Learning to Arc Weld

So, I’ve been on a bit of a learning to weld mission lately. Over the years, I’ve done a little welding, but never anything of any kind of quality, or quantity. 


For the last couple of years, I have had an old, beaten up arc welder which was given to me by my father. It was a handy little unit, but only having minimal adjustment of the amperage was a bit limiting to my learning. Fairly quickly, it became aparent that if I wanted to learn more about welding, I was going to need something with aperage adjustment. The old welder is a Cigweld Compact 2. The minimal controls consist of a switch that selects between 2.5 and 3.2mm Welding Electrodes. It seemed to work ok, and give reasonable results doing practice welds on thick plate, but I find I wanted a bit more control, especially when I’m welding on thinner metal and tube.

More after the jump:

The new welder is also a Cigweld, and also seems to be named a Compact. I picked it up from a guy on the local online classifieds for the grand sum of $45. I wasn’t sure what condition it would be when I went to pick it up, but upon seeing it looked like it had never been used. The only sign I could see was where the previous owner got too close to the earth clamp, and burnt a little bit out of it.

New Welder

Welding Rods:

Its really true that good quality welding rods are so much better than cheaper ones. I have a box of cheap 2.6mm (Nuweld branded) rods that my dad gave me when he gave me the first welder, and they weld ok, but they tend to stick a bit more, and leave a less than refined finish on the weld. They were a real pain when I was first given the old welder, but I can manage them ok now.

The cheap Welding rods

Eventually I bought myself a small packet of Cigweld Satincraft rods and  found how nice they can be, the weld goes down Sooo smooth, with a lot less of the rod sticking to my workpiece. Its a real treat to use these rods. For the time being though, I still use the Cheapo rods more, for a couple of reasons. 1) I have a whole box of them, and so might as well use them. I only have a smallish sample pack of the Cigwelds. At the moment, pretty much all I’m doing is welding onto a piece of plate steel, so weld finish is not so important (and anyway, they work OK when I can make a good weld run), and 2) If I get good at welding with the crappy rods, when I go to the good rods, It’s as easy as pie to get good results.

my Satincraft rods


I’m hopeing I can help out a few others who are interested in improving their welding to get started, so I’m going to give you a couple of hints I’ve found helpful to my welding. This is far from a tutorial, but you can find some good tutorials in the links I’ll provide below.

Welding Helmet: If you can afford one, get an auto darkening one. It is Sooooo much easier to see what you are doing if you don’t have to flip down the lens all the time.

Bending the Rod: I have found that it is sometimes easier to get a better angle on your electrode if you bend it once you put it in the holder. I have also found that this is easier to do on  screw type electrode holders.

Starting, and stopping the weld: When you are starting a weld bead, pause momentarily to build up a weld pool, then start the run. Then, to finish off the bead, do the same, quickly withdrawing backwards across the new weld.

Use Good Electrodes / Rods: As I mentioned above, good quality welding rods are so much easier to use, and provide a much better finish. You won’t be so frustrated when you first begin, if you do yourself a favor, and buy yourself some name brand rods.

I recomend Reading, studying, and then trying to apply what you learn in practice. some good places to start with reading are:

Mig Welding UK’s Tutorial for Arc Welding, or their tutorial for MIG Welding. They also have a forum you might find useful. I found their tutorial with photos of good and bad welds particularly helpful.

Another good read on the basics of Arc welding is Miller’s SMAW guideline PDF document. Its a good place to start, and you don’t need to have a miller welder for this to be useful. I do prefer the real photos and videos on the above links though.

I was hopeing there would be some good videos availiable online, but unfortunatly, I found very few quality videos. There were some videos on Youtube from ExpertVillage, but I thought they were too short, far too few, and far too fragmented. If there are any experienced welders in the Canberra area interested in making some introduction to welding videos, I would be more than happy to put together some cameras & gear, and shoot the video.

Well, thats it for now. I hope you have taken something interesting out of this post.



6 thoughts on “Learning to Arc Weld

  1. Learning arc welding is so frustrating.
    Nice tips in the article, it will help for sure

  2. I also have the compaq 2 arc welder, its a good little welder but as you said its a pain that you cant adjust the amps apart from the flick switch. How do you find the welder that you replaced it with? Is it in any way worse than the old compact welder?

    Thanks, James

    • Hi James,
      The newer cigweld compact with the adjustable amperage control was rather handy, and it allowed me to learn a lot more.
      Its certainly worth the upgrade in my books. I paid $50 for that one second hand
      I have since upgraded again to a Cigweld Weldskill inverter welder. Its another step up again. Being a DC welder, it is far smoother welding. Being an inverter welder, it not only allows far greater amperage control, but also allows for faster changing of amperage, as its about as hard as turning up the sound on an amplifier. I can burn a 2mm rod, and go straight to a 3.5mm rod in a minute, without cranking the big knob.

      If you are looking to upgrade from the two switched compact, and can afford to, I’d recommend the inverter welders. You can pick them up pretty cheap on ebay (even the cigwelds). I don’t know the quality of the cheaper ones, but I think they would work. I thought about buying one of the cheaper ones until I found the Weldskill inverter at a bargain price.

      I hope i’ve been helpful.

  3. Hi Matt,
    Thanks that is great information, Im going shopping! I’ll ask the missus for forgiveness later 🙂

  4. I’ve got one of those cig compact 2 and just can’t seem to get a clean weld always has intrusions don’t know what Ime doing wrong

    • I’m not entirely sure, and I’m not really a pro when it comes to welding myself.
      I’d start by making sure everything is clean before you begin, and practice.
      If you don’t get the speed right, or move in the wrong direction, you can pockets of slag etc.. In your welds

      I’d recommend searching through old posts on places like weldingweb.com. There is a wealth of info for beginners and pro’s alike in their forum

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