Many people who consider welding as a career or a hobby may think they don’t need any math skills to be able to melt two pieces of metal together, but they’d be wrong. Welding involves a lot more than just mashing two pieces of metal together and heating them up.
So do welders need to know math? The answer is yes. Welders (especially professional welders) need to be well-versed in a variety of mathematical subjects including fractions, decimals, geometry, trigonometry, volume, and area. The reason is that welding must be performed very precisely in order for the resulting welds to have structural integrity, especially for high-pressure vessels.
Welding is one of the most profitable careers in our modern economy, especially with the oversaturation of college degrees and the lack of available technical laymen, but you will need some math knowledge in order to be successful. Read on to find out more about what math is required for professional welding and how you can learn it.
Math Is A Vital Part of Professional Welding
People who aren’t involved in welding as a profession may not understand how often math is used in welding, but the truth is that it’s used in everything from planning out a weld to taking inventory. None of the math required is particularly difficult, but it’s the quick, off-the-cuff variety that you’re not going to be able to depend on a calculator for in many cases.
Here are some of the different kinds of mathematical concepts that will inevitably crop up in the course of your welding career:
- Simple arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
None of these types of mathematical concepts are particularly difficult. You’re not going to be doing physics equations to calculate a weld. But you will be doing some calculations related to measurements and angles that it will be essential to have accurate mathematical skills for in order to get a successful weld in the end.
If you weren’t the best math student in high school, though, don’t worry. Most degrees in welding at technical schools and colleges offer related math courses that will teach you the specific math you need to know in order to do welding calculations.
Arithmetic in Welding
One of the most common forms of math you’ll run into in welding is basic arithmetic, some of the earliest math concepts taught to children. This is your addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Chances are if you’ve had any kind of traditional education at all, you’ve got plenty of background in simple math.
The issue with simple math in the welding workshop in welding is twofold: one, basic math is used for just about everything from inventory to higher geometric calculations during a weld plan, and two, you’re probably not going to have a whole lot of time to whip out a calculator when you’re in the middle of a welding job, so knowing how to figure things up in your head quickly is useful.
Because of this, it’s helpful to practice “mental math” so that you don’t end up having to stop and manually calculate every time you pull out a tape measure in the workshop.
Fractions and Decimals in Welding
Another major form of math you’re going to see in a welding career is fractions and decimals, and these are mostly related to the art of measurement in the workshop. Without a strong foundation in fractional math, beginning welders can really struggle with reading blueprints. A lot of fraction and decimal work will also revolve around working with two tools—the measuring tape, and the caliper.
- Measuring tape: Measuring tapes are based around fractions, with most Imperial measuring tapes divided up into increments of an inch further divided into increments down to a sixteenth of an inch. (Metric tapes and tapes that measure both metric and Imperial are also available.) A measuring tape allows welders to make very precise measurements and subsequent cuts, leading to a better result.
- Caliper: Calipers are another measuring tool found in the welding workshop. Welders and woodworkers actually have their own specialized kind of caliper. Calipers can come in Vernier, dial, or digital varieties, though all are used for measuring out materials for high precision welds. Digital calipers are the best and most modern option since they include both fractional and decimal-based measurements.
Here’s a good video explaining how fractions are used to determine the safety inspection of a weld.
Out of all of the kinds of math necessary to know for serious welding, a solid foundation and constant practice with fractions and decimals is probably the mathematical skill that will serve you best as a welder, because everything you measure in the shop is going to depend on it, and the precision of your measurements will determine both the structural integrity and aesthetics of your weld.
Geometry in Welding
Geometry is a mathematical discipline involving the study of lines and angles in relation to physical two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes, so if you’re using welding to build things, geometry is going to be an important skill to have in your workshop.
The reason geometry is crucial to welding is that it affects many aspects of the welding process, from the types of materials chosen to the shapes that welding pieces are cut into prior to welding. Comprehending the fundamental relationships between angles and lines helps a lot when it comes to learning how to read welding blueprints and other kinds of measurements.
One large way that geometry affects welds is that it determines the shape of edge preparations, fillets, spot welds, and many other welding applications. There are three concepts of geometry used in welding: surface welding, light welding, and solid welding.
Aside from helping you make more accurate and better-looking cuts and welds, understanding basic forms of geometry not only allows you to more easily read the welding blueprints of others, but it also makes it a lot easier to compose your own original welding designs as well. This is one aspect of welding experience that separates amateur welders from knowledgeable ones.
Trigonometry in Welding
Trigonometry is likely to be the highest form of math you’re going to encounter in a welding environment, and this mathematical concept is used by welders to calculate a physical weld’s estimated strength potential.
The main trigonometry concepts that come into play in a welding environment are sine, cosine, and tangents. While trigonometry can be a bit of a more difficult math to wrap your head around than some of the other forms of math used for welding, it is also one of the more important forms of math for doing more complex levels of welding work.
That means learning basic trigonometry is necessary for you to move from being a mediocre welder to a high quality one. Since trigonometry is a math that is taught in high school, many welders can easily get the hang of it once they brush up on the basic concepts.
Volume and Area in Welding
While volume and area are technically geometric concepts, they are important enough in welding that they deserve their own section. Calculating the volume of fillet welds, for example, is important to have the background information to then use trigonometry to calculate the weld’s potential strength as well as its final weight.
Welding is a science and an art that must be performed down to a millimeter’s accuracy, especially in high-pressure metal vessels that could suffer catastrophic failure should a weld seam fail, such as those suffered by the Liberty ships manufactured during WWII.
Because of how important this is for both safety and quality of welds, knowing how to calculate volume and area in both geometric and trigonometric applications is an important skill for all welders to know.
Advantages of Knowing Higher Math as a Welder
There are many advantages of learning higher-level math for a welder, not just arithmetic and measurements. Here are some of the benefits welders can enjoy as the result of knowing higher math concepts such as geometry and trigonometry:
- Higher math makes it easier to get a job. While a welding job is ultimately sealed by the quality of an applicant’s welds, a strong background in math that can be demonstrated freely during the interview process can make a prospective employee much more attractive. Not only that, but knowing higher math also demonstrates a prospective employee’s dedication to the finer points of their work.
- You can get jobs with better pay. Because having higher math skills makes you more competitive on the job market and gives you a more marketable profile, this means you can go after jobs that offer a higher salary and better benefits with more complex welding projects, rather than simple stick welding jobs.
- You’ll be able to read blueprints more easily. Trying to be a welder without knowing math is like trying to be a musician without being able to sight-read music. At best, it will make you less efficient and less precise than your coworkers. At worst, it’ll impede your ability to land a welding job entirely.
- You’ll be able to make better measurements. If you have a strong background in math, you’re going to make more precise measurements and less measuring mistakes than you would if you aren’t good with math. Making accurate measurements leads to a better weld every time.
- You’ll be able to compose your own blueprints. This is probably one of the best benefits of knowing higher math as a welder. This means not only will you be able to easily and accurately carry out someone else’s welding blueprint, but you’ll be able to come up with your own and develop the measurements for your own welding designs.
- A welding degree will be easier to achieve. Most welding degrees involve practical applications of math concepts in welding as part of their requisites to earn the degree, so if you already have a strong foundation in higher math before you start a welding course, you’ll be ahead of the game. This will make the class more fun and less stressful too.
While simple math is crucial for being a welder, higher math is the type of math that many people don’t even realize welders interact with. But knowing how to perform higher math easily during a weld planning session and modify designs accordingly can be the difference between a welder who is good, and a welder who is great.
Many potential welders may find math intimidating, especially if it wasn’t an especially strong subject in high school, but luckily in the twenty-first century, there are plenty of options that allow you to pursue an education in the types of higher math related to welding.
How Do I Learn Math for Welding?
To learn math for welding, there are several ways you can go about learning the concepts you need to know. Here are some of the ways you can learn the math necessary to weld:
- Take a welding degree. Most welding degrees require courses in math as a matter of practicality since applied math is an important aspect of the job. As long as you have a decent high school background in math, taking the math for a welding course shouldn’t be too much trouble. (It wouldn’t hurt to brush up before classes start, however.)
- Take community college classes. To get a stronger understanding in math before going on to pursue a course in welding, you can always take a class or two at a local community college that covers higher math concepts like geometry and trigonometry. This is also a good way to get a background in higher math even if you intend to weld, but not pursue welding as a career.
- Take online courses. Thankfully in the age of the Internet, the autodidact is alive and well, which means there are tons of online courses available in every kind of math you can imagine, many of them either free or offered very cheaply. Check out courses on websites such as Khan Academy or Coursera to take advantage of digital math courses you can do in the comfort of your home.
- Read some books. For those that prefer a paper format to a digital one, there are plenty of math textbooks and workbooks available so that you can learn by reading and performing mathematical exercises. This is a good resource for those who are better at learning by reading than listening to a video or watching another person perform an equation.
Even if math wasn’t your strong suit growing up, it is possible to “relearn” math as an adult by progressing back through the mathematical concepts at your own pace until you feel confident enough in the basics to take on more advanced concepts.
The thing about math is that it is a cumulative skill, so if you have poor basic math skills, this makes higher kinds of math progressively harder and eventually impossible. To avoid running into this wall, start slow and make sure you understand the fundamentals thoroughly before moving on to more complicated equations or applications.
Getting Better at Welding Math
As there are many ways to learn the kinds of math necessary to be a good welder, there are also tricks you can learn to get better at the welding math you already know. Here are some hints for how to get the most out of your mathematical background in welding:
- Make time to practice. The more you practice math in your free time while learning how to weld, the faster at applying it in the welding environment you’ll become, and this, in turn, will make you a more efficient and more accurate welder.
- Pay attention to your handwriting. The reason that many math teachers are fanatical about neat printing when writing out mathematical equations when we’re growing up is that this discipline keeps us from making mathematical errors as a result of us misreading our own handwriting. To avoid this, make sure to do all measurements in large, clear print.
- Keep a cheat book. In welding, you’re going to run into some measurements and equations much more frequently than others, so it’s a good idea to keep these equations and concepts stored in shorthand where you can easily access them in the welding shop so that you can pull it out and review it if you run into more complicated work.
- Push yourself. It’s easy enough to learn some basic math towards a welding degree and call it good, but if you really want to learn enough higher math to compose your own complex welding projects, you have to put in more effort to actually absorb the information rather than just parroting it back to a teacher.
Knowing Math Is Essential for Welding
Some people might look into a welding career thinking it will get them out of having to deal with scholastic concepts like math and science, but unfortunately for them, technical arts like welding have science and math at their heart.
Without not only memorizing but also understanding mathematical concepts as they relate to measurement and applied geometry/trigonometry in welding, you can never achieve the same level of welding experience or proficiency as someone who has a firm grasp on these academic skills.