In this week’s Welding Talk we help you decide whether to go small, medium or large with your TIG torch, or whether gas-cooled or water-cooled is right for you. Let’s talk TIG torches…

Your TIG torch is a key part of your set-up alongside your welding machine, filler rods and tungsten electrodes. Superficially, most TIG torches have similar form, with a supply line, tungsten electrode and rubberised handgrip around brass and copper internals. However, on digging deeper, there’s more to it...

When selecting a TIG torch, first consider the current it must handle. As ever, that’s determined by the parent metal and its thickness. More amps demand bigger TIG torches. As a guide, at 30A/mm, 3mm mild steel requires 90A. Similarly, think 35A/mm for aluminium. A greater thickness of a given metal means more amperes and bigger TIG torches.

TIG torch size and current handling

Two R-Tech products demonstrate the relationship between TIG torch size and current handling. A typical ‘small’ gas-cooled torch is our WP9 (125A DC/85A AC). Compare that with the WP26, a ‘large’ 200A DC/150A AC torch. You may meet what we call ‘very large’ TIG torches in specialised production welding environments. They’re massive beasts capable of handling 500A and more. If you really need one, we can help, but for most welding applications, lowlier TIG torches are perfect.

Different sized TIG torches

Next, let’s look at the relationship between a torch’s physical size and heft, and its current-handling capability. Essentially, this is about putting electricity through metal objects and heating the metal. With TIG torches, current must find its way through the torch’s braided power core and supply line, the copper collet head and into the electrode. As current-handling capability goes up, torch dimension generally increases with the greater size of the torch components. Another factor is the physical size needed to house larger-diameter ceramic or glass TIG cups. Using one of these or a gas lens to extend your gas pocket (and allow greater stick-out) requires larger torches.

What happens if you put more amps through a torch than its rating? The result is torch burnout. We see it often enough that we tend to regard TIG torches as consumables. Of course, if you buy a good torch and use it correctly, it could last a lifetime. But burnout happens…

Water-cooled TIG torches

TIG lends itself to high-quality welding, often precision work, with pleasing aesthetics. This often means working where access is tricky or extreme dexterity is required. Can we use a smaller TIG torch with more amps – in effect, defying the rule that more power means bigger torches? Yes we can, with water-cooled TIG torches. Remember the WP26 mentioned above. Now consider a torch such as our water-cooled WP18 with 350A DC/250A AC capacity that’s much higher than the WP26. The same applies with our 250A DC/175A AC WP20 and air-cooled WP9.

By feeding it with cooling water, a given-sized torch can handle more current. If you already have a TIG machine, it’s easy to add a water cooler upgrade kit – a machine such as the R-Tech WC240 active water cooler will cool up to 600A. More welding opportunities just became possible with a smaller torch than if you relied on gas-cooling.

Another advantage of water cooling is being able to use a smaller torch for better access, or to achieve greater precision in all your welding. We’ve noticed something else about water-cooled torches too: because torches run cooler and get extra cooling from their supply lines, they tend to last longer than their air-cooled counterparts.

A ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ TIG torch

We’ve talked about small and large gas- and water-cooled torches. But what happens if you keep a torch’s physical dimensions but make it lighter? An example is the WP17 positioned between our WP9 and WP26. Welders often choose this ‘Jack of all trades’ torch if they’re unsure about using smaller torches. The WP 17 is similarly sized to the WP26, but lighter-built due to lower copper content. It uses the same consumables as the WP26, but with a slightly lower 150A DC/120A AC rating. Please note that, though lighter, it’s not that much lighter. Ultimately, it’s your money and your choice. We’ll help you choose correctly.

So, as you increase current handling your choices are relatively limited. Whether gas- or water-cooled, more amps eventually means bigger, heavier torches. However, as required amperage decreases, you’ve more choice – there’s no lower limit to the current a TIG torch can handle.

Choosing a TIG torch: simple or complicated?

Choosing a TIG torch can be relatively straightforward. However, it gets more complicated when you introduce gas-cooled vs. water-cooled, the ability to house ceramic or glass TIG cups and gas lenses, and the handling advantages of physically smaller torches. There’s another variable too: personal preference and reasons for selecting particular TIG equipment beyond simply deciding if a given torch will do a job or not.

Fact: just as we make choices more or less rationally about products like watches and cars, we choose welding equipment and consumables for other reasons – including perception that they’re the best available and we deserve them. Will Hornell’s Speedglass mask or a premium-priced CK TIG torch – with its supreme lightness, flexibility, current-handling and seamless integration with CK’s Pyrex TIG cups – automatically make us better welders? Whether it does or not, there’s something special about using what we perceive as the ‘best’ tool, even if, objectively, it’s overkill for a particular welding task.

Helping you choose the right TIG torch

If one thing’s certain about choosing your TIG torch, it’s that the right decision makes a massive difference to the pleasure and productivity you get from welding.

Whether you’re a TIG novice or a professional adding another torch to your toolkit, we can help. With decades’ experience in TIG welding, we’re a trusted source of helpful, honest advice about TIG torches, TIG consumables and spares.

Send us an email or call us for a chat!