7 Beginner TIG Welding Drills

Seven drills to get you started TIG welding. This lesson for beginners will train your eyes what to see and let your hand get comfortable using a TIG torch.

Comparing autogenous tig welds at high vs low amps.

What's Different About This Approach?

All seven drills are done without filler metal (autogenous welds). Beginners usually start with a filler rod, which makes it harder to see the puddle and adds an extra variable for things to go wrong.

By taking a simple approach, we are able to focus on the core skills needed to learn how to weld (how to see the puddle and control the TIG torch). Below is a picture of a completed plate with all seven drills.

Two Hardest Problems Learning to TIG

These drills are designed to minimize the impact of these problems by getting your brain out of the way so your eyes and hands can learn.

  1. Tension.  The movements of TIG welding are not complicated, but when you're just starting out and entering this new alien world under the hood, while trying to remember a list of 100 things to do right...things usually end up going pretty bad.  It makes sense though. Think about something as simple as walking across the street.  If I give you a list of 100 things to do right (angles to bend your knees, how far to lift your feet off the ground, how to hold your shoulders), I bet you end up walking pretty dang awkward. 
  2. Not seeing the puddle.  If you start your TIG journey by focusing on the specifics of variables like arc length and angle, your eyes end up focusing on the wrong things (you don't want to focus on your tungsten or the arc while welding).  The result is you have a hard time seeing the puddle right, which is the single most important key to success.  

So forget the variables (for now) and simply enjoy these seven drills. You'll be learning more than you realize.

Prep

Get a piece of 1/4" thick mild steel, roughly 2" by 6" long. It doesn't have to be exact.  What does need to be exact is how clean you get it.  Grind or flapper off all the mill scale (that gray outside), pitting, rust, or any other gunk, so that you have clean, shiny, silver metal. Don't rush this step.  Any gunk left on the plate will contaminate the weld puddle, changing how it behaves and making it harder to see. 

Layout

Layout your metal plate like the image above. It doesn't have to be exact but get the proportions relatively right. Use a metal scribe (the lines will glow when TIG welding) to break the plate into 7 rectangular spaces.

Drill 1 - Machine/Torch/Gas Settings

I recommend starting with a #8 cup (a cheap generic pink one).  These work well and are a good size.  Going smaller than an 8 will make things harder while learning.

All we're going to do here is fire up the arc, watch the puddle form, and then let off the pedal while watching the puddle shrink.

  1. Set welding machine to 100 amps. Make sure it is set to DC and your torch is plugged into the negative side.
  2. Ground clamp to your table (on bare metal).  This is the positive side of the circuit.  When you push down the pedal an arc forms between the negative (tungsten) and positive (metal).
  3. Tungsten stick-out. As a general guideline, you don't want to stick your tungsten out farther than whatever the diameter of the cup is you're using. I usually set my stick-out to about 3/4 of my cup diameter. The best tungsten size to use when learning is 1/8 inch.  3/32 is fine but don't go anything smaller than that. 
  4. Argon flow rate. For a #8 cup set your argon to 15-20 CFH.
    • Pre and Post Flow. Pre controls how long the gas will flow after you press the pedal BEFORE the arc starts.  You don't need much here, maybe 0.2 seconds.  Post controls how long the gas flows after you stop the arc (by lifting off the foot pedal). You want to set this anywhere from 4-8 seconds for this lesson.  The longer it flows, the less contamination you'll get overall, because you want to keep the hot weld area covered with gas after you turn the arc off while it cools (or the hot metal will react with the air).
    • Firing up. Sit down by your plate and get comfortable. Put your pedal on the ground where you can reach it like the gas pedal on a car (it works the same way)
      • Keep your foot off the pedal for now
      • Set your tungsten tip gently on your metal plate where you want to start
      • Put your hood down
      • Lift the tungsten off the plate a hair (1/16 to 1/8" or so, it's not important to be exact here, just to lift it up into the air a tad)
      • Press the foot pedal all the way down
    • Watch the puddle. An arc, like a bolt of lightning, will spread between your tungsten and the base metal, creating heat which melts a small pool of metal. This is the puddle.  It should be circular.  If you don't see it right away, be patient.  Let your foot gently off the pedal and watch for the puddle to shrink as you do.  Repeat this process along the edge of the plate.

    Drill 2 - Straight Lines 100 amps

    Move to the other end of the plate. With your machine at 100 amps again, start a puddle and gently pull it along in a straight line. The picture above shows what the finished section should look like. Stop and start again until the section is full.

    Set yourself up to be pulling the torch toward you. Just watch the puddle and focus on trying to keep it about the same size as you pull it along.  At the end of each line, as you let off the pedal and the arc turns off, hold your cup above the finished weld (where you stopped) while the post argon flows.  You want to make this a habit from the start. 

    Drill 3 - Straight Lines High Amps

    Set your machine to 130 amps and repeat the same process, noticing the difference. Your puddle will be larger and easier to move.

    Drill 4 - Straight Lines Low Amps

    Set your machine to 70 amps and repeat the same straight lines.  You should notice a huge difference here. The puddle will be small and you'll have to hold a really tight arc length and move slowly to keep it formed.

    Let it Cool

    By now your whole plate is blazing hot. Take a break and let it cool down before finishing the rest of the drills; otherwise, all that heat will make the puddle harder to control and more likely to become contaminated.  In general, if welding isn't going well, it's good to let things (both you and the metal) cool down a bit.

    Drill 5 - Wiggle it

    Back to 100 amps.  This is where the magic really starts to happen.  If you've had a hard time seeing the outline of the puddle so far, this is where a lot of people start to see and feel the puddle.  Wiggle the puddle side to side as you pull it forward. You can see the outline on the image below to see the different widths to wiggle. 

    Drill 6 - Loosen Up

    It's easy to develop a heavy hand while learning to TIG weld. It starts to feel like your hand doesn't want to move. Here we're going to draw some big Z's out into the empty space of the plate, letting your wrist move in new ways, while forcing your eyes to take a larger view.  This will help prevent tunnel vision and help you see right.  With your machine at 100 amps, pull the puddle into a large Z pattern. The first one will be the hardest.  Then outline the top and bottom, following the first weld, as shown in the image below. 

    Drill 7 - Long Reach Wiggles 

    This will show how big of a difference where you hold the torch makes.  Try to run wiggle puddles (or weaves) along the center of the plate in straight lines. You'll have to extend the torch over the plate into the middle, being forced to hold the handle near the end.  

    Don't get too frustrated if you dip your tungsten a bunch along the way.  It's totally normal (and yea, it never stops being annoying, it just happens less).

    To see these drills in action from my POV, check out the video below!

     

      Back to blog