What Should You Know About Welding Sparks

What Should You Know About Welding Sparks

If you are a beginner or just getting into welding, learning about welding sparks will help you understand the job’s hazards and prevent injury. 

Welding can be dangerous, and welding sparks play a big role in that. 

Not only is welding dangerous, but the process can also be a bit confusing

This article will explain in simple terms what welding sparks are and what processes lead to the occurrence of sparks. 

We will also cover what kind of welding will emit sparks.

Lastly, the article will describe the different dangers of welding sparks and what you can do to avoid any serious injuries on the job. 

What Are Welding Sparks Actually?

What Are Welding Sparks Actually?

Everyone has seen welding sparks either in real life or on a video, but many do not know what they actually are. 

The first thing we need to understand is the basic process of welding. When you weld something, you are heating two pieces of metal to extreme temperatures.

The high temperatures (averages at 6,000 to 8,000 degrees celsius) melt the metal so that the welder can then fuse them. 

The way that welders generate that kind of heat is with a welding torch. The torch is the tool that produces the welding arc.

A welding arc is basically a small lightning bolt (very small). The welding arcs release an electrical discharge to heat the metal. 

This electrical charge (which we will explain more in-depth with the next point) releases the sparks. 

So, what exactly are welding sparks? Welding sparks are what we call incandescent particles. We use the word incandescent to describe anything that will emit light when heated to high temperatures. 

You can also describe the sparks as molten metal sparks since the sparks are caused by the metal turning to molten. 

How Are They Created? 

Now that we know what they are let’s find out how the welding sparks are created. To do this, we will need to dive a bit deeper into the welding process. 

There are three main elements/tools that welders use during the welding process. 

The three main things are the power supply, an electrode, and the grounded wire. All of these elements are connected to the metal that the welder will be working on. 

The welder will take the electrode or welding gun, touch the metal with it, and make physical contact.

Next, the welder breaks contact and allows for a small air gap between the metal and welding tool. 

That small air gap is where the fun happens. The electrical current will flow through the air gap; this is what the welding arc is, and this is where the sparks come from. 

Since the metal rises to such a high temperature, it will start to bubble and project thousands of tiny incandescent particles, which are the sparks you see.

This process also emits a very bright white light containing UV and IR light, which is why welders wear special glasses/helmets. 

The main reason why many welders wear full-face helmets and protective gear is because these sparks can reach temperatures of 1,300 degrees celsius. 

Since there are many different kinds of welding, there will only be certain processes that will produce sparks. 

Most arc welding processes will create sparks. However, some kinds of arc welding will not produce sparks as other types will. 

The two main categories of arc welding in which you will see a difference are MIG and TIG welding. 

The Difference Between MIG and TIG Welding

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MIG AND TIG WELDING

Both of these welding processes use an electric arc, but they use different techniques and equipment to achieve the arc. 

To begin, let’s cover what MIG welding is. 

MIG welding is called metal inert gas welding. MIG uses a welding gun with a feed wire. The feed wire transmits an electrical current which then creates the sparks.

This electrical current/sparks is what heats the metal and melts it. The welder can then merge the metals. 

On the other hand, TIG welding, or tungsten inert gas, uses long rods. These rods will directly heat and fuse the metal. This kind of welding is a much cleaner process. 

The main difference between the two is that tungsten inert gas welding does not produce a melted filler metal or even the same amount of filler metal.

A filler metal is a melted electrode. In MIG welding, the electrode melts and produces sparks, which is what merges the metal.

However, since tungsten metal has a very high melting point, it does not melt. TIG welding also only uses the necessary amount of filler.

This is why tungsten inert gas welding does not produce any sparks. In fact, if you do see sparks while you are TIG welding, that usually means something has gone wrong. 

As we can see, the main factors that contribute to welding sparks are the feed wire in MIG welding and the melting of the filler metal. 

Can Welding Sparks Be Dangerous? 

There are several reasons why welding sparks can be dangerous. 

Fire Hazard

FIRE HAZARD

First of all, there is a fire hazard. 

The sparks and splatter that result from arc welding can travel up to 35 feet in the workspace. Obviously, this could be a problem.

Depending on where the spark lands, it could potentially start a fire or even an explosion. 

Even though these cases are rare, it does happen. From 2013 to 2017, The National Fire Protection Association found that welding torches caused 39% of fires that did not occur in the home

Burn Hazard

The second danger will be personal injury caused by welding sparks. 

There are two main common injuries in welding: body burns and eye burns. If any sparks land on you, you will most likely experience some sort of burn.

Even though one small spark won’t be a big deal, the welding arc produces thousands of sparks that will fly in different directions.

Furthermore, you could also experience burns from the heat of the sparks. 

Arc welding can also lead to arc eye. The technical term for this is photokeratitis.

This injury is when you burn your eye and experience symptoms such as short-term blindness, extreme pain or discomfort, and sensitivity to light (to name a few).

While arc eye is mainly caused by looking at the arc flash without protection, you can also get a spark or a small piece of metal stuck in the eye due to the splatter. 

Even though there are several dangers involved with welding sparks, there are a few things you can do to stay safe.

Many welders go their whole lives without experiencing any sort of major injury.

Staying Safe From Fire Started by Welding Sparks

STAYING SAFE FROM FIRE STARTED BY WELDING SPARKS

When it comes to fire prevention, the first thing you want to do is remove all flammable material in the work area.

Most workplaces should be set up to prevent fires in the first place, but it will be worth talking to a superior about if it is not. 

Here are a few flammable materials you can look out for.

  • Wood
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Gas (acetylene and propane)
  • Paint
  • Oil

You will also need to make sure there is a fire extinguisher nearby and ready to operate. You should know the location of water hoses, sand, the fire alarm, and the fire exit. 

Staying Safe From Welding Spark Burns

You can do a number of things to stay safe from uncomfortable or severe burns caused by welding sparks. 

The most important aspect of staying safe is wearing proper personal protective equipment. If you wear certified equipment, you will significantly lower the risk of injury. 

Here is a list of the equipment you will need. 

  • Welding glasses/helmet. Proper eyewear will protect your eyes from ultraviolet light, infrared light, and heat emitted from the welding arc. Many welders will wear a full-face helmet when arc welding to prevent sparks from hitting their faces. 
  • Full-length shirt and pants. Another important step is to protect your body. Make sure to wear a jacket or a shirt that covers your entire arms and long pants. Cotton clothing that is fire-resistant and leather are the best clothing materials to wear. 
  • Leather gloves. To avoid serious injury to your hands, wear flame-resistant leather gloves
  • Closed-toe shoes. Lastly, you will need to wear closed-toe shoes. Leather boots with ankle coverage will be the best option. Try to avoid buying shoes with fabric shoelaces. 

Even though welding is considered one of the most dangerous jobs by many, you can easily avoid serious injury.

If you take the proper steps to lower the fire hazard and wear personal protective equipment, you won’t have to worry about the dangers of welding sparks. 

Conclusion 

Welding sparks are incandescent particles that the welding arc emits. The welding arc is an electrical current equivalent to a small lightning bolt; this causes welding sparks. 

You will only see welding sparks in arc welding since the process releases a visible electrical discharge. 

An important thing to know about welding sparks is that they can be dangerous. Some main hazards include fire and burn hazards. 

However, if you take a bit of time out to properly prevent those hazards (like removing flammable materials and wearing PPE), you will be fine. 

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