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Strike Your First Arc

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Be Not Afraid, or Push the Gun Closer

Virtual reality welding is fine for some things, but steel doesn’t virtually melt itself. You can’t virtually set your pants on fire or virtually burn a hole in your running nylon running shoe and end up with webbed toes for two weeks (we’re not making up these stories).

Perhaps you could say we’re old school, but when there are daily hazards involved with a profession, a good education demands that you learn how to manage risk. Here at Arclabs, you’ll learn about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), how to dress safely and understand best safety practices before you get to strike an arc (and that’s a topic for another time).

But once you get into the lab and are ready to strike your first arc — KNOWING that you’ve followed all the right precautions and are learning under our watchful instructors — don’t let the arcs and sparks intimidate you.

In fact, being hesitant only makes things worse. The classic example is when a student strikes their first MIG or Stick arc and they jump at the sparks. “OMG. Fire! Fire bad!”

Their natural inclination is to pull their head back and the MIG gun or electrode farther away from the welding coupon in the process. As a result, they “long arc” the weld, and now the sparks really start flying.

Here’s what’s happening. In welding, voltage is proportional to distance. A long arc makes the welder hotter, more unstable and throws more sparks. To bring voltage and amperage parameters back into harmony and achieve a proper melt off rate, you have to have a proper arc length.

With beginners, that invariably means pushing the gun or electrode closer. For short circuit MIG welding, that means holding the MIG gun about 3/8-in. from the plate. For Stick welding, a good arc length might be about 1/16- to 1/8-in. With some Stick electrodes, a good machine and the right settings, you can literally feel the rod drag on the plate.

In our welding labs, you’ll hear our instructors tell you to “hold a tight arc.” It might come out as “Move the gun closer. No closer. Really, trust me; closer means more control.” Embrace that feeling with confidence. Be not afraid of the arcs and sparks. And move gun the closer.