If you’re new to TIG welding or aren’t sure what it is exactly, then you probably ask yourself: should I ever use this for mild steel? The quick answer is, yes. TIG offers precision and makes the weld stick better to the surface metal. I will quickly introduce you to TIG welding, how it works, and why you should use it on mild steel.
Then, I will review my favorite recommendations for the best tungsten electrodes you could get for mild steel.
Tungsten Inert Gas Welding
Tungsten inert gas welding, or TIG, was first called Heliarc because originally it used helium as a shield gas, and some still refer to it in this way. The American Welding Society, on the other hand, calls it Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW). It’s a type of arc welding process that utilizes non-consumable tungsten electrodes that heat up and melt the base metal. If you’re interested to learn more, this article of ours will give you more detailed information on the subject.
How It Works
Tungsten (also known as wolfram) is used for this technique because it has a melting point at 6191℉ (3422℃), so it will stay intact in the process of melting the metal that needs to be welded. This means you can do it with or without a filler metal, which is not a choice you get with other types of welding.
The type of alloy you use as a filler depends on the type of metal you need to weld. It works on both DC and AC currents (direct current and alternating current) so you can also use it for aluminum. For more information, check out our article on The Difference Between AC and DC Welding.
You should choose a particular filler rod depending on the metal you need welded, You could use just any metal piece you have laying around, but it’s not recommended, because for a cleaner weld you should buy an alloy rod that’s suitable for the specific welding job. These are the 4 most common kinds:
- ER70S-2 for mild steel
- ER308L for stainless steel
- 4043 for aluminum
- Silicone bronze for brazing or combining different metals
They come in different sizes which you will choose according to your needs and preferences. Sometimes, if you need to cover a wider surface, you will want to use a thicker rod, but it’s still a matter of choice.
Some people tend to use a thicker rod and a higher amperage, while others prefer a thinner rod and a lower amperage which uses up the rod more quickly. You will probably be able to make your own choice about this as you practice.
Why Use TIG for Mild Steel
One word: precision. Once you get the hang of TIG welding, you will see that nothing can beat it when it comes to precise work. The second most important aspect is heat control.
If you have a foot pedal or a thumb wheel on the torch, you can control the amperage and therefore control the temperature.
You can also pinpoint the heat like you wouldn’t be able to with other welding techniques. That is important because you want to control the heat-affected zone because if a weld does fail, it will be in the heat-affected zone, so this way, you get to minimize that surface.
TIG is very useful for welding thin metal because if you turn the heat down, you won’t blow through the metal. It also allows you to control the warpage.
The different types of tungsten are marked with a color code so you can recognize it easily when you have different kinds lying around the shop.
Types of Tungsten Electrodes
The most commonly used types of tungsten electrodes are:
- Pure tungsten (green tip) AC
- 2% thoriated tungsten (red tip) DC
- 1.5% lanthanated tungsten (gold tip) AC & DC
- 2% lanthanated tungsten (blue tip) AC & DC
- 2% ceriated tungsten (grey tip) AC & DC
- 0.8% zirconiated tungsten (white tip) AC
- TRI-element AKA rare earth blend (purple tip) AC & DC
Because you can use practically any tungsten type for welding mild steel (except zirconiated tungsten), you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can’t decide which one to choose. And there is no straight answer for this.
Welders have been arguing over this for years now, and you can witness it in just about any blog or comment section where the question comes up. The truth is, you have to decide for yourself after trying them out.
While most of the “old school” welders swear by the red tungsten (2% thoriated), there has been a dispute over it for the last few years. The main reason for this is the fact that thorium is slightly radioactive (so are a bunch of other materials that we use on a daily basis), but you can easily protect yourself with a proper mask, so it’s still the most frequently used one.
The second most commonly used tungsten electrode is the blue one (2% lanthanated). This type can be used for just about any application. There are a lot of videos on YouTube showing the superiority of this one over the other electrodes. The tests performed show clear advantages when it comes to conductivity, amperage handling, and balling up.
The drawback of the 2% lanthanated tungsten electrode, however, is the fact that it’s harder to break than the others. You can’t just do it with your fingers and a pair of pliers. You would have to use a grinder to cut it up, or at least make a slice in it and then break it. But this is not too big of an issue considering the fact that every welder usually has a grinder within their reach.
Now, let’s go through some of the best thoriated and lanthanated tungsten electrodes that you can find on Amazon.
2% Thoriated Tungsten Electrode
The 2% thoriated (color code red) is an all-purpose tungsten electrode and it’s recommended for welding mild steel because they work well on lower temperatures, which is what you need if you don’t want the steel to warp. So here are my top picks! All of the products listed below have the following certificates: ANSI/AWS Standard A5.12M/A5.12:2009 ISO 6848:2004 MOD.
Overall Best: MTS TIG Welding Tungsten Electrodes 2% Thoriated (3/32″)
First off, you receive a free materials safety data sheet (MSDS) in the package, which is pretty useful.
These MTS electrodes really get the job done properly! The arc stability of this electrode is very good (when ground properly) and there’s absolutely no balling after using it for several minutes.
The manufacturer cares a lot about customer satisfaction, so they might contact you after you order the product to make sure everything works well. They also have great technical support and customer service.
A few users have complained about receiving damaged electrodes in the package or even missing pieces, but the seller does accept returns in such cases.
Midwest Tungsten Service is a brand that specializes in tungsten electrodes and they keep their prices low. I would highly recommend these.
- Free materials safety data sheet;
- Great customer service.
- Packaging may be damaged upon arrival.
These tungsten electrodes have shown good arc starts and arc steadiness. The tip doesn’t ball up very quickly, which is a good thing if you’re gonna be welding mild steel.
The electrodes are shipped in a vacuum-sealed bag to prevent oxidation.
However, some welders have complained about them bending when you try to break them.
Although YESWELDER is a very young brand, their products have proven to offer great quality. The price is a bit lower than the other leading brands, yet the quality remains.
- All required certificates;
- Vacuum-sealed package.
- May bend instead of break.
Best for Beginners: WeldingCity Electrode 2.0% Thoriated 3/32″ x 7″
Welding City’s thoriated electrodes spark up real fast and hold a very steady arc. The tip doesn’t ball up quickly, so there’s no need for sharpening all the time. But when you do need to sharpen it, it can be done with ease.
The manufacturer also has very good technical support and customer service, so if anything goes wrong – they’ve got your back.
Although the brand claims to be American, the electrodes come from China. I guess it’s easier for them to buy electrodes and just put their brand name on them instead of producing them. And for this reason, the shipping may take very long. But despite the false advertising, the electrodes work just fine.
- Fast ignition;
- Stable arc;
- Great customer service.
- Shipping may take longer than usual.
Best for Professionals: CK 2% Thoriated Tungsten Electrode 3/32″ X 7″
This is the highest-rated tungsten product on Amazon. CK Worldwide is a serious name brand in the welding industry and this product is a testament to their reliability. The electrode sparks up real quick, holds an extremely stable arc, and it takes a while before balling up.
It is, however, the most expensive out of all the products I reviewed. It isn’t a huge difference though. If it’s your first time trying to TIG weld, maybe you could consider getting one of the other electrodes from this list, because you will go through them quite fast.
- Fast arc starts and stability;
- Conforms to all standards.
- A bit pricey.
2% Lanthanated Tungsten Electrode
If you’re concerned about the fact that thorium is slightly radioactive, this would be the perfect replacement for it. Along with the rare earth blend tungsten, it’s the most versatile electrode and can be used for pretty much any application.
Overall Best: YESWELDER Tungsten Electrode 2% Lanthanated 3/32″ x 7″
Like the thoriated electrodes, these are shipped in a vacuum-sealed bag to prevent oxidation. These electrodes also have all the required certificates.
The YESWELDER lanthanated electrodes spark up quickly, have solid arc stability, and keep a sharp tip for a good amount of time. They break off and grind easily. That’s really all you need from an electrode.
This is a great quality electrode for a very low price. The only issue with this product would be that it takes a bit longer for it to arrive because it’s shipped from China.
- Vacuum sealed package;
- Good arc starts and stability;
- Breaks off easily.
- May take longer to arrive.
Like with the thoriated tungsten from Midwest Tungsten, you get a free materials safety data sheet (MSDS).
This electrode will spark up every single time you try, even when it has a balled-up tip. It works great at high amps too, so it’s really a great all-around electrode that’ll work with any power source.
Some welders have reported that the electrodes split when you sharpen them, but this could have been a faulty batch. If that does happen, the manufacturer has great customer service and technical support, so you may be able to resolve such an issue with them.
- Free materials safety data sheet.
- Good arc starts;
- Great customer service and technical support.
- Might split when sharpening.
Best for Beginners: PATRIOT TUNGSTEN 2% Lanthanated 3/32” x 7”
This Patriot electrode grinds off easily, which is very helpful, especially for beginners, since they’ll need to resharpen it after each failed attempt. It also ignites quickly and holds a steady arc for a long time.
Some customers have reported that the paint on the tip of the electrode is too thick to slide in the gun easily, so you would have to grind it off. Luckily, the seller has a return policy if you’re not satisfied with the product.
- Fast arc starts;
- Easily sharpened;
- Return policy.
- Paint may be too thick.
Best for Professionals: CK 2% Lanthanated Tungsten Electrode 3/32″ X 7″
The CK Worldwide electrodes work like a miracle. When properly ground, the arc will hold steady for a long time, so you can weld for longer without having to stop or resharpen the tip of the electrode.
However, this product is almost double the price of the other electrodes we reviewed.
The truth is, there’s no bad review for these. I guess if you have an extra buck to spend, you should give these a try, but I wouldn’t suggest buying these if you are now starting with TIG, because you will burn through your batch very fast.
- Good arc stability;
- Sharpens easily.
- A bit pricey.
How to Choose the Right Tungsten for Mild Steel: A Buyer’s Guide
When you’ve built up TIG welding hours, your tungsten will last you for a long time. When you’ve learned to keep a steady hand you won’t be dipping the electrode in the puddle very often, so you won’t have to resharpen it all the time. This means you can buy a more expensive set for your toolbox.
If you’re planning on welding different types of metal all the time, you should choose a tungsten that can do that. It’s much more practical to have one or two types of electrodes in your shop so you can switch when you have to more easily.
That’s why the lanthanated and thoriated tungsten electrodes are the most commonly used electrodes among welders. They both can be used for both DC and AC welding so you can use them to weld aluminum alloys, magnesium alloys, copper alloys, titanium alloys, nickel alloys, and all types of steels.
Best Tungsten for Mild Steel: Conclusion
Although all of the tungsten electrodes listed above would do a good job, the little differences between them have resulted in different rankings.
The Midwest electrodes are my number one pick for the 2% thoriated tungsten because they keep a steady arc and the end of the tungsten doesn’t ball up even at high amperage levels.
For the more experienced welder, I would suggest the CK thoriated electrodes because they work flawlessly, but they are a bit more expensive. A newbie in TIG welding will have trouble keeping the end of the tungsten out of the puddle, thus having to break off and resharpen the electrode very often.
When it comes to the 2% lanthanated electrodes, I’d go with the YESWELDER. They work perfectly fine for both AC and DC welding, hold a steady arc, and come at a very reasonable price.
If, however, you are a more experienced TIG welder and want to spend an extra buck on a set of electrodes, don’t hesitate to get the CK Worldwide 2% lanthanated. It’s a perfect tungsten electrode for any application.
Best Tungsten for Mild Steel FAQ:
What is blue tungsten used for?
The 2% lanthanated tungsten (blue tip), like the rare earth blend (purple tip), works for both AC and DC welding. That means that it can be used not only for titanium, nickel, copper, mild and stainless steel but also for aluminum and magnesium which are recommended for AC welding.
How do you choose tungsten size?
Depending on the base material type and thickness of your weld, you use different amperage levels. So the higher the amperage, the thicker your tungsten should be.
How dangerous is thoriated tungsten?
Thorium is a radioactive element! That cannot be denied. However, unless you inhale the dust while grinding, or it gets in your eyes, it probably won’t affect your health.