The Pros, Cons, and Best Practices of Welding Stainless Steel

welding stainless steel

Stainless steel is a popular building material long heralded for its durability and substantial resistance to corrosion. However, welding with this attractive metal poses some unique challenges that need to be considered before launching into a project with stainless steel.

Before we take a closer look at the pros and cons of working with this substance, let’s get a better idea about what we’re working with.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is an iron-based alloy containing variable amounts of chromium, which is the element that gives stainless steel its rust-proof reputation. The degree of chromium can vary from 11% to 30% with each variation having slightly different chemical attributes that influence how it performs.

Stainless steel continues to grow in popularity because it’s a strong material that is resistant to many types of liquid, gaseous, and chemical corrosion. It takes a lot to tarnish this substance, and it performs well in a variety of different material applications.

welding stainless steel

In fact, because many stainless-steel grades can withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures, it’s a popular material of choice for the pipe and oil industry. Restaurants, craft breweries, and medical equipment companies rely on its resistance to bacterial growth This makes it a safe choice for food prep, medical needs, and transporting corrosive chemicals.

What Type of Welding is Best for Stainless Steel?

The not-so-simple answer to this question is that it depends on what result you’re trying to achieve. Stainless steel can be welded with shielded metal arc welding (MIG), gas tungsten arc welding (TIG), or stick welding, and each of these processes will yield a slightly different result.

To find the best welding process for your project, consider the following factors:

  • Welder’s skill level
  • Aesthetics of the final piece including bead appearance
  • Thickness of the metal
  • Costs and timing factors of the project

If artistry is paramount, then the finesse of TIG welding could be a good fit, but if speed and efficiency are a priority, then MIG welding may be a better process.

To learn more about whether you should choose TIG Welding Or MIG Welding, you can read our recent articles comparing the two welding methods.

Can you TIG Weld Stainless Steel?

TIG welding is known for its precision, which is why it’s the go-to process for projects that demand clean, controlled welds. It is especially used on less-forgiving materials like stainless steel alloys or aluminum.

Although it produces beautiful welds, TIG is also the slowest welding process. It requires an experienced welder with excellent technique. It’s also easiest to control distortion here.

 

welding stainless steel

MIG welding is a better choice for jobs that aren’t as concerned with aesthetics but need an efficient and cost-effective weld. MIG welding on stainless uses simple equipment that can be transported easily. This is why it’s a popular choice for maintenance and repair work.

Other factors to consider:

  • costs and characteristics of the filler metal
  • how complex the equipment is
  • experience level of the welder

The Pros and Cons of Welding Stainless Steel

Now that we have more of a background about stainless steel and its applications, we will go over some of the main pros and cons of welding stainless steel.

Pros

1.) Corrosion Resistance

As we mentioned earlier, stainless steel is resistant to many types of corrosion due to chromium that forms a passive oxide layer on the surface. This passive oxide layer acts as a protective barrier, preventing the underlying steel from being attacked by corrosive elements such as water, chemicals, and salts.

Stainless steel can withstand harsh environments, including exposure to moisture, acidic or alkaline solutions, and even marine environments. However, in extreme circumstances, stainless steel can rust.

This occurs when the chromium oxide layer is destroyed or removed. Sometimes this can happen during welding, either during the heating or cooling process. Even with TIG welding, rust can be one of the biggest challenges of welding with stainless steel. That’s why cleaning and prepping your stainless before you start is so important.

With a properly cleaned and prepped piece of stainless steel, the chromium oxide inside acts as a protective seal against rust during the welding process. It can help the stainless heal itself from discoloration and permanent marks.

2.) Strength & Durability

Stainless steel is a strong and durable material, and welding allows you to create strong joints between stainless steel components. Welded stainless steel structures can withstand heavy loads and resist deformation, making them suitable for applications where strength and durability are crucial.

3.) Aesthetic Appeal

Often times, stainless steel is highly regarded for its aesthetic appeal. It has a clean, shiny appearance that adds a touch of elegance to various applications, such as architectural designs, kitchen equipment, and decorative elements. By welding stainless steel, you can create seamless joints that maintain the material’s attractive appearance.

4.) Heat & Fire Resistance

Stainless steel exhibits excellent heat and fire resistance. It has a high melting point and does not readily deform or weaken under high temperatures. Welding stainless steel allows for the fabrication of components that can withstand extreme heat or fire, which makes it suitable for applications in industries like aerospace or power generation.

Cons

1.) Heat Sensitivity

While stainless steel is heat resistance, it has a higher thermal conductivity compared to other metals which makes it more sensitive to heat during welding. Also, its heat sensitivity means it takes longer to cool down before use.

This sensitivity can lead to distortion, warping, and residual stresses in the welded joint. Proper welding techniques, such as preheating, controlling heat input, and post-weld heat treatment, are necessary to minimize these issues.

2.) Specialized Equipment & Skills

Welding stainless steel requires specialized equipment and expertise. Stainless steel’s unique properties demand precise control of welding parameters, such as current, shielding gas, and interpass temperature. Additionally, stainless steel’s lower thermal expansion coefficient requires careful joint preparation and fit-up to avoid gaps or misalignment during welding.

All of that is to say that stainless is not very forgiving when it comes to hiding mistakes and tends to favor the more experienced welder.

3.) Cost

Stainless steel tends to be more expensive than other metals, such as carbon steel. The higher material cost, combined with the need for specialized equipment and skills, can contribute to increased overall welding expenses. However, the long-term benefits of stainless steel, such as its corrosion resistance and durability, often outweigh the initial investment.

4.) Risk of Contamination

Stainless steel is susceptible to contamination during welding, which can lead to reduced corrosion resistance and compromised mechanical properties. Contamination can occur from using the wrong filler material, inadequate shielding gas, or insufficient cleaning of the base metal. Proper welding procedures, including thorough cleaning and using appropriate consumables, are essential to prevent contamination.

It can also be very unforgiving aesthetically as it displays every blemish and scratch mark that’s left behind. Similarly, if you’ve ever welded on a metal table, you know to take precautions before starting because it scratches so easily.

Best Practices for Welding Stainless Steel

To ensure successful welding of stainless steel, it is important to follow several best practices.

Preparation is Key

Thoroughly clean the base metal before welding to remove any contaminants, such as oil, grease, dirt, or oxides. Use a dedicated stainless steel wire brush or a cleaning solution specifically designed for stainless steel to ensure a clean surface.

You should have a separate set of tools just for prepping and cleaning before welding stainless steel because it is extremely sensitive to any amount of carbon steel.

Do not let any of your tools with carbon steel residue on them come in contact with the stainless steel. Those trace amounts will become embedded and cause your final product to rust. Even carbon steel dust particles can pose a rusting threat to stainless and should be kept in separate work areas.

Choose the Right Shielding Gas

Select the appropriate shielding gas for stainless steel welding. Typically, a gas mixture of argon and helium or argon and carbon dioxide is used to provide adequate shielding and prevent oxidation of the weld. Consult welding codes or guidelines for the recommended shielding gas composition.

Prevent Warping

One way to prevent warping when welding stainless steel is to clamp a piece of brass or copper behind the seam of the weld. This will serve as a cooling mechanism or “heat sink” absorbing the heat while preventing any burn-through. It could also help you weld the entire seam continuously.

Cutting Stainless Steel

Now that we covered welding stainless steel, let’s briefly discuss cutting. After all, it’s likely your project will include both.

Plasma-cutting systems are capable of cutting any electrically-conductive material, but there are certain considerations that must be taken into account when attempting to cut stainless steel.

When plasma cutting stainless steel you will want to consider what gas you use, the heat-affected zone, material thickness, and working condition. For tips on maximizing cutting quality, you can read our article, Stainless Steel Plasma Cutting.

Some questions we get about cutting stainless steel are: Does cutting stainless steel produce hex chrome? Is hex chrome harmful?

The short answer is that many metals contain Hexavalent Chromium 6 (hex chrome), and it’s a known carcinogen when inhaled. A few key protective measures should be taken when cutting metals that contain this element.

Read our article about stainless steel cutting & hex chrome gas to learn more about what you should do to protect yourself.

Welding With Stainless Steel is a Challenge Worth Taking

Welding stainless steel comes with its benefits and challenges. As long as you factor those limitations into your process, the end result will be worth it.

welding stainless steel

Perfecting your welding skills with this valuable and trendy material will save you time and money on the job.

More importantly, it can produce a beautiful, professional result that will make your welding skills more marketable.

Create Clean Stainless Steel Welds with American Torch Tip

At American Torch Tip we offer a wide range of high-quality welding torches and consumables including TIG and MIG. Our parts can help your business increase overall welding efficiency and quality all while helping your bottom line.

Our parts are built with welders in mind, ensuring comfort and durability so you spend less time changing out parts and more time making money.

If you need help determining which type of welding is right for you, our team can help! Just give us a call or fill out our form.

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