How To Set Up a TIG Welder: Learn the Basics

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Welding Buddy Experts

April 13, 2021
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We’ve all been there: the excitement of buying your first welder and opening up the box, only to realize that using it isn’t exactly a plug-and-play situation. Thankfully, the internet is here to help! If you’re at a loss as to how to set up a TIG welder, then this article will walk you through the basics.

An Overview of Your Machine

TIG welding, also called GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding) and TAGS (tungsten arc gas shielded), uses an arc to weld metals together. This electric arc is shielded from the atmosphere with an inert gas called the shielding gas.

Like all welding processes, equipment for TIG welding ranges from reasonably priced to jaw-droppingly expensive. The better TIG machines allow you to change heat settings during the welding process, as well as provide more inclusive features such as an AC/DC output. While you can comfortably weld most metals on a DC output, welding aluminum or magnesium will often require being on AC. Many of the higher-end TIG machines have both settings, so you can switch between the two, as well as use the same machine for stick welding.

Another feature that is frequent in higher quality machines is HF or high-frequency ignition. HF allows your machine to start the arc without the electrode touching the workplace. This keeps your electrode from being contaminated during the welding process.

A Quick Brief on How to Set Up a TIG Welder

Your set-up may vary depending on the complexity of your machine. Since Miller and Lincoln are two of the most popular brands in the market, outlined here are guidelines on how to set up a Lincoln TIG welder or any similar TIG welding machine.

One important factor to consider when setting up your welding machine is the material you will be welding. There are online guides available to better understand how to set up a Miller TIG welder for aluminum or any other material.

Gas Selection

The purpose of shielding gas is to prevent the molten weld pool from being polluted by nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen. These gasses present in our atmosphere interact in the weld puddle, which can cause cracks and brittleness in your workpiece.

Picking the right shielding gas is a crucial step in setting up your TIG welder. This allows you to “push” the unwanted gas away. Unlike MIG welders, TIG welders cannot be used with even oxygen compounds such as carbon dioxide.

For most metals you weld with a TIG welder, pure argon will be your gas of choice. Helium is also a viable option, although it is used for highly specialized processes. More common is a mix of both argon and helium, which produces a hotter weld and is perfect for welding aluminum, magnesium, and stainless steel.

Most Lincoln TIG welders come with a flow regulator, which measures cubic feet per hour. The amount of gas you’ll be using varies depending on the material you’re welding and the cup size on your torch.

Know Your Torch

There are two types of torches commonly used with TIG welding. Air-cooled torches are cheaper yet can overheat easily. The more expensive type is a water-cooled torch which includes a radiator and a water cooler. As far as heating goes, this type of torch is more efficient but requires a lot more maintenance than the former.

No matter which torch you pick, it will be composed of a few parts—you should be aware of each of these components and what they do.

The Electrode

The first part you should be aware of is an electrode: a tungsten rod that comes in different sizes. Unlike a filler rod, this electrode doesn’t burn, and you can shape or sharpen it into different sizes with a grinder depending on the material you’re working with. A sharp or pointed tip on your electrode is usually used for welding steel, while a balled tip is reserved for AC welding aluminum and magnesium.

Tungsten is color-coded to help you select the right one for the metal you’ll be working with. Lincoln welders all come with a guide to help you select the right tungsten for your metal, although you can always find a guide online to walk you through what you need.

Shaping Your Tungsten

Grinding your tungsten to a point is done with a grinding wheel or a specialized tungsten grinder. Balling your tungsten requires the more involved process of grinding your electrode to a point then attaching it to a TIG machine to weld on a piece of aluminum until it forms a small ball.

The grinding combined with the heat will eventually “consume” your tungsten, even if it’s marked as non-consumable. Always remember to wear appropriate safety attire (like a proper dust mask) and have adequate ventilation when grinding your tungsten electrode, as the dust can cause serious health problems if inhaled.

Other Components

The next component of your torch is the cup. This cup is small and ceramic—you can buy different cup diameters depending on your needs. Your tungsten protrudes from the cup, and the copper collet lets you adjust the length of your tungsten.

The body of your collet allows the shielding gas to go through to the cup, preventing oxygen and other unwanted gasses from contaminating your weld.

Choosing Polarity

Polarity refers to the current flow direction in the welding circuit. Since many TIG welders can also be used as stick welders, they usually come equipped with three settings: DC positive, DC negative, and AC.

  • DC positive: This puts most of the heat into your tungsten instead of your workpiece and can cause it to overheat and contaminate your material. This is used for stick welding and is seldom used for the TIG process.
  • DC negative: This is the most common setting used for TIG welding. This flows heat from your torch into your workpiece.
  • AC: AC, or alternating current, means the setting switches from positive to negative. This setting is used when welding aluminum or magnesium to prevent the oxides from returning once the oxygen in the atmosphere hits your material.

Automatic and Manual Balance Control

Balance control adjusts the time your machine spends on each current (positive or negative). In some machines, a feature called auto-balance is included, which automatically sets the balance for you. In many other machines, this process needs to be done manually. As a beginner, looking for a machine with auto balance enabled (like the Lincoln Square Wave) will help you tremendously.

More About Current

The amperage flowing through your machine to the welding circuit directly relates to the heat input. A higher current means a hotter input and vice versa. You can calculate the amperage you need manually or by using a calculator, which also gives you other important information such as tungsten size, gas flow rate, and more.

Having a higher current than necessary for the material can minimize the heat the material gets exposed to. On the other hand, having a lower current than recommended can increase the heat on your workpiece. Increasing the current requires you to work faster, while decreasing the current allows you to work at a slower pace.

The Foot Pedal

Many TIG machines come with a foot pedal equipped to control your current mid-weld. The foot pedal gives you control of your amperage while working and can give you better precision and, eventually, a higher quality of the weld.

As you begin welding your workpiece and after you’ve set your maximum amperage output, your foot should have consistent pressure on the foot pedal. Increasing or decreasing this pressure adds and reduces heat. Most professionals pulse the foot pedal depending on the parts of the weld that need more heat applied.

Learning how to use the foot pedal properly may take some getting used to at the start but can only help you as you go further along in your welding journey.

How to Set Up a TIG Welder for Aluminum

Welding aluminum is a challenging yet rewarding process. Aluminum requires much more heat to melt than other metals, and so your welder must be set up with a higher maximum amperage than usual.

Aluminum welding can be done on both a DC and AC. However, the DC process is much harder to master, although it penetrates deeper into the metal. For the majority of aluminum welding, the AC setting is preferred.

Use an electrode from pure tungsten or zirconiated tungsten: these electrodes will naturally ball at the tip during the welding process. Don’t use a 2% thoriated tungsten electrode, which will develop irregularities during the process and eventually give an unstable arc.

TIG welding on any material also requires a filler rod to be fed by hand to the molten weld pool. Your workpiece’s material, thickness, and other factors all contribute to the type of filler rod you should use. Online charts can help you pick the appropriate rod for aluminum welding.

How To Set Up a TIG Welder for Mild Steel

Mild steel is carbon steel with very low amounts of carbon. Often called “low carbon steel,” it typically contains around 0.04%-0.30% carbon content. It is often the material beginners use to learn TIG welding as it is easier to weld compared to other metals and it is relatively inexpensive to purchase.

Unlike aluminum, mild steel and any sort of steel material use the DC negative setting. This will produce a smoother output because of a more stable arc, which also helps to prevent spatter.

A 2% thoriated tungsten electrode is suited for welding any steel product. While these don’t work well with aluminum, they are the most frequently used electrodes today, lasting longer than a pure tungsten electrode.

Finally, as with any TIG welding process, your filler rod will have to be placed manually into the molten puddle. The common filler rods used in welding mild steel are the E60XX line and E70XX line, but for welding thinner sheets, often, the filler material isn’t needed.


When doing your research on how to set up a TIG welder, first look at the type of machine you have and the material you’ll be welding. These are the two main factors that will dictate the settings of your welder. If you need more information, the internet is always there to help you set up your machine.

Remember that purchasing the right components and having the optimal settings will go a long way in giving you a beautiful, clean-looking finished product. Don’t skimp on your research and materials, and you’ll be on your way to a professional welding career in no time!

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