Basic Composition of Steel
When you break it down to its raw essentials, steel is really just iron and carbon. There's usually a few other elements, in trace amounts, thrown in for good measure (or to achieve a specific goal, i.e. adding chromium or nickel to create corrosion resistant stainless steel).
The amount of carbon determines the difficulty of welding a particular grade of steel. Cast iron, containing the highest carbon content, is a full 3% carbon, and the most difficult to weld. Low carbon steel is usually about .03% carbon (technically speaking, steel should never be less than .03% carbon), and is, comparatively speaking, a breeze to weld.
Top Three Steel Welding Formats
- Shielded Gas Arc Welding – AKA Arc Welding or just Stick Welding
- Metal Inert Gas Welding – AKA MIG Welding
- Tungsten Inert Gas Welding – AKA TIG Welding
Stick Welding Steel
Reigning as the most commonly used and well known form of welding, Stick Welding is used on farms, for structural work, in construction and in the field for pipe welding and exterior repair work.
Stick Welding derives it's name from the consumable electrode rods with flux baked around a metal core. The equipment is fairly cheap in comparison to Mig and Tig welding set-ups, and Stick welding is relatively easy to learn. Switching up from carbon steel to stainless steel is a snap – just switch the rods.
MIG Welding Steel
MIG welding is most commonly found in fabrication, manufacturing, machine shops and body shops. The actual welding equipment is more elaborate and much less portable than the Stick Welding equipment. MIG Welding flux comes in the form of filler wire that is spooled inside the welding machine, fed through a hose, and out of a welding gun (along with shielding gas).
When it comes to welding steel, the tough part about MIG Welding is that you need to change your filler wire spool and shielding gas when you switch from carbon steel to stainless steel.
On the upside, MIG Welding is relatively easy to get the hang of, the welding process moves quickly, and it doesn't create any slag. It's well suited to fabrication jobs because it's fairly easy to make clean, precise welds that look good.
Tig welding is used in pipe welding, in addition to aerospace, automotive and motorcycle fabrication. Being the cleanest and most precise welding format, Tig welding can be used to weld almost any type of metal, and welding steel is a snap, just a switch of the filler rod, which, unlike in Mig Welding, is not fed through a machine.
Though mostly reserved for shop use, Tig Welding can be used in the field, but windy conditions can cause problems with the shielding gas. Tig Welding is also the most difficult welding process to master, because you need to use both hands; one to handle the torch and one to manipulate the wire – and manipulating the wire is the real art of creating the clean, precise welds for which the Tig welding process has gained its vast renown.