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What Is Welding Burnback?

Apr 23, 2021 ·

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There are many different kinds of welding techniques, each with their own features and processes. Gas metal arc welding (GMAW), also known as metal inert gas (MIG) or metal active gas (MAG) welding, is one of the most commonly used.

In the GMAW process, an electric arc is formed between a continuous solid wire electrode and the metal being worked on. This helps close the electric circuit and apply heat, causing melting and fusion between the electrode and the metal. The electrode travels through the electrified wire and through the welding gun, and it is protected by a shielding gas that keeps contaminants at bay.

One issue that can occur during the GMAW process is called burnback. Burnback happens when the arc that is generated climbs up the wire and fuses the wire to the contact tip of the welding gun.

Burnback can be a common occurrence with MIG welds. It’s important to understand what burnback is and what can cause it in order to prevent it from happening. Keep reading to find out more.

Burnback vs. Burnback Control

Burnback can be used to describe a few different things in regard to welding.

“Burnback control” refers to a setting that can be found on certain welding machines. This setting is used to adjust how long a wire is electrically energized after the wire has stopped being fed. If this control isn’t set properly, it can cause a wire to stick to the work piece.

While this article covers the topic of burnback specifically in terms of a wire burning back into a contact tip on a welding gun, becoming familiar with burnback adjustment settings is important if you have them on your machine.

What Causes Burnback?

Identifying the source of what is causing burnback is critical so you can take care of it and get back to working on a project!

Potential causes of burnback with MIG welding include:

  • Faulty grounding: It’s important to apply proper grounding methods when you’re working on a welding project. Not only is this for your safety during the process, it also helps reduce the risk of burnback. A drop in voltage from losing contact can cause the wire to keep feeding and cause burnback to occur.
  • Crowding a work piece: The welding torch and metal piece being worked on have to be spaced out properly. If they aren’t at the right distance from each other, they can easily cause burnback from the electrode sticking out too far.
  • Incorrect tip/wire size: It’s important to use a contact tip that matches the wire size you’re using. Incorrect tip sizes will cause poor conductivity that can result in the wire dragging, which can lead to burnback.
  • Wire-feed speed: When performing MIG welds, the feed speed of the wire needs to be quick enough for a smooth finish. Too slow of a feed can cause problems, including burnback.
  • Poor quality filler material or tip material: Filler materials and tip construction can have an impact on the quality of the weld. Higher quality materials reduce the risk of burnback and help the arc start cleaner.

What to Do if Burnback Occurs

If welding burnback happens to you, first come to terms with the fact that you will be losing a contact tip. It’s not worth trying to scrape it out to try and reuse it. Replacing a burnback-damaged tip requires you to remove the nozzle and tip, which might be melted to the wire. Then you’ll need to cut the wire before you install a new tip and replace the nozzle.

A welder makes a cut on a piece of metal.

Familiarizing yourself with the common causes of the issue can help prevent it from occurring, saving you time and money spent on the process of replacing a damaged contact tip.

How to Prevent Burnback

As mentioned previously, some of the causes of burnback are quite common and also relatively simple to fix. Checking the speed of your welding machine to ensure the wire feed isn’t going too slowly is a good start.

Another relatively easy thing to do is to remove the nozzle to check the tip out for any trouble spots. This can include grooves carved by the wire or the wire becoming welded to the tip. Also, check for buildup and ensure that the wire and tips are the correct size.

Making sure that the distance between the torch and the metal is spaced out far enough can also help eliminate the risk of burnback. A good rule of thumb is for the torch to be at least a half-inch from the surface.

Investing in higher quality materials for your welds can also make the entire process run smoother.

Learn Welding Techniques and Troubleshooting at UTI

If you’re getting into welding as a hobby or even considering it as a career, attending trade school can help equip you with the education and hands-on training you need to master several welding processes.

The Welding Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) provides training in the four major types of arc welding, which include GMAW, shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). In just 36 weeks, you’ll have the skills you need to prepare for a career in the industry.1

Along with learning welding techniques, courses offered in the program cover safety, inspection and defect testing. These subjects can come in handy when dealing with the issue of burnback and burnback prevention.

Want to find out more? Request more information about training today and see how you can start taking steps toward your future.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

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Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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