I know some really good TIG welders and have taken TIG at school and during my apprenticeship from some very qualified instructors. One of the welders I know does critical aircraft welding and used to be the head welder for Canadian Airlines. He got the job because his dad owned a specialty welding shop and had done some local work for Canadian Airlines. Their welder was retiring because it was too hard to TIG weld with arthritis. They flew him from Alberta to Toronto to do a weld test which he passed with flying colors, no pun intended. Even when he did the TIG test during his apprenticeship, he did one weld. It was significantly better than the instructors so they asked him to help the other students. He was a little ticked because the highest mark they would give was 75% and his weld should have easily been 100%. Yes, he was that good of a TIG welder and having your dad own the shop, he had a lot of practice.
On thicker aluminum, preheat for sure but I have never been advised, read or ever seen anyone preheat aluminum 1/4" and under. The only time I can ever see preheating thinner aluminum is if the machine you're using doesn't have enough amps for the thickness. Perhaps JonMN could comment since he's done a lot of aluminum. I would think he'd hate building aluminum trailers if he had to preheat before every weld. Aluminum heats up really fast anyways. It is common knowledge to leave the shielding gas on for a few seconds after finishing any TIG weld. That's why the better TIG machines have pre flow and post flow timers on them. Actually that was one of the questions on the journeyman welder test. Post flow keeps contaminates out of the puddle until the weld cools enough and also keeps the tungsten from getting contaminated until it cools.
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