TIG Welding Aluminum: Tips and Techniques

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TIG Aluminum Weld

TIG welding aluminum requires a shielding gas (usually argon), a tungsten non-consumable electrode and a clean surface to remove any oxide buildup.

The oxide has a higher melting point than the aluminum itself, which is why it needs to be removed before welding.

The welding machine needs to either have been built for TIG welding (like these) or has the necessary accessories.

A foot current control is essential since heat builds up as the weld is started, requiring less heat from the electrode toward the end of the weld.

For best results use AC (alternating current) at a high frequency (with high frequency the tungsten electrode doesn’t need to come in contact with the aluminum, reducing contamination risk).

Direct current is used as a limited alternative but results in higher heat levels on the electrode and poor oxide cleaning.

The torch nozzle also must have been selected for use on aluminum. When the diameter of the electrode is changed, a wider range of heat input can be used at different metal thicknesses.

In the hands of a skilled welder, TIG looks better and seals better than MIG aluminum welding. MIG aluminum welding is preferred for thicker pieces of metal.

New aluminum alloys such as HTS-2000 offers a lower-cost method for welding aluminum. It can be used with any heat source.

AC TIG Welding

  • Electrode Tip Shape for AC TIG Welding Is a “Ball”
  • This “Ball” = 1 to 1½ Times the Diameter of the Tungsten
  • TIG welding can be amperage controlled in different ways including an AMPtrol on the torch itself, foot pedal control and simply using the machine setting. Remote controls allow the user to start hot and reduce amperage as the weld progresses.
  • The air cooled unit above simply uses the gas flow to cool the torch, therefore, care must be taken not to overheat the internal torch parts, especially when using high amperages. These torches are typically smaller and less expensive.
  • The water cooled unit operates much like a radiator on a car. Water is flowed through the torch and circulated through the cooler by a pump. These units can operate at higher amperages and for longer use.
  • A slight leading angle allows the user to see the puddle, especially when adding filler.
  • The filler can be dipped into the puddle or placed in the joint and moved forward and back.

Aluminum Alloys

Many aluminum alloys have been developed for the TIG welding aluminum process.

The most popular welding aluminum is either pure aluminum 1xxx or an aluminum manganese alloy 3003.

The repair or fabrication of aluminum is done with aluminum brazing (lower cost, stronger welds), using HTS-2000 brazing rods.

They are identified in a 4 digit system with the first digit indicating the metal alloyed with the aluminum:

  • 1xxx – 99% pure aluminum, no alloy
  • 2xxx – aluminum copper alloy
  • 3xxx – aluminum manganese alloy
  • 4xxx – aluminum silicon alloy
  • 5xxx – aluminum magnesium alloy
  • 6xxx – magnesium, silicon and aluminum alloy
  • 7xxx – zinc and aluminum alloy
  • 8xxx – tin or other metal and aluminum

Recommended Filler Metals

Filler metals for TIG welding aluminum need to be high quality and without contamination.

Recommended Filler Metals For Various Aluminum Alloys:

Base Metal Recommended Filler Metal (1)
For Maximum As-Welded Strength For Maximum Elongation
EC
1100
1100
1100, 4043
EC 1260
1100, 4043
2219
3003
3004
5005
2319
5183, 5356
5554, 5356
5183, 4043, 5356
(2)
1100, 4043
5183, 4043
5183, 4043
5051
5052
5083
5086
5356
5356, 5183
5183, 5356
5183, 5356
5183, 4043
5183, 4043, 5356
5183, 5356
5183, 5356
5050
5052
5083
5086
5356, 5183
5554, 5356
5356, 5554
5556
5183, 5356, 5654
5356
5554, 5356
5183, 5356
6061
6063
7005
7039
4043, 5183
4043, 5183
5356, 5183
5356, 5183
5356 (3)
5356 (3)
5183, 5356
5183, 5356

Notes:
(1) Recommendations are for plate of “0” temper.
(2) Ductility of weldments of these base metals is not appreciably affected by filler metal. Elongation of these base metals is generally lower than that of other alloys listed.
(3) For welded joints in 6061 and 6063 requiring maximum electrical conductivity use 4043 filler metal. However, if both strength and conductivity are required, use 5356 filler metal and increase the weld reinforcement to compensate for the lower conductivity of 5356.

Source: (1) Lincoln Electric

Sample Amperage Chart

Base Metal Tungsten Filler Rod Amperage for TIG welding aluminum

0.010″ – 0.035″ 0.040″ 0.024″ – 0.030″ 5 – 25

0.035″ – 1/8″ 1/16″ 0.030″ – 0.045″ 20 – 85

3/32″ – 1/4″ 3/32″ 1/16″ – 3/32″ 50 – 180

3/16″ – 3/8″ 1/8″ 3/32″ – 1/8″ 171 – 250

5/16″ – 1/2″ 5/32″ 1/8″ – 3/16″ 200 – 320

Notes

  • Break tungsten off and allow it to ball when welding starts or us a copper plate to ball
  • Aluminum turns to a mirror color when molten
  • Aluminum requires higher amperages than the same thickness steel due to heat dissipation
  • Be sure to determine aluminum base type before welding
  • Some aluminum is not weldable by the tig welding aluminum process
  • Add more filler to aluminum welds

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum TIG Welding

Advantages

  • A Filler Rod May or May Not Be Necessary
  • AC Polarity for Aluminum & Magnesium
  • High Quality Welds
  • All Position Welding
  • Can Be Used on a Variety of Metals
  • Excellent on Very Thin Materials
  • Fusion Welding is Possible
  • No Slag
  • No Spatter
  • High Efficiency

Disadvantages

  • Lack of portability (Shielding Gas Cylinder & Hoses)
  • Not ideal for outdoor welding – the shielding gas is susceptible to wind & drafts
  • Requires Clean Base Material
  • Low Deposition Rates
  • High Operator Skill Necessary
  • Often Slow

Metal Cleaning Methods

Common Methods for Cleaning Aluminum Surfaces for Welding

Types of Cleaning
Compounds Removed Welding Surfaces Only Complete Piece
Oil, grease, moisture, & dust (use any
method listed)
– Wipe with mild alkaline solution and dry.
– Wipe with hydrocarbon solvent, such as acetone or alcohol.
– Wipe with proprietary solvents.
– Dip edges, using any of above.
– Vapor degrease
– Spray degrease
– Steam degrease
– Immerse in alkaline solvent
– Immerse in proprietary solvents
Oxides
(use any method
listed)
– Dip edge in strong alkaline solution, then water, then nitric acid. Finish with water rinse and dry
– Wipe with proprietary deoxidizers
– Remove mechanically, such as by wire-brushing, filing, or grinding. For critical applications, scrape all joints and adjacent surfaces immediately prior to welding
– Immerse in strong alkaline solution, then water, then nitric acid.
– Finish with water rinse and dry
– Immerse in proprietary solutions

Brazing Rods an Alternative to TIG Welding Aluminum

New technology has recently been developed which enables welders to fabricate or repair aluminum stronger than a TIG welding machine using a simpler process.

Now all that is needed is a heat source such as mapp gas or propane, a turbo tip and a brazing rod.

This procedure works for aluminum or any of the aluminum alloys.

About Jeff Grill

Jeff Grill hails from Long Island, a 118 mile stretch of land that starts just off the coast of Manhattan and stretches deep into the Atlantic ocean. He has always been interested in welding from an early age and has the cuts and bruises to prove it as he set out to work with a variety of metals.

4 thoughts on “TIG Welding Aluminum: Tips and Techniques”

  1. This is great information Thank you. I would like to start TIG welding aluminum. Can you recommend any welders that are low cost (capped around $300) and which a beginner like myself may be able to use effectively for ~1/8 thick aluminum welding?

    Reply
  2. Are different alloys able to be welded together? For example 6061 and 7005. I noticed that the same filler alloy can be used for both.

    Reply

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