Defining Tungsten for TIG Welding

When to use each Tungsten

One of the defining elements of TIG welding is the tungsten electrode. In fact, that’s what the first letter in TIG stands for: Tungsten Inert Gas. But why is tungsten important to this process, and how do you decide which electrode(s) to use for a weld? This overview of tungsten for TIG welding will help people new to this fabrication process make better welds in every situation.

What Is TIG Tungsten?

In addition to the welding machine, TIG welding uses three other main elements: an inert gas to shield the weld (typically Argon), a filler rod or wire of a metal that matches what you are welding and a non-consumable electrode made of tungsten that focuses and directs the arc. All TIG electrodes are more than 95% tungsten, which is a rare natural metal used because it is hard and has one of the highest melting points of any metal.

So tungsten is tungsten when it comes to buying an electrode, right? Wrong. There are at least five distinct types of “tungstens,” as most people call them, and they are typically color-coated based on how much of what other elements have been added. Let’s look at the different tungsten electrodes and learn how to choose the right tungsten for TIG welding.

Tig 200

Color code and what it means

Welding certain types of metals require different formulations of Tungsten, and the varieties are color-coded. The main colors/varieties of TIG electrodes and their American Welding Society abbreviation are as follows:

  • Green (EWP) = Pure Tungsten
  • Orange (EWCe-2) = 2% Ceriated
  • Red (EWTh-2) = 2% Thoriated
  • Gold (EWLa-1.5) = 1.5% Lanthanated
  • Brown (EWZr-1) = 1% Zirconiated (sometimes also sold as white tungsten)

There are other colors as well, such as “Gray” Rare Earth, “Purple” Rare Earth and “Yellow” 1% Thoriated. However, the first five we listed are the most commonly used. They all have their drawbacks and benefits, and they all are better at some things than at others, so it is useful to have a variety on hand just in case.

Benefits/Drawbacks of Each Tungsten Color

green

GreenGreen electrodes are the least expensive and most common. They are also the fastest consumed and need to be sharpened frequently. This type of electrode provides a good consistent arc when used with AC welding of various types, but in DC applications the arc start is poor and it has the lowest current capacity. When heated, it easily becomes a perfectly balled tip that is reasonably resistant to contamination.

 

RED

Orange – Orange electrodes have similar properties to Red but with one additional benefit: no radioactivity. They are great at starting arcs and welding at lower amperages with DC or AC, but at higher amperage settings, they begin to break down. Ceriated electrodes have a much longer life than Green electrodes when used in the same way.

 

Red1

RedRed electrodes have lots going for them. They feature easy arc starts, great durability, good balling for arc stability, low risk of weld contamination and high current carrying ability at lower amperage settings. They can also be used for both DC and some AC welding depending on materials. However, the Thorium used in Red tungsten is slightly radioactive, so be sure you know what procedure should be followed before sharpening them.

 

gold

GoldGold electrodes share many of the characteristics of Orange and Red types. They are durable and stable with good arc starting properties and are suitable for AC and DC welding. The added advantage of these Lanthanated electrodes is their higher current carrying abilities for a given diameter compared to Green, Red or Orange. They can be used with a balled or pointed end depending on what you are welding.

 

brown

Brown – Brown electrodes provide an arc that is extremely stable. Because of this, they are great for welding with almost no contamination. This Zirconated type has similar or better current carrying abilities to Red and Orange electrodes in AC applications with a balled end. Brown is never recommended for DC welding.

 

purple

PurplePurple tungsten is a rare earth alloyed electrode specially formulated to be multi-purpose, and one size nearly fits all. It is much more durable than Green while not having the radioactive issue of Red. It also has excellent arc starting and arc stability properties. They can be used with nearly any metal in both AC and DC processes.

Gray – Gray electrodes contain various rare earth elements. Their makeup and characteristics can vary from brand to brand. Each one will list what it is made of and what its intended application is on the package, or catalog description.

Where/How to Use Specific Tungsten Colors

welding

Which Tungsten to use is going to be determined by three things, mostly: 1) What metal are you welding? 2) How thick is the metal? 3) Are you using DC, AC sine wave or AC square wave current, and how much? Of course, these three things are interdependent. Eastwood carries the Purple E3 Tungsten Electrodes specifically for its wide variety of applications and uses, but here are how the others break down.

Green electrodes are best for AC sine wave welding with a balled tip. They are perfect for aluminum and magnesium applications. It is not a very good choice for ferrous metals and should not be used for DC welding.

Orange electrodes work great with thin steel, stainless, and nickel because of its ease of starting an arc with lower amperage. This makes it great for sheet metal and very delicate work without the risk of burn-through. They work best in DC welding with low currents but can be used for AC welding as well. Using them for higher amperage settings will quickly burn off its oxides making it much less effective.

Red electrodes have similar applications to Orange. They can also be used for AC welding thin aluminum and other materials, and DC welding with straight or reversed polarity on steel, nickel and titanium alloys. Both Orange and Red work best with pointed tips.

Gold electrodes can carry more current for a given diameter electrode without deteriorating. This makes them more suitable for thicker materials. The tip can be pointed, or balled, depending on what and how you are welding. They can be used for AC or DC welding of most metals.

Brown electrodes are perfect for AC welding when you need a balled tip, and you are looking for the lowest contamination possible. These electrodes are never to be used for DC welding processes, however, so it is mostly used for welding aluminum or magnesium.

Eastwood’s Purple E3 electrode was specially alloyed to be useable in just about any application. It burns cooler and is more durable than the Red electrodes without the radioactivity. It features better arc starts at a lower power setting than most other electrodes and a stable arc for more accurate welds. It can handle higher currents than Red or Orange electrodes without deterioration of the tip or contamination of the weld. Purple electrodes can be used to weld all steels, titanium, nickel, magnesium and aluminum in all DC and AC processes.

What Size TIG Tungsten To Use

Tungsten doesn’t just come in many different colors — the electrodes are also available in several diameters. Generally speaking, the more amps you’re using to weld, the larger tungsten you should have. Here’s an overview of the most common sizes and the amp range they work best at, which varies based on the electrode type:

Electrode Diameter DC Amps AC Amps
0.040” (1/0mm) 15-80 10-80
1/16” (1.6mm) 70-150 50-150
3/32” (2.4mm) 150-250 100-235
1/8” (3.2mm) 250-400 150-325
5/32” (4.0mm) 400-500 200-400
3/16” (4.8mm) 500-750 250-500

If you’re looking for a “one size fits all” tungsten, we recommend a 3/32-inch electrode. It’s the most versatile option for various amperages and metal thicknesses used for automotive fabrication, especially beginners. As you gain more experience, you can start branching out to other electrode sizes.

Check out the Eastwood Blog and How-To Center for more Tips and Tricks to help you with all your automotive projects.  If you have a recommendation for future articles or have a project you want explained don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

One Comment

  1. The average diy’er or home car guy will use one or two different tungsten’s for all his welding, unless your working on exotic metals or in the food industry you don’t need every tungsten in your box. It can be as confusing as all the settings on a high end welder at times. I have made a couple of plastic coated “cheat sheets” (wire feed, rod, voltage, tungsten, gas ect) for each welder and it makes things simple as I may not use one or the other for weeks at a time. Personally I use the red and gold for most of my tig welding and have no trouble. Nice explanation of tungsten types. How about shielding gases?

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