Wire Feed Welding: How To Wire Feed Weld – Tips, Techniques, Machine & Settings

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Welding is the permanent joining of two separate pieces of metal and is done by melting the two metals together through the use of intense levels of heat or pressure.

This can be achieved through various methods, as there are over thirty different types of welding processes for welders to choose from.

One of these methods is called wire feed welding. It is one of the more common forms of welding applications used where the melting point is reached through the skilled guidance of an electrical arc.

Wire feed welding technique is especially easy for beginners.

In this article, I will explain what is wire welding and I´ll share some tips on wire feed welding settings, machine, gas!

What is Wire Feed Welding?

What is wire feed welding? Wire feed welding is a welding style more commonly referred to as MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, or GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding). As the name implies, it is a welding technique that utilizes a MIG welding gun that continuously feeds the filler wire through.

The way in which a MIG gun is set up allows for the filler wire tip to act as the electrode, eliminating the need for a welder to stop and replace worn contact tips or filler rods.   

Wire feed welding or MIG is considered one of the easier methods of welding techniques to learn due to its versatility and its wide range of use on both metal type and metal thickness.

What´s about wire feed welding aluminum? Wire feed welding technique is commonly used on mild and stainless steel, aluminum, and nickel.

It also produces less spatter than other welding techniques making it one of the safer welding processes to use.

Despite being easier to master, it is still a complex process that requires welders to be knowledgeable of how exactly the process works, of being mindful of their equipment, and of taking proper safety measures.    

Related reading: I have recently written an article in which I describe MIG Welding in more detail, follow the link to read this article.

What is MIG or Wire Feed Welding Used For?

What is MIG welding used for? MIG is highly versatile in its operation and may be used on many metals of varying degrees of thickness. MIG can be used on aluminum, stainless steel, and steel from 26 gauge sheet metal to heavy-duty industrial plates.

Because wire welding uses a filler, welders may join thicker plates together without having to heat them all the way through or join two different kinds of metals.

MIG is the weld most often used in the industry sectors and makes up over 50% of all the welds deposited.

Because of their automated process, wire welding is faster and can run continuously, making it a highly productive industrial operation technique.

Its relative ease of use compared to other welding techniques such as TIG welding makes MIG a popular choice by beginner welders.

The new generation of low-cost MIG welders makes them ideal for small volume workshops or home use, protected from wind and draughts.

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How Wire Feed Welding Works

How to wire feed weld? Unlike TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) or GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) where welders use a welding gun to generate an electrical current to melt the working piece of metal, and a filler rod that is periodically dipped into the welding pool by the welder themself, wire fed welding or MIG combines these two welding components together.

MIG welding guns are designed with rollers inside that when welding it continuously feeds the filler wire from a spool into the gun.

The tip of the wire acts like the electrode that produces the electric arc. This allows for longer, smoother welds with fewer interruptions needed for consumable part replacements.

A MIG welding gun also aids in eliminating atmospheric contamination through the use of shielding gas to protect the working area from oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen.   

Eliminate Contamination Risks and Check Your Equipment

One of the most important things a welder can do to help ensure a quality weld is to always check their equipment.

This will do two things, it will help protect the welder from any harmful gas leaks or electrical exposure from worn or defective equipment, and it will ensure all the working components are properly fastened so as not to allow outside contamination into the weld pool through inadequate equipment or poor power input.

To do so, always check your gas feed lines for any loose-fitting or signs of wear and tear and replace any damaged part.

You also want to make sure you are using the correct type of gas/gas shield mix. Wire fed welding typically uses a mixture of 75% Argon gas and 25% Carbon Dioxide.

In other instances, 100% carbon dioxide is used as the gas shield.

You want to double-check your welder’s settings as these gas shields are important in preventing oxidation from occurring and compromising the weld.  

You also want to keep a clean work area. The cleaner your work area is the less likely contaminates will be introduced into the weld.

This includes how clean the piece of work metal is. Metals may have specialized coatings or paint on them to prevent things such as rust, or may very well actually have rust on them.

If this is the case, sand or grind your work metal clean to get rid of these unwanted elements prior to welding. Be sure to check your filler wire for rust too, discard and replace it if there is any rust found on it.  

What Is Wire Feed Speed (WFS) In Welding?

What is wire feed speed (WFS)? The wire feed speed or WFS is a crucial factor in a successful weld, and the wire feed speed is directly related to the welding current (if the stick out is a constant length.

Your wire feed speed determines how fast the wire feeds while welding and is controlled by IPM or inches per minute.

Most wire feed welders will have two central knobs for voltage and wire feed; for thicker metal, you would typically increase your wire speed.

As the wire feed speed increases or decreases, there will be a corresponding increase or decrease in the current.

Wire feed speed controls not just the amperage but also your weld penetration. A wire speed set too high can result in a burn through and make the welding process extremely difficult.

Too little wire feed will create a weak, flat weld with a possible undercut, while too high a speed will generate excessive splatter. 

How Do You Calculate Wire Feed Speed On a MIG Welder?

How do you calculate wire feed speed on a MIG welder? To calculate your WFS, first measure your workpiece metal’s thickness using calipers and a ruler. Take your total in inches, i.e., ⅛ inch, and calculate its decimal percentage.

This process sounds complicated, but it merely means you divide your numerator (1) by the denominator (8), and the result is a decimal figure. 

1 divided by 8 equals 0.125 inches

To calculate what amps you will need for the thickness of the metal you intend to weld, simply follow the rule that .001 inch of metal thickness needs 1 amp of power. So .125 would need 125 amps of output. 

Next, you need to find the burn rate in IPA for your specific wire diameter, listed by the manufacturer.

For example, a 0.045-inch wire has a burn rate of 1 inch of wire per amp per 125 amps.

Finally, multiply your required amperage for the thickness of your workpiece (125 amps) by the burn rate of your specific diameter (0.045 @ 1 amp) burn rate of wire to calculate the speed of your wire feed, which gives you: 1 amp burn rate multiplied by 125 amps gives you 1x 125= 125 amps wire feed speed.

Related reading: I have recently written an article in which I describe in more detail “How Many Amps do You Really Need For MIG Welder“, follow the link to read this article.

Wire Feed Welding Gas

Does a wire feed welder need gas? Yes, you will require gas in a wire feed welder if you are icing electrodes without the flux core to provide a shield for your welding joint.

However, the MIG or metal inert gas welding process generally requires gas to provide a shield to protect the weld pool from external contaminants.

FCAW or Flux-cored arc welding uses flux core electrodes that shield internally from the wire electrode and do not require gas shielding to protect the weld. 

Because the FCAW and MIG welding processes are similar, welders sometimes opt to use the flux-cored electrodes in the MIG welding machine to work outdoors in windy conditions that need the portability of the FCAW system that requires no external gas source.

 Wire Feed Welding Machine

How To Feed Wire In a Portable MIG Machine?

Before you start your portable MIG welder, you will need to feed your MIG wire through your machine correctly. The process is similar in most MIG welders and includes:

  • The wire feed end will have a post dedicated to the mounting of your MIG wire roll onto the welding machine. Remove the retaining nut on the end of the post, and drop your wire roll over the post and replace the retaining nut firmly.
  • Ensure that the roll is on the right way so that you may easily feed the end of the wire into the guide hole at the back of the welder.
  • Then follow a straight line from the bottom of the roll, through the guide hole towards the drive roller mechanism. There is typically a lever with a spring tension that you need to move rollers apart and access the small hole at the end of the torch tube.
  • Pull the shielding shroud off the end of the torch and unscrew the MIG tip, which is a small nozzle with a small hole at the center for the MIG wire. 
  • Feed the MIG wire along the tube connected to the torch until it pokes out the end, and recrew the tip and the shielding shroud of the torch.
  • Before you close the rollers, pull some wire through the liner and close the rollers. With everything reassembled, turn on the machine, set the device at a low wire speed setting, and pull the trigger; the wire should slowly feed out from the welding gun.

Wire Feed Welding Machine: Feeding Wire in Portable MIG Machines >> Check out the video below:

When Wire Feed Speed Is Increased, What Happens?

The weld feed speed is directly related to the welding current, and any increases in the wire feed speed will increase the electrical current.

The rate at which the wire is fed is measured in IPM or inches per minute.

The faster the wire is fed, the better the delivered contact, and the more amperage gets through to the wire and increases the heat intensity.

What will happen when the wire feed speed is increased? If your wire speed is too high, it can cause false arc starts, create over wide weld bead, splatter, and insufficient penetration to the weld joint.

Welders often say to listen for bacon’s sound sizzling in a pan when determining the correct speed settings.

What Are The 3 Functions of a Wire Feed Unit?

What are the functions of a wire feed unit? The wire feed unit serves several purposes in the welding process and is essential for a proper weld. The function of the wire feed unit includes:

  • In most arc welding applications, a wire feeder’s primary purpose is to feed the welding wire to the arc at a continuous, constant speed. Because the wire speed dictates the amperage and the amperage regulates the heat in the arc, the wire feed dictates the bead and penetration of the weld.
  • The wire feeder controls the main contact point in the power supply for safety to ensure the wire is only fed when the trigger is depressed. 
  • The shielding gas flow is controlled by the solenoid valve located in the wire feeder to ensure that the shielding gas is supplied to the weld puddle.

Difference Between MIG Welder and Wire Feed Welder?

What is the difference between a MIG welder and a wire feed welder? MIG welding makes use of a welding electrode in the form of a wire that is fed automatically from a spool at a pre-selected speed.

The arc is created by the electrical current between the metal workpiece and the wire, and the wire is melted and joins with the base to create a high-quality weld. 

Flux-cored arc welding or FCAW is also a wire feed process, but the difference between the two techniques is that MIG welding requires a shielding gas for the welding process.

The shielding gas protects the weld pool from external contaminants such as oxygen and nitrogen in the welding process.

The MIG welding shield is composed of CO2 or Argon/CO2 mix, and wire feed welders created for MIG welds have a gas hose from the tanks of shielding gas to the gun’s nozzle. 

Related reading: I have recently written an article in which I describe in more detail “How To MIG Weld With 100% Argon”, follow the link to read this article.

FCAW uses the specialized flux-cored electrodes to shield the arc area from contamination from external sources. FCAW can be seen as a subset of MIG welding, and both are similar wire feed welding processes.

The same MIG welding machine may often be used for FCAW welding, with only a change in the type of electrode used. Some welders even use flux core instead of gas when working outdoors in windy conditions, and the flux core often gives a better penetration than a gas shielded wire.

How Is a TIG Welder Different From a MIG welder?

What is the difference between a TIG welder and a MIG welder? MIG or metal inert gas and TIG or tungsten inert gas both make use of an electrical arc to create a weld, but they make use of the arc differently.

MIG makes use of a feed wire that is fed continuously through the gun, creates a spark, and then becomes molten and forms the weld. 

In TIG welding, the arc is created between the electrode and the workpiece. The user may weld with a consumable filler rod or weld the metals directly to one another.

Because MIG welding is mostly fully preprogrammed, the process of MIG welding is easy to control.

Tig welding requires skill and coordination, especially when using a filler rod.

Related reading: I have recently written an article in which I describe in more detail “The Difference Between TIG and MIG Welding”, follow the link to read this article.

The process requires pulsing a foot pedal and dipping the filler rod into the weld puddle, vehicle manipulating the torch in the other hand, which requires not a small amount of skill. 

Even a skilled TIG welder may not match the pace of a MIG welder.

Still, TIG welding’s high precision is ideal for welding thinner pieces of steel alloys and metals such as aluminum, copper alloys, and magnesium.

MIG welding is better suited to steel, aluminum, and stainless steel and thicker metal workpieces.

Wire Feed Welding Settings: Challenges

How to perform wire feed welding settings? Although wire feed welding and MIG is considered one of the easier styles of welding out there, the intricate setup and interaction of the equipment requires a certain level of skill and knowledge.

Welders must be knowledgeable in setting up proper voltage and amperage, determining the welding gun travel speed and angle, using the correct gas or gas mixture for the gas shield, understanding wire tension and selection, and the limits of their equipment.

Besides its complex set-up, MIG welding also has a high heat input which places certain limitations on which welding positions can be applied to the job on hand.  

Welding Position, Travel Angle or Work Angle While Wire Feeding

The travel angle or work angle depends somewhat on the thickness of the workpiece and the welding position.

The travel angle refers to the push involved in the direction of travel or the drag angle when the electrode points in the opposite direction of travel.

There are four welding positions that can be used while welding. They are the flat position, horizontal position, vertical position, and overhead position.

Depending on which one you use, your travel speed and angle will end up changing to accommodate for things such as gravity.

Related reading: In This Article, I describe in more detail “The 4 Main Welding Positions You Should Know“, follow the link to read this article.

Improper application of travel speed and angle can compromise the quality of the weld, so it is best to familiarize yourself with the different positions and what they require.  

Flat Welding Position

A flat welding position is typically used for butt welds and fillet welds like t-joints and lap joints.

With butt welds, you will want to hold your welding gun at a 90-degree angle to the workpiece to fill the joint directly, adding a travel angle of 5 to 15 degrees. With a T-joint, it is ideal to keep your welding gun at a 45-degree angle while lap joints should have a travel angle of 60 to 70 degrees.

Horizontal Welding Position

A horizontal welding position requires a 0-15-degree travel angle to prevent slag and roll over from forming on the bottom of the weld joint.

Horizontal and flat welding angles largely stay the same from one position to the other.

Vertical Welding Position

A vertical welding position is where MIG welding can present a challenge due to the natural impact of gravity on the weld. Depending on how thick or thin the working metal is, your welding starting point will change.

It is recommended that if it is a thin metal that the weld starts from the top of the joint and makes its way down the workpiece to compensate for the faster welding speed and help prevent a burn through.

With thicker metals, you will want to approach it by starting your weld from the bottom and working vertically upwards from the weld pool.

You will want to apply a 5 to 15-degree decrease from the perpendicular position.

You will also want to consider lowering the amperage and voltage anywhere from 10 to 15 percent from what is used for a flat welding position.

Overhead Welding Position

An overhead welding position presents an even greater challenge for MIG or wire feed welding than the vertical position.

In this position, welders are required to take both the gun welding speed and gravity into account so as to prevent the melted metal from dripping out of the weld joint and potentially onto the welder.

The last thing anyone wants is a piece of molten hot metal dripping onto them, so to aid in preventing this the voltage and amperage should be lowered and a smaller diameter wire should be used.

This will allow for a smaller weld pool for the welder to control.

Wire Feed Welding Tips

What are the wire feed welding tips you need to know before starting? For a quality weld, there are a few tips one can take into account before they get started. First and foremost, you want to:

Wire Feed Welding Machine: Know Your Equipment

Not every welding gun or machine is the same, so knowing the limits of the machinery and the components being used will give you the advantage to troubleshoot any problems that may present themselves during a weld.

If you are unsure of the limitations you can always take a look at the manufacturer’s ratings and manual for the equipment.

Knowing what your equipment can handle will help you ensure that you don’t exceed the recommended amperage or duty cycle.

Compromised equipment can negatively impact the quality of the weld, for example, an overheating gun can cause the welding gun to vibrate during a weld.

It can also cost companies more money as it lowers productivity, creates downtime, and causes the welding gun to go through its consumables at a faster rate.  

Use Correct Voltage and Amperage

As mentioned above, adjusting voltage and amperage can assist in a welder’s control over the weld pool.

The amperage controls the amount of electricity flowing into the gun, while the voltage controls the arc length which in effect affects the bead width.

You should adjust the voltage and amperage depending on what you are working on, its thickness, the gas shield being used, wire diameter, and what welding position you are using.  

Wire Selection and Set-up

Part#1

When you are checking your equipment in preparation to weld you will want to make sure you are using the correct filler wire for the job and check that there is no rust on it.

For working on steel, there are two types of wires that can be used, the AWS classification ER70S-3 or ER70S-6. The ER70S-3 is ideal for all-purpose welding while the ER70S-6 is better suited for welding dirty or rusted steel.

The reason for this is that the ER70S-6 has more deoxidizers to help blast away the contaminants from the work area.

Part#2

For thinner metals, a wire diameter of .023- inches is recommended to decrease the heat input for a smaller bead.

With thicker metals that require more heat, a .035-inch diameter wire makes for the better option.

In some cases, you may want to use a .045-inch diameter wire (keep in mind, using a .045-inch diameter wire will depend on the output range of your welder so be sure to check the limitations of your equipment).

Otherwise, for a good all-around wire choice, you can use a .030-inch diameter wire.

Part#3

Double-check with your owner’s manual on the proper tension needed for the wire spool hub and drive rolls to accurately function.

Too little or too must tension on the filler wire can affect the welding guns’ ability to feed the wire through and hamper efforts made towards a quality weld.

Part#4

Your wire stick-out (this is the filler wire tip exposed beyond the contact tube that acts as the electrode) should be set at 3/8 of an inch.

If you end up making it too long it will end up sounding like sizzling bacon when the machine is on, so listen to your equipment just as keenly as you would visually inspect it.

Welding Direction: Push or Pull?

In welding, the push technique, also known as the forehand technique, produces less penetration with a wider and flatter bead.

Using the pull technique, otherwise known as the drag, backhand, or trailing technique produces deeper penetration and a thinner bead.

Related reading: I have recently written an article in which I describe “Do You Push or Pull” in more detail, follow the link to read this article.

While wire feed welding steel, welders can utilize both the push and pull technique.

When using push, the welding gun is pushed away or ahead of the weld pool whereas the pull technique requires the welding gun to be pointed back at the weld pool and pulled away from the deposited metal.

Wire Feed Welding Gas: What Gas Shield to Use

How to select the wire feed welding gas? Knowing which gas shield to use will depend on the welding job and the experience of the welder, as both shields have their perks.

The use of the gas mixture of argon and carbon dioxide gives the weld a finer bead finish and creates less splatter than the pure carbon dioxide gas shield.

It is also less likely to burn-through on thinner metals. However, the pure carbon dioxide shield allows for deeper penetration.  

You will want to set the gas flow setting to a rate of 20 to 25 cubic feet per hour prior to welding.

Welding Polarity

For wire feed welding you want to use reverse polarity as it requires a direct current electrode positive or DCEP.

Safety First

Proper safety gear and precautions are important in protecting the health and safety of the welder.

Working with high-intensity heat, splatter and sparks, grinding machines, electrical currents, gaseous fumes, and many other factors pose serious risks for welders.

That is why wearing the correct safety gear is detrimental to their safety.

Basic safety gear consists of a face shield, safety goggles, a long-sleeve flame-resistant jacket, leather or flame-retardant shoes and pants, and a bandana or dew rag to protect the head.

There is an array of options out there for each of these safety apparel. Some face shields come with an automatic dimmer while others don’t.

Meanwhile, different gloves are used for MIG welding compared to TIG.

Typically, MIG gloves will have extra padding on the back and allow for a looser fit and are actually designed for you to be able to take it off with ease if too much heat builds up.  

I have great experience with the RAPICCA 16Inches Gloves.

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Wire Length While Wire Feed Welding

The length of wire that protrudes from your welding gun plays an essential role in keeping your arc stability when welding.

You should consider the gas nozzle and contact tips distance in relation to each other before you measure up your stick out. The ideal distance of the contact tip is about 2mm recessed. 

If the distance is increased, your wire length or stick out will be too long and cause impaired fusion and slag entrapment, particularly noticeable in narrower joints.

When the contact tip extends beyond the gas nozzle, you will not have enough [proper gas shielding to weld effectively.

A good rule of thumb is to keep the stick-out distance (the distance between the contact tip and the workpiece) at:

  • 1/4- to 3/8-inch stick-out for 0.024- and 0.030 diameter wire
  • 1/4- to 3/8-inch stick-out; for 0.035- and 0.04 diameter wire
  • 1/2 to 3/4- inch stick out  for 0.045 and 0.052 diameter wire

Be aware that a stick out that extends too far creates a shortened arc length and may cause splatter, large droplets, unstable arc, and generally poor weldability. 

Wire Welding Jobs/MIG Welding Jobs

The majority of welders, 6 out of 10, typically work in the manufacturing sector, though there are plenty of other fields to dabble in.

Wire feed welding can be used in construction building, ship or aerospace welding, robotics, military careers, farm repair, metal sculpting, ironwork, engineering, and even teaching.    

On average in the United States, the hourly rate for a wire feed/MIG welder is about $23. An entry-level position can start out paying a little below $36,000 a year while an experienced welder can make upwards of $60,000 a year depending on what state they live in and how skilled the welder is.

Like many jobs out there, welding is a competitive field. The better skilled you are at it and the more up-to-date your training the greater your opportunities.

It is also important to keep up to date on the newest technology being used, as more and more machines are being made to help speed up production.

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Mastering Wire Feed Welding/MIG

If you are interested in learning how to wire feed weld, vocational and trade schools often offer classes to get certified in it.

There are also welding supply houses that offer weekend classes for those who are looking to take it up as a hobby or career.

If you are looking for a more dive right in approach, there are also plenty of welding jobs that welcome entry-level positions for people with no experience but are willing to learn on the job.

Keep in mind though, being a certified welder will increase your starting pay.

The American Welding Society is a great place to start looking for the types of certifications employers are on the lookout for.

No matter how you jump into the field, just remember, the more practice the better a welder you will become.

References:

https://www.aws.org/

https://www.bernardwelds.com

https://www.neit.edu/

https://www.esabna.com/

https://www.americantorchtip.com/

https://www.marlinwire.com/

David Harper

David is the Co-Founder and Senior Editor at weldingtroop.com. David's an experienced fitter and tuner/welder who's passionate about helping others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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