How Welding Machines Work: The Ultimate Guide

How Welding Machines Work: The Ultimate Guide

Welding machines may seem complicated, but they are easy enough to understand once you start to work with them.

How do welding machines work?

The short answer is simple. With a little science and a little practice, anyone can make a great welding project happen. The long answer is that there are several types of welding and welding machines, and you should be familiar with many of them. 

How Welding Machines Work: The Ultimate Guide
red welding machine equipment

If you’re ready to get started on your welding project and begin making your own practical – or artistic – creations, get a pen and take some notes.

By the end of this article, you will know everything you need to know about welding.

The Welding Machine Basics

Before we get into the technicalities, you should know a few basics, like the two types of welding.

The two main types of welding are arc welding and torch welding.

Today, we will get into the basics of both types of welding: how they work, what kind of equipment they each require, and more.

Arc Welding

Arc welding refers to the process of using an electrical arc to melt down the materials you’re working with, as well as the filler materials.

This rod is sometimes referred to as a welding rod, and this process is used to weld joints together.

While this description makes it sound pretty simple, arc welding is a complex process. To arc weld, you must attach a grounding wire to the welding material.

Note that the welding material is not the material you will be welding together.

A different wire, called the electrode lead, is what is placed in the material you plan to weld. When you pull the electrode lead away from the material, you will create electricity.

The electricity you create from pulling the electrode lead is what creates the electric arc for which the entire process is named.

When the arc is generated, the material you are welding melts and – if you used them – the filler materials will help the pieces melt together into one solid piece.

Types of Arc Welding

So, what are the different types of arc welding?

There are three different types of arc welding that we will discuss, which are listed down below:

  • Shielded metal arc welding
  • Gas metal arc welding
  • Gas tungsten arc welding

Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)

Illustration Of SMAW

Shielded metal arc welding, also known as SMAW, refers to a type of arc welding that uses an electrode lead that is covered in flux.

Flux is a cleaning or purifying agent. Basically, when the electric arc is generated and the joint forms, the flux will disintegrate.

When the flux disintegrates, it will give off vapors that will shield where you have welded from anything in the air that could contaminate it.

Because this type of welding is relatively simple and can be used for many different kinds of welding projects, it is one of the more popular welding techniques, used in multiple industries.

Please note that SMAW can also be referred to as manual metal arc welding (MMAW) or as flux shielded arc welding.

Though these names all sound a bit different, they all refer to the type of arc welding that uses a protective flux.

Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)

Gas metal arc welding, or GMAW, also has a few different names.

It can also be referred to as metal inert gas (MIG) welding or metal active gas (MAG) welding.

Note that MIG and MAG welding both refer to categories of gas metal arc welding.

GMAW works when the electric arc is generated between a metal inert gas wire electrode and the materials being welded.

The process causes the materials to heat, melt, and eventually fuse together.

The main difference between SMAW and GMAW is the electrode – GMAW uses a metal inert gas one, while SMAW uses a lead electrode.

Remember how SMAW used flux to protect the area? GMAW also has a protectant, though it is called a shielding gas.

Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)

The last sub-category of arc welding that we will talk about is gas tungsten arc welding or GTAW.

This type of welding is also known as tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding. GTAW uses a tungsten electrode in its process.

It’s the same process as before, but with a different electrode material. What’s also similar, but slightly altered, is the protective agent used.

GTAW uses an inert shielding gas to protect the weld area from contaminants.

Note that GTAW also uses a filler material, though not all welding processes through this method will require it.

Torch Welding

Torch welding is a bit simpler to understand, if only because it has no subcategories to keep up with.

To torch weld, you use a torch to melt the working material and the welding rod.

The welder gets a lot of control in this process because they have to handle both the rod and the torch at the same time.

This type of welding is common, though it is waning in popularity due to its hands-on nature. However, it is still used in many industries.

Other Forms of Welding

There are other types of welding other than arc and torch welding.

However, you should attempt these kinds of welding at your own risk.

Other kinds of welding include white-hot electrical arcs, explosion welding, laser beam welding, and ultrasonic welding.

These kinds of welding are much more complicated. If you’re a beginner, stick with arc and torch welding until you’ve had some practice.

What Are Welding Machines Used For?

Old Photo Of Sir Humphry Davy

Welding is a centuries-old practice said to have its earliest roots with Sir Humphry Davy around 1836.

It was around this time that Davy generated the first electric arc with two electrodes. However, welding was not refined until a few decades later in 1881.

That was when August De Meritens used an electric arc to fuse two lead plates together. Later, his student Nikolai Bernados patented a kind of electric arc welding.

Through these changes, the different kinds of welding were created and eventually refined. Though the practice itself is quite old, modern-day welding is still like its older predecessors.

Today, welding is faster, more efficient, and more accurate than it used to be. However, the end goal has remained the same.

To put it simply, welding machines are used to join things together.

Here are a few important welding terms:

  • Welding material: the materials you are welding together
  • Filler: the plastic or metal you are using as a kind of glue to hold your welding materials together. Sometimes welders use a filler to hold the welding materials together so that this fusion of materials can take place.
  • Energy: the source you use to weld your materials together (gas, electricity, laser, etc.)

By definition, welding is the process of joining two materials, like aluminum, brass, plastic, or polymer, together with by fusing them via some sort of reaction.

This reaction is usually created through extreme heat from whatever energy source you choose to use.

Welding is often used in manufacturing, including every type from architectural and mining to agricultural and structural.

Welders also work in aerospace and shipbuilding companies, as well as in repair industries.

Because welding is such a diverse industry, you can guess why there’s such a market for welding machines out there.

People want to be able to weld and to complete diverse home and business projects with their own two hands.

Now that online shopping has made these machines accessible, it’s no wonder they’ve grown popular.

How To Select The Perfect Welding Machine

Green Welding Machine

The key to selecting the perfect welding machine is choosing the best one for your specific welding needs.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself before deciding and beginning your research.

Questions To Ask:

  • How much can I afford to spend on this?
  • What process do I want to use?
  • What kind of projects do I want to be able to do?

No matter which type you choose to do, welding is expensive.

You’ve got to buy the machine, and you will also need to purchase the right welding materials, your protective agent, and possibly a filler.

You should think about the entire cost of owning and using your welding machine before deciding which kind of welding machine is for you.

Note that electric arc welding machines tend to be cheaper and torch welding machines tend to be more expensive. Think about your budget before you get too attached to one type.

The last question is perhaps the most important one. It will not matter if you buy the best welding machine on the market if you buy one that can’t handle or isn’t the best for the product you want.

Once you have asked yourself all of these questions, you’ll be better equipped to figure out which kind of welding machine is best for you.

Do I Need a Welding Machine?

MIG Welding

Whether or not you need a welding machine of your own depends on several factors, and you will need to make a judgment call for yourself.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my budget?
  • Why do I want to do my welding myself?
  • Could a welding shop do this?
  • Do I need a project done quickly?
  • Am I completing one project or many?
  • Am I committed to practicing?

These are all important questions because they point towards the long-term utility of purchasing your own welding machine.

If the project at hand can be done better and faster at a shop, why do you want to do it yourself? Do you simply want the satisfaction of being able to weld yourself? Do you want to execute your own vision?

The truth is that just because a shop can do your welding project for you does not mean a shop is the best option.

Sometimes, you might think that no one can really execute your vision or need as you can – and that’s a great reason to get a welding machine for yourself.

Also, think about how many projects you’ll be using the machine for. If this is a one-time thing, you might want to think twice.

Welding machines and materials cost money, and keeping your machine maintained will cost you time and energy.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider using a shop instead of your own machine. Welding also requires a lot of patience and time.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to get a lot of practice before you see the best results of your welding.

Types Of Welding Machines

Three Welding Machines

There are two overarching types of welding machines we’ll talk about – can you guess what they are?

You’re correct!

We’ll be getting into arc welding machines – broken up by category – and torch welding machines.

You already know the basics, so how do the machines themselves vary?

When it comes to the question of how many different types of welding machines there are, the answer is – lots.

Instead of dumping them all on you at once, I have composed a list of arc welding machines.

Popular Arc Welding Machines

The C.M.T. Pitbull Ultra-Portable 100-Amp Electric Arc Welder – 110V by CMT is a great low-cost arc welder option especially for those who are thinking of doing smaller, home projects rather than larger complicated ones.

At less than $100 on Amazon, to be exact – it’s not the best welder on the market. However, it’s a great choice for beginners.

As you can tell from the title of the DEKOPRO 110/220V MMA Welder, this is an MMAW welding machine, which is just another name for an SMA welding machine.

That means you’ll be working with a lead electrode and a flux protectant. It’s not quite as cheap as our first option, but still a good deal for a beginner.

The ARC Welder HITBOX is in the GTA welding machine subcategory – tungsten inert gas (TIG).

If you’ll recall, that means that you’ll be using an inert shielding gas and a tungsten electrode.

Turning On Welding Machine

Torch Welding Machines

The first torch welder on the list is the Lotos LTPDC2000D by Lotos Technology.

One big difference that I noticed between torch welding machines and arc welding machines is just how much more expensive torch welding machines tended to be.

While arc welding machines start below $100, this machine comes in at about $500.

If you’re trying to make the best welding machine purchase for yourself, think of your budget before committing to one type of welding – this will save you stress and money.

The MTS-205 205 by Amico is another great torch welder option.

This machine is expensive at around $600. However, it comes with the TIG Torch function and advanced technology that could be beneficial for more advanced welders looking to make an investment.

Since you’ve decided you want to make this investment, there are still a couple of things you should know before you finally make your purchase – you need to make sure you’ll know how to care for your machine.

How To Maintain a Welding Machine

Maintaining Welding Machine

So how can you maintain your welding machine?

You’ve invested a lot of research into finding a machine, so let’s learn a little about the upkeep of one.

Keep it clean

This is probably the simplest advice you’ve received regarding your welding machine, but it’s easily one of the most important.

Welding can be a messy process, and there’s a chance for materials to melt on and around your machine and make a mess.

While it may be tempting to let the mess be since you probably won’t be using this machine very often, it’s important to clean up after yourself, so your machine doesn’t get clogged with melted materials and can continue working at its fullest capacity.

After all, welding machines cost money, and you don’t want to have to replace yours too soon.

Keep it dry

This one may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me.

However, every few months you dry the inside of your machine.

You need to use clean dry air, so you can remove any moisture from inside the machine.

This is especially important when it comes to the power sources, which can react negatively if left in moist conditions for too long.

Read the directions

This probably sounds like a no brainer, but you would be surprised by how many machine malfunctions can be fixed – or prevented altogether – by simply reading all the directions provided.

Before you even use your machine, I recommend reading the entire instructional manual that should come with it.

Pay special attention to the sections about maintenance, so that you will know what to expect at the end of your project before you even begin.

This will also help you avoid inadvertently damaging the machine by doing something during the welding process to hurt its functionality.

Have a schedule

One thing that will prevent your machine’s care from falling by the wayside is keeping a schedule of when you will maintain your machine.

While you might not need maintenance as often as a welding shop might, you should have a rough schedule of when you will complete the tasks necessary to maintain your machine.

For example, you should know when you will be working on projects (so you can have the proper cleaning supplies) and note every six months so you can dry out the inside of the machine.

You should even make a note of a few times a year when you will check your machine to see if any parts need to be replaced.

By following just a few simple steps, you can make sure your welding machine lasts for a long time and continues to deliver a great product.

After all, you’ve put a lot of effort into choosing the machine of your dreams – you don’t want to lose it too early.