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Behind The Sparks| A Look At Structural Welding Vs Pipe Welding

Are you trying to decide between structural welding vs pipe welding as your career? We understand the confusion, as there are many differences between these two processes. In this article, we’ll take a look at the key differences around job responsibilities, skills required, and strengths or weaknesses of each type of welding.

Whether you’re an experienced welder or a newbie looking to learn more about the field, by reading this blog post, you’ll have all the facts/knowledge on hand needed to make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Structural welding is applicable in residential construction projects, buildings & bridges, industrial processing towers, and shipbuilding operations.
  • Structural welders must have proficiency in Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW), and Metal Inert Gas (MIG) techniques.
  • Structural welding is primarily welding on base plates to columns and cleats for supporting structures. As a structural welder, you will be primarily working with a variety of materials that are common in the construction and manufacturing industries. These materials include parallel flange channels, which are C-shaped sections used in construction and civil engineering; tapered flange beams, which are I-shaped and used for their load-bearing capabilities; and angled sections, typically used for their strength and versatility in a variety of applications.
  • Pipe welding usually focuses on oil and gas pipelines, mining, chemical process refining, the Dairy industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and electrical generation.
  • Pipe welding offers precision control over joint location & splatter production resulting in more aesthetic finishes compared to manual SMAW or FCAW processes, plus increased travel speed when working with thinner materials but requires certifications regarding hazardous conditions & additional skillsets.

Understanding the Difference Between Structural Welding and Pipe Welding

Structural welding and pipe welding have distinct differences regarding job responsibilities, tasks, types of projects, and industries, as well as skills and qualifications required.

Job responsibilities and tasks

  • Structural and pipe welding professionals, there are several job responsibilities you need to be aware of in order to succeed. Structural welders are responsible for testing welding and safety equipment, cutting, assembling, and repairing building components such as girders and beams.
  • Pipe welders, on the other hand, focus on the assembly, installation, maintenance, and repair of piping systems and fixtures.

Types of projects and industries

Structural welding is used in a wide range of projects, including the construction of buildings, and bridges for commercial and industrial applications, manufacturing plants, automotive parts on assembly lines, shipbuilding operations, aerospace components, and structures.

Pipe welding typically involves working with infrastructure related to the oil and gas industries, mining operations, and chemical processing refineries. It also plays a significant role in the dairy and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as in the generation of electricity.

Skills and qualifications required

To become a structural welder, one must possess skills in SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding), FCAW (Flux-Cored Arc Welding), and MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding techniques. Additionally, higher qualifications such as certifications are also required to secure an entry-level position. Welders should acquire welding certifications from recognized organizations like the American Welding Society or the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

Pros and Cons of Structural Welding

Structural welding offers many advantages, such as high versatility, improved productivity, and busy working environments. However, some challenges include limited access to welds due to spatial constraints, the need for advanced skill sets, and potential hazards from fumes or flying debris.

Advantages of Structural Welding

  1. Structural welding offers greater efficiencies in fabrication operations due to its high – strength and durability when compared to other joining methods like bolting or riveting.
  2. Utilizing structural welding techniques, welders can achieve better quality results with minimal effort and material costs, making it a great choice for commercial applications such as large construction projects like skyscrapers or bridges.
  3. Structural welding is a versatile technique that allows welders to join metals of different thicknesses, which provides greater strength than any other metal joining method due to the uniformity of heat distribution and solid penetration of molten materials between workpieces being joined together.
  4. The ergonomics (positioning) benefits provided by structural welding help reduce injuries related to fatigue and repetitive motion over time since the operator does not have to bend down regularly as with other types of joinery options like bolting or riveting.
  5. It also eliminates many extra steps taken during inventory management through repeatable processes, meaning outages caused by shortages in parts aren’t an issue because saving manufacturing times through traditional means such as manual oxy-cutting isn’t needed thanks to modern-day CNC laser-operated machines capable of automated cutting of Cleats, brackets, and base plates. Some welding automation is starting to replace welders in smaller component manufacturing.
  6. A large percentage of the structural steel welding is done in a workshop. Resulting in less time away from family for remote site welding.
plate vs pipe welding

Challenges of Structural Welding

As a welding professional specializing in structural welding, there are many challenges that you may experience. Bid accuracy can be difficult to achieve while still accounting for the costs of materials and labor required for a successful project. You must also adhere to deadlines set by the client or construction company to meet their expectations and keep them satisfied with your work. Finally, ensuring compliance with building codes is essential; any deviation from safety regulations could render your work invalid or even hazardous.

Pros and Cons of Pipe Welding

Welding pipe provides welders with the opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects, from oil and gas pipelines to water mains, and offers welders stable opportunities in building infrastructure.

However, it demands more pipe welding certifications than structural welding and has fewer employee benefits.

Advantages of Pipe Welding

  1. Pipe welding offers welders to produce high weld quality on a range of different materials.
  2. MMAW (Manual Metal Arc Welding) or GTAW (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) are used in the pipe welding process, which results in a more aesthetic finish.
  3. Additionally, it is much easier to maintain quality control standards while utilizing a welding positioner method for pipe welding, increasing production and welder fatigue.

Challenges of Pipe Welding

  1. Working conditions in pipe welding can be difficult and unpleasant, such as working in confined spaces, awkward positions, and extreme temperatures.
  2. Skilled welders have to follow specific safety protocols when on petrochemical or chemical work sites.
  3. Productivity is affected easily due to the complexity of joining pipes together, including taking into account angles, preparation work, purging, etc., as each section needs to meet certain specifications before moving on to the next task.
  4. Skilled pipe welders must possess a high level of accuracy. A large percentage of the welds are tested in a number of ways.
  5. The bidding process for structural welding jobs requires significant research time to give an accurate estimate for completing the project on time and within budget.
  6. Finishing an entire pipeline weld means covering long distances with heavy equipment – resulting in a lot of physical effort that takes its toll over time.
  7. Welding has negative impacts on personal life due to long hours spent away from home and family members or other loved ones, which can lead to fatigue and emotional distress over time.
  8. Various types of pipe welding techniques are available, requiring welders to be intimately familiar with some common standards for pipeline fabrication that ensure safety and maintain quality control.
  9. Correct establishment of piping systems also depends on proper materials selection, making it a challenge for welders who must assemble these systems efficiently while satisfying engineer specifications with no room for errors.
Welder at orbital welding machine


Structural welding and pipe welding involve two different sets of techniques with distinct job responsibilities, high skill levels required, projects, and industries. Structural welding typically requires expertise in plate and fabrication certifications along with the ability to stick weld in various positions, including (1G), (2G), (3G), (4G), (5G), and all fillet weld positions.

On the other hand, pipe welders should have an understanding of gas tungsten arc welding, flux-cored arc or stick processes with the certification needed for all processes. Most will be tested in a 6G welding position.

Both professions require hard work & great proficiency to deliver quality outputs. Still, both will also offer great rewards as certified professionals whose responsibilities often prevent human disasters from occurring by providing durable structures that support many lines of infrastructure around us. With the age of welding automation in our industry it is wise to keep improving our skills so we will always be needed.

What is the difference between structural welding and pipe welding?

Structural welders weld on angled sections, circular hollow sections, flat bars, flange channels, rectangular sections, and tapered flange beams in the construction of things like commercial buildings, bridges, towers, and skyscrapers. Mostly MIG, FCAW, and some SMAW.
Pipe welders will be welding various types of materials with common pipe welding joints like elbows, tees, reducers, and flanges. The most common processes are tungsten inert gas (TIG) processes, as well as shielded metal arc process (SMAW) is more suitable due to their need for all positional welding of the pipes.

What do I need to know before attempting structural or pipe welding?

It’s important to make sure you have a good understanding of welding with basic metallurgy, including properties of different materials being used, joint preparation & assembly requirements in order to successfully complete a project safely & efficiently without compromising quality standards in place throughout the industry regulations today.

Is it necessary for me to obtain licensing when performing either type of welding?

Yes – depending on the complexity & magnitude surrounding the project along with jurisdiction/state laws governing such topics, it may be required for the practitioner carrying out these tasks to obtain certifications commensurate with authorities mentioned earlier before beginning work, such as but not limited to aluminum-welding certification if aluminum structures will be worked around with during commissioning job at hand.

Photo of author


Kieran Proven

Kieran has been welding since the age of 11, taught by his father. He loved it as soon as he struck his first arc. At the age of 20, he has been a first-class welder coded from ASME IX to high-end pharmaceutical work. The founder of Welding Empire his goal is to help anyone wanting to further their knowledge in welding. From this website to his YouTube channel.