electrical connection might be broken. These are both something that you want to avoid while you’re in the middle of laying a bead.

Manipulate the puddle as needed

In most cases, you’re not going to be welding in a straight dragging motion. To ensure proper penetration and puddle depth, you’re going to need to manipulate your molten puddle with quick-flicking motions. Most instructors recommend trying to write a string of the cursive letter e or u repeatedly to get the weld puddle properly manipulated and formed.

What this does is allows you to maintain a steady back-and-forth motion which will increase your weld depth and ensure that you’re not just making shallow surface beads. A good bead will appear to have lots of small layers stacked on top of each other with consistent distance and width between each other.

Utilize the machine’s guide for reference

If you’re ever unsure of what voltage or amperage to set your welding machine on, not sure what type of wire or gas mixture you should be using, or how to set the polarity, then look at your machine’s guide. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of how it works, and what settings work best for different types of work.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Welds

 If you follow the steps above and practice every single day, then you’ll be well on your way to producing quality work 100% of the time. The main difference between good welds and bad welds is the penetration depth and the level of fusing that occurs.

Often you may have the correct depth, but the weld doesn’t penetrate at the right angle. This can lead to cracks and failures down the line. A good weld will be smooth, consistent, and fuse your pieces together evenly to create a strong bond that’s as strong as steel.

Final Pieces of Advice

If nothing else is gleamed from the MIG Welding Tips and Tricks for Beginners Guide, let it be this: practice makes perfect. No amount of reading, watching of tutorials, or watching someone else weld will make you a professional MIG welder before ever picking up a spool gun.

The most effective way to ensure progression and professional success with MIG welding is to jump right in and be in the shop consistently, practicing welds and learning tips and tricks to further improve upon what we have explained here.

The ugly truth is that the first few pieces you do are not going to come out looking good. You may spend weeks performing sloppy welds with a MIG welder. However, if you build upon what is learned every day, and work to correct your mistakes, things will progress. Keep the above advice in mind, and try your best to put it in practice when welding, and you’ll be welding at expert levels in no time.

Looking for a solid MIG welder to start off? My we suggest the powerful yet inexpensive Hobart Handler 140? Click here to read the review!

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