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Tungsten Electrodes for TIG Welding

What is the best all around tungsten for TIG welding?

The truth is, there is not one single tungsten electrode that is the best all around tungsten for tig welding.

There is only a single best tungsten for a specific application.

There are just too many variables to say one tungsten is the best.

The type of TIG welding machine you have, AC frequency, AC balance, Amperage, amplitude, waveforms, etc. all make tungsten perform differently.

I have used strictly 2% lanthanated for years now just to make things simpler for me.

And I have used 2% lanth on both inverter and transformer style machines.

The reason I like 2% lanthanated as an all around all purpose electrode is that it starts well at low amperage and also performs well on both DC and AC.

But if I were in a certain industry doing a very specific task, and wanted to get the absolute best result I could,  I would probably use different electrodes to get the very best result.

I was on a welderskills.com Zoom Meeting recently with Johannes Ciobanica( from Italy)  who is @Tig_Happens on Instagram.

Johannes does some amazing weld repairs on rare aluminum race car heads.

He mentioned on the zoom call that he too used 2% lanthanated for years but recently found that for certain low to mid amperage AC welding, 2% ceriated worked better for him and held a nice rounded tip longer.

(provided he prepared the tip by balling it in a certain way before welding)

While 2% Ceriated does not have quite the high amperage capacity of 2% lanthanated, sometimes the need for a stable tip at low to mid amperage might be more important.

The way he discovered this, was simply running out of 2% lanthanated in the middle of a repair.

He found a piece of tungsten in his toolbox and after welding with it for a while, noticed something was different.

It was only then that he discovered he was using 2% ceriated.

It pays to be curious and open minded.

So lets go over the most popular types/colors of tungsten electrodes and I will give you my take on each.

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Tungsten Electrodes for TIG welding strictly on AC

Pure Tungsten (Green)

Pure Tungsten was recommended for years for tig welding aluminum.

Back when all machines were of the big transformer design, pure tungsten was a pretty good choice.

But that was then ...this is now.

Some folks still like pure tungsten.

At the same time, some manufacturers of TIG welding inverters caution against using it.

Miller Electric, for example has statements in some of their manuals and job aides stating " PURE TUNGSTEN (green) is NOT recommended for inverters!
For best results in most applications use a sharpened cerium
or lanthanum electrode for AC and DC welding."

Pure Tungsten balls up in a nice smooth sphere on AC but just wont carry much amperage.

and that typically requires switching to a larger tungsten.

Most welders I know do not have the hardware for anything bigger than 1/8" electrodes. (FYI, we just upgraded our large diameter gas lens kit to include 5/32" setups)

Sometimes, there is a need to weld with a tapered tip and pure tungsten just wont let you do that.

I think there are better choices....even for transformer design machines


Zirconiated (Brown)

If you have a transformer style tig welder, and you like TIG welding aluminum with a rounded or balled electrode,  zirconiated tungsten is a good choice for AC welding.

Zirconiated tungsten electrodes are a better choice than pure in my opinion strictly because they ball just as nicely as pure but at the same time can carry much more amperage without degrading.

But if you have the need to weld with a tapered tip, then you might think about the electrodes listed below.

Tungsten Electrodes for both AC and DC

2% Thoriated (Red)

2% Thoriated is still the most popular tungsten for DC welding.

The main objection these days is that thorium is somewhat radioactive so there has been an effort to provide non radioactive tungsten that still performs as well as thoriated.

2% thoriated tungsten works great on DC.

It also works ok on aluminum but some sources do not recommend that.

On AC, I have found that as long as I prepare the tip carefully by rounding the tip on DCEP...and as long as I dont exceed a certain amperage, things go ok.

I worked at a facility that used 2% thoriated tungsten for all metals and I saw many aluminum test joints pass x ray tests so it cant be as bad for AC welding as some say.

2% thoriated will definitely get nodules and spit if not rounded on dcep before welding but it still works ok. 

2% Ceriated (Gray)

2% ceriated tungsten is a great choice if you mostly do DC welding and occasionally do AC low to mid amperage welding.

Its a pretty good non radioactive alternative to 2% thoriated.

It holds a good point for DC and at low to mid amps on AC holds a nice tip ( provided you round it intentionally) on low to mid amps on aluminum and magnesium.

The main drawback is the lack of high amperage carrying capability.

for that you might go with....you guessed it.

2% lanthanated

2% Lanthanated (Blue)

2% lanthanated has been my all around, all purpose, one stop shop tungsten for over 10 years.

In my opinion, its a really good non radioactive alternative to 2% thoriated.

Pretty much everything I have tig welded since 2011 has been with 2% lanthanated tungsten.

I welded a lot of different metals since then and lots of different thicknesses but 2% lanthanated worked on all of it.

Sure there were probably times where other tungsten electrodes would have been slightly better, but having only one type of tungsten in my tool box made life simpler for me.

Multi mix rare earth (Purple)

Multi mix rare earth purple tungsten is relatively new.

I believe it was formulated specifically to be a non radioactive alternative to 2% thoriated. ( at least that's what I saw presented at a fabtech)

It holds a sharp tip well, even after multiple restarts and is formulated to prevent grain growth even after long usage.

Grain growth is something that happens with pretty much all tungsten electrodes and definitely can affect restart quality.

Purple tungsten has a somewhat higher amperage capacity than 2% ceriated but not quite as high as 2% lanthanated.

Purple is a pretty good all around tungsten for all metals.

LaYZr (Chartreuse)

I think CK worldwide has the market cornered on this one.

LaYZr™ Tungsten is non-radioactive and works with both AC and DC  using inverter or transformer-based tig welders.

Stable arc starts, restarts and good stability at low to mid amperage ranges.

I know a few really good TIG welders that like to weld with LaYZr tungsten.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to your application.

What works best for you.

Personally, I would recommend starting with 2% lanthanated and going from there.

You might never need anything else.


What do the colors on tungsten mean?

well, as stated above, the colors on tungsten mean what alloy is used to make it perform well for the intended use.

Problem is, the colors change sometimes.

For example, 2% ceriated was orange at one time.

There are efforts to standardize color coding of tungsten but everyone is not always on the same page.

2 colors you can count on are Red and Green.

Red is 2% thoriated

Green is pure

What color tungsten do you use for steel?

2% thoriated is still the most commonly used tungsten for Steel.

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