How to Become a Welder, Cutter, Solderer, or Brazer

Welders are the rockstars of the construction industry. Walk on any job site, and eventually the conversations turns to who gets paid the most, has the best career opportunities, and the answer is the guy who went to welding school. It is not a job that one can do forever, especially those that work underwater, but the pay is substantial enough to potentially sustain a person for life. Interested? Here is the complete guide to becoming a welder, what to expect on the job and how much they make. By the way, they are in demand constantly and everywhere.

Basic description: Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to join or cut metal parts. They also fill holes, indentations, or seams in metal products.

Quick Facts: Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
2019 Median Pay$42,490 per year
$20.43 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationHigh school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingModerate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2018424,700
Job Outlook, 2018-283% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2018-2814,500
Source BLS.gov

Planning your career in welding?

A high school diploma or equivalent, combined with technical and on-the-job training, is typically required for anyone to become a welder, cutter, solderer, or brazer.

Education & Training

A high school diploma or equivalent, combined with technical and on-the-job training, is typically required for anyone to become a welder, cutter, solderer, or brazer. High school technical education courses and postsecondary institutions, such as vocational–technical institutes, community colleges, and private welding, soldering, and brazing schools offer formal technical training. In addition, the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces operate welding and soldering schools.

Courses in blueprint reading, shop mathematics, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy are helpful.

An understanding of electricity also is helpful, and knowledge of computers is gaining importance as welding, soldering, and brazing machine operators become more responsible for programming robots and other computer-controlled machines.

Although numerous employers are willing to hire inexperienced entry-level workers and train them on the job, many prefer to hire workers who have been through training or credentialing programs. Even entry-level workers with formal technical training still receive several months of on-the-job training.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Courses leading to certification are offered at many welding schools. For example, the American Welding Society offers the Certified Welder designation.

Some welding positions require general certification in welding or certification in specific skills, such as Certified Welding Inspector and Certified Robotic Arc Welding.

The Institute for Printed Circuits offers certification and training in soldering. In industries such as aerospace and defense, which need highly skilled workers, many employers require these certifications. Certification can show mastery of lead-free soldering techniques, which are important to many employers.

Some employers pay the cost of training and testing for employees.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers perform precision work, often with straight edges and minimal flaws. The ability to see details and characteristics of the joint and detect changes in molten metal flows requires good eyesight and attention to detail.

Manual dexterity. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must have a steady hand to hold a torch in one place. Workers must also have good hand–eye coordination.

Physical stamina. The ability to endure long periods of standing and repetitious movements is important for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers.

Physical strength. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must be in good physical condition. They often must lift heavy pieces of metal and move welding or cutting equipment, and they sometimes bend, stoop, or reach while working.

Spatial-orientation skills. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must read, understand, and interpret two- and three-dimensional diagrams in order to fit metal products correctly.

Technical skills. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must operate manual or semiautomatic welding equipment to fuse metal segments.

Duties

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers typically do the following:

  • Study blueprints, sketches, or specifications
  • Calculate the dimensions of parts to be welded
  • Inspect structures or materials to be welded
  • Ignite torches or start power supplies
  • Monitor the welding process to avoid overheating
  • Maintain equipment and machinery

Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing activities. Welding also is used to join steel beams in the construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures and to join pipes in pipelines, power plants, and refineries.

Welders work in a wide variety of industries, from car racing to manufacturing. The work that welders do and the equipment they use vary with the industry. Arc welding, the most common type of welding today, uses electrical currents to create heat and bond metals together—but there are more than 100 different processes that a welder can use. The type of weld is usually determined by the types of metals being joined and the conditions under which the welding is to take place.

Cutters use heat to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Their work is closely related to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters use the heat from an electric arc, a stream of ionized gas called plasma, or burning gases to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Cutters also dismantle large objects, such as ships, railroad cars, automobiles, buildings, and aircraft. Some operate and monitor cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.

Solderers and brazers also use heat to join two or more metal objects together. Soldering and brazing are similar, except that the temperature used to melt the filler metal is lower in soldering. Soldering uses metals with a melting point below 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Brazing uses metals with a higher melting point.

Soldering and brazing workers use molten metal to join two pieces of metal. However, the metal added during the soldering or brazing process has a melting point lower than that of the piece, so only the added metal is melted, not the piece. Therefore, these processes normally do not create distortions or weaknesses in the piece, as can occur with welding.

Soldering commonly is used to make electrical and electronic circuit boards, such as computer chips. Soldering workers tend to work with small pieces that must be positioned precisely.

Brazing often is used to connect cast iron and thinner metals that the higher temperatures of welding would warp. Brazing also can be used to apply coatings to parts in order to reduce wear and protect against corrosion.

Typical Work Environment

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers held about 424,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers were as follows:

Manufacturing63%
Specialty trade contractors6
Self-employed workers6
Repair and maintenance4

Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather, or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks and glare. When working outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high off the ground.

In addition, they may have to lift heavy objects and work in awkward positions while bending, stooping, or standing to work overhead.

Injuries and Illnesses

Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers risk injury on the job. They are often exposed to a number of hazards, including very hot materials and the intense light created by the arc. They wear safety shoes, heat-resistant gloves, goggles, masks with protective lenses, and other equipment to prevent burns and eye injuries and to protect them from falling objects.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that welders work in safely ventilated areas in order to avoid danger from inhaling gases and fine particles that can result from welding processes. However, they can minimize injuries if they follow safety procedures.

Work Schedules

Most welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers work full time, and overtime is common. Many manufacturing firms have two or three 8- to 12-hour shifts each day, allowing the firm to continue production around the clock if needed. As a result, welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers may work evenings and weekends.

Data source: BLS.gov