Learning basic manual metal arc (stick) welding and MIG welding (by )

A long time ago now, when this blog was in its infancy, I wrote about how I had picked up a cheap manual metal arc welding set from B&Q since I needed to make some tools that would survive within the environment of the furnace. My existing metal-joining technology, silver soldering (aka brazing) would produce joints that would melt like butter at 600 degrees Celsius or so, which is a far cry from the thousand-degree environments I play with...

But as I mentioned slightly earlier, arc welding is easy to get wrong. I learnt from a book, so had only written descriptions to go by, and I was hard put to know what I was doing wrong that made my welds all messy.

Well, today I attended the Insight into Welding course at the Rural Skills Centre, which is near Cirencester, a short drive away from where I live. I had been looking for a welding course for a while - most of the courses I saw advertised at local colleges were formal affairs that took several days and ended up with you taking some kind of assessment, and ending up with an NVQ. All rather formal and constrained.

The Rural Skills Centre, however, does lovely little one-day or several-evening informal courses in all sorts of useful workshop skills. My welding course began with the instructor asking what the seven participant's past experience was, and what they hoped to learn - and then taught us just what we wanted to know, starting at the right level for us. Rather than having a fixed syllabus to be assessed against, we were basically paying to spend a day in a workshop with an experienced welding instructor. Which was perfect!

He quickly sorted out my arc welding problem - I held the electrode too far from the work, so it spattered all over the place and didn't heat the metal properly, thus creating a weld consisting of lots of little blogs sitting on top of the metal rather than bonding into it. Easy once you've seen how it's done properly 🙂

So having already got my money's worth before lunchtime, I practiced with the manual metal arc machine for a while, then moved up to try MIG welding - Metal Inert Gas. This is a much fancier setup than arc welding; the machine feeds a metal wire and shielding gas into the work for you when you pull a trigger, rather than you needing to manually control the distance between the end of an unweildy electrode and the work to within a few millimetres. As long as you have the voltage and wire feed speed controls on the machine set correctly for the wire you're using, the metal you're joining, and the kind of join you're doing, it's point and click - just hold the tip of the tool to the metal, pull the trigger, and keep the tip moving along smoothly, and you end up with lovely nice welds. Of course, knowing how to set the controls up right is the hard part, but we were taught foolproof techniques to home in on the correct settings.

So I spent much of the day practising with that, producing various kinds of joins in various thicknesses of mild steel. I'm quite taken by MIG welding - the equipment is a bit more expensive to buy and run than manual metal arc kit, but it produces vastly superior welds, and can be used on aluminium (manual arc can't do that).

But the best process for aluminium is TIG welding. A TIG welder doesn't put any metal out at all - it just produces intense head by driving an arc from a tungsten needle to the workpiece, while spraying the area with shielding gas like a MIG welder does. You have to feed your own extra metal in by hand to make the joint. But it's incredibly neat; the arc is tiny, and still - in the other processes the arc always seems to jump about a bit. The TIG arc was like a little flame a few millimetres long, and underneath it, the metal melted into a shiny puddle. Since it was so small you couldn't go very fast with it, but it produced incredibly neat welds! However, sadly, the TIG welding equipment is quite expensive, since the power supply needs to do some quite specialist regulation to create that easy-to-control neat arc!

So I'm going to keep practising my arc welding - but I'll be keeping my eye out for a MIG welder if I find one cheap or if I get rich... and I certainly wouldn't say not to a TIG if I somehow manage to find one I can afford!


  • By Jacques Doyen, Sun 20th Jul 2008 @ 5:08 pm

    I had been looking for welding information and finally got it on wikipedia. Then I saw Snell-Pym's comment on learning to weld and really enjoyed his experience. I live in Belgium and i don't think we have anything like one day courses over here. So next time in the UK I shoud spend a day in Cirencester. How can I contact the Rural Skill Center? Thanks.

  • By Matthew, Mon 21st Jul 2008 @ 12:21 pm

    but you'll still need the regulator, then the cylinder, then the gas ... cylinders are kinda expensive

  • By alaric, Mon 21st Jul 2008 @ 3:00 pm

    I tried to find an online presence for Pat Bessel, the welding instructor, since he's a freelance who also does welding consultancy to companies (and it's always nice to put positive links towards somebody you'd recommend).

    All I could find, oddly, was this YouTube video of some people learning welding at the same place I was at which features his voice muffled in the background - and the students are doing impressions of Pat's catchphrases throughout (GOOO for it! Mind yer eyes!) Which is faintly bizarre.


  • By Tig Welder, Sat 26th Dec 2009 @ 6:49 am

    Nice post, I am newbie and want learn more about welding, thank for your nice article...

  • By James Foster, Tue 11th Aug 2015 @ 9:01 pm

    I'm afraid the legendary Pat has gone to pastures new and he doesn't really do computers so it's a bit hard to find him! However we still offer the courses if anyone is interested.



Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

WordPress Themes

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales