We know this hard-core prerunner enthusiast who just bought a late-model Ford F-Series. For the past two years, he has been saving the profits from his pizza delivery job and is now ready to head over to a local fabrication shop to have it build a double throw down prerunner suspension and integrated roll 'cage for his truck. He arrives on time for his appointment, and after the chief fabricator goes over the installation of his new long-travel suspension and eight-point 'cage, he hits our pal with an important question: "You want me to TIG weld or MIG weld the components?" Ah, the eternal question. Like most of us who don't build race vehicles for a living, our guy wondered which method of metal melding would be better for his particular setup. He also realized that other than one weld looking cleaner than the other, he didn't know the difference between TIG and MIG welding. We sympathized with the prerunner fanatic's plight and took it upon ourselves to question a couple of industry experts to find out the real deal about these two different welding methods. Here is what we learned.
Industry Expert #1: A Brief BackgroundKreg Donahoe owns Donahoe Enterprises, which builds high-end off-road race vehicles and manufactures The Edge line of performance suspensions for Super Duty 4x4s. Kreg is a veteran desert racer who learned his trade by working alongside off-road heroes such as Walker Evans. To his credit, Kreg raced and won numerous classes of desert racing and has 15 years of fabricating experience, building everything from stock-class mini trucks to $100,000 Trophy Trucks. Kreg gave us a brief welding history and told us the reasons when and why Donahoe Enterprises uses TIG and MIG welding techniques.
Historical Welding Notes
"The terms TIG and MIG are old-school abbreviations for the different electric welding processes. MIG used to refer to Metal Inert Gas welding and TIG stood for Tungsten Inert Gas welding. Because the process of welding metal has been improved throughout the years, both TIG and MIG welding can now be accomplished using non-inert gases such as argon. TIG welding is now properly referred to as GTAW, or Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, and MIG welding is now called GMAW, or Gas Metal Arc Welding. Another interesting fact is that the term Heliarc is not a different welding process but a brand name for a welder. The term Heliarc was adopted as a name for TIG welding much the way most people will call all slip joint pliers Channel Locks. Channel Lock is a brand name, not a type of pliers, and Heliarc is a brand-specific TIG-welding machine."
Tig Welding Is Preferable
"From a professional race team point of view, TIG welding enables us to see fatal cracks in the bead area on chassis and suspension parts when we race-prep a vehicle. We prep a vehicle by either Magnafluxing the parts or by using a dye penetrant. Magnafluxing works like so: the part is magnetically charged and then tiny particles of metal are placed on the parts. The particles disappear into any spaces or cracks. Dye penetrant is a three-stage process where the part is cleaned, dye is applied, and then a powder is sprayed over the part. The dye falls into the cracks and then the powder makes the cracks visible.
For our team, MIG welding makes the real cracks tough to identify because the root of a MIG weld tends to bead up more and shows false crack lines along the outside of the bead. These aren't real cracks even though the dye penetrant says they are. "
Tig Welding Is Lighter
"Another reason for TIG welding a race chassis is that it's a more efficient method and the bead is lighter in weight. In an intricate and extensive chassis buildup, such as in a Trophy Truck, TIG welding can save over 40 pounds of weight. MIG welding tends to put extra weld into a joint; this can add weight to a chassis. On a Trophy Truck, 40 pounds can mean the difference between winning and losing a race."
TIG Welding Is Expensive
"For the average Joe, TIG welding is not really necessary. It makes a really clean-looking weld and is a cool term to throw around in conversation, but it's really overkill. TIG welding isn't any stronger than MIG welding. In fact, it's actually cost prohibitive. TIG welding costs the customer three times more than MIG welding because it takes triple the amount of labor (time) to TIG-weld."
MIG Welding: When Speed And Strength Matter
"A skilled welder can produce a MIG weld that can rival a TIG weld in appearance, and it's a much quicker way to weld steel together. We MIG-weld all of our production parts for our Ford Super Duty lift kits, and they are as strong as if they were welded with a TIG machine."
And Now, A Few Words From Our Second Welding Expert
Frank Armao is the Group Leader of Non Ferrous Metal Applications at Lincoln Electric, a leading manufacturer of professional and hobby welders. Frank brings with him a good perspective on this topic from the consumer's point of view. This is what he had to say.
Tig Welding Is Easy
"Contrary to popular belief, TIG welding is easier for the hobbyist to learn because it's a slower welding process. Because you are welding metal at a slower pace, with more control over the heat and wire speed at which you are welding, you can easily make cleaner looking welds.
MIG welding happens at a much quicker pace. Once you've set the heat control and wire speed levels, you must stop welding to change settings. In that respect, TIG is a more passive welding process than MIG welding. It takes much more patience, hand/eye coordination, and skill to make a clean MIG weld when you are first learning the craft."
Strength And Appearance Matter
"TIG welding, when done properly, looks cooler than MIG welding but isn't any stronger."
Tig: High Dollar Equipment
"TIG welding equipment is much more expensive than MIG welding equipment. Our cheapest TIG welder costs $1,500 and weighs 200 pounds, whereas a comparable MIG welder will cost around $500. Both are 115-volt AC input welders that will weld up to 1/4-inch-thick steel, but the increase in user control with the TIG welder ups the price considerably."
MIG Vs. TIG: And The Winner Is
After analyzing the opinions and information we received from Frank Armao and Kreg Donahoe, we would choose to have the shop MIG weld our truck's suspension and chassis components together, provided they are skilled at MIG welding. If we were going to learn to weld, we still would probably choose to buy a MIG welder, not only because the equipment is cheaper but also because MIG welding is quicker and we are impatient people. The quicker we can build our new prerunner bumpers, the quicker we can get to the dirt and roost! Now, if we were to win the lottery, then we'd be inclined to have a master fabricator TIG-weld our trophy truck chassis so that we can compete with the likes of the Herbst Team.
Donahoe Racing Enterprises
2841 E. White Star, Ste. E
Anaheim, CA 92806
Lincoln Electric Company
22801 St. Clair Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44117