MIG Welding Aluminum

mig welding aluminum

There are times when a welder, whether a novice or a seasoned professional, does not need the power or have the resources to use an industrial welding machine. Fortunately, there are many well-made and reliable MIG welders that can handle whatever fabrication you may need to perform.

Although one may certainly use a MIG Welder for purposes of welding aluminum, assuming they have the proper MIG Welding set-up, aluminum welding on a larger scale should be done with an AC/DC TIG Welder. Sometimes, however, one does not have the proper resources to use top-of-the-line welding equipment. For this reason, they must weld aluminum for one reason or another by MIG welding aluminum.

There are some challenges that one may run into when MIG welding aluminum that wouldn’t be an issue with a more common welding metal, such as steel. Namely, the room for error is completely narrowed when using aluminum. So, for any variations you may have in roller tension or wire feed speed when MIG welding steel that wouldn’t normally be a problem will absolutely cause problems when welding aluminum.

As long as these careful considerations are taken, there is no reason that one shouldn’t be able to handle MIG welding aluminum in a pinch.

Supplies Needed for MIG Welding Aluminum

It is extremely important to keep to proper supplies when MIG welding aluminum. Otherwise, your machine could develop some issues, and you’ll develop a headache trying to deal with it. For gas, a carbon dioxide mix will absolutely not do; you’ll have to get pure Argon. For your torch liner, the regular steel liner will not do either; using this type of liner could cause wire to become jammed in the liner. Instead you will to use a Teflon or plastic liner, these won’t scratch from the wire and are less likely to cause jams.

You will also need a torch tip that is larger than what one would usually use for steel welding. This is because normal sized tips will cause the aluminum to jam up at the end (due to Aluminum’s adhesive properties). Finally, you will also need to make sure to tailor the wire you use to the aluminum that you’re welding. For general work, 5356 grade and 4043 grade will suffice.

Setting Things Up

The roller tension will have to be found separate to how you usually weld other metals: through trial and error. We recommend starting at the absolute lowest setting and then increasing the tension until the wire feeds. Set the power a bit higher (50% higher) than you would for working on steel of the similar thickness. Depending on the job of course, set the wire feed speed to approximately double that of what you would use on steel.

Make sure that the aluminum is warm to the touch. This shouldn’t be a problem during warmer months, but during cooler months you will need to make sure to heat up the job so as to promote easier welding. Clean the aluminum. If it’s new, you may only have to wipe it down a bit to get general dust and grime off. If it’s older and has sustained some surface oxidation, you may have to lightly sand off the top to clear some aluminum oxide from the surface.

Time To Start MIG Welding Aluminum

Now for the especially tricky part- actually welding the aluminum. There will likely be some trial and error involved with getting the correct combination of wire feed speed and welder power. This can be a frustrating process but don’t shy away from giving it multiple tries; eventually some combination will work just right.

Make sure to angle the torch a bit when in this process; if the wire speed is too high, the angle (40-50 degrees) will help to prevent the wire from getting tangled inside of the machine. Once you’ve found the correct balance, weld just how you would steel: approximately 70 degrees, slowly along the surface of the aluminum.

Which MIG Welder to Use?

There are a multitude of reliable MIG welders to choose from when looking for cheap and reliable options. The Lincoln 210 MP is capable of welding up to 3/16 inches aluminum, and is very light, weighing only 40 pounds. It has a large color display to help guide the user through set-up. This could be very useful considering the balancing act of wire feed speed and power.

On the less expensive end, the Hobart Handler 140 MIG welder is definitely still a passable option. It’s a bit heavier at almost 60 pounds, which still is not too bad. It can also conveniently be plugged into a household current. While not specifically good or bad for MIG welding aluminum, it is a major perk for hobby welders. Reviewers have found that it is rather annoying having to adjust the wire spool with a wrench every time.

The Vulcan Migmax 140 is another good MIG welder at a modest price point. It weighs 70 pounds and comes spool ready. It is well equipped to handle the welding projects of professionals, while still simple enough to serve as a perfectly decent welder for a novice.

Wrapping Things Up

In summary, it is always best to avoid MIG welding aluminum if you can help it. Of course, oftentimes one cannot help it and must resort to MIG tools for their aluminum projects. Although more difficult, it is most certainly not impossible. By following these general guidelines, MIG welding with aluminum should be entirely doable without many hitches.

MIG Welding Tips and Tricks from the Pros

Whether you are a professional welder or a hobbyist, you must study up and stay safe. In this article, you will discover helpful tips and advice. Ways to highlight on how welding can be more than just a job to keep you grounded.

Staying Safe While Welding with MIG Welding Tips

Safety and protection are of the upmost priority. To prevent electrocution, you will need to ground the work to a reliable source. Inspect your receptacle circuit, on a regular basis, to ensure the stability of the grounding conductor. A receptacle circuit tester can be purchased online or at any hardware store.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Dress appropriately, while using the MIG welder by having the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes the following:

  • Helmet – Protecting the eyes and the face from radiation, flying debris or particles, sparks, intense heat.
  • Respirators – Protecting the lungs against the fumes and oxides.
  • Gloves – Protecting your hands from heat, shock, burns, and fires.
  • Heat Resistant Clothing and Aprons – Protecting any exposed skin from burns, heat, and fires.
  • Ear Muffs / Plugs – Protecting your ears from the noise.
  • Boots – Protecting your feet from heat, shock, burns, and fires.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Safeguard your area by clearing out any water. Do not weld in inclement weather. Be sure that you have a well-ventilated area. Do not breathe in the gas fumes and use your common sense.

Focus in on your work and eliminate any surrounding distractions. Only work on a project when you are a 100% sure that you know what to do. Constantly remain dry and grounded, along with complete certainty that the connections are tight.

Use plenty of caution when welding with containers. Have exact knowledge of the contents inside. Items could be flammable, toxic, or explosive. Even when working on motorcycles, cars, or anything that may have a gas tank; try to remove the tank prior to welding. All it takes is a spark to set yourself up for immediate danger.

Educate Yourself

Read through any and all manuals, scour the internet, and watch as many videos that you can. Protect yourself by taking full advantage of the many classes that are readily available. If you have an open schedule, and welding has always been of some interest, there are sessions that you can attend in person. If you are limited on time, or want to freshen up your skills, online courses are always available.

Since there are different types of welding, be sure to research the specific area that you are interested in. As you know, TIG and MIG welding are different forms, which means that there are distinct techniques that you should acquire to stay safe while welding.  Knowing the difference, and applying the knowledge for such, will go a long way in keeping you out of harm’s way.

If you are planning on welding with a MIG for a while; purchasing one, versus renting, will save you money and time. Compare the different models and read through reputable online forums. Stay afloat of the pricing, as many online stores offer specials periodically throughout the year.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even if you have a lot of core knowledge on an upcoming project, you will still want to practice on similar materials until you work on your masterpiece. Become familiar with which materials that you will be working on. Aluminum, low carbon steel, and stainless adapt a great deal with MIG welding. Not all elements work best with MIG.

Consider how deep the penetration needs to be, the characteristics of the material, and the control of the mechanical properties of the weld. For example, when MIG welding with aluminum, it is a non-ferrous metal. Meaning that its main component is nonmagnetic and of flexible metal. In turn, this implies that, when preparing to use a MIG welder on aluminum, it is necessary to use a 100% argon shielding gas.

Try either the forehand or backhand technique, when using a MIG weld. The forehand, or push, style allows for the rod itself to precede the torch when used on thinner materials. Whereas backhand, or pull, welding generates less puddle and works best on thicker components.

Another approach is to utilize skip welding. This type of skill allows for a pattern of infrequent welds. Upon completion, you would then retrace the initial welding line. This will be beneficial in reducing the distortion of the metal.

No matter which method you decide upon, keep your hands relaxed and exercise your form as many times as possible to work out any kinks, prior to tackling your project. Attempting to take short cuts, or not practicing at all, will cause you to lose time and money in the grand scheme.

Cleanliness is Next to Steadiness

One of the best ways to create a strong weld is by taking care of your MIG welder. This will save you money, and time, as proper maintenance does not require a large amount of effort. With regular care, and attention, your MIG will be able to live up to its effectiveness and durability.

Your MIG welder will not get very far if it is dirty, contains rust, or has any other contaminants on it. Gunk that collects on the MIG weld can get trapped and cause a massive hindrance. Before working on any project, make certain that there are no impurities or toxins that can get onto the MIG weld when working with it.

A common mishap is that the tip, or the gun nozzle, becomes clogged. Try to back up, just a bit, with the machine when working on a project. Sometimes, welders accidentally get the MIG welder too deep into the penetration. This can lead to molten welding droplets sticking and / or hardening causing blockages and obstructions. Use an anti-spatter spray, nozzle drip or gel to clean and maintain the tip on the gun.

The MIG gun liner needs to be clear of any build-up, as it can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of the welding caliber. Try using an air compressor to expel any dirt or dust particles that may have collected along the liner. If that does not fully clear the liner, you may need to use a pad or swab, with a non-residue cleaner, to wipe the blockage away. Try to do this on a weekly basis, to maintain a precise and durable weld. For a piece of mind, have a back-up liner handy when attempting to finish your project.

All Wired Up

Welding on solid-steel typically requires an ER70S-6, which is the most commonly used MIG wiring. Dissected as an electrode rod with a tinsel toughness of 70,000 psi as a solid electrode with a chemical composition of 6. This specific type works well on carbon steel projects.

When using a 220-volt machine, a typical wire diameter of 0.035 is a great fit. If you are starting out in the welding field, or looking to get into it as a hobbyist, a 0.023 works great with a smaller scale MIG.

Determine where you will be accessing the correct amp fuse. Certify that your wiring can handle the current, from which the MIG weld will be producing. Stay safe by double checking every avenue; from the front of the MIG machine all the way to around to the power source.

Smooth Operator

The most common MIG setting is the direct current electrode positive (DCEP), which allows for the positive terminal to be connected to your ground. This will allow for a more stable, and smoother, weld especially with steel. Prior to starting your project, you will need to have the machine in the correct setting to meet your expectations.

The MIG welding machine can produce a lower voltage, by utilizing a short circuit transfer. This is when the wire touches the metal, causing the alloy to become hot enough to merge into the joint. When this happens, a puddle forms from the taction. To know if the short circuit is set, listen for a sound similar to that of cold-water droplets touching a hot frying pan.

Calculate the wire that you will need, to prevent stick-out. Some manuals, and online sources, may suggest a longer electrical stick-out measuring from the crown to the foot of the hardened electrode wire. For a thin gauge, try applying the forehand technique with no more than a stick-out of ¾-inches. If needing to fill in larger gaps, measure out about ½-inch of stick-out.

Shielding gas is important, as it can prevent excessive spatter, reduces porocity, and protects the welding area. If you are welding for fun, a shielding gas of 75/25 (75% Argon / 25% Carbon Dioxide) will be plenty. On your regulator, unless otherwise specified, a basic flow rate should be between 10 to 20 cubic feet per hour (CFH).

Compelled to Weld

Safeguard your welding area, and yourself. Frequently read and research to further educate yourself. Practice, practice, practice as much as possible. Remember, when the helmet is on, shut the rest of the world out.

MIG Welding Tips for Beginners

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!