How To Set Up A MIG Welder – Steps To Follow

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If you’re here, you are obviously wondering how to set up a MIG welder?

MIG welding is a type of welding done using a continuously fed MIG wire electrode and a shielding gas that melts and deposits the workpiece metal in the weld joint.

A welding gun feeds the shielding gas that helps protect the workpiece from being contaminated by contaminants in the air.

Don’t know how to set up your welder? You can use our completely free welding calculator to get the correct setting and also our electrode amperage chart.

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What is MIG Welding?

MIG welding is a welding process whereby a spool of solid welding wire electrodes is fed into the welding pool, joining the two metal bases together. In order to protect the welding pool from contamination and oxidation, shielding gas is also used coming from the welding gun itself.

MIG stands for Metal Inert Gas but you may also hear it being called wire welding which is the colloquial term for it.

How To Set Up A MIG Welder - Steps To Follow 1

MIG welding is great for amateur welders for use at home or in the home garage and can be used for most types of fabrication and maintenance/repair welds.

It is commonly said to be the easier of the welding methods to learn, but there are some processes you should follow, including safety and also how to set up a MIG welder.

How To Set Up A MIG Welder - Steps To Follow 2

What Happens When You Don’t Set Up Your MIG Welder Correctly?

If you do not follow the correct steps on how to set up a MIG properly, you will find that your welds beads will at best be ugly or at worst, fragile and brittle.

Check out our handy graphic below to see what kinds of welds you may find you are producing as a beginner. The guide will also give you a good indication of what you need to address if you want to really push your MIG welding to the next level.

Mig welding Guide bead issues
(WFS = Wire Feed Speed)

1. Joint Preparation

It is important to have a properly set-up joint before you start welding since having any oil, paint, or rust on the surface will result in a poor weld.

Clean the weld area properly to get rid of any kind of rust or dirt. Cleaning is a very important step since dirty joints can lead to getting burns or even start a fire in your workspace.

2. Find the Right Type of Filler Wire and Gas

The filler wire and gas are the key components in the setup, which is why you need to have the right type.

  • If you will be using carbon steel, you need to use C25 gas and ER70s electrodes.
  • If you will be using aluminum, you need 100% Argon gas and ER4043 electrode.
  • If you will be welding stainless steel you need C2 gas and ER308L electrode.

See our post about the different types of welding gases.

3. Select the Right Settings

It is important to have the right settings to produce the desired output because the settings can vary depending on the metal you will be welding. You only have to set 3 key settings before you start the welding process:

I. Voltage Setting

Only DC voltage is used in most of the machines where you can say that the machine’s handle is positive where electricity flows from the metal (DCEP) into the welding handle.

AC versus DC welding | What’s the Difference?

The voltage setting determines penetration and a manual or chart will be provided with the machine to help you adjust the voltage settings.

If you don’t have a manual or chart for the machine you are using, you can start adjusting the wire speed and voltage while welding until you see the arc getting stubbed into the workpiece.

Adjust the level until the arc becomes sloppy and feeble. Now that you know the minimum and maximum settings range, you should set it to the halfway point, which should be perfect for your workpiece.

II. Wire Feed Speed Setting

The wire feed setting determines how fast the wire is fed into the weld joint. It is regulated in Inches Per Minute (IPM) and is also used to control the amperage to a certain extent. If the speed is too high, it can make the lead burn through and produce a fast popping sound. If the speed is too low, it can make it burn too slowly thus creating an unstable arc.

The voltage setting stays the same with the MIG welder but the amperage setting keeps changing depending on the electrode stick-out and the wire feed speed. Picture this, the faster the wire is fed into the joint, the better contact it has. The better the contact, the higher the heat since the more amperage that gets through the wire.

III. Gas Flow Rate Setting

The gas flow rate setting is the final setting you need to adjust. It is regulated in Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFPM). It helps regulate the transfer of gas that’s sufficient to protect the weld area from contaminants in the air.

A lower gas flow setting means that less gas will be released, which means that it will probably not be sufficient to shield the weld area and will possibly result in porosity in the weld’s surface. A higher gas flow rating may result in turbulence and can such in more air thus leading to contamination of the weld.

To find the most suitable gas flow rate setting, you will have to do some trial and error test welds before moving on to the real job. It is equally important to use the right MIG welding settings for stainless steel, mild steel, or any other metal that you will be using.

4. Pick the Right MIG Wire

Once you have finished choosing the right settings, you now have to install wire onto the MIG welding machine. When it comes to choosing wire sizes, it is always advisable to choose thicker wire when welding thicker metals.

If you are fortunate enough, there will be a wire speed and voltage chart provided with the machine you are using that specifies the right kind of wire for various sizes of metal. If you don’t have a manual, you can use the following sizes for reference:

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  • 0.23-inch wire: Ideal for small welding machines used for welding thin sheet metals from 24 to 16 gauge
  • 0.30-inch wire: It is the size that typically comes with the MIG welder since it is the ideal size for welding metals around 1/8-inch thick.
  • 0.35-inch wire: Ideal for welding metal about ¼-inch thick. A great option for beginners looking to get started with the trade.
  • 0.45-inch wire: Ideal for welding metals about ¼-inch thick. A great option for industrial welding.

5. Installing MIG Wire and Welding

Now that you have chosen the size of the wire according to your requirement, it is now time to install it into the welder and start welding. Follow the steps below to install the MIG wire:

  • Remove the nozzle and contact tip.
  • Open the machine’s cabinet.
  • Unscrew the cap from the spindle and insert the wire spool into it gently.
  • Open the pressure release on the feeder and twist the pressure roll to adjust the tightness.
  • Insert the MIG wire gently through the drive roll entry.
  • Make sure that the wire is not bent but rather straight.
  • Recap the spool of wire.
  • Start inserting the wire through the welding gun by pressing the trigger.
  • Put the contact tip and nozzle back onto the machine.

Congratulations! You have successfully inserted the MIG wire into the machine and are now ready to start welding.

Welding Safety Guide For Beginners

How To Set Up A MIG Welder - Steps To Follow 3

Frequently Asked Questions

What should the gas be set at on a MIG welder?

MIG shielding gas flow is set up and calculated as cubic feet of gas per hour (CFH) NOT pressure in psi. Different to oxyfuel welding and cutting, MIG gas stream rates are pretty low. The gas pressure in the hose fed into a wire feeder/welder, whereas welding, characteristically differs from 3 to 8 psi.

Do you need shielding gas to MIG weld?

A non-gas MIG welder does not use gas, instead using a hollow wire that’s full of flux.

What happens if you MIG weld without gas?

Some MIG welding can be done gasless and will use a flux-cored wire. The reason for gas is to stop any atmospheric gases from interfering with the weld. A gasless MIG welder using fluxed cored wire uses the flux for this effect instead of gas.

What is the best type of welder for home use?

Pro Welder Guide has an amazing guide that you can see over here:

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