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If you talk to any welder and ask, "Are you certified?" you're most likely to hear a big, happy "YES!" in reply. The real question should be, "What positions are you certified in?" There is never a simple answer to welding certificates, but the basics of welding positions are easy!
Welding certificates are broken down into two main categories and a couple more positions. The first category is structural welding, mostly used for welding square-shaped objects. Structural welding certificates are the most common and just about any student welders will pass them. The second type of welding certification is for welding pipe. Not many welders have this type of certification, as very few of them are able to pass the exam.
Welding positions are just that, positions! Structural welding is done in the flat, horizontal, vertical, and overhead positions. Square shapes give a straight line to weld, therefore – one angle, and one position at a time. Pipe welding, on the other hand, never allows the welder to use a single angle or position! When welding pipe, the angle and position of the weld are never the same, as both are consistently changing as you work through the entire weld.
Welding certification positions have a coding system that welders always refer to. Structural welding positions are coded one through four. One is for flat, two is for horizontal, three is for vertical, and four is for overhead welding. Most welding certificates are done in groove welds and what that means is the weld joint is beveled. The abbreviation that is used for groove welds is "G". Putting together the coding system is simple. For practical reasons, most structural welders will take two welding certificates. The first is the 3G position which is a groove weld in the vertical position. The 3G position qualifies the welder to weld in the flat, horizontal, and vertical positions with a single test. The 4G position is a groove weld in the overhead position which qualifies a welder to weld in the flat, horizontal, and overhead positions with a single test. When combining the 3G and 4G welding certificates, the welder is qualified to do structural welding in all positions.
Pipe welding certificates use the same coding system but add a few more positions and combinations. For pipe welding, the numbering system goes from one through six. One is for a pipe that is rolled in the flat position, two is for a pipe that is running up and down along the surface of a wall, four is a pipe that is horizontal running along the floor, and six is a pipe standing on a 45 degree angle. The 1G pipe position covers flat welding, the 2G covers horizontal welding, the 5G position is a combination of overhead, vertical, and flat welding, and finally the 6G position covers the flat, horizontal, vertical, and overhead positions in a single weld joint . There is no such thing as a 3G or 4G Pipe Welding certification. For practical reasons most pipe welders are certified in the 6G position and that covers all of the structural and pipe welding positions in a single test. It's the hardest welding position and the pay scale for a welder with a 6G welding certification can be more than double that of a structural welder's salary.