When to Replace MIG Welding Contact Tips and How to Extend Their Lives

In this guide, you’re going to learn when to replace MIG welding contact tips, reasons for a short contact tip life and how to extend the life of your contact tips.

You’re here because you fall into any of the following cases:

  1. You’re a beginner to MIG welding and you’re just getting started
  2. You want to optimize the life of your MIG welding tips to save time and money

In either case, our free guide will help you. You’re about to learn how to recognize the signs to change your welding tip, the reasons that might be shortening its useful life, and most importantly, how to extend its life to save you both time and money.


Let’s turn you into a better MIG welder! 

When To Replace Your MIG Welding Contact Tip: 5 Signs to Recognize

Similar to the symptoms of a disease, your welding tips will exhibit certain signs that will literally scream to you that it’s time to replace them. 

Below, you will find the full list of signs to diagnose your MIG welding tip:

#1 – Burnbacks:

  • Definition: When the wire melts and “burns back”, fusing to the contact tip.
  • Signs and Consequences: arc instability, irregular wire feeding, and stoppages in wire feeding.
  • NOTE: A burnback is a “process failure” that causes a tip failure and wastes contact tips, you need to make some adjustments in the welding machine settings to eliminate them.

# 2 – Wear:

  • Definition: When evident erosion is present in the MIG contact tip bore caused by friction of the wire feeding through the bore
  • Signs and Consequences: Wear can provoke several issues such as wire placement offset, erratic arc and irregular welds, in robotic welding it will cause missed weld joints by modifying the Tool Center Point of your MIG gun

#3 – Oval-Shaped Contact Tip (Keyholing): 

  • Definition: When you’ve overused your contact tip it will tend to adopt an oval shape bore
  • Signs and Consequences: An oval contact tip bore will lead to an erratic arc, and hence, it will lower the quality of your welding. In robotic welding, it will also cause missed weld joints by modifying the Tool Center Point of your MIG gun

#4 – Excessive Pounds of Wire:

  • Definition: Evidently, when you’ve used the same contact tip to process  over 100 pounds of wire (just an estimate of wire)
  • Signs and Consequences: After surpassing the 100-pound mark, the worn contact tip will lower the quality of the welding, leading to common problems such as erratic arcs and offset welding, the latter being the most frequent sign

#5 -Lots of Metal Debris, spatter on the Tip:

  • Definition: Even though some spatter and metal debris is normal, and you can easily clean it, too much of it is a clear sign that you need to replace the contact tip, spatter is a process failure that can limit tip life.
  • Signs and Consequences: When the welding tip has too much metal debris on it, it will inevitably diminish the quality of your arcing and welding in general and can lead to burnbacks.

The Bottom Line

If you’re experiencing one or more of the above signs, then guess what? You need to adjust your process to solve excess wear but It’s time to replace your contact tip. Otherwise, the quality of your welding will suffer the consequences. If you’ve already noticed changes in the quality of your arcs and the overall weld, then it’s a clear indication that your contact tip must be replaced as soon as possible. 

Do you need high-quality, low-cost OEM-brand style tip replacements?  Get yours today today.  Follow the link that best matches your needs:

Now you know how to spot the signs, but it’s just the surface of the iceberg. Let’s dig deeper into the rabbit hole to find out what things are causing these signs to appear. 

What Are the  Reasons For Short MIG Contact Tip Life: The 4 Leading Causes

You might be doing certain things that are reducing the useful life of your contact tips, and hence, hindering your performance and reducing weld quality while costing you time and money. 

Not good. 

Check the list below to see if you’re committing any of the following mistakes to help you solve them as soon as possible:

#1 – Wrong Tip Size:

Using the wrong tip size produces poor electrical conductivity and micro-arcing, which negatively affects the quality of your welding, while reducing the useful life of the contact tip. Therefore, if you’ve noticed any sign from the previous section, it may be caused by this factor.

The solution?

Choose the right contact tip size. It’s much easier than you think because it depends on the features of the wire you use, which are the cast, quality and type. Below, find a full explanation for each feature.

The Size and Type

To determine the right size to use, you can start by guiding yourself with the size of the wire, which is the diameter. Below, find recommendations for the most common sizes:

  • 0.023″ (0.6 mm): xxx-xx-23
  • 0.030″ (0.8 mm): xxx-xx-30
  • 0.035″ (0.9 mm): xxx-xx-35
  • 0.045″ (1.2 mm): xxx-xx-45
  • 0.052″ (1.3 mm): xxx-xx-52
  • 0.0625″ (1.6 mm): xxx-xx-116

You will also need to consider the type of wire you’re using. As a general recommendation, follow these guidelines:

  • Soft Wire: Aluminum, for example, works better with exact or oversized contact tips because they can pass through the MIG gun with minimal feeding force, and hence, preventing kinking 
  • Solid Wire:  Steel, for example, benefits from exact or undersized contact tips

The Cast and the Helix

The cast is the curvature of the wire and it directly affects the tip you are going to choose. In most cases, the average threshold of the cast ranges from 40 to 45 inches. 

What if the cast is smaller?

Then you’re going to need a bigger ID tip to obtain the right feeding characteristics. It will usually happen if you work with wire sourced from a small spool, being 26 to 30 inches the average range.

Regarding the helix, it’s the amount of wire that rises up from a flat surface, and it should never be greater than 1 inch at any point.

Key points to take away:

  • Wire sourced from a drum or heavy packages (500+ pounds) have a straighter contour, and hence, it makes the feeding easier and they work with standard or tight tip sizes, for example, any xxx-xx-45 (e.g. T403-1-45)
  • Wire sourced from a drum that has been twisted while packaging it can have a huge cast of 100+ inches, and therefore, you’ll need an undersized tip to get the job done
  • Wire with a smaller curvature will benefit from using an oversized tip

Therefore, even though the size and the type are solid indicators, you might also need to consider the curvature in order to make the right choice.

The Quality

You also need to factor in the quality of your wire. To make it easy to understand, refer to the following guidelines:

  • High Quality: Consistent diameter and cast, which makes it optimal to select undersized tips. Evidently, they have a higher price tag, but the results are worth it
  • Poor Quality: Due to irregular diameter and cast, this quality wire doesn’t work well with undersized tips. In addition, it causes interferences in electrical conductivity, and hence, it leads to several problems such as an erratic arc and offset welding . Cheaper price, yes, but a lot of problems too.

In summary, if you want your contact tip to work properly, then always opt for high-quality welding wire that has a regular cast and helix.

#2 – Wrong MIG Tip Alloy:

A wrong alloy choice, which is not adequate for the temperature and intensity of the project, will shorten the life of the welding tip. 

For example, using regular copper tips(Standard DHP) for welding with abrasive wires such as metal-cored will destroy your welding tip in no time. The best tip choice would be the Cr-Chromium Zr-Zirconium (CrZr) alloy, as it’s designed to consume abrasive wires, tolerate elevated temperatures and work with hard materials such as stainless steel.

Therefore, always ensure that you are using the right alloy when MIG welding, because it will allow you to lengthen the useful life of your welding tips while obtaining better results.

#3 – Dirty Welding Wire:

Dirty or low-quality welding wire will inevitably cause failures in the contact tip, which in return, will shorten its useful life. Therefore, always ensure that the wire is clean, to avoid complications when you are feeding it through the MIG gun. Otherwise, pay the price of having to replace contact tips constantly, increasing your operational costs as a result.

#4 – Surpassing the Amperage Range of Your MIG Gun:

If you notice that your contact tip has turned blue, black or purple, it’s a clear sign that you’ve surpassed the amperage range and duty cycle of your MIG gun. Consequently, the top will be covered in scale and it can lead to major failures such as burnbacks.

Therefore, choose the right amperage, or if you’re going to work with high amperages, ensure that you have the proper cooling features to dissipate the heat. 

The Bottom Line

Now that you know what things you don’t have to do, it’s time to check what things you CAN do to take the useful life of your contact tip to the next level. Even though you now have practical tips, it’s time to dig deeper to understand how to use your MIG gun responsibly. 

How To Extend The Life Of Your MIG Welding Contact Tip: 5 Easy Steps to Accomplish It

Now you should know how to recognize when to replace your welding tips as well as the reasons that might be shortening their life.  Apart from choosing the right alloy and opting for high-quality wire, you need to consider going the extra mile to maximize their efficiency. 

This section will show you how to extend their useful life in 5 easy steps:

#1 – Optimize Wire Feeding to Your MIG Welding Gun:

By optimizing the way you wire feeds into your MIG gun, you can increase the functional life of your contact tips. You can accomplish it by using the following tips:

  • Trim the MIG welding gun liner to the appropriate length 
  • Shorten your power cables to ensure optimal feeding
  • Loosen the drive roll to feed the welding wire optimally and without deformations 

Therefore, by working on optimizing the way your wire feeds your welding gun, you will notice greater results, especially if you’ve noticed any sign that you may be damaging your contact tips.

#2 – Work with Low Temperatures When Possible:

The higher the temperature, the more electrical wear your MIG welding contact tips will experience. In consequence, you’ll shorten their life substantially.

The solution?

You have many in fact:

  • Use a water-cooled MIG welding gun, especially when working with amperages in the range from 300 to 600 amp. They have a higher price for acquisition and maintenance, but they can help to extend the life of your contact tips and equipment in general
  • Use larger diameter contact tips, because they concentrate less heat due to their bigger mass. However, it’s not always possible, and hence, it’s more suitable for industrial applications
  • Buy high-quality MIG consumables, because they’ve been designed to keep electrical resistance at a minimum, and hence, concentrate less heat. Their price is higher because they are premium products, but they’re worth it in the long term and especially for big operations

The implementation of these suggestions may carry a higher price, but in the long run, they are worth it. They will extend the useful life of your contact tips, and hence, improve the welding quality and efficiency. 

#3 – Choose the Right MIG Welding Contact Tips: 

We’ve already said it before, but it’s important to repeat it again, especially when we talk about the welding tip alloy. Therefore, you’re going to learn briefly about each type of alloy:

  • Standard Copper (E-Cu): Copper tips are ideal for hand-welding and it has the lowest price, but it tends to deform the internal diameter of the tip at high temperatures and it’s prone to mechanical wear
  • Copper-Chrome-Zirconium (CuCrZr): Ideal for robotic welding as it can stand higher temperatures up to 932° F and high duty cycles. Their price is higher, but they’re ideal for industrial applications.

#4 – Remove Spatter and Debris:

It’s a good practice to remove the spatter and debris regularly because if you allow it to build up, it can create arcing. Otherwise, pay the price of having to replace your contact tips regularly, which will drive up the cost of your operation.

#5 – Use Welding Contact Tips with a Smooth Surface

In addition to choosing the right alloy, you also need to focus on the surface of the tip. The smoother, the better, as it will allow you to extend its functional life by preventing spatter buildup. 

Final Words

Now you have in your hands the knowledge to become a better MIG welder, thanks to our free (rights reserved) guide. Put the advice you’ve learned in practice and you’ll drive down the price of your operations, improve productivity and boost the quality of your welding.

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