Selecting a GTAW Torch

And making it last

By Jack Fulcer

When it comes to choosing and using a power source, companies and individual welding operators take great care. This equipment is a big investment. It must be appropriate for the application and the machine must be maintained diligently to ensure it will perform as expected when needed.

But what about the other parts of the welding system? There are factors here to consider as well.

Take the torch used during the GTAW process. This torch is an integral part of the whole welding system and is responsible for carrying and directing the welding current to the weld joint.

The torch
Choosing a durably constructed GTAW torch with reliable components, and properly maintaining it, will keep you welding longer and it can help lower costs for replacements.

There is, however, no hard and fast rule for selecting the “right” torch. Rather there are factors to consider with each component and the selection of each will depend on the individual application for which it will be used.

Here are some recommended guidelines.

First, there are two options when selecting hoses or cables for a GTAW torch: vinyl or rubber. These are available for both air- or water-cooled torches.

For either type of GTAW torch, rubber hoses and cables, especially braided ones, are recommended for their longevity and welding performance. They offer good heat resistance — up to 300 F (compared to 150 F to 200 F for vinyl) — and also resist kinking, which prevents disruption to the shielding gas flow that can lead to problems like porosity. Rubber hoses and cables also maintain their flexibility and durability in cold environments better than vinyl and offer good protection against high frequency leakage.

Note, vinyl hoses and cables are less expensive and practical for light-duty GTAW applications, but they don’t last as long as rubber ones.

Next, choose a GTAW torch with the right handle for the job, specifically one that is comfortable to hold and one that offers the appropriate cooling capacity needed for the application. Generally, there are two available types of handles: smooth (sometimes called knurled) or ribbed.

Ribbed handles help improve cooling capacity on air-cooled torches and are often shipped standard from the factory when you order this type of GTAW torch. Conversely, smooth handles offer good thermal conductivity for water-cooled torches. These two types of handles can be interchanged according to welding operator preference; however, it is important to be sure that both are made of durable, electrical grade plastic. This compound helps resist cracking and protects against high frequency shocks.

If the power source being used does not have a gas solenoid, choose a torch body that includes a gas valve control. This valve can be turned on and off as needed to minimize unnecessary shielding gas usage — a definite cost-saving factor.

The GTAW torch body should feature good insulation, as this protects against damage from day-to-day use, helps extend torch life and shields against high frequency leakage. Most GTAW torch manufacturers surround the torch body with silicon rubber insulation and some specifically use a high-dielectric type. High-dielectric silicon rubber aptly withstands higher voltages without breaking down, which helps lengthen the life of the torch. Silicon rubber insulated torch bodies are also more resilient than hard phenolic torch bodies (another option) to resist cracking if dropped.

To ensure good arc stability, and with it good welding performance, a GTAW torch body should feature heavy copper construction along with highly conductive copper components such as collets and collet bodies. In particular, collets and collet bodies composed of a tellurium-copper alloy offer the best conductivity; they are also more resistant to heat than standard copper ones and they resist twisting or elongating to hold the tungsten more securely. A secure tungsten equals a steady arc and good weld quality.

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