Follow the pipe welding truck to find decent money.
Oil and gas is a huge industry. The majority of pipe welders work in the petrochemical industry, which means oil fields, refineries, and oil pipe lines. Another large employer of pipe welders is power plants of all kinds. However, about the most a pipe rig welder (a pipe welder with welding equipment on a truck he owns) can make in the oil and gas game is $85 an hour. If you’re “rigged up” and ready in North Dakota and places like it, you’re only looking at about $70 an hour.
The $100 an-hour money is paid where the food truck goes to load up.
Food factories which make everything from canned corn to Canadian bacon must adhere to very strict cleanliness standards and procedures. Why? It’s because they can easily make hundreds or even thousands of people sick. Most of the pipe in these huge facilities is stainless steel.
Typically, the welding of the pipe is done with the TIG process – what used to be called heliarc. Believe it or not, if you’re an independent TIG rig welder, who’s great with stainless pipe, and knows how to fit it up, you’ll be billing at $100 or more an hour, no joke.
Not all pipe welders weld stainless. Not all pipe welders are certified to weld pipe of any kind with the TIG process. Most of the pipe welded in the oil and gas industry is welded using stick welding, or wire welding, although stick is still dominant.
What education courses must a stainless (TIG) pipe welder take to weld stainless pipe?
The U.S. has no education requirement for pipe welders – but the industry does. The welding industry is structured so that you are encouraged to take a year or two of classes involving both book learning and practice of basic welding skills before you can weld pipe. The problem is, the majority of welding students are out of money, and out of time before they get to pipe welding school.
What will the industry never tell you?
There is no standard in the U.S. which includes formal education, before you can weld stainless food grade pipe at $100 or more an hour. However, you must pass a certification weld test (not a written test). You weld a test joint, and if you pass, you can weld.
What’s the catch 22?
For those of you too young to know what a catch 22 is: It is when you must do Step #1 before you can do Step #2 – but you can’t do Step #1 until you do Step #2. The catch 22 is experience.
You’ll never be paid to weld food grade stainless pipe for real, until you have real field experience welding food grade pipe! Is that Crazy? The short version: If you want to weld food grade stainless pipe, you had better REALLY want to do it.
So, how do you break into the industry?
You can save a ton of money, time and frustration, by skipping most or all of the basic welding education. You can buy a good TIG welder, learn basic safety, and you can teach yourself to TIG weld stainless pipe at home. When you’re ready, you can pay a certified welding inspector to test your best joint, and he’ll issue a certification certificate with a wallet card.
Now, you may not know anything else about anything in the world, but if you focus like a laser on welding stainless steel pipe with TIG, to the point where you get certified, you’ll be half way through the catch 22. Once you’re certified, you can apply to work for welding contractors who do food grade stainless.
They won’t pay you much to start, and they’ll have you doing grunt work, even though you are certified. Slowly, they’ll allow you to weld more and more, and eventually, they’ll pay you well to weld. After as little as one year, you may want to strike out on your own, and you can do the billing at $100 an hour or more. Where will your friends be? They’ll still be taking basic welding classes.
What should you do next?