How To Use a Wire Feed Welder: A Guide for Beginners

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Welding is one of the most valuable skills a DIYer must learn.

Whether you’re repairing an old rusty metal chair or creating a metal artwork from scratch, it’s really an advantage to know how to weld.

Speaking of welding, there are two types of machines you can use for your project: a stick welder or a wire feed welder.

If you’re eager to know how to use a wire feed welder, keep reading to learn about tips and techniques for a smooth and flawless weld.

What Is a Wire Feed Welder?

Wire feed welding is one of the most common methods of welding. It is also called MIG (Metal Insert Gas) welding.

As the term implies, this welding technique uses filler wires to act as the electrode.

Wire feed welding is generally regarded as one of the easier methods to learn because of its versatility and wide range of applications.

Conventional MIG welders run on gas.

However, newer, portable units used for small-scale applications and home projects no longer require a gas tank but simply utilize an electric power source.

How Does a Wire Feed Welder Work?

Before we talk about how to use a wire feed welder, let’s first discuss how it works so you can become more familiar with the parts and their functions.

With the basic knowledge of how each component functions, learning how to weld becomes so much easier.

Below are the major components or parts of a wire feed welder:

  • Power supply
  • Arc
  • Shield gas
  • Rollers

Here’s how it works:

A wire feed welder uses a wire electrode continuously fed into the machine to produce weld joints.

Once you insert the wire electrode into the gun-shaped electrode holder and press the trigger, multiple things start to happen simultaneously.

In a nutshell, the continuously burning arc heats the base metal, and the base metal then heats the wire electrode.

When the two metals melt, they form the weld joint.

Throughout the entire process, the shielding gas protects the burning wire electrode from environmental contamination.

How To Use a Wire Feed Welder: A Guide for Beginners 1

How To Use a Wire Feed Welder

Welding can be intimidating at first, but it’s easier than you think. Check out these steps:

Step 1: Prep the Metals

Welding is a critical step in a variety of metal fabrication processes.

However, for any welding task to be accurate and effective the first time around, all materials should be properly prepared first.

Preparation for wire feed welding include the following:

  • Ready the metals.

You want to work on a clean metal free of rust and other impurities, including mill scale and oils.

Use a wire brush and acetone remover to clean them.

If you need to cut the metal, use a metal cutting chop saw or a grinder with a cutoff wheel.

  • Grind the edges.

The next step is to grind the edges that you plan to join using a right-angle grinder. This process is called chamfering.

When chamfering, you create an angle between the adjoining edges of the two separate pieces of metal, usually at 45 degrees.

You also want to remove burrs and imperfections from the sharp edges of the metal pieces.

This step can be tedious, but it’s necessary to form a proper surface that allows the molten metal to fill the gap and create a bond over the thickness of the welded piece.

Furthermore, chamfering makes it easy to guide a tightly tolerant part into a hole during the assembly process.

Doing this reduces the possibility of misaligning and gouging the edges.

Step 2: Wear Protective Gear

Make sure you are aware of all hazards involved in the welding process.

These include exposure to metal fumes and ultraviolet radiation, electric shock, fire and burns, and eye sensitivity caused by bright light.

Thus, when using a wire feed welder, ensure you are wearing appropriate protective gear.

Wear your safety boots, an air-fed welding helmet, leather gauntlets, and flame-resistant overalls.

Do note that the electric arc in wire feed welders isn’t always stable. Initially, when you’re testing the voltage and amperage setting, the arc may sway.

If you don’t wear flame-resistant clothing, you may suffer from severe burns.

Meanwhile, leather gauntlets offer better protection than gloves, making them more ideal for hazardous welding tasks.

Safety boots will protect your feet from little molten metal droplets.

Lastly, the welding helmet will protect your eyes and keep you from inhaling toxic metal fumes.

Step 3: Feed the Wire into the MIG Machine

Before starting up your machine, you will need to feed the electrode wire through the machine.

It can be tricky at first, but you’ll find that using a MIG welder is easy with some practice.

There are many ways to do this, but we’ll show you the most recommended and easiest method.

Here’s how to feed wire in a MIG welder:

  • Open the door of your portable MIG welder.

Inside you’ll see the coil wire post, the drive system, and the gun.

  • Make sure that the roll is facing the right direction so that you’re feeding off the top.

If you turn it over, it will feed the wire from the bottom, and it wouldn’t feed through.

  • Next, remove the wire from the spool. 

When you release the coil, you’ll want to hold the spool tight so that it doesn’t uncoil.

You’ll notice there’s a curl on the edge because it’s been on the coil since it was made.

Cut the curled tip to have a straight wire that feeds smoothly into the drive system and out of your gun.

Reverse-bend it to about six inches and then cut the end off using a pair of sharp MIG welding pliers.

Open the drive rolls, and push the wire all the way through the groove of the drive roll and into the gun.

  • Lock the tension roller by pushing it back up.

The tension roller serves as the tension control of the wire.

You could tighten the wire and release some of the tension if it seems somewhat sloppy.

  • Turn the machine on.

If you’re using a traditional gas MIG welder, turn the gas tank up before turning on the machine.

  • Once you pull the gun trigger, it will start feeding wire from the spool.

However, before you let the wire all the way through the gun, take the nozzle and contact tip out.

The contact tip is angled in the back to help direct the wire inside.

It’s easier if you take it out completely so that there’s no obstruction whatsoever when the wire tries to come out of the gun.

  • When the wire is out (about an inch), you can put the contact tip and the nozzle back.

The recommended length of the wire sticking out of the gun is approximately three-quarters of an inch.

Check out this short video to see how to feed wire into a MIG welder.

Step 4: Set the Right Parameters

At this point, you’re all set up and ready to weld.

It’s very important that you set the correct parameters needed for your welding project.

To do this, follow these reminders below:

Material Thickness

Start by measuring the thickness of your workpieces, which will dictate the settings of your welding machine.

As a general rule, for every 0.001-inch of metal thickness, you will need one (1) amperage of output.

Thus, if you’re welding together 0.125-inch-thick metals, you need 125 amps.

Wire Size

Make sure you are using the correct wire size. The most commonly used coil thickness in MIG welders are as follows:

  • 30-130 amps: .023 inch
  • 40-145 amps: .030 inch
  • 50-180 amps: .035 inch
  • 75-250 amps: .045 inch

How To Use a Wire Feed Welder: A Guide for Beginners 2

Voltage Requirement

After figuring out the amperage and wire size requirement, the next step is to set the voltage.

The voltage determines the shape of the bead, from narrow to wide.

A weld bead is created by depositing a filler material into the joint between two metal pieces.

You know you’ve got a good weld bead when it’s straight and uniform, and it doesn’t have slag, cracks, or holes.

You can see the voltage requirement for different metal thicknesses on the chart or manual of your welding machine.

Wire Speed

Now, the tricky part is setting the wire speed, which controls the amperage and the level of weld penetration.

Too high, your metal joints will burn. Too low, they’re not going to weld.

The chart on your welding machine will show you the best starting point for the wire speed based on the thickness of your machine.

Nevertheless, you can always fine-tune it up or down, depending on your application needs.

It takes a while to become familiar with wire speed and how to achieve your desired outcome.

Remember these things before you start welding:

  • If the wire speed is too slow, the wire makes occasional contact with the metal but burns back or creates a ball and melts back to the contact tip.
  • If it is too slow, the wire burns back after contacting the metal but at a quicker pace.
  • If your wire speed is too fast, the torch or gun feels like it’s being pushed away from the metal. You will also notice that there’s a lot of spatter.

So, how fast is enough? The correct wire speed should be fast enough to deliver a constant arc to the metal.

Since it’s still possible to get a clean weld at the wrong setting, the sound of your machine can tell you if the penetration is too little or too much.

You know you’ve got the right speed when you hear a nice, consistent sizzle coming from the weld with the occasional pop, like when you’re frying bacon.

When setting the wire speed, the general rule is the thicker the metal, the faster it needs to be.

Another sign that you have a good penetration is when you see blue discolorations on the welded joint.

This means that you have bonded the two metals properly.

Step 5: Start Welding

Here comes the fun part. Leave a gap between the two metal pieces, about two millimeters, so you have enough space to fill and form the bond.

When welding for the first time, here are some critical rules to follow:

  • Weld in the right direction.

In welding, you either push or pull.

When using wire feed welders, you push the wire, which means moving the gun away from the weld puddle.

This direction creates a lower penetration and a flat, wide bead.

  • Be aware of your work angle.

The work angle refers to the position of the gun relative to the angle of the welding joint.

There are four significant weld positions: flat, vertical, horizontal, and overhead.

Depending on your application, you will use any of these work angles from time to time.

  • Hold the gun horizontally.

The most recommended way to hold a wire feed welder gun is in a horizontal position.

Doing so allows better control of the weld puddle.

Step 6: Practice Makes Perfect

It takes time (and patience) to get used to the sound, pressure, and feel of welding.

Aside from the angle, wire speed, and amperage, another critical factor is travel speed.

This is the rate at which you move the gun along the joint, influencing the shape and quality of the weld bead.

Many experienced welders determine if they’re getting the correct travel speed by assessing the size of the weld puddle in relation to the thickness of the metal joints.

Generally, a weld bead shouldn’t be larger than the thinnest section of the metal being welded.

Most people can create a clean, good-looking weld with a bit of practice.

The thing about wire feed welders is that they are easier to work with than stick welders.

However, with a stick welder, it’s easier to see where the welding is being done.

Using a Wire Feed Welder

Using a wire feed welder starts with understanding the machine’s essential parts and how they work together.

Make sure to wear protective gear before you start welding.

Also, pay attention to material thickness, wire size, voltage and amperage, and the wire speed to get the correct settings.

It can be challenging to get the suitable weld bead for your application, but with constant practice, you’ll be able to weld like a pro.

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