MIG vs. TIG vs. SMAW

Last updated on January 28th, 2020 at 12:59 am

In the world of welding, knowing your options is nearly as important as knowing how to weld. There are three main types of welding machines and methods, MIG vs TIG vs SMAW. Each differs in the way the filler metal is applied to the joint. As well as the environment they thrive in can help you prepare to make perfect welds, no matter what condition or job you may find yourself in.


MIG Welding

MIG or Metal Inert Gas Welding utilizes a wire electrode as the filler metal. This wire is fed automatically when the trigger of the attachment gun is pulled. A filler is released and an inert gas is used to shield the filler. This gas is typically a combination of argon, an innate gas, and carbon dioxide.

It was first presumed that MIG welding required only innate gases. Until carbon dioxide was discovered to be a suitable gas for the process. The carbon dioxide stabilized the arc and allowed for a deeper penetration of the metal.

The electrode wire used for MIG welding doesn’t have additives to combat dirt, rust, and oil on metal surfaces. The wire electrode used doesn’t have much protection from the outside elements. Therefore, gas is pumped through a tube to protect the electrode as a shield against the atmosphere. Because the wire is unable to weld properly to dirty surfaces. It is imperative to ensure that the contact point for the ground, as well as the welding surface, are clean and free of contaminants.

The wire electrode in MIG welding is consumed rather quickly. So it is one factor to keep in mind when considering the longevity of cost and efficiency. Due to the need to supply gas to the weld contact, welders are constrained by the length of tubing between the gas canister and gun. This method is simpler in ways to the mechanics of both TIG and SMAW welding but still requires skill to join metal seamlessly.

What Can it Do?

MIG welding is great for use around the house, yard, garage, and even art projects. The process allows for thicker metals to be welded together. And can generally weld a minimum of 24 gauge and up to ½ an inch steel. With MIG welding, power settings generally allow connecting thicker pieces of metal. This makes it practical for most metal found on automobiles, fences, pipes, and trailers. MIG welders typically run below 115 volts, which means they can operate on a standard 110-volt household plug. Check our list of the best MIG welder.

TIG Welding

In many ways, TIG, or Tungsten Inert Gas Welding shares many similarities to MIG welding. Just like MIG welding, TIG welding utilizes inert gas to shield the electrode from the atmosphere. However, the difference in the gas used for each is important to note. TIG welding requires pure argon gas. Unlike MIG welding, it cannot use carbon dioxide. As this gas easily contaminates the tungsten electrode at the end of the torch.

A long welding rod made of the same material as the MIG filler is manually fed by the welder’s second hand. The tungsten torch and welding gas heat the three-feet long welding rod while the shielding argon gas creates a protective cloud around the weld. The tungsten electrode is meant to last for long periods of time. But if not used consciously, can be consumed quickly.

Tungsten electrodes are available in varying sizes and classifications. The use of mixtures of tungsten and other metals or elements are common in this process. These alloys allow for use on different metals and thicknesses. However, the slow nature of manually feeding the electrode means the TIG welder is not necessarily the best choice for private use because of the difficulty which resides in handling the welding rod and manually feeding it with the torch and tungsten electrode in the other.

What Can it Do?

Due to TIG welding being able to perform at lower power, it is common to utilize the TIG welding process on more delicate metals. Whereas a MIG welder may burn through a thinner piece of metal like a kitchen sink or a thin pipe. TIG welding works effectively at lower power and can fuse the thinner metal without blowing through it. The TIG welder can also operate at high powers, so long as the unit is capable of doing such. This versatility makes the TIG welding great for many different kinds of projects. Check our list of the best TIG welder.

Stick Welding

Stick welding is often referred to as Shielded Metal Arc Welding or SMAW. In stick welding, just like TIG and MIG, the circuit begins with a secure connection between the ground clamp and the welding machine. This starts the electrical current, and the welder completes the current by striking an electrode against the base metal.

As the welding rod strikes against the metal, the circuit completes and the arc starts. The arc heats the rod and droplets of the melted electrode form a pool near the base of the weld. Remember that in both TIG and MIG welding, a shielding gas is necessary to protect the weld from the oxygen in the atmosphere which would contaminate the weld.

However, in SMAW welding, there is no gas used in the process. Instead, the welding rod has special additives which act similarly to the inert gas used in inert gas welding, forming a shield as it melts. While MIG and TIG welding requires gas and a controlled area with minimal wind. Utilizing SMAW welding is generally good for outside projects, as the wind does not negatively impact the results of stick welding nearly as much as it does for gas based welding.

What Can it Do?

Stick welding is beneficial because it is not limited to a specific work environment. As mentioned before, stick welding does not require gas for the process. The welding rod has additives, which, as they melt form a shield around the weld. Because stick welding is not dependent on a gas canister. It is much more viable to stick weld in various work conditions like oil pipelines, factories, and bridges. Stick welding is still considered the standard for many industrial metals and building frames. Many stick welding machines can even operate with gasoline rather than electricity, so they are even more flexible with power requirements.

Stick welding does not produce the cleanest results. Welders often spend a long period of time to clean the weld after finishing due to high amounts of splatter. If the welding area is not properly ventilated to allow enough airflow, clouds and fumes of gases from the melting electrode can accumulate which is actually dangerous to inhale. Those utilizing SMAW will need to ensure airflow is removing hazardous chemicals from the area. Additionally, it takes much practice, like with all types of welding, to perfect the strike between the electrode rod and the base metal. You may also be interested to check our list of the best plasma cutter.

Wrap Up

There are many ways to produce the perfect weld. Whether that comes down to the type of metal you use, the filler, the gas combination, the environment, or even how clean the surface is. But one of the most important factors is knowing the different processes, and when to utilize each process. Knowing when to use inert gas welding in place of stick welding can help reduce the costs of deposit metals. Knowing to use stick welding outside can help ensure jobs done in less than perfect conditions still yield high-quality results.

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