Over the past few months, I’ve been reading and studying the various installments of Metal Shop more like a student eager to further develop his fledgling welding skills rather than as an editor proofreading for grammatical errors. In the process, between all the lines of product information (promotion?), I’ve actually been able to dissect some valuable information. But best of all, it’s forced me to spend more time out in the garage messing around and experimenting. While I’ll never be a “self-taught” pro TIG welder, I am doing my best to become as proficient as possible so that, one day, I can feel confident that my welds will be strong and integral—maybe not pretty, but …

Along with acquiring the fundamentals, I’ve also learned a few things that, unlike MIG welding, go a very long way toward producing adequate welds: ergonomics, proper work environments, and cleanliness. That first one was—and for the most part, still sort of is—the hardest to deal with. Being “comfortable” when TIG welding is more important than I ever imagined. From foot pedal to torch orientation, I’ve found that if there’s any awkwardness, it can adversely affect the work piece. And not only will contaminated electrodes have the same negative results, so too can incorrectly shaped tungsten. With MIG welding, erroneous situations as such are easily overcome with what are oftentimes minor adjustments with the components at hand … literally. Not so with TIG welding.

Despite all its beginner benefits, the Miller Diversion 180 that I’ve been using as my “tutorial TIG” had one cumbersome issue that, up until just recently, I’d been trying to overcome with no success. The torch’s built-in controls were not a feature I took advantage of, and while the presence of the thumb switches weren’t posing any problems, the actual size of the torch itself, along with its rather bulky rubber-sheathed hose configuration, were—together, the complete assembly was not ergonomically beneficial to my particular style of welding, amateurish as it may well be. My first observations were that due to the particular construction of the torch assembly, it would be rather difficult to convert to a traditional (re, smaller) air-cooled torch setup. So, I went to the Internet’s visual world dictionary—otherwise known as YouTube—and lo and behold, there was my answer. And believe it or not, the torch conversion video series was on behalf of Miller Electric Mfg. Co. themselves, so apparently I was not the only one wishing to switch out the switches!

As the video revealed, the switch swap could not have been any easier—or cheaper. Simply put, the old torch handle gives way to a standard knurled plastic $8 TIG handle in a matter of minutes with simple hand tools. And here all along I was thinking everything from the hose to the torch head had to be converted. But, if the end user ultimately does wish to swap torches in the end, they can—and I did. Underneath all that plastic fantastic lies a standard Weldcraft LS17 torch (LS stands for Legacy Series, 17 designates the torch size/amperage rating). Knowing the Diversion’s power range gave me a window of opportunities as far as torch options were concerned—above and beyond, eliminating the bulky old torch handle, now I could further reduce the overall physical torch size (by using a #9 size torch, as you’ll see), ultimately improving ergonomics even more.

The other matter, that of cleanliness and reducing contamination, boiled down to tungsten electrode preparation. Much like most of you, my particular manner of sharpening electrodes was done with a bench grinder. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I only have one grinder, and trying to dedicate one of its grinding wheels primarily for tungsten grinding is, well, rather difficult. Ultimately, the “Tungsten Only” side oftentimes served duty grinding non-tungsten materials—the leftovers of which eventually made their way onto my electrodes, the last place they belong. But their presence was made immediately apparent the second I struck an arc—in forms varying from odd colors to odd sounds. The obvious answer is keeping the abrasive wheel contaminant free, but of course that’s easier said than done.

There is another solution, though unlike the issue with the torch, it’s not quite as economical. Weldcraft was gracious enough to let me borrow one of their new electronic wonder gadgets: the Triad Tungsten Grinder. Precision-engineered for doing just that—precisely shaping electrode tips—the Triad may be a bit more expensive than your typical benchtop grinder, but there’s no grinder in the world that can perform all the jobs it’s capable of. Among its duties catering to the five popular sizes of electrodes are four individual angle degrees (15, 18, 22.5, and 30), surface grinding (facing the tip of the electrode), and sizing/cutting electrodes—all via a 110V/30,000-rpm spun internal abrasive wheel.

After re-attempting to weld with a clean, properly prepared tungsten electrode, I was quite impressed with the huge difference in both the quality of the weld as well as performance of the welder—the machine more so than its operator, admittedly.