If you’re looking for a career in welding, you may not realize that welding isn’t just one process. While the basic premise is the same—joining metals together—there’s actually more than one way to accomplish that goal. There are a variety of types of welding incorporating different technologies, materials, and styles.
Let’s take a look at the four most common types (and some of their subtypes) of arc welding.
Gas metal arc welding (GMAW) is a process that creates an electric arc between a consumable electrode and the metal you’re welding to heat it and allow you to fuse it.
GMAW is often referred to as MIG (metal inert gas) welding or MAG (metal active gas) welding, which are the two types of gas metal arc welding. These are distinguished by the type of shield gas used. MIG welding uses inert gases like argon and is best used for materials like aluminum. MAG welding uses active gas, usually a mixture involving carbon dioxide, and was developed for welding steel materials.
Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is one of the most popular welding processes. Sometimes referred to as “stick welding,” it’s a process that (like the GMAW welding processes) also uses a consumable electrode. It’s a versatile and simple process, which makes it a popular choice for welding a variety of materials, including iron, steel, and aluminum.
Dating back to the 1800s, SMAW is still a manual process today—and it can take a little extra time to get the hang of it.
Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW or FCA) is an automatic (or semi-automatic) welding process. Developed as an alternative method to SMAW, it doesn’t require the stick electrode used in stick welding and instead uses a consumable tubular electrode.
Some FCAW processes require no shielding gas, while others do. Shielding gases (either inert or active) help protect the weld area from damage caused by oxygen, water vapor, or other contaminants.
Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) is different from the FCAW and GMAW in its use of a non-consumable electrode. Also known as tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, it uses a tungsten electrode rather than wire or tubular electrodes.
While a slower and more complex process than other types of welding, it offers a higher level of control for the welder and can produce higher quality welds. GTAW is often used for welding materials like stainless steel, aluminum, and magnesium.
Submerged arc welding (SAW) is unique in its use of granulated flux that covers the arc. The flux serves three important purposes: it protects the weld from contamination from oxygen or water vapor, prevents the spatter and sparks commonly associated with arc welding, and serves as a conduct between the weld and the electrode.
SAW is frequently used for nickel-based alloys and for some types of steel and produces uniform and sound welds.