Many people wonder if it is possible to learn how to weld without taking courses or by having someone to show them.
Most people can learn the fundamentals of welding on their own to make basic fabrications and repair work by researching content from reliable sources and a lot of practice. However, if you have professional intentions, you cannot reach a high skill level fast enough without the guidance of experts.
Now, let’s examine the topic in more detail, look at the pros and cons, an overview of what you need to start, and some basic safety.
Table of Contents
- How easy is it to learn welding on your own?
- Pros of self-learning
- Cons of self-learning
- Is teaching yourself welding hard?
- Which welding process is the easiest to learn?
- How long will it take you?
- What do you need to start welding?
- Basic safety
- Final thoughts
How easy is it to learn welding on your own?
I’ve met many people who started to weld without having someone over their heads to teach them. Many felt confident enough to start alone. Others didn’t have access to reliable schools or other welding instructors, even if they wanted to.
Most managed to learn enough for their personal needs. Others eventually sought the help of experienced welders. Some of them managed to advance with constant effort and eventually made welding their profession.
Before the internet’s arrival, it was impractical for most people to read a book and try to weld. You needed someone to show you how to do it. Now, with the help of online content, the amount of information you have access to is immense.
You can research and learn the how and why of the welding machine, the correct settings, consumables, etc. Also, it is very important to learn all about safety.
After that, you can watch many tutorials where pros and serious hobbyists weld various projects for beginners and start making your own.
However, learning on your own needs a safety limit. If you want to weld or repair something that has demanding service conditions such as heavy gates, long stairs, etc. It would be wise to have your skills checked by an experienced instructor to ensure you have sufficient knowledge to fabricate a strong project and avoid accidents.
If you would like to weld professionally, learning on your own can take a lot of time, and in the end, you will probably not be able to deliver acceptable welds to pass tests. Professional work is far more demanding than do-it-yourself (DIY) work. For cases like these, it is best to attend schools, go after apprenticeships, etc.
Professional courses or a real welding environment will force you to learn things you need to know, but you don’t realize it. You might think that they are not necessary or you simply don’t like them.
Pros of self-learning
Now let’s see the benefits of learning how to weld on your own:
- You get to choose what you want to learn, the process, and metals without wasting time learning things you will not use.
- Learn in your own home without having to lose time and money to attend courses far away.
- You adjust the process for your specific learning abilities.
- You can fit the learning process into your daily schedule.
- You avoid evaluations so that you can enjoy the process better at your own pace.
- You don’t have to pay for expensive courses that will teach you processes and techniques you will not need.
Cons of self-learning
The drawbacks when you learn alone are many, and some of them are very serious:
- There is no one to observe you and give you feedback for mistakes you don’t realize you are making.
- You will miss information that will lead to welding defects, such as porosity, inclusions, or even cracking. For example, you might try to stick weld with an E7018 rod while having a welder that gives you a low open-circuit voltage. If so, the rod will tend to stick often, and you will end up with a poor bead.
- Making safety mistakes is even more critical. For example, you need to know how important it is to avoid breathing any fumes from welding or cutting. Another example is if you want to weld heavy-duty work such as trailers or heavy gates. If the welds break, it can lead to dangerous accidents.
- It can take you a long time to reach the skill level you want if you don’t stick to a well-defined plan. You might tend to read and watch videos more than practicing.
- You don’t observe 100% of a real-life welding and fabrication procedure through videos since they are edited down to 10 to 30 minutes.
Is teaching yourself welding hard?
Teaching yourself to weld is not hard if you want to weld for home improvements and do basic repairs. If you know how to use other power tools, you can learn basic welding too.
Also, it would help to start with easy-to-weld metals such as mild steel and easy welding positions, the flat and the horizontal.
If you want to work with hard-to-weld metals such as hardenable steel, or the vertical and overhead positions, learning on your own is hard, costly, and dangerous.
Which welding process is the easiest to learn?
Starting with an easy process helps too.
A welding process that uses a wire-feeding mechanism is the easiest to learn. The wire feeding mechanism automatically feeds the electrode wire into the joint and lets you keep the torch at a steady length from the joint.
The wire-feeding welding machines use a constant-voltage power source. This type can autocorrect the arc’s length if you don’t keep a perfectly steady distance from the joint. There are two types:
- The MIG (GMAW) process uses a solid wire and external gas to shield the puddle from the air.
- The flux-cored (FCAW) process uses a tubular wire containing flux material that generates the shielding gases.
With self-shielded wires, you don’t need to learn how to select the proper shielding gas. For this, FCAW is a bit easier to learn than MIG welding. Furthermore, a dedicated FCAW machine is cheaper. But FCAW:
- Creates a rough-looking weld with spatter.
- Does not weld very thin metal.
- Generates many fumes.
If you start with flux-cored, the E71T-11 self-shielded wire is the most common to start.
There are flux-cored wires that use gas to protect the puddle, but they are meant for professional work with high productivity. They are called dual-shield or FCAW-G and are easy to use.
MIG welding is the most popular home process and the best overall choice. The pros are:
- Easy to use.
- Gives pretty beads.
- Welds more metals than flux-cored.
- Welds thin sheet metal.
- Generates fewer fumes.
But you have to get a gas cylinder and learn how to use and store it safely. Furthermore, you need to learn how to choose the correct gas for each metal type and thickness.
The ER70S-6 wire and the C25 shielding gas (75% argon and 25% carbon dioxide) are the best to start. A MIG machine can also work with flux-cored wires.
Stick welding (SMAW) is a manual process. You handle the stick electrode by hand, and you must keep a short and steady arc length from the puddle all the time. That means it is a hard process to learn, especially on your own.
The main advantage is that it’s cheap to start. If you want to advance in welding, it is your best starting choice. The E6013 and the E7014 are the easiest rods to start. But many start with the E6011 too.
Weldpundit already has a more in-depth article on how difficult it is to learn stick welding.
TIG welding (GTAW) is the hardest of all. Definitely not easy to learn on your own, even if you are a fast learner. TIG needs both hands, one to handle the torch and one to feed the filler metal. You might also use one foot to operate a foot pedal that controls the amperage.
Furthermore, a TIG machine is very expensive and complicated to use. Learning to TIG weld will take you a very long time and cost you a lot of money to buy consumables. Before attempting to learn TIG, it would be helpful to learn stick welding. Having someone to help you is highly recommended.
How long will it take you?
That depends on how good you are at working with your hands, how often you will practice, and the kind of welding you want to do.
As a rough estimation, learning on your own how to weld simple projects made from mild steel in the flat and horizontal position:
- Flux-cored or MIG will take you a couple of weeks of serious practice.
- Stick welding will take you more than a month of practice. It’s a lot harder than it looks.
The vertical and overhead positions are much harder to weld. It’s always better to position the workpiece in the flat position until you start feeling more confident.
What do you need to start welding?
After you decide about the welding process you want to learn, you need to acquire various tools, safety gear, and check online for information and how-tos.
Welding and cutting tools
There are numerous tools that you need to weld and cut metal. Hopefully, you will already have most of them.
- An angle grinder is a versatile and cheap tool. But it’s a dangerous tool, and you need to learn how to use it safely. An angle grinder can help you:
- Cut most metals with the proper disk.
- Remove mill scale and rust before welding.
- Beveling the joint.
- Grind bad welds.
- Smoothening the final weld.
- Measuring tools such as measuring tape and calipers.
- A metal marker or a scriber.
- A quality combination square and a speed square.
- Lots of clamps to secure the metals together or on the table. C-clamps are simple and cheap. Vise grips of various shapes are very helpful too.
- A metal file to remove burrs.
- A metallic table to weld on.
- If you will stick or flux-cored weld, you need a chipping hammer and a wire brush to remove the slag.
- If you want to MIG or flux-cored weld, you will find a MIG plier helpful. It cuts the wire at the correct length, cleans the nozzle from spatter, and removes the nozzle and the contact tip.
- MIG also needs an adjustable wrench for the gas regulator and anti-spatter gel or spray to prevent spatter from sticking in the nozzle.
Weldpundit already has a big list of tools and equipment for welding.
Finally, get lots of scrap metal between 1/8″ (3 mm) and 3/16″ (5 mm) for practice. Make sure it’s mild steel since it is the easiest and safest to weld. Here is an article on how to identify metals.
Safety gear protects you from high heat, spatter, UV rays, cuts, fumes, and so on.
- A welding helmet protects your eyes when you watch the puddle. Auto-darkening helmets are affordable and reliable. However, you can go old-school with a helmet that uses passive filters for simplicity. Pick well-known products, avoid very cheap helmets packed with many features from unknown shops on eBay, etc.
- Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from projectiles, especially when using the angle grinder or removing slag.
- A pair of thick welding gloves will save you from numerous burns.
- Put on clothes made from tightly woven wool or cotton and avoid anything that is made from plastic.
- A leather apron is also useful against spatter and UV rays. It will also protect your clothes.
- Wear leather boots and never synthetic ones, or else any spatter on them will melt through with ease and burn your foot.
- A welding respirator is a great supplement against fumes.
- Wear earplugs or earmuffs when using the angle grinder.
There are many welders that want to share their knowledge and experience online for free:
- YouTube is such a great help for everyone that wants to learn crafts online. You can watch the work of high-caliber welders. The weldingtipsandtricks channel is a perfect example.
- Welding blogs like Weldpundit and others like it. Be mindful of blogs that are all about affiliation marketing. Their content might not be that accurate.
- Forums like the weldingweb. Post detailed questions with many photos to get specific answers.
- Also, try quora. Some experienced welders give some good answers, but many users just copy-paste content they find online. Try to post detailed questions, not generic ones.
- I would not recommend posting your welds or questions on Facebook for opinions. Try the forums.
While online content is the way to teach yourself, old books can give you very deep explanations and help you understand how welding works. One excellent example is the Lincoln Procedure Handbook of Arc Welding.
Before you begin to weld, the first thing to learn is safety. Here are the basics.
The arc can reach such high temperatures that it releases ultraviolet rays (UV). These rays can burn the surface of your eyes if you look at the arc without protection. This is called the welder’s eye (Wikipedia). All welding helmets, goggles, and safety glasses from well-known manufacturers block 100% of the UV rays.
Infrared rays (IR) are also harmful to the eyes, but the problems show up after many years. For this, they are more dangerous since most people are unaware of them. All welding helmets and goggles block IR rays, but most safety glasses do not.
Lastly, the visible light of the arc can also damage the internal part of your eye, but you will never look at it for more than a fraction of a second. Still, they will cause you some temporary disorientation.
Fumes from welding and cutting must concern you the most. Fumes are very harmful and can stay in the air for many hours.
- A very important skill to get right when you learn to weld is keeping your head clear of the fume path by correct positioning.
- If you weld indoors, you need mechanical ventilation:
- Local mechanical ventilation is the best measure to avoid fumes. These machines work like heavy-duty vacuum cleaners but are designed for welding. You put their capturing device next to the fume source to absorb them before they spread in the air. However, they are quite expensive.
- After that, you can use mechanical ventilation fixed in the walls to refresh the entire workshop’s air.
- Lastly, you can use standalone fans to blow the fumes away from you when you weld and direct them outside.
- A garage is great to start because you can have good natural ventilation 24/7 by opening windows and doors. Avoid basements or other confined spaces at all costs.
- Cleaning the metal from rust, mill scale, etc., to bare metal reduces the fumes.
- Welding respirators are a supplement. If you don’t do the previous steps, the respirator is not enough.
The UV rays from the arc can also burn your skin as the sun does. The most common skin areas to suffer from this are under your chin and your wrists.
Cover your entire body with protective clothing because UV rays can bounce off shiny metals, walls, and the floor and hit you from all directions. Especially if you use argon shielding gas and high amperage.
The most common injury all welders suffer is burning. Soon you will discover that welded metal stays super hot for a long time since you finished welding.
Also, sparks and chipped slag will find their way on your head, ears, and other exposed skin and burn you. Expect to burn yourself frequently when learning.
Fire is a very dangerous hazard. Clear all flammable materials from the welding area since spatter, or hot slag can put them on fire even hours after they land on them.
The sparks from the angle grinder can start fires at a long distance. A fire extinguisher and a bucket of sand are mandatory.
Electric shock is another danger, but when you use dry protective equipment and keep all the other safety measures, it’s almost impossible to happen.
- The most dangerous electric shock is the one from the welding machine itself if there is electric leakage.
- The welding current of modern machines has low voltage and cannot pass into your body, but you can get an electric shock if your skin is wet or cut.
- Ensure the electrical sockets, circuit breakers, and cables can handle the amperage of your welder.
- Never weld if there your area or equipment is wet.
Gas cylinders, including their cups, are very robust. What is sensitive is the valve when you use the cylinder. If the valve breaks, the cylinder will turn into a torpedo that can penetrate walls.
Keep them upright and secured with a chain to prevent falling. Also, keep them and their hoses away from welding heat and electricity and clean from flammable materials, greases, oils, etc.
All shielding gases are not flammable but can cause asphyxiation in confined spaces.
Many people learn how to weld with their own effort, and so can you. You will be able to create simple projects such as various tables, shelves, racks, fire pits, etc. Or you can create art projects and repair your equipment.
However, it would be best to get the help of a welder to watch you while you weld from time to time. He can correct your technique and warn you if your head comes in contact with the fumes, even if you think you are doing fine.
Welding is about laying good beads but also knowing and following all the safety practices.
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