From DIY Hobby to Back on the Road: MIG Welding for Beginners

Of the two most common types of welding, vehicle owners and hobbyists are likely more familiar (and comfortable) with, is MIG welding. Still, any kind of welding can be dangerous, and there’s a lot to know about the terms, safety, and equipment before you fire it all up. Here’s everything hobbyists and car enthusiasts need to know about MIG welding for beginners.

General Types of Welders

MIG isn’t the only type of welding which is common among classic car owners and hobby mechanics, but it is the most straightforward and adaptable. Other types of welding include TIG, flux-cored welding, and stick welding.

TIG Welding

TIG is another common type of welding, and it stands for tungsten inert gas. This type of welding involves a non-consumable tungsten electrode and filler metal to complete the weld. Heat adjustment helps address different projects and varying materials, and you can achieve more precise welds than with other equipment.

TIG welding does require more skill than MIG welding, so practice may be in order before you begin welding a vehicle or other important project.

Flux-Cored Welding

Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) is like MIG in that it also uses a wire feeding process. However, instead of shielding gas like MIG, flux-cored welding uses a wire with its own shielding. FCAW is, therefore, more flexible and portable, helpful in severe conditions. At the same time, it’s also simpler to learn than TIG welding.

Stick Welding

Stick welding is a bit dated these days, but it’s still a recognized method of arc welding standard in homes and hobbyist shops. An arc-welding electrode is versatile and economical but isn’t ideal for thinner metals. You also need a bit of skill to handle a stick welder and the necessary materials.

What is a MIG Welder For?

Because MIG welders are easy to handle and don’t require a lot of practice to begin using, they’re often preferable to other types of welders. Depending on the project, however, you may choose a different type of welder than MIG.

MIG welders are ideal for:

●   Thinner gauge materials (but still over 1/16 of an inch thick)

●   Auto body projects

●   Other car and vehicle projects

●   General metal repairs

●   Welds involving steel, stainless steel, and aluminum alloys

The benefits of MIG welders include ease of cleanup (there’s little mess), the ability to weld a wide range of materials at differing thicknesses, and the low level of on-the-job experience required to master welding tasks. Therefore, you can cut down on vehicle ownership costs by DIYing some tasks.

Getting Started with MIG Welding

While anyone can wield a welder with little training or experience, you should understand how each welder works and how to handle it safely. From common terms to basic welding tips, here’s how to get started with MIG welding for beginners.

MIG Welding Terms

So, what is MIG welding? The acronym stands for metal inert gas, and this type of weld involves an electric arc which heats the electrode and the metal you’re working on. A “cover gas,” either helium or argon, protects the weld area from outside contaminants while you work.

Many welders prefer MIG because it can be faster than TIG welding, and it doesn’t require you to use both hands (one holding the filler metal). You won’t have to swap out filler materials or do as much cleanup as with TIG welding, which is helpful for beginners and experienced welders alike.

There are a few key terms to know with MIG welding, beyond the main acronym.

●   MIG Wire: The MIG wire is the electrical circuit which creates the arc to melt metal. In a MIG welder, you use a solid, non-coated wire which feeds through the welding gun. MIG wire comes in spools or drums and has a combination of gases protecting it.

●   Base Metal: Your base metal is the material you’re applying a weld to (or cutting, with other types of welding).

●   Electrode: In any welding scenario, the electrode conducts a current between your welding gun and the material you aim to melt. An electrode creates your welding arc, allowing you to heat up and melt metals.

●   Welding Arc: The electrical arc which provides the energy to melt metal.

●   Arc Voltage: Arc voltage refers to the number of volts running along your welding arc.

●   Liquidous: A temperature at which metal melts and becomes liquid.

●   Melting Range: A range of temperatures in which metal goes from solid to a liquid state.

●   Solidus: The highest point at which a metal can withstand heat without changing from its solid state.

●   Melting Point: A specific temperature necessary to liquefy metal.

●   Tempering: Reheating solid steel and then cooling it to strengthen it even more.

●   Shielding Gas: A mix of gases which protects the weld area from unwanted atmospheric conditions like water vapor and oxygen.

MIG Welding Basics

Regardless of your vehicle make or model, it’s likely you can complete plenty of seemingly complicated repairs with a bit of practice and a MIG welder. However, becoming adept at handling any type of welder can take time.

There are some necessary welding steps you should cover before applying your zeal to your treasured Ford pickup’s rust spots:

●   Practice on scrap metal with properties similar to the bigger project to perfect your technique without risking your daily driver.

●   Clean base materials before beginning a welding job to ensure a contaminant-free weld.

●   Match your wire to your project (IE a steel wire to steel, aluminum wire for an aluminum project).

●   Listen for a regular arc; irregular “sizzling” sounds can mean your wire is ‘sticking out’ too far.

●   Push the welding gun away from the weld puddle to make a flatter bead and allow you a clear view of your progress.

●   Keep in mind the potential repercussions of DIYing a repair job in terms of DMV registration and title status. Finding insurance coverage can also be a challenge depending on how extreme your repair job becomes, so doing your research beforehand ensures you won’t need to pay extra or outsource the work to be street legal.

●   Work extremely carefully with thin materials (under 1/16 of an inch) as you may burn through and damage the surface or your safety equipment in the process.

Whatever vehicle you plan to weld, make sure you do your research first. Investigate replacement part options before tackling a welding project, too. Although welding can often prove more affordable than searching listings or using a car finder tool for salvage options, it’s not always the best deal.

Safety & Equipment for MIG Welding

Before you begin welding—or even learning to weld—it’s crucial that you understand how dangerous welding can be. Extreme temperatures give you the ability to cut materials and melt metal, but they can also prove deadly under unsafe conditions. If you plan to weld either at home or in the shop, here’s a rundown on MIG welder safety practices and equipment.

Welding Equipment

For any welding project, you should always adhere to minimum safety standards—even if they don’t feel so “minimum.” And although car manufacturers tend to caution against DIY repairs, when you follow safety and technique guidelines, welding at home can be safe and effective.

First, you need to wear a welding helmet for each task, even if you’re only completing a small seam. Your helmet should provide adequate protection against the voltage of your welder, so you need to ensure a higher level of UV protection than what your welder’s voltage claims.

Underneath your welding helmet, you should also wear safety glasses to avoid debris getting into your eyes either during or after you complete a weld. Even when cleaning up materials after you finish welding, use safety glasses to protect your eyes.

Proper attire is also crucial for your safety and for preventing shocks and burns. Leather gloves are ideal because they block electric shocks and protect against burns. Gloves specific for welding tasks often use reflective coating for an additional layer of protection. The same applies for footwear; leather boots or similar shoes will protect your feet from errant sparks and molten metal.

Finally, you should dress appropriately when working with or around a welder. Long sleeves and pants with full coverage are essential, and flame-retardant clothing is preferable. Remember: welding involves UV rays, which are more harmful to your skin than the heat itself. Using sunscreen is also an excellent idea when welding.

Safety Precautions

All welding can be dangerous, but MIG welding does involve special safety precautions. Because a MIG welder uses wire feeding, you have the added danger of ready-to-go molten metal available at the press of the trigger.

Use caution when operating the welder but also when putting it down temporarily or after you complete a project. If the trigger accidentally depresses, it can spew hot metal all over or start a fire. You also need to be wary of the shielding gases with MIG welding.

When the welder is active, it’s expelling gas into the air, so working in an area with good ventilation is crucial for self-preservation (and the safety of others in your shop environment).