How to Prevent Common Causes of Poor Welding Wire Feeding

Poor wire feeding is a common problem encountered in many welding operations. Unfortunately, it can be a significant source of downtime and lost productivity — not to mention cost.

Poor or erratic wire feeding can lead to premature failure of consumables, burnbacks, bird-nesting and more. To simplify troubleshooting, it’s best to look for issues in the wire feeder first and move toward the front of the gun to the consumables.

Finding the cause of the problem can sometimes be complicated, however, wire feeding issues often have simple solutions.

What’s happening with the feeder?

Image of welder with semi-automatic MIG gun welding
Finding the cause of poor wire feeding can sometimes be complicated, however, the issue often has simple solutions.

When poor wire feeding occurs, it can be related to several components in the wire feeder.

1. If the drive rolls don’t move when you pull the trigger, check to see if the relay is broken. Contact your feeder manufacturer for assistance if you suspect this is the issue. A faulty control lead is another possible cause. You can test the control lead with a multimeter to determine if a new cable is needed.

2. An incorrectly installed guide tube and/or the wrong wire guide diameter may be the culprit. The guide tube sits between the power pin and the drive rolls to keep the wire feeding smoothly from the drive rolls into the gun. Always use the proper size guide tube, adjust the guides as close to the drive rolls as possible and eliminate any gaps in the wire path.

3. Look for poor connections if your MIG gun has an adapter that connects the gun to the feeder. Check the adapter with a multimeter and replace it if it’s malfunctioning.

Take a look at the drive rolls

Image of welding wire bird-nesting in drive rolls
Bird-nesting, shown here, can result when the liner is cut too short or the liner
is the wrong size for the wire being used.

Using the wrong size or style of welding drive rolls can cause poor wire feeding. Here are some tips to avoid problems.

1. Always match the drive roll size to the wire diameter.

2. Inspect drive rolls every time you put a new spool of wire on the wire feeder. Replace as necessary.

3. Choose the style of drive roll based on the wire you are using. For example, smooth welding drive rolls are good for welding with solid wire, whereas U-shaped ones are better for tubular wires — flux-cored or metal-cored.

4. Set the proper drive roll tension so there is sufficient pressure on the welding wire to feed it through smoothly.

Check the liner

Several issues with the welding liner can lead to erratic wire feeding, as well as burnbacks and bird-nesting.

1. Be sure the liner is trimmed to the correct length. When you install and trim the liner, lay the gun flat, making certain the cable is straight. Using a liner gauge is helpful. There are also consumable systems available with liners that don’t require measuring. They lock and concentrically align between the contact tip and power pin without fasteners. These systems provide error-proof liner replacement to eliminate wire feeding problems.

2. Using the wrong size welding liner for the welding wire often leads to wire feeding problems. Select a liner that is slightly larger than the diameter of the wire, as it allows the wire to feed smoothly. If the liner is too narrow, it will be difficult to feed, resulting in wire breakage or bird-nesting.

3. Debris buildup in the liner can impede wire feeding. It can result from using the wrong welding drive roll type, leading to wire shavings in the liner. Microarcing can also create small weld deposits inside the liner. Replace the welding liner when buildup results in erratic wire feeding. You can also blow compressed air through the cable to remove dirt and debris when you change over the liner.

Image of contact tip burnback
Close up of a wire burnback in a contact tip on a self-shielded FCAW gun. Inspect contact tips regularly for wear, dirt and debris to help prevent burnback (shown here) and replace contact tips as necessary.

Monitor for contact tip wear

Welding consumables are a small part of the MIG gun, but they can affect wire feeding — particularly the contact tip. To avoid problems:

1. Visually inspect the contact tip for wear on a regular basis and replace as necessary. Look for signs of keyholing, which occurs when the bore in the contact tip becomes oblong over time due to the wire feeding through it. Also look for spatter buildup, as this can cause burnbacks and poor wire feeding.

2. Consider increasing or decreasing the size of contact tip you are using. Try going down one size first, which can help promote better control of the arc and better feeding.

Additional thoughts

Poor wire feeding can be a frustrating occurrence in your welding operation — but it doesn’t have to slow you down for long. If you still experience problems after inspecting and making adjustments from the feeder forward, take a look at your MIG gun. It is best to use the shortest cable possible that can still get the job done. Shorter cables minimize coiling that could lead to wire feeding issues. Remember to keep the cable as straight as possible during welding, too. Combined with some solid troubleshooting skills, the right gun can keep you welding for longer.