Advice for the home hobbyist
November 14, 2012
In this, his last TIG article, ever, welding instructor Marty Rice offers some advice for the home hobbyist about buying equipment and shielding gas.
Author’s Note: I need a disclaimer, or in my case, a “claimer” about my articles so that I don’t always have to start off by telling you I’m gonna tell you something stupid I’ve done, seen, or had happen to me. Now that I’m an old hand, I have a lot of stupidity to draw from. Actually, I had a lot of stupidity that I alone had done by the time I was 30!
So it is now time to admit to something that is going to make you feel so good about yourself and so happy that you have never been as stupid and embarrassed as I have. You will look back at any time in your life when you put your foot in your mouth by saying something foolish and realize it was nothing compared to my idiocy! First, besides reading the other articles listed at the end of this article, you must read this excerpt from my article “Why in the heck would you want to weld”:
There I was—running this stupid little boat ride at an amusement park and making a whopping 50 cents an hour. Pick up the kid, put him in the boat, press the button—over and over and over again. At 15, I couldn't run the big rides, so when they told me I was moving to the merry-go-round, I was really happy.
There was a scary-looking mechanical clown playing an organ right next to the merry-go-round. Three songs played day and night, and I used to go to sleep with those melodies and that clown haunting my dreams. One day a woman got on the merry-go-round, and I had to go tell her she couldn't ride, because of insurance regulations.
"What regulations?" she asked.
"The one that says we can't allow pregnant ladies on the rides," I proudly declared, as the chief operator of my very own ride.
"I'm NOT pregnant!" she pretty much screamed.
In one of my previous articles about MIG welding I wrote about being so embarrassed I shrank to about an inch. Well, that event actually was the second time I shrank; the incident with the nonpregnant merry-go-round rider was the first.
So after thinking I was getting the best job in the world, I found myself making 50 cents an hour working beside an evil clown and having a nonpregnant woman hate me. Jump into the welding field without knowing what you are getting into, and you may find yourself experiencing that same kicked-in-the-gut feeling.
How am I ever gonna equal that story? How could I ever make that mistake twice? How could my stupid, big, dumb mouth ever do something like that again? Well, I’ll tell you how.
I like going into James Avery because I admire the craftsmanship in the jewelry they make. So I went in there a couple of years ago to buy myself a ring. As I was paying, I noticed the nice, beautiful young lady helping me was wearing a maternity shirt. She wasn’t showing at all, and the only reason that I figured she was pregnant was because of the shirt. It was kind of like the shirts my wife wore when she was pregnant. The key words here are “kind of.”
I reiterate that she was not showing at all—just a nice-looking woman that I was getting ready to make a fool out of myself in front of. So anxious to show a picture of my kids at any given chance, I couldn’t wait to tell her how cool it was gonna be to have kids. I had my hand on my wallet, getting ready to get a picture out as I asked when she was due. (I would later recall seeing the kind of shirt she was wearing on a lot of women out in California, Sante Fe, New Mexico, and even Texas. Sure wish I had remembered that before I asked when she was due!)
She said something under her breath, and my Army- and ironworking-damaged ears couldn’t hear, so I asked her to repeat it. “I said, I am not pregnant,” she told me as I began profusely apologizing and telling her what an ass I was. Twice? Twice? I’ve now done that twice in my life? Oh, the humanity! It took every fiber of my being not to run out of the mall crying with my hands flailing in the air.
I will guarantee you that I will never, ever, never, never, ever, never ask another woman if she is with child! Shrinking down to an inch is hard on a fellow!
I was on the verge of telling my awesome editor I had tigged myself out and didn’t have anything else to write about TIG, but I’m not one to quit. I will say, however, this will be my last TIG article! It’s never really been my thing, seeing as how I’m a structural ironworker and never used TIG in the field. As I said in one of the other articles, I couldn’t even run a bead with it when I first started teaching and was doing an internship. When a student asked me to run a bead, I figured I could run a bead in any process. I was wrong.
For those of you new to welding, sometimes you can BS your way through, and other times you need to flat out say you don’t have a clue. With TIG you will not be able to BS your way through; you’ve got to learn it, and it’s going to take a lot of practice.
I tell my students to always look confident and carry themselves well, especially when walking onto a job for the first time. If you get into welding for a living, chances are you’re gonna have a lot of different jobs. Walking into a new place always gave me big-time butterflies in my little tummy, even after years in the trade.
However, you would not have known that from looking at me because I didn’t show it. For example, when I was working on high-rises downtown, the pretty girls in the building next to me would see a rough, tough, macho iron worker. But if they coulda heard my thoughts, it woulda sounded like a 4-year-old kid begging God not to let me fall and promising Him all kinds of things!
You look like Nervous Nelly, and you’re gonna get eaten alive in welding, whether in the shop or field. Now, don’t get me wrong and try to be “Badass Bob” or “Badass Brittany.” Just look confident, and the best way to do that is to educate yourself and burn, baby, burn—practice. If you plan on becoming a TIG welder, you better plan on doing lots and lots of burning. (By the way, home hobbyist, you can pretty much look how you want in your own garage or home shop.)
And that is my segue to advice for the home hobbyist about machines and equipment. I’ve written about buying MIG machines, but don’t believe I’ve ever talked TIG. (By the way, I’m assuming here, and normally I tell my students not to assume, because it makes an “ass” out of “u”and “me”! But I’m assuming you have read the articles listed at the end and know that TIG used to be called “heliarc” and still is by old hands … really old hands, because helium used to be the shielding gas used. Then it was, and in most places still is, called TIG for tungsten inert gas. Now the term “GTAW” for gas tungsten arc welding is technically correct, but like I said, most people call it TIG.
With TIG machines, you get what you pay for, and for a good one, you’re gonna lay out some cashola. Some great advice I got when I first started working iron was to always pay for the best tires for your vehicle and the best boots for your feet. At one of the first iron plants I worked, they gave us a hundred bucks for steel-toed boots. I went out and bought some cheap $15 boots, and man did I ever pay for it with more than money. After about a month of sore, aching, blistered feet, those suckers still weren’t even broke in! That’s when I started buying Red Wing, Justin, and Chippewa boots. You’re going to lay out some bread for boots that are comfortable the day you buy them. Some things are worth paying for, and besides boots, a TIG machine is one of them.
My opinion of welding machines is the same as my opinion of trucks nowadays. Go buy a new truck from any of the big-name companies and you’ll have a good truck. Go buy a welding machine from any of the big companies and you’ll have a good machine.
Now before I get lit up with people telling me they can lay a great bead with a $200 machine they bought, I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying it is my preference to lay out the bread for the proven brands. It’s a personal call that you will make for yourself, and I’m not trying to sway you at all.
My advice is to do your research on the good old Worldwide Web superhighway and then do your research on the best welding supply stores in your area. If I’m buying one, I’m getting at least three prices and then buying it from a supplier. The reason being is I then have support if I need it, and I know I’m getting a good machine.
As far as price, it’s like buying a car—every seller’s price is different.
With a TIG machine, like a MIG machine, you also are going to have to buy shielding gas to go with it. I advise you to buy your bottles, don’t rent them. There are some, especially suppliers, most likely, who will argue with that, but I bought all of my shop’s bottles a few years ago, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done to improve my shop.
Not all suppliers will sell the bottles. I found one who not only sells them to me, but will throw a bottle in his truck and bring it to me if I’m in a bind. Bottles come in all sizes, and that’s another thing you will want to consider if you are a home hobbyist. Talk it over with your supplier and ask if you can trade your bottle back in if you decide you need a larger one. Just as with your car, you don’t want to run out of gas!