7 Steps to Become a Rig Welder (Explained for Beginners)

Rig welding is a challenging yet rewarding career that offers high earning potential and the opportunity to work on critical infrastructure projects. As a rig welder, you’ll be responsible for making high-quality welds on oil rigs, pipelines, and other structures in demanding outdoor conditions. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive roadmap to becoming a successful rig welder.

How To Become a Rig Welder

Acquire Formal Welding Training and Certifications

While a high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for rig welders, attending a welding program at a vocational school or community college is highly recommended. These programs will teach you the fundamentals of welding and provide hands-on experience with various welding processes. The key processes you should master include:

  • Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), also known as stick welding
  • Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), also known as MIG welding
  • Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
  • Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), also known as TIG welding

In addition to formal training, obtaining certifications from the American Welding Society (AWS) can help you stand out to potential employers. The AWS Certified Welder program tests your ability to perform various welding processes to industry standards.

Gain Experience as a Welder’s Helper

To break into the rig welding industry, start by looking for “welder’s helper” positions. These entry-level roles allow you to work alongside experienced rig welders and learn the ropes of the trade. As a welder’s helper, you’ll be responsible for tasks such as grinding, cleaning, and moving equipment. After a few months of proving your work ethic and reliability, you may be offered an apprenticeship to start welding under the guidance of a seasoned professional.

Obtain Critical Safety Certifications

Rig welding involves working in hazardous environments, so safety is of utmost importance. To work on oil rigs, you’ll need to obtain several safety certifications, including:

  • H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide) Safety Certification
  • Confined Space Certification
  • Fall Protection Certification
  • First Aid and CPR Certification

These certifications demonstrate your commitment to safety and your ability to work responsibly in high-risk situations.

Invest in High-Quality Equipment

As a rig welder, you’ll be expected to provide your own equipment. This includes a reliable 4×4 truck to transport your gear to job sites, as well as a powerful engine-driven welder capable of handling stick and flux-cored processes. Look for a welder with a minimum output of 400 amps to ensure you can handle the demanding welding tasks on rigs and pipelines.

In addition to your welding machine, you’ll need a variety of tools and safety gear, such as:

EquipmentDescription
Welding TentProtects you and your work from the elements
Cutting Torch SetFor cutting and beveling pipes
Angle GrinderFor cleaning and preparing metal surfaces
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)Includes welding helmet, leather gloves, steel-toed boots, and flame-resistant clothing

Expect to invest at least $55,000 in your rig welding equipment to be fully prepared for the job.

Prepare for the Rig Welder Lifestyle

Rig welding is not your typical 9-to-5 job. You’ll need to be willing to travel to remote locations and work long hours in challenging weather conditions. A typical rig welding job may involve:

  • 12 to 14-hour shifts
  • 6 to 7 days per week
  • Night shifts
  • On-call availability

The work is physically demanding, requiring a high level of stamina and the ability to work in confined spaces and awkward positions. You’ll need to be mentally tough and able to adapt to changing job requirements and living conditions.

Continuously Improve Your Skills

To succeed as a rig welder, you must be dedicated to continuously improving your welding skills. Rig welding projects have stringent quality requirements, often involving X-ray quality welds on pipes and structures in difficult positions. Practice your techniques regularly and seek out opportunities to learn from more experienced welders.

As you gain experience, consider taking on more challenging projects, such as underwater welding, to increase your earning potential. Pipeliners and shutdown work tend to pay the highest rates, but they also require the most advanced welding skills.

The average salary for rig welders is around $77,000 per year, with top earners making over $100 per hour. However, this comes at the cost of long hours, challenging work conditions, and a significant investment in equipment.

References:

Rig Welder Job Description And Salary

American Welding Society Forum