Experimenting: TIG Welding, Balloons, and Advice?

I have been MIG welding since I was about 15, which is darn close to half of my life.  I really wanted to step up my welding game,  and after saving forever, I finally bought myself a TIG welder about a year ago.  The welder came with a pressure regulator and after some trial and error, I decided that much like MIG welding 15-20 psi seems to work alright for most TIG welding situations.  I have since used up what seems like an EPIC amount of Argon & Argon/CO2 mix (compared to MIG welding).  I assumed that was normal…

So I’m talking to my friend the other day who is also new to TIG welding, and using what seems like an exorbitant amount of gas (sound familiar?).  He told me that his welding supply store just informed him that he was supposed to be using a FLOW meter not a PRESSURE meter.  Ooops.  They told him that once he swaps over from pressure regulated (only) to flow regulated, his gas tanks would last far longer. They even gave him a free tank filling.

I was confused by this because why would both of our TIG welders come with pressure regulators if we really needed flow meters?  Seems stupid right?  I decided that I needed to do a test.  I got my tank filled, because it was obviously empty again, grabbed some party balloons at the local pharmacy, and into the garage I went!

I began by attaching the balloon to the TIG torch with a zip tie.

TIG torch before the test.

Then I attached the Flow meter to my newly filled tank, and set it to flow 15 CFM with the TIG pedal fully pressed.

TIG flow meter

I then grabbed the stop watch and hammered the foot pedal to the floor for 5 seconds.  The welder was set to 3 seconds of post flow for the entire test as well for a total of 8 seconds of gas.

TIG torch 15 CFM for 5 Seconds.

Then I swapped balloons, zip tied it the same way, and hooked up the Pressure regulator to the same new tank. I set it to 15 PSI because that is usually my go-to pressure for whatever reason.

TIG pressure regulator.

It was now time to bury the pedal for 5 seconds again and hopefully see a big difference in the balloons.

TIG Torch 15 PSI for 5 seconds.

Hmmm, odd.  Looks and feels almost 100% identical.

So now what?  The volume of gas that comes out in 5 seconds (really 8 because of post flow) appears to be the same between my pressure regulator and my flow meter.  Does this mean that my flow meter won’t actually save me anything?  What is the correct one to use?  If the same volume of gas comes out of the torch, why is one better than the other?

Help?

Then I got bored…..

So I hooked up a balloon to my old MIG welder.

MIG before the test.

Plugged my 14 year old, well used pressure regulator into my new tank, and set it to 15 PSI.

MIG pressure regulator (pressure gauge busted)

5 second of “welding” later, I ended up with this.

MIG after the test. (FAIL!)

Disappointment.  Obviously the gas was leaking from a plethora of places.  I wonder if I should fix that?  It welds great, but it does have about 1 million hours on it.  That may be something to think about again when it is not -3 degrees outside.

The follow up questions:

1) Why do people use Flow instead of Pressure regulators when TIG’in?  If they push out the same volume of gas, what’s the difference?

2) If people use Flow meters for TIG welding, why don’t they use them for MIG welding?

3) Did you know how awesomely sealed up a TIG torch is?  Those balloons would have stayed full forever if I left them alone. Niiice.

Somebody School Me On This!!

20 comments to Experimenting: TIG Welding, Balloons, and Advice?

  • Ken Roberts

    You should use enough for correct coverage, to much makes the weld look bad and not enough can cause contamination. A flow meter is a must . you should adjust your flow to the work. it takes a set amount depending on the coverage you need, to learn that comes with practice and experience . the square wave welders do a lot of cleaning for aluminum and requires less flow . but the stainless you have to be careful not to let it force the melted metal and make a sag in the weld . A course in tig would be a suggestion so you can learn more of the methods and flow rates ect for different metals and situations .

    • Thanks a bunch Ken, I really appreciate getting your input on this! I am actually planning on taking a TIG welding course, I just gotta find one first! I’m definitely getting the hang of it on my own, but I’m sure a class would help exponentially. Knowing to use a flow meter alone will be a great help!

      Thanks again!

  • JohnEd

    Jr. College…where else can you rent millions of dollars worth of machine shop, welding shop, and knowledge so cheaply!

  • T Erk

    If you you check what you think is a pressure regulator that came with your Tig and Mig the low pressure gauge more then likely is calibrated as Cubic Feet per Hour not PSI. The regulator has a restricted orfice so the gauge reads cfh. You should only use a flow gage or meter never a standard pressure regulator similar to what is used on you gas welding cylinders. 15 to 20 cfh should be good for areas with no wind to blow the gas away. You should use straight argon for 90% of tig welding if you are in heavy aluminum argon helium mix is used or even helium alone (heli-arc). Argon Co2 mix is used MIG for steel and some stainless also a tri-mix, for some stainless use argon for aluminum. Hope this helps.

    • Thank you for the comment T Erk! I can’t believe I missed the CFH on the left gauge! Ok, with the gauges sorted out for the most part, let’s talk about the gas itself.

      You said use Argon for 90% of TIG welding. Is it ok to TIG stainless and mild steel with pure Argon? Or would the Argon/CO2 mix be more suited to those metals? Maybe that will be my next experiment (When it is above zero degrees in the garage of course.)

  • T Erk

    You should use argon for TIG welding steel and stainless. It will work with all other metals also. Argon co2 mix or straight co2 should only be used for Mig on ferrus metals. Two other items you were concerned about the amount of gas used in TIG vs MIG. It works like this. The avg. MIG welder welds about 10 to 14 in. per min. the avg TIG welder welds 1 to 2 in./min and a realy good welder can TIG at 3 in/min. thus the volume of gas per inch of TIG weld is 5 to 14 times more. The other item is your balloon test. You placed a balloon over the nozzel of you MIG unit and it did not inflate that is because the mig unit has a conduit or liner that the wire comes through and it is open on the end where the wire enters so when you stop or back pressure the flow of gas at the gun end it flows back through the wire conduit. TIG does not have this problem.
    You should check out adult ed at you HS or local trade school they offer easy classes on welding.
    Hope this has been helpful.

    • T Erk – Thanks again for the great advice & explanations! If it were more than 10 degrees outside, I would definitely spend some time practicing tonight in the garage. With all of this new guidance, I’m all amp’ed up and ready to build something. I will be sure to post up the welding projects in the near future so you guys can follow the progression.
      Thank you x 1,000,000 !

  • Ken Roberts

    I could weld two inches in 24 seconds but that is neither here nor there, it may have something to do with heat and thickness of metal, certainly the thicker it is the more time it will take. the other fellow gave you good advice I would take it and get enrolled in a tig class at a county school I think they call them vocational schools . the coverage and heat setting as I said is dependent on what is needed and that comes with experience . Good luck and that is about all I can help with over or through the e-mail oops one other thing when welding aluminum you would want to form a shiny ball on the end of your tungsten by arcing it to the metal that you do not need and melting the end into a ball. floor the foot pedal for a short period and it will form a ball. Not a real big ball but one that just forms one ,you would not want it bigger then the size of the tungsten. Good luck and happy welding.

    • Thanks Ken! I think with about 120 amps, I could weld 2 inches in 24 seconds too, but mine would be quite scary and dangerous :) . I will definitely try out the shiny balled Tungsten for sure. I have been using a “tungsten only” grinder to round the ends of it before welding, and it seems to work well until I accidentally dunk it into the weld puddle (too often). I cannot wait to try out all of these ideas from you and T Erk. I’m crossing my fingers for above freezing temperatures this weekend. I will be sure to post the results!

  • Ken Roberts

    2% thoraited tungsten works well for aluminum and stainless .may not have spelled thoraited correctly .

  • NameRequired

    errr…. The first picture is a regulator/flowmeter combination. Keep using it. Flowmeters are designed to handle 20psi or 80psi. Compressed gass cylinders are over 2000psi. Pressure must be regulated by the regulator. Dont want to hear “I been doing this for twenty years ain’t nothin ever happen to me”. It just happen to a twenty year welder where I work. Top of flow meter blew off and we never found it. Please dont stand over top of flow meters when pressurizing.

  • Ken Roberts

    The thoraited tungsten may become a thing of the past as they have found it damages the lungs while you are grinding it, so use a mask on your face when grinding the tungsten and if possible have some ventilation while cleaning the tungsten it will help you breathe better as you age . also make sure all areas that you weld in are well ventilated the fumes carry the radioactivity to your lungs and that is not good . Being a safe welder is the best way .And pay attention to the last post and do not use a regular gauge to route the gas it is a volume thing not a pressure and the man is right it can blow up on you; 2000 psi is a bunch of pressure and make sure you move these tanks with care they will go through a wall very easily and if a human is in the way serious damage can be done . The school I was telling you to go to will enlighten you on the safety aspects of welding . It is the most important part of instruction so please go to school .

  • Mohsin Sohail

    I have problem with my tig welder.i have been using flow meter but as i started welding a burst of gas is exhausted through arc which is a wastage of gas.As cylinder pressure reduces the gas wastage also reduces.Please suggest me any body what should i do to prevent from this wastage of gas.

  • Jack Nutt

    Have this problem with a machine I have keeps ejecting gas out the trigger handle similar to your’s but, not the same. I went to the hardware store for something to fix it with the girl told me the best thing for that is tape going on saying she’s seen it hold a whole bunch stuff an the little gun shouldn’t be a problem. Well… it still leaks I used it often not anymore even tried all kind tricks like holding an open hose to the weld area while trying to weld(not a good idea)works but not a good idea(makes me dizzy)also tried smearing flux over the work piece too(nope should of saved my money on that one)even went an heated the metal before trying to weld(that really doesn’t work)so back at to original problem again any ideas? Oh… mind you the girl at the store also suggested to purchase a new machine but they didn’t sell any and she didn’t know where to get one ended up giving her the lent in my pocket and thanking her for her knowledge mind you she was really cute.

  • Brett P.

    I have been welding aluminum doors for utv’s for about a year and a half now and have found that 2% ceriated lasts much longer and makes laying down a nice bead much easier. Not to mention is a tad cheaper than 2% thoriated as well as more lung friendly. As far as taking classes to learn more about welding I would suggest just buying to book they issue and saving yourself 300 or 400 bucks. Try to find a “close tolerance” fabricator with some experience and attention to detail. The key here is fabricator not “welder” anybody can weld and put two pieces of metal together. It would be a good idea to learn fabrication so what you weld has some consistency as well as holding a good tolerance. Most of the people I have looked at hiring that have accomplished a 2, 3, or 4 year program has developed terrible habits that are impossible to break. Therefore the job market is very small! If you can learn close tolerance fabrication (+ or – .015″)as well as knowing how to detail the finished product the job market opens up ten fold, and there is no limit to what you are capable of doin. The people that posess this talent is a dying breed and in a few years will be almost non-existant. You let an these skills and you can and will develope a niche’ in the industry by having a very rare skill. Just some food for thought instead of taking a class buy the book study up so you understand the basics and learn how most do in these days (YouTube) and lots of practice. Get as comfortable ad you can with the tig torch. Almost like an existing appendage where you don’t have to think about it to much. The key to this industry is consistency. Your bead might as well be your signature if your signature is unreadable it will go unnoticed. Just remember to try to make your weld look like a stack of coins. Hope my advice helps, I started out very lucky learning from multiple people with 20-30 years plus experience (school of hard knocks) instead of taking a class. Most of the time elders are more than happy to share their knowledge.

    • Hi Brett! That looks like some solid advice. I have now watched about 1000 hours of youtube videos, but I don’t have any books. I will search around though. Do you know of any good ones? Also, got any pictures of your work? I love seeing nicely fabricated stuff :)

  • Ken E

    When balling your tungsten for welding Aluminum you will need to temporarily switch from alternating current to reverse polarity. Slowly increase amperage using remote amperage control (foot pedel or torch thumb wheel) until the ball forms. Ball can be slightly larger than the tungsten but dont over do it. If your machine does not have a switch then remember S.E.N and R.E.P Straight Electrode Negative, Reverse Electrode Positive. Often times you may require a larger diameter tungsten for aluminum because AC puts more heat into tungsten electrode. 2% thoriated is needed for steel because it provides better starting action. For aluminum pure tungsten is recomended and will maintain a better ball. In general 2% thoriated will hold up to more heat but will not maintain a ball as nice. So when the end gets jaged small bits of tungsten can seperate and become included in the weld. Its preference for most part, not a big deal unless your welding Nuclear Submarines or Space Ships.

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