As a passionate MIG welder myself, I am always amazed by the power and versatility of MIG welding.
It is one of the best and most versatile welding methods with tons of applications in almost every industry.
Moreover, it is an efficient welding process with more advantages than any other welding method. But have you ever explored the true versatility of this welding method?
In this article, I will be diving deep into the metals and materials that can be welded with this welding process.
So, without any further ado, let’s get right to it.
What Metals Can You Weld with a MIG Welder?
Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding is a versatile process that can be used for almost all metals and alloys that are commonly welded out there.
Let’s explore them one by one.
Carbon steel is the easiest metal to weld with MIG welding. It is the least expensive metal and is very versatile.
So, whether you are assembling automotive parts or crafting a custom metal furniture piece, MIG welding should be your first choice.
MIG welding is truly advantageous when you need to complete high-volume tasks in a short amount of time.
Moreover, if you are a beginner at MIG welding, steel is the best metal to practice your skills on.
However, you must remember that different steels have distinct properties. Mild steel can be welded at any thickness with this method but when you are welding high-carbon steel, you will need to take several other factors into account.
The applications of stainless steel are broad, especially because of its high corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal. So, it is the perfect candidate for MIG welding.
Stainless steel is used in all sorts of products like kitchen appliances, medical equipment, and even sculptures.
However, MIG welding this metal can present some challenges, especially with the choice of shielding gas.
It is recommended to use tri-mix gasses when working with stainless steel because that helps with the challenges that stainless steel poses to MIG welding.
As a general rule, you have to have less than 5% of carbon dioxide in your shielding gas.
The reason is the corrosion resistance ability of stainless steel is susceptible to manipulation.
Also, stainless steel presents challenges when it comes to choosing wire electrodes. Hence, you must make sure that you are using the right wire that is compatible with the alloy you are welding.
Additionally, while MIG welding generally prefers the pull method, you have to push your welding gun when welding stainless steel while maintaining consistent speeds. The push method will ensure proper gas coverage in this case.
Keep in mind that welding stainless steel with MIG welding is a bit challenging and will take a bit of practice. So, don’t get disheartened if you don’t get it right the first time.
Welding aluminum with MIG welding is also a bit challenging. It requires a spool gun to prevent the “bird-nesting” problem.
Also, when welding aluminum you have to be very careful with the choice of gas. You can only use 100% pure argon or a mixture of argon and helium depending on the specific requirements of the task.
Keep in mind that aluminum is a lightweight metal. So, it won’t be able to manage heat like steel or stainless steel. So, you will have to be careful about the heat input.
You will have to monitor and gauge the heat input properly while also keeping a consistent and considerably fast welding gun movement.
Forehand pushing is the best method with aluminum to get complete gas coverage and avoid the contamination of the weld.
I cannot emphasize the importance of knowing the aluminum characteristics enough before you begin the welding process.
You must know the density, thickness, and type of alloy you will be welding because it will help you set the welding parameters.
Another challenge that is faced during aluminum welding is the formation of the oxide layer.
Aluminum reacts with oxygen in the layer to form a layer of oxide on the surface. The primary problem with this layer is that it has double the melting point of the metal itself.
So, it is crucial that you remove this layer using a wire brush or a dedicated aluminum clearing brush just before you start welding.
Another point I want to throw importance on is the use of spool guns. Aluminum being a soft and malleable metal, gets difficulty when pushing through led at the wire feeder.
So, using a spool gun will help you avoid this issue and make it easy for you to effectively MIG weld aluminum.
Magnesium and Titanium
Magnesium has a lightness and high strength-to-weight ratio, which makes it a high-end metal and a suitable one for MG welding.
Titanium on the other hand is known for its superior strength and corrosion resistance.
It is crucial that you use dedicated and contaminant-free tools when MIG welding these metals. Providing thorough shielding gas coverage is also mandatory to avoid embrittlement which is one of the welding challenges they present.
When welding magnesium, most of the settings on your welding machine can be kept the same as aluminum.
However, when working on a thin sheet of magnesium, you require extreme caution and finesse, which makes TIG welding a better method for welding thinner sheets of magnesium as compared to MIG welding.
There is one challenge, though, which you have to face when MIG welding magnesium. That is looking for a proper wire electrode.
You cannot use aluminum because it will break and using a magnesium wire is not only hard to find but also very expensive.
So, you will have to look specifically for an AZ61A wire to use for MIG welding magnesium.
Copper and Nickel Alloys
Copper has superior electrical conductivity and high thermal conductivity. Which means it presents its own sets of challenges with MIG welding.
Also, copper has a high oxidation potential. But that doesn’t mean you cannot MIG weld copper.
With proper pre-cleaning, an appropriate mix of shielding gas, and precise control of technique MIG welding can be used to weld copper.
All you need is a bit of practice, and you will be able to MIG weld this metal efficiently.
As for Nickel alloys, they are comparatively easier to MIG weld. Nickel alloys are often used in high-temperature and corrosive environments because of their unique properties.
Keep in mind that these alloys have a slow cooling rate. So, you will have to carefully manage your heat input when working with these metals.
MIG welding cast iron is certainly possible but is a tricky process. If you are not careful you will ruin the workpiece completely.
You have to familiarize yourself with the unique characteristics of the metal before you start welding it.
MIG welding cast iron is a very slow process. So, you have to be careful as well as patient when welding it.
You should keep in mind that you cannot weld a whole piece of cast iron at once. You will have to stop welding every few inches to allow the metal to cool down. Heat management is crucial.
Also, you cannot throw water on it to make it cool down faster. You will have to let it cool down slowly or it will crack. That’s the trick.
That is one of the reasons other methods are often preferred over MIG welding when welding cast iron. The whole point of using MIG welding is to get high volume and productivity in less time, but cast iron makes that impossible.
You will be surprised to know that MIG welding is not limited just to common metals. You can also work with exotic metals like Inconel, Hastelloy, and other such metals.
Yes, it will be challenging, and you will need plenty of practice, but like every great welder, I am sure you will love a good challenge.
Also, when welding exotic metals, it is essential to learn about the specific properties of the metal to know their welding requirements.
Some exotic metals might require you to get specialized ventilation systems or protective coatings for safety and prevention against health hazards.
Related: What is a MIG Welder Used For? Applications of MIG Welding
Other Materials You Can Weld with MIG Welding
The welding applications of MIG welding are not just limited to the above-mentioned metals. You can step beyond metals and go into the world of composite materials as well.
With the right filler metal and careful technique, you can effectively weld certain metal and plastic composites.
This is a new area in the welding world that certainly needs more exploration. So, you can dive into it to explore the limitless world of possibilities.
Adding to this, with some tweaks, you can also use MIG welding techniques for glass fusion. Believe it or not, it is certainly possible.
A MIG welder with a Tungsten Inert Gas torch attachment allows you to create intricate and precise designs by fusing pieces of glass together.
Hence, the possibilities you can explore and the creativity you can achieve with MIG welding is truly limitless.
Related: How Does a MIG Welder Work? Inside the Machine
Mastering the MIG Welding Technique: Different Strategies for Different Materials
Now that we have explored various metals and other materials that you can weld with a MIG welder, let’s take a look at some of the most important factors that can influence the welding techniques with these metals.
Importance of Material Thickness
It is crucial to understand the importance of material thickness to achieve optimal weld results.
When you are working with thin metals, such as sheet metal or thin aluminum, you will have to adjust your welding parameters accordingly.
Lowering the welding gun speed or increasing the voltage even by a fraction can lead to burn-through and distortion, which will ruin the welds completely.
Similarly, when welding thicker material, you will have to take a different approach. You will have to increase the wire feed speed, voltage as well as wire electrode diameter to ensure deeper penetration and proper fusion.
MIG welding is quite efficient in welding thicker material. That is why the method is often preferred when high-volume production is required.
Each material being welded has its own unique set of characteristics and welding requirements.
Hence, to achieve the desired results, you will have to employ specific techniques designed specifically for these materials.
One such technique that is very efficient when it comes to welding thinner and more delicate materials is pulse welding.
The technique alternates between high and low current levels, which provides you with better control of the current and reduces the risk of overheating and distortion.
Importance of Right Welding Parameters
Regardless of which metal you are welding, understanding the adjustment of welding parameters is essential.
It will help you in achieving high-quality welds and desired results with a welding project.
You can look for specific charts and tools online that will help you calculate the exact welding parameters based on the type of metal being welded, the thickness of the metal, and specific welding requirements.
However, these numbers will be just general starting points and not absolute settings. Fine-tuning and practicing with the welding technique enough times will get you the exact settings you need for achieving the best results.
The Role of Shielding Gas
The shielding gas plays an important role when it comes to MIG welding. It is not only responsible for protecting the weld pool from contaminants but also helps you enhance the welding process.
When welding aluminum, you have to use inert gas argon or a blend of argon and helium. The choice again depends on the thickness of the metal sheet or pipe.
On the other hand, when you are welding stainless steel, you can choose to go with multiple options.
The best choice is using a Tri-Mix gas blend consisting of argon, helium, and carbon dioxide.
This gas mixture ensures better arc stability, improved penetration, and considerably less spatter. However, you will have to adjust the percentage of the gasses based on a specific alloy of metal being welded.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I weld with a MIG welder?
MIG welding is a versatile method that can be used for a wide range of metals including carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, magnesium, titanium, copper, and nickel alloys. You can also use this method for welding exotic metals.
What is MIG welding best suited for?
MIG welding is best suited for high-volume production where speed and productivity are the main concerns. Since it is a straightforward process, MIG welding is much easier to automate as compared to TIG welding.
What metal cannot be welded with MIG welding?
Cast iron presents several difficulties when you are trying to weld it with MIG welding. It is considered too difficult and even impossible by some. Other examples include pure zinc, magnesium alloys, tungsten, and refractory metals.
Can you MIG weld stainless steel?
Yes, MIG welding can be used for stainless steel. It is a common method for welding stainless steel components. However, it is not very straightforward when it comes to choosing a shielding gas.
Can you MIG weld exotic metals?
Yes, technically the method can be used for welding exotic metals, but it may require special techniques, equipment, and knowledge due to the unique properties and challenges that are associated with the metal.
Is MIG weld strong?
Yes, MIG welds can be strong and durable if done correctly. You can get high-quality results with proper preparation and technique that can meet or even exceed the strength requirements of the specific application.
Where is MIG welding commonly used?
This welding method is commonly used in various industries including the automotive industry, construction industry, manufacturing industry, aerospace and aviation industry, shipbuilding industry, and energy industry.
To sum it all up, MIG welding is a versatile welding process and almost all of the common and most of the unique metals can be welded using this method.
Yes, it is true that MIG welding some of the metals presents you with more challenges and difficulties than others. But with the right technique and enough practice, welding all of them is certainly possible.
There are a lot of factors that come into play during a MIG welding process, and these factors can potentially affect the welding results.
The above guide discusses in detail the type of metals you can weld with a MIG welder and what sort of challenges each metal presents you with during the welding process.
The guide also discusses important factors that can influence the welding process with various metals.
Still, have a question or want to share your own experience with us? Drop it in the comments section below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
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