Advice and maintenance practices to ensure quality
July 1, 2009
Even though money is tight, saving it by purchasing less reputable GTAW torches or skimping on maintenance practices can cause more harm than good in the long run.
Photos courtesy of Matt Munz, Arc-Zone.com Inc., Carlsbad, Calif.
When times are tough our initial instinct is to save money and buy cheap. That's not always the best strategy, especially when you're looking at a new gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) torch.
One of the biggest differences between a low-quality and high-quality torch is the materials used in manufacturing it, as well as the production process. Quality torches last longer, run cooler, provide a stable arc, and offer overall improved weld quality.
First, make sure that you get the torch best-suited for your welding application. You'll need to know at what amperage you'll be welding, and select your torch accordingly. In general, for applications under 200 amps you'll be fine with an air-cooled torch. Though heavier-duty, air-cooled torches that go up to 300 amps are available, the higher-amp torches can be heavier and bulkier. For applications over 200 amps, you'll want to consider a water-cooled torch.
While using a torch above its amperage rating won't cause it to explode, it will make it too hot to handle, and ultimately the more intense heat will cause premature degradation of the torch itself. The silicone rubber can start to deteriorate, loosening its bond to the torch, drying out and cracking. The O-rings and gaskets will suffer premature damage as well.
A quality GTAW torch is made with leaded nickel copper, not the more common tellurium copper, which is less durable. In other words, on a leaded nickel copper torch the torch body threads will last longer and the collets won't buckle and twist when you thread them onto the torch. Leaded nickel copper is also a better conductor, so you'll get the amperage you paid for.
Silicone rubber, rather than a phenolic compound, is best for the insulation material of the torch body, but the quality of that may be variable, too, from heat tolerance of the material to how well the body is bonded to the copper innards of the torch. A quality manufacturer will use high-dielectric silicone rubber that can tolerate high voltages and is not susceptible to cracking if dropped.
Gaskets are made of Teflon®. You'd think all Teflon is created equal, but it's not. A high-quality torch has a high-performance, glass-filled Teflon material that has a much longer life span and higher heat tolerance than "regular" Teflon.
Some torches have handles made from nonreinforced material that may crack and split or have sharp edges that can cut the hose. Also, sometimes the torch handle is not long enough to properly insulate the high-frequency current of the GTAW process. Other manufacturing quality issues include industry-standard cables and hoses that just don't fit properly, which can affect gas and water flow.
When you buy a quality torch, you'll want to take care of it. Here are some tips to help you do that.