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I have had little time to sit down and practice my welding but somehow I got better anyway! That's nice but I have lots of practice ahead of me.
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Learning to Weld 3

A slow but sudden breakthrough

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted – 12-1-2010

Since I posted Learning to Weld 2 the demands of operating two major web sites and producing two new welder reviews prevented my practicing with the Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 Welder. When I last sat down to lay some beads I was using the “pull a stick and push a MIG” theory and was making some progress with better looking beads. For some reason when I sat down this time I reverted back to left to right (pulling) the bead with my MIG and it seemed very easy. The beads suddenly looked to be more “in the metal” rather than appearing to lie on top of the surface. And, I could see the puddle way better!

I Can See [More] Clearly Now

I really have no idea how this came about because I am using the same Hobart XVS Hood Helmet in the same shop. However, I am now seeing the puddle more clearly and that enables me to control the flow of the puddle better. I know that pure practice is always a good thing and I had been doing some stick welding with my Lincoln AC225S Welder and a bit of flux core wire welding with the Hobart Handler 125 EZ while preparing those reviews but my improvement with the Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 Welder seems very sudden – but welcome nonetheless.

Another thing I changed this time around was trying to get myself to hold the gun more vertically. I think I had been laying it over too far before. Anyway, between moving left to right now and standing the gun up a bit more, everything looks and works better. Overall I think that I am going to write this sudden improvement off to practice.

Here (left) was my first left-to-right bead when I started this practice session. All of a sudden I could do this! I know its not perfect but it is way better than before. My wife often asks what I am going to do with the practice pieces I keep welding together. (right) they weigh the garbage can down pretty well but I doubt they would come in handy for anything else! I DO learn though!
Click images to enlarge

Near the end of Learning to Weld 2 I planned on trying vertical welding but some frustration soon after that with my flat beads convinced me to spend more time with level practice. However, after laying several decent looking flat beads yesterday with my Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 Welder I compromised and did some sort-of verticals but on a 45-degree angle. As with nearly everything else I tried with the Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 Welder today, it worked! I did burn a hole in the seam when I tried welding uphill but was able to close that up and lay a downhill bead across that section to pretty it up. On the other side I went downhill and that seemed to work much easier. I could see the puddle “eating away” at the edges of the pieces I was welding so I think the penetration is very good.

Contact Tips

I also am learning that when the arc starts getting unstable or weak the contact tip could be the cause. (Check the ground connection to the work piece also) Regardless of how good I am feeling about my welding I know that I am still varying the distance of the gun to the work more than I should be and when I get too close that is contaminating the contact tip quicker. I think this is why every outlet that sells these welders also has packages of contact tips hanging nearby.

I have tried taking the contact tips off and sanding the ends until they are nice and shiny but while that does help sometimes, replacing the contact tip appears to be the real answer. Changing the contact tip is a very simple and quick process so it is one of the first things I try when the arc starts acting up.

Practice, practice and more practice


This is my first (left) downhill vertical (OK, 45-degree) bead. It surprised me with how well it looked!
Changing contact tips now and then (right) seems to be a good idea. I have learned to look here when the arc seems unstable or weak.
Click images to enlarge

It is clear that regardless how much you know about how welding is supposed to be done, practice time remains the only way to reliably teach your hands to make the fine motions necessary to lay beads correctly. I am finding that the more I weld the more that I actually see around the puddle. I am sure that some of that is learning how to hold my head to use my bifocals but at least some of the improvement comes from time spent welding and learning more about what to watch. In many sports participants talk about how fast everything seems to be happening when they first start. Later as they gain experience they often remark about how in their perception the action is slowing down and they are better able to think about what they are doing and what is going on around them. This same phenomenon happens when you are learning a skill like welding. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get. With that comfort level comes the control necessary to maintain the correct arc length, travel speed and gun angles.

The difference in my welding from Learning to Weld 2 to part 3 here is dramatic and the only reason I can come up with is more experience. Practice does take time but I keep noticing myself getting better and that makes the next practice session more fun and rewarding. That kind of reward for the time invested keeps me going back to the welding bench to practice some more. And yes, right now I am headed to the shop to burn up some more wire!

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