Simplify your TIG torch installation

Prevent problems and ensure quality welds with proper TIG torch installation.

By Keith Werkley, Weldcraft

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In brief:

  • TIG torches feature multiple interchangeable parts that must be properly assembled to achieve good welding performance.
  • To aid in joint accessibility and increase operator comfort, TIG torches are designed in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Once you’ve identified the torch components you need, you’re ready to assemble your TIG torch. The steps are the same whether you have an air- or water-cooled model.

Just like any part of the TIG welding process, learning how to assemble and install your TIG torch properly may seem intimidating at first. The torches feature multiple interchangeable parts that must be properly assembled to achieve good welding performance. Plus, both air- and water-cooled models have specific requirements for installation. Nonetheless, educating yourself as to the proper procedures for both types of TIG torches can go a long way in preventing problems and ensuring quality welds.

The torch and its components

To aid in joint accessibility and increase operator comfort, TIG torches are designed in a variety of shapes and sizes. Typically, air-cooled torches are larger and heavier than water-cooled torches. The cooling capacity required for a particular application, as well as the location where you are welding, dictates which one you should use.

Water-cooled torches are recommended for applications requiring more than 200 A.

For example, if you have a low-amperage application, it’s best to use an air-cooled TIG torch. These torches also work well outside because they don’t require a separate water cooler and are easily portable. Water-cooled torches are recommended for applications requiring more than 200 A and are good for use in the shop.

Before assembling your TIG torch, first consider each of its components. If you have an air-cooled torch, some components may be larger than those built for water-cooled torches. These larger components are necessary due to how these torches dissipate heat. Air-cooled torches rely on ambient air plus argon gas to cool the torch and need the additional surface area of the components to assist in the process. On the other hand, a water-cooled torch has a constant source of coolant removing the heat and therefore has smaller front-end torch parts.

Just like any part of the TIG welding process, learning how to assemble and install your TIG torch properly may seem intimidating at first.

In a TIG torch, the nozzle, also called a cup, directs shielding gas to the weld puddle, while also protecting it and the electrode from outside contaminants. Nozzles range in size from ¼ in. (#4) to 1 in. (#16) and are made primarily of alumina or lava.

The tungsten electrode conducts heat to the arc. The thickness and type of material you are welding, along with whether you weld with alternating or direct current, determines which type of tungsten you should use. A 3/32-in. 2% ceriated tungsten electrode is a common choice, as it can be used for welding at 10 to 250 A. Other tungsten electrode options include pure tungsten, 2% thoriated, 1.5% lanthanated, zirconiated and rare earth.

The size of tungsten you use will determine what size collet and collet body you need (e.g., a 3/32-in. collet matches 3/32-in. tungsten). The collet and collet body are responsible for holding the tungsten electrode in place. If you require greater joint access or better shielding gas coverage, you can replace a collet body with a gas lens. Gas lenses are recommended for welding on highly reactive alloys as the greater gas coverage can prevent contamination. All air- and water-cooled GTAW torches are compatible with gas lenses. Your amperage requirements, tungsten size, and joint configuration will determine the gas lens and corresponding nozzle size you need.

To complete the back end of your TIG torch, you will need to decide between a short, medium, or long back cap, all of which tighten the collet against the collet body to help hold the tungsten in place. The length you choose depends on the joint access you require on your application.

Finally, consider your available hose and power cables: rubber or vinyl. Vinyl works well for light-duty applications; however, braided rubber hoses resist heat and kinking and tend to last longer. Rubber hoses also maintain flexibility and durability in cold environments better than vinyl and are typically standard on air-cooled TIG torches.

Assembly

Once you’ve identified the torch components you need, you’re ready to assemble your TIG torch. The steps are the same whether you have an air- or water-cooled model.

First, assemble the collet and collet body. Then insert the tungsten electrode, making sure you have a tight fit between the collet and electrode. Doing so helps to ensure good conductivity and a stable arc.

Next, insert the back cap into the torch body, but do not tighten it, and insert the tungsten/collet/collet body assembly. Add the nozzle and adjust the electrode to within ¼ inch beyond the end of the nozzle. Hand-tighten the back cap. Tightening the back cap at this stage ensures a secure fit of the tungsten and the collet within the collet body.

If you choose to replace the collet body with a gas lens, you can extend the tungsten electrode farther, up to ½ in. beyond the nozzle, but you will also need to use a larger nozzle. Your local welding distributor or TIG torch manufacturer can help you to determine the correct size to use.

Lastly, be certain that all of the torch component threads and connections are tightened properly. Tight connections prevent problems with electrical conductivity and gas flow that could lead to torch damage or weld discontinuities. Also check all o-rings and gaskets for deterioration or failures that could allow air to be drawn into the shielding gas stream.

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