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Understanding Cup Walking

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Understanding Cup Walking PRESS ROOM

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While traditional methods of TIG welding can be used for pipe welding, the constant motion
required to maintain a consistent arc length and to dab filler metal in the weld puddle can
become both tiring and frustrating for the operator. Continuously changing angles to TRADE SHOWS
accommodate for the dynamics of welding on pipe is an even greater obstacle. It requires
tremendous time, patience and skill on the part of the operator to create quality welds under INDUSTRY LINKS
these conditions. CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

Instead, using the cup walking technique—where the nozzle of the TIG torch rests right on the
pipe with the filler metal placed in the groove the operator is welding (the specific technique of
which will be discussed later in this article)—provides more arc stability and greater comfort,
while also allowing the operator to change positions more easily.
The versatility of this technique makes it an equally appealing alternative to traditional TIG
welding methods. Operators can cup walk on any type of pipe and most types of material
except for aluminum. Because the melting temperature of aluminum is quite low compared to
ferrous metals like carbon or stainless steel, cup walking on this type of material is not PARTS & ACCESSORIES
recommended; the hot cup of the TIG torch leaves a trailed impression along the groove and
could also pick up contaminants. The technique, however, is entirely viable for all other types
of materials and piping applications, even though using it on larger pipes may be less desirable
given the amount of time that would be necessary to complete the job.
Preparing to Walk the Cup…
Like other TIG welding techniques, cup walking requires that the appropriate measures be
taken to ensure the cleanliness of the base material. Depending on the industry for which an
operator is welding the pipe, a variety of surface conditions may be present. Base metals
should be wiped free of any oil or debris and/or scraped with a wire brush dedicated for use on
a particular metal. The edge preparation for the pipe will also vary according to the application
and welding specifications/procedures and is primarily dependent on material thickness. Most
often, however, TIG welding specifications/procedures for pipe applications will call for a V-
groove with a feather (also called knife) edge.

For cup walking, most DC constant current power supply provides the desired results, but the
more geared for GTAW welding the machine is, the better performance an operator will
achieve. Pre-flow and post-flow of shielding gas, along with pulse capabilities and arc starting
mechanisms all factor into the quality of weld, especially for beginning “cup-walkers.” Pre-flow
of shielding gas assists with consistent arc starting, while post-flow ensures that the base
material does not become contaminated by the atmosphere when the operator extinguishes
the arc. Further, a power source with pulsing capabilities provides better peak current values
so beginners can achieve successful sidewall fusion and root passes. It also helps to control
heat input on more inter-pass sensitive materials. And while Lift-Arc technology is acceptable
for applications on thicker materials where there is less concern about tungsten contamination,
the emergence of more exotic metals into the pipe industry brings with it an increased
concern of contamination. On these types of materials, a high frequency arc start—or non-
contact start—is preferable.

The specific power source settings for cup walking depends largely on the thickness of the
material being welded, inter-pass temperatures and the heat input requirements of the given
weld procedure. Operators need higher amperage settings for thicker materials, but for the
open groove TIG joints present on pipe, setting the power source in a range of 90 to 110
amps works well on most materials.

Typically, operators will use a 3/32-inch diameter, 2 percent thoriated tungsten when cup
walking. Thoriated tungsten maintains its pointed shape—the preferred shape for this
technique—better than other types of tungsten. It also has a higher carrying capacity to
handle DC power sources and resists melting. Depending on the diameter of cup used,
operators need to adjust tungsten stickout accordingly. Because the traditional, purist
technique for cup walking involves multiple cup changes, it is important to maintain a simple
rule of thumb: the tungsten should not stick out any further than the measurement of the
inside diameter of the cup. For example, if a cup is a size 6 (or specifically 3/8-inches ID),
then the tungsten stick out should only be 3/8 inches.

Torch options for cup walking are equally as specific as tungsten choice. Generally, operators
use a 200 or 300 amp air-cooled torch. The amount of on-site work needed for pipe
application requires portability and these torches eliminate the burden of carrying additional
equipment for a water-cooled torch. Moreover, air-cooled torches tend to be more robust than
water-cooled torches and provide the reliability needed for field applications when cup
walking. That said, water-cooled torches still have their place, especially in shop

What to Expect When Walking the Cup and What to Do…

The actual cup walking technique is highly specified and, additionally, requires a tremendous
amount of practice and skill on the part of the operator. Because there are many instances of
gapping and out-of-roundness (which consequently causes mismatch or what is called highs[8/15/2012 10:26:06 PM]

Understanding Cup Walking

and lows) on pipe applications, the operator needs to accommodate for these less than ideal
circumstances. These conditions, of course, vary from industry to industry and application to
application, but nonetheless, they almost always exist and are best dealt with by mastering an
understanding of weld puddle dynamics. When operators encounter mismatch caused by pipe
out-of-roundness, they need to pull the weld puddle to the high side of the joint to ensure
that not too much time is spent welding on the low side of the joint. Spending too much time
on the low side can lead to excessive root reinforcement (also called excessive drop or root
build up) and results in too much weld penetration, cold lap and improper tie in or fusing of
the two pieces of pipe.

To begin, it is important to align the pieces of pipe as well as possible and tack them up to
make certain that they do not shift while welding. Techniques for tacking depend on the pipe’s
size, but can usually be done with four to six 1-inch long tacks. Upon completion of the tack,
operators should grind the tack to a feathered edge to assure that solid tie-in is achieved
during the root pass procedure.

It is then necessary to choose the appropriate diameter of filler metal for the specific groove
joint. The diameter of the filler metal should be slightly larger than the gap of the pipe and,
while resting against the saddle of the hand, should press against the groove without pushing
through. For example, a 1/8-inch filler metal diameter would be appropriate to use on a 3/32-
inch groove.

Holding the filler metal gently against the pipe, operators should angle the torch so that the
back of the cup is touching the pipe with the tungsten just slightly above the surface of the
groove/work piece. Depending on the joint configuration, operators need to adjust the size of
cup used for the root pass, but in most cases (and for the sake of this discussion), a number
six (3/8 inch) cup would be appropriate. The cup should be rested in the groove, making
contact on both sides of it—two-point contact—while the torch is moved back and forth slowly
in a zigzag motion. Operators generate this motion by a swaying the arm (instead of the
wrist), to reduce operator fatigue and help create a steadier weld.

By applying slight pressure to the torch, the operator can continue the zigzag motion up the
groove, “cup walking” from the bottom (6 o’clock) to the top (12 o’clock) of the pipe. During
the course of moving upward, operators should keep the filler metal at the leading edge of the
weld puddle, as opposed dipping it into the weld puddle as with traditional TIG welding

The best way to ensure the highest probability of success on the root pass is to look for what
has been termed the “devil’s eye.” The “devil’s eye” is a fluid dot in the center of the weld
puddle that is formed by foreign (but not worrisome) elements, such as silicon on a mild steel
application, which continuously dances around in the weld puddle. If an operator sees the
“devil’s eye,” it is insurance that the torch angle, travel speed, root opening and filler metal
are properly positioned and that he has adjusted the amperage setting correctly. If the
operator does not see the “devil’s eye,” it is a sign that one of the physical variables is not
correct and should be adjusted accordingly.

For fill passes, use a number six or seven (7/16 inch) cup, depending on the thickness of the
root pass. On hot, thin root passes where maximum root reinforcement has been achieved at
the backside of the weld, operators could continue to use a size six cup for the first fill pass,
while also maintaining the two-point contact (as with the initial root pass) of the cup on either
side of the groove. Conversely, if an operator ran a cool, heavy root pass with minimum root
reinforcement, then switching to a number seven for the first fill pass would be more
appropriate. Regardless of the cup size used on the first fill pass, operators should use a
number seven (or larger cup, depending on the size used initially) for the second fill pass.

When creating either a first or second fill pass with a number seven cup, the technique for
“walking” up the groove is slightly different than with the root pass—a three-point contact is
now made with the groove instead of a two-point contact. Specifically, the cup should be
touching the root pass and pivoted so as to be guided by the edges of the groove. Doing so
will cause the cup to touch three points of the weld face as it is slowly zigzagged upward. If a
third fill pass is necessary, using a number seven cup will continue to work. Finally, for the
cap pass, a number eight cup (1/2 inch) provides adequate gas coverage and the weld face
width needed for quality and precision welds. During the cap pass, the torch should only make
single-point contact, pivoting carefully on the weld face as it is moved upward.

During each of these passes, it is important to maintain only slight pressure on the filler metal
and to ensure that it is tangent, or at an angle to the pipe. If the operator holds the filler
metal too perpendicular to the pipe or applies too much pressure, then the filler metal could
push through the root opening of the pipe. Similarly, if the operator holds the filler metal too
far in front of the arc, there is a risk that he will push into the tungsten and contaminate the

These and other “pitfalls,” such as the slowness of the cup walking technique (due not only to
the TIG process in general, but also the need for cup changing) may cause operators to avoid
the process; however, the advantages far outweigh the potential problems. The aesthetics of
this technique, like that of most TIG welding procedures, are far more appealing than with
other processes like Stick (SMAW) or GMAW, and also provide the precise quality of welds
needed for critical pipe applications. With the appropriate training and practice on the part of
the operator, learning to walk-the-cup can become an invaluable skill and application for a
wide range of industries.