July 10, 2014
"The world has enough one-handed welders."
Unless you’re a member of the 1 percent who are truly ambidextrous, you probably feel very comfortable TIG welding with your dominant hand and not so much with your other hand. I’m right handed. I learned to TIG weld by holding the torch in my right hand and moving the torch from right to left while feeding filler with my left hand.
No matter what field you’re in, from pipe welding to prototype fabrication, there is going to come a time when a joint is going to require you to weld in the other direction. I remember years ago reading a quote on a welding forum: “The world has enough one-handed welders.” And it’s true. If you can learn to weld in either direction with ease, it really does add a valuable dimension to your game.
So much of it is mental. Getting my brain to think differently than it was used to thinking was half the battle, so I’d start by doing daily tasks with my left hand. I’d brush my teeth lefty, cut my steak lefty, text on my phone lefty—mind stretches to get in the habit of thinking from “both sides of the plate,” to steal a baseball term.
When you are a beginner welder, working with your dominant hand quickly becomes second nature. You make torch angle and filler feed adjustments without even thinking about it. Muscle memory and mental reaction to what you’re seeing and feeling are nearly automatic. Chances are, as soon as you switch hands and move the other direction, everything feels awkward. That’s one of the reasons I suggest going back and forth between the two, as opposed to practicing solely with your off hand.
Running stringers is still the best way to build muscle memory. I like to train my left hand by running a stringer with my right hand from right to left, then switching hands and doing the same thing from left to right (Figure 1). The “instinct” you feel welding with your dominant hand is fresh in your head as you toggle between hands, making it harder to develop bad habits with the nondominant hand. If you’re a right-hander like me, try to think a little bit more about everything you’re doing (torch angle, how you’re holding the filler, arc length, speed) as you weld righty, and as you get more comfortable welding in the opposite direction, see if you can actually think about it less while going lefty, if that makes sense.
I’ll often switch the torch back and forth between my right and left hands during projects, just to try to sharpen my left-hand skills.
The end goal is to be able to pick up a torch with either hand and lay down an acceptable bead, no matter which direction the job requires. It may be frustrating at first, but with some smart practice, it shouldn’t take long to get the hang of it.