Professional welding is a skilled trade and steady livelihood. With committed effort, welding can also be a home hobby or independent source of income. Once you understand the basics of welding and are ready to work from home, the next step is investing in a few essential tools for welding.
There are more advanced tools used by dedicated welding shops, but for now, let’s focus on the welding tools, equipment, and accessories needed for you to get started.
Basic Welding Machines
The welding machine is the first and most essential piece of equipment to get. A good quality welding machine helps ensure success as you learn and allows you to master several welding techniques. MIG (metal inert gas), MMA/Stick (manual metal arc), and TIG (tungsten inert gas) welders are the most commonly used.
What Is the Welder of Choice for Home Use?
MIG welders are the welder of choice for beginners (according to the Tula Welding Schools) and the easiest and quickest machine to learn with good results in a short time. Most MIG welders use ordinary household current and a motorized spool of welding wire. You can complete high-quality weld jobs with MIG machines.
MMA/Stick welders are less automated than MIG and require that you manually apply filler metal to the weld. An advantage of MMA welders is they can generally weld heavier materials.
TIG welders are usually for professionals in mass production factories or fields and are more time-consuming and complex.
You can also choose a multiprocess welder for most of the common welding techniques/processes, so you won't need to buy another machine. It will save space in your shop, and you won't need a TIG welder if you start with MIG or Stick and want to switch or upgrade. You can carry out most welding processes on a multiprocess welder.
Lastly, there are inverter machines. You can easily move these machines for jobs and projects that require having to leave your shop. A small inverter welder is ideal for its flexible control, ease of use, energy efficiency, current stability, and output voltage.
Essential Welding Tools and Equipment
Welding on the ground is impractical, inconvenient, and can put your safety at risk. Before beginning a welding project, you need to find a solid work surface. It can be a traditional workbench or a dedicated welding table, but either way, don't skimp on quality.
One option is small, portable workbenches that can be purchased for a reasonable price. Invest in one of these and you can take it with you on projects where you have to work outside your shop. It will make your job much easier.
MIG Welding Pliers
MIG welding pliers are tools that have specially designed noses to remove welding spatters efficiently. Choose pliers with cutting edges hardened by induction (they will stay sharp for longer). The pliers must also have jaws which will be needed for drawing wire out, and removing and installing nozzles and tips.
Welding magnets are heavy-duty magnets that hold metals securely to the work surface. Usually triangular, welder magnets have high levels of magnetism that are strong enough to hold parts in place before welding.
Although they're also called welding clamps, note that the way magnets are used is different from how the actual clamps are used. Welding magnets are used to keep two workpieces together while forming an angle. With welding magnets, you can join metals together at 45- or 90- or 135-degree angles before welding.
A chipping hammer is used to remove the slag from the weld. The welding hammer is utilized by using the tip to hit the joint to loosen it. It is used when the slag is stuck and needs a little more action than what is possible with metal brush. A chipping hammer is used a lot. With good maintenance, it will last for several years.
Welding Framing Jig
A welding framing jig is yet another brace that is used to stabilize a welding project. A good quality jig streamlines your work in the face of force, motion, heat, and pressure. It allows complete welding of a part while controlling its dimensional deformations.
This type of jig can be either manual or automated depending on the speed and needs of the user. Welding jigs can make your jobs easier, more accurate, quicker, more comfortable, and cost-efficient.
There are suitable wires for steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. In addition, steel can be welded with filler wire. You should also remember that you need the right wire feeder roller for each type of wire.
Speed squares are a must in a welding shop. With speed squares, you ensure that the jobs or projects are adjusted and square at 90 degrees before welding. They guarantee high-quality jobs. The squares also serve as a support to mark and measure your projects using their graduated scale. It is recommended that you have one or two in your shop for a start.
A metal brush is something you will need if you are using a welding process that creates slag. It's also needed where most welds leave dross. For example, if you are welding with an MMA/Stick welder or flux core arc welder, you will need to brush off the slag coating to reveal the final weld.
Chipping hammers (above) and wire brushes are both used for this task. This slag coating is created during the welding process because it acts as a protective agent. The weld puddle must be protected from contamination. Wire brushes are cheap, and it is recommended that you have them in your welding shop.
Portable grinders or angle grinders are so essential that you can't complete a welding project without using one. Whether you need them for grinding, smoothing welds, or cutting a piece of metal, your work kit will be incomplete if you try to work without one.
Although we always recommend investing in quality welding tools (and portable grinders are no exception) if you have a limited budget, you can choose a $20 to $50 grinder.
Note: The frequency of use for grinders is not high for beginners.
Sheet Metal Gauge
Sheet metal gauges are used to indicate the thickness of your sheet metal for specific materials. The material thickness reduces as the gauge number increases.
When you're working on steel, the standard thickness gauges are based on a 41.82-pound weight per square foot per inch of thickness. The thicknesses are different if you're working on aluminum.
Welding clamps are also essential. There are different models, but the most used are C-clamps. With C-clamps, you're able to hold the pieces and joints you need to weld. You will need several clamps depending on how many pieces your project requires. It is not unusual to use up to 10 clamps for more complex projects.
Essential Welding Accessories
In addition to your welding and protective equipment, the basic equipment for an inert gas welding machine includes other accessories you should buy right from the start.
A welding cart not only offers space for the welding machine, you can also use it to position your shielding gas cylinder safely. In addition, you can use it to work with the entire welding unit whether you’re in or out of your shop because you can roll up the hose package and the grounding cable and attach them to the welder cart. It will also have compartments for your welding helmets, spare parts, welding sleeves, and accessories always at hand. Then everything is in its place when you’re ready to weld.
Soapstone is a natural mineral raw material. The rock is opaque, mostly whitish, and feels greasy and soapy (the properties that give it the name soapstone). Reddish-yellow or greenish-brown soapstone contains traces of iron, aluminum, and calcium.
Soapstone is a compact rock that mainly consists of layered silicate mineral talc. It has high-temperature resistance, heat storage capacity, and insensitivity to temperature fluctuations. That is why soapstone is an easy-to-use and popular material for welding. It is used to create temporary markings on workpieces without contaminating weld pools.
Flow Rate Regulator
The appropriate flow rate of the protective gas must be adjusted with a pressure regulator. With MIG/MAG welding, 1 liter of gas is required for every 0.1 mm wire diameter.
MIG Welding Nozzle Gel
A MIG welding nozzle gel is used to prevent spatters from the welding nozzle which lets your welding nozzle last longer and prevents wire feeding problems. With gel, the tip of the welding gun is kept cleaner.
Shielding gas is necessary for MIG welding. A mixture of argon and carbon dioxide is typically used for most alloyed and unalloyed steels. In the trade, it may have different names depending on the manufacturer.
However, a different gas is required for aluminum or stainless steel welding. You can buy shielding gas online, but it is usually easy to find locally. You can get shielding gas in 10- or 20-liter bottles at hardware stores and gas stations.
Once you finish a project, after all that cutting and welding, you will see burrs and metal imperfections that need to be smoothed. While you can use the above-mentioned angle grinder for large imperfections, a metal file is the tool you need for finer finishing.
A metal file will allow you to work on smaller pieces and smooth out the finer details with greater precision. They come in different sizes and with different profiles and can be purchased in a kit or separately -- but we recommend a small kit.
The right safety apparel is essential when welding. This is because the electric arc can cause injuries. The UV rays are harmful to your eyes and heavy metal could fall on your feet. These risks are why you need complete personal protective equipment. Here are some pieces of essential welding apparel that you will need to get started.:
Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet
Every welding tools safety list should start with an automatic-dimming welding helmet. The welder's eyes can be damaged by the bright light and radiation generated by the electric arc as well as by splashes of molten slag. Hard slag particles during pitting, sanding, and cutting operations can be dangerous to the eyes. Invest in a good quality welding helmet that will be useful for years to come.
Welding gloves are important to protect the hands against the cutting action of sheets, heat, and electrical conduction. Welding gloves must combine the function of protecting the welder's hand with optimum comfort.
MIG gloves must be made of leather and have a lined interior of anti-heat fleece, and a cuff to protect the wrist and forearm. The gloves must ensure both thermal insulation and mechanical resistance. Welding gloves meet specific criteria in terms of shape (cuff length) and performance. They must resist molten metal, flame, heat, and abrasion.
There are also fine leather gloves sold on the market that are great for TIG welding where you need a more precise hold on the torch. TIG gloves give welders the flexibility needed for high dexterity.
Welder clothing must be resistant to heat, flame, and sparks. You should not wear clothes made of synthetic fabric or components. Synthetic fabrics can ignite very quickly, melt, and cause severe skin burns.
Welding clothes (trousers, jacket) must be made of flame-retardant cotton or nonflammable technical textiles. They must be well fitted without folds, lapels, or pockets. A leather apron and a bib to hide the neck constitute additional protective equipment against projections and ultraviolet and infrared radiation.
Note: Flame-retardant treatments lose their effectiveness after repeated washing, so you have to regularly replace washable clothes.
Your welding boots must have a high upper part covered by your pants. They must have an insulated sole and a toe cap to protect against falling metal parts. Just like the outer clothing, the shoes should be made of flame-retardant material.
Avoid laces to reduce the risk of introducing molten metal inside the shoe. Elastics allow the boot to be removed quickly in case of danger. Fire-resistant shoe covers, leggings, or gaiters secured by straps around the legs and over the shoes must also be worn to prevent burning. They protect the front part of the shins.
When you weld or when using portable grinding wheels, sparks, and other small pieces of metal fly everywhere -- even under the helmet. Invest in a pair of safety glasses and always wear them. The helmet will protect you from chips, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. A red spark can fly under the helmet, causing an injury.
For the various oxy-fuel cutting and torch brazing processes, the intensity of the light produced is significantly less than that of the electric arc. The welder can wear glasses instead of the welding helmet for these operations. In this case, protection of the eyes only requires the wearing of protective glasses with side shields fitted with a filter of a less dark shade. These goggles must also be worn by other people working within a 30-meter radius of an arc welder (in the absence of protective screens).
For arc processes, the IR and UV rays have an intensity such that glasses are no longer sufficient. It is necessary to provide for the wearing of a face shield that protects the entire face and is equipped with a filter appropriate to the work to be performed.
Safety-First During Home Welding
The main hazards associated with welding are as follows:
- There are electrical hazards related to bare live parts (parts to be welded, electrodes, fittings, cables, electrode holder clamp).
- There are fire and explosion risks relating to the use of flames, pressurized gas, electric current producing arcs, sparks, projections.
- Welding fumes are annoying, unhealthy, irritating, and toxic. In the event of massive inhalation of these irritants, acute respiratory effects may be observed (like cough or dyspnea associated with bronchial hyperreactivity).
- Chronic respiratory effects appear after regular and prolonged exposure (siderosis, asthma, chronic broncho-pneumopathies, etc.) Also, welding fumes and UV radiations are listed as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
These are just some of the dangers you could be exposed to if you're not using the right safety equipment. Safety is always first.
Protecting yourself, organizing a home shop, and securing hazardous materials are not only safe for you, the welder, but also for your family and neighbors. Making sure you childproof your shop and keep it safe for pets is a necessity, too.
Addressing all these safety risks, and investing in the tools and equipment needed to set up your home welding shop will require commitment and dedication. The return on your investment is a lifelong workspace for a hobby or source of income.