If you’re new to TIG welding or looking to improve your skills, the first step is knowing how to sharpen a tungsten electrode. Sharpening your tungsten can make all the difference in the quality of your welds. If you’ve never done it before. I’ll walk you through the steps and give you some tips and tricks to help.
Classed as a “non-consumable” the tungsten is responsible for conducting the current and creating the arc. But I have been through hundreds of them.
Scratch start or a dodgy lift start TIG soon snaps the point off, or you are like me and accidentally dip the tungsten into the molten pool or on a really bad day dab the wire onto the tungsten itself.
Tungsten has a remarkably high melting point of 3422°C (6192°F). This property makes it highly resistant to heat and allows it to retain its shape even when exposed to extreme temperatures.
The electrode doesn’t get consumed during welding. However, they tend to become dull with use. This is referred to as tungsten erosion.
Some of the added metal oxides break down over extended welding periods.
Dull or contaminated electrodes impact weld quality by producing unstable arcs and weld contamination.
Tools Needed for Sharpening Tungsten Electrode
Sharpening a tungsten electrode requires specific tools that are designed to shape and sharpen the tip of the electrode. The selection of tools will depend on the type of electrode and the desired angle, as well as personal preference. Here are some commonly used tools for sharpening tungsten electrodes:
Using A Bench Grinder To Grind Tungstens
I started TIG welding at a welding college. We sharpened our tungstens on bench grinders, by freehand.
They work well and are a common tool, but I have a few hacks to make them even better. If you have a bench grinder already I highly suggest an 80-grit grinding wheel. The finer stone removes the blunt or contaminated area quickly. When working in an old machine shop years ago, the machinists used these wheels to sharpen the tungsten carbide lathe tools.
The coarser bench grinder wheels make the tungsten rods jump around a bit and can lead to the fine tip of the tungsten snapping off or splitting. The fine stone leaves a very fine grain for the arc to follow. Helping arc starts and arc stability.
The downside of the bench grinder with freehand is people tend to stay in on area of the grinding wheel. This leaves grooves in the stone only after a few uses. Making the stone useless for sharpening a drill bit or any other grinding.
I use a cordless drill to hold the piece of tungsten and have it turn very slowly. This prevents a radial grain. While keeping your digits away from the hot tungsten. Then slowly use the entire face of the grinding wheel. It doesn’t solve the problem completely, but it slows the process. I use a diamond dresser to square the face every now and then.
Position the electrode against this abrasive surface at an appropriate angle (usually between 15-30 degrees) while holding it firmly in place with your hand or a cordless drill.
Sharpening A Tungsten With An Angle Grinder
If you are reading this and you have a TIG welding machine I know you will have an angle grinder. This has never been my favorite way of tungsten electrode sharpening. But if it’s all you have, it works!
When I do use this form I use a 120-grit abrasive pad. Having the angle grinder running I turn it upside down and rest it on the bench for added stability.
Have the tungsten tip pointing away from the direction of wheel rotation to prevent the electrode from snapping.
I find the normal angle grinder wheels are way too hard. Some people use a flap disc. This method gives a very inconsistent profile to the tungsten tip. The tungsten just sinks into the flap disc creating a curve in the tip.
I have a burnished attachment on my variable speed grinder so I made a bench-mounted stand so I could use the drum-type sanding belts. I found this was very good. That was before I prised open my wallet for a proper bench grinder with a finishing attachment.
Sharpening A Tungsten With A Diamond Wheel
A lot of cheap diamond wheels have come into the market for angle grinders now so they are an okay choice, I find the grain is a bit too coarse.
Unlike traditional grinding wheels, which are made from aluminum oxide or silicon carbide, diamond wheels are coated with diamond particles that provide a superior cutting edge and long-lasting durability. Diamond wheels can be used with angle grinders or bench grinders to shape and polish the tip of the electrode.
They come in different sizes and grits, depending on the desired finish and angle. For example, a coarse-grit diamond wheel (100-200) can be used for initial shaping, while a fine-grit wheel (400-600) can be used for final polishing.
I suggest dedicated grinder wheels to prevent any tungsten contamination if you use these on tiles or concrete as well.
Belt Sander To Sharpen Tungsten TIG Electrodes
My home workshop this is my go-to method to dress the electrode tips. It creates far less dust than a bench grinder plus it has the advantage of being securely mounted to my…..well, bench.🤣
It also doesn’t course any deep grooves in the grinding wheel rendering the stone useless until dressed.
I still recommend using the drill at a very slow speed as the electrode holder to ensure a consistent electrode shape. Then slowly use the entire face of the belt sander to maintain its life.
Tungsten Electrode Grinder Attachment
If you have a rotary type Dremel tool there are a lot of attachments that are available that have the preset grind angles for the tungstens in the popular 1/16th (1.6mm), 3/32nd (2.4mm), and 1/8th (3.2mm).
A few of them also have a dust cover to minimize the mess and contain the thoriated nastiness.
I wouldn’t be keen on taking these on and off all the time if you intend on still using your Dremel for other things frequently.
The setup of the attachments requires a bit of patience to get the depth set correctly in relation to the correct hole on the guide and the diamond wheel.
It would be better value to buy an affordable angle grinder, belt sander, or bench grinder.
Tungsten Electrode Grinder
I have been a pipe welder for over 20 plus years and very few sites and workshops have started using these in Australia or New Zealand. Most of the time it was the storemen who had the bench-type tungsten grinder and he would sharpen the tungsten to the weld procedure and give a handful to the welders to use.
I am tempted to buy one soon. leave a comment below if you would be interested in a review of a few different types as I make my buying decision.
A tungsten grinder is a specialized tool that is designed to grind and shape the tungsten electrode. They work by rotating the electrode against a diamond wheel removing material from the tip of the electrode while shaping it to a specific angle.
Tungsten grinders come in different sizes and styles, ranging from handheld models to bench-mounted versions with adjustable angles.
One advantage of using a tungsten grinder I like is that they allow for precise control over the shape and size of the tip, which can improve welding performance and quality. Additionally, using a dedicated grinder helps to ensure that only minimal amounts of material are removed during each sharpening session, which can prolong the life of your electrodes.
Chemical Tungsten Electrode Sharpeners
This is truly some mad scientist stuff. One jar can chemically sharpen tungsten electrodes up to 500 times with no grinding at all. I looked into the ingredients, it is mostly Sharpenium oxide (So2H5).
LOL no it’s 98% Sodium Nitrate (NaNO3). The benefit of the tungsten chemical sharpeners is, they can extend the life of the tungsten by not grinding away excess electrode material.
- The bonus is you don’t need to remove the tungsten electrode from the TIG torch, just slide it out about an inch past the cup.
- To use it you need to heat the tungsten a dull orange color.
- Dip the tungsten tip into the jar around 1/4″ or 6mm, A chemical reaction will start immediately.
- Remove to see if the correct point is made.
- Keep dipping the tungsten into the jat until the desired point is reached.
- You may need to reheat the tungsten electrode again for the chemical reaction.
- Simply clean off the blackish oxide with a red scotch brite pad then you are good to go.
The downside is that it needs to be handled with caution. All methods on how to sharpen tungsten electrodes have a risk of dust, dangerous rotary tools, and now some toxic fumes to avoid.
The Tungsten Electrode TLDR And Its Use In TIG Welding
A tungsten electrode is commonly made from pure tungsten or an alloy mixed with rare earth elements like thorium or cerium. The shape of the electrode tip varies based on its intended use, with some being straight and others tapered at one end.
In TIG welding, the tungsten electrode plays a crucial role in generating a high-heat source that won’t harm the metal during the welding process. Additionally, it’s common for a small ball to form on one end of the electrode, as electrons flow out while conducting current over the arc gap. When using certain types of color tungsten electrodes for aluminum.
A properly sharpened tungsten electrode provides a heat source that enables precise control over the amount of heat applied to each section of metal during welding. This control is necessary to prevent warping or deformation of the metal due to excess heat.
Importance Of Sharpening Tungsten Electrode For Optimal Performance
Regularly sharpening tungsten electrodes is important for maintaining optimal performance in TIG welding. Dull or blunt electrodes can cause unstable arcs, inconsistent bead sizes, and other issues with weld quality.
A sharp tungsten electrode produces a focused arc that is easy to start and control.
A properly sharpened electrode reduces current fluctuations through the arc gap, minimizing erosion of both the tungsten shaft and surrounding metal materials. As a result, you can save money on replacement electrodes while also improving weld quality.
Understanding how to sharpen a tungsten electrode is critical for anyone who wants to produce high-quality TIG welds consistently. By following proper sharpening techniques and using appropriate tools like tungsten grinders or diamond wheels, you can maintain sharp tungsten electrodes that produce stable arcs without stray arcs or undercut damaging the metal being welded.
Steps to Sharpen a Tungsten Electrode
Preparation: Clean the electrode and ensure it is free from any contaminants.
Before sharpening a tungsten electrode, it is important to make sure that the electrode is clean and free from any contaminants. Contaminants such as oil, grease, and dirt can cause problems with the welding process and affect the quality of the weld.
To clean the electrode, use an acetone-based cleaner to remove any stubborn contaminants.
Select the type of sharpening method based on the type of electrode.
The type of tungsten electrode being used will dictate which sharpening method is appropriate. For example, thoriated tungsten electrodes should only be sharpened using a method to minimize dust. Like a diamond wheel or specialized tungsten grinder due to their radioactive nature. Lanthanated or ceriated tungsten electrodes can be sharpened using either of the above-mentioned ways such as a diamond wheel or bench grinder equipped with a dedicated silicon carbide wheel.
Use a tungsten grinder or bench grinder to shape the tip.
Once you have determined which type of sharpening method is suitable for your specific tungsten electrode, you can begin shaping the tip. If using a specialized tungsten grinder, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to adjust for proper grinding angles and settings.
If using a bench grinder with silicon carbide wheels, ensure that they are dressed properly before beginning. Use light pressure when grinding and maintain consistent contact between the wheel and tip to achieve an even grind.
Tips for Sharpening Tungsten Electrode
Protect Yourself: Use Proper Safety Equipment such as Gloves and Eye Protection while Sharpening
Sharpening a tungsten electrode can create metal dust or fumes, which is hazardous to your health if inhaled. To prevent any injuries, it is important to wear proper safety equipment while sharpening. Wearing gloves will protect your hands from the hot electrode, and eye protection will shield your eyes from any debris that may be generated during the process.
In addition to gloves and eye protection, you should also wear a respirator mask or work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in any harmful metal dust particles or fumes. Make sure that you properly dispose of all tungsten debris and dust.
Tungsten electrodes are designed to last a long time before needing sharpening. Over-sharpening can reduce the lifespan.
To determine whether you need to sharpen the electrode or not, inspect its tip regularly for signs of wear and tear such as blunting or contamination on its surface.
You can also use water as a coolant while grinding
If you want to be the TIG welding master, don’t forget to give your tungsten electrode some love and keep it sharp. Trust me, it’s the key to unlocking ultimate performance.
A properly sharpened tungsten electrode is essential for achieving high-quality TIG welds. A sharp point ensures accurate arc initiation, greater arc stability, and better weld penetration. Additionally, it reduces the chances of weld contamination and promotes a longer electrode life.