How Much Do Welders Make

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We have all seen the the government statistics that say welders make whatever dollars per hour, these statistics a really meaningless to the average person that is contemplating a welding career or those that are already working in the welding field. In this article we will take an in depth look at and answer the question “how much do welders make.”

How Much Do Welders Make? Welder Salaries

Picture of a welder welding beams.

It is very hard to say how much a welder makes, there are about a million variables to this question. What are they welding? Pipe, plate, aluminum pipe or exotic metals for a nuclear reactor? Where do they work? Underwater, in the far north oilfields or in the shipyards of the gulf coast? Is the welder certified or not?

 

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states the following:

2014 Median Pay: Welders, Cutters, Solderers & Brazers $17.99 per hour or $37,420 per year
Typical Entry Level Education GED or HS Diploma
Number of Jobs in 2014 397,900
Job Outlook +4% Growth – Slower than average

My opinion is that there is a huge demand for skilled welders, most people today go to college and get a worthless four year degree. Most people are just not interested in physically working with their hands.  There is no way in the world that I would weld for $37,000 a year. Later in the article I will explain how to make more money welding!

Welders, Cutters, Solderers & Brazers… What?

Being a career welder for many years I can tell you that I have never worked with a professional “Cutter, Solderer or Brazer.” I have no Idea why the federal government would combine these different careers as this completely skews the statistics about how much actual welders make. The only commonality between these different types of jobs is the fact that they work with metal in some fashion. Would it make sense to compare an apple farmers wage with a baker’s wage that makes apple pies? Probably not!

Factors that affect how much welders make

Not all welders are created equal! This is why the question “how much do welders make” is not a simple one. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that greatly influence welders salaries.

  • Expertise & Skills – There are many very specific niches within the welding career field, some are very technical, some dangerous and some that require little skill. A welder that is fabricating ornamental iron work will never make as much as a Boilermaker or Ironworker.
  • Years of Experience – The difference between a welder that has one year of experience is greatly different than a welder with 10 years of experience.
  • Certifications –  Welders that perform “certified welding”, such as on high pressure piping will make much more than a production welder making non critical welds.
  • Location – Geographic location plays a part as wages vary greatly across the United States.

Ironworkers, Boilermakers & Other Union Welders ($25.00 +)

Often times a welder is not just a welder. Cutting, fitting, rigging and other skills are needed. This is particularly true for unions that utilize welders like the Ironworkers Union and Boilermakers Union.

The wages of these two organizations can be seen below and has a high level of pay for people entering this field with no experience. It should be noted that wages differ within the same union depending on the geographic location.

Pay Scale Boilermaker Union Ironworkers Union
First Year Apprentice $22.26 $21.73
Second Year Apprentice $24.17 $24.83
Third Year Apprentice $25.78 $26.38
Fourth Year Apprentice $27.39 $28.31
Journeyman $32.22 $35.50

Factory Shutdown Welders and Turnarounds ($24.00 +)

There are companies/contractors that specialize in servicing what is called a “factory shutdown.” When a large plant or factory shutdown for retooling, maintenance or expansion they hire contractors that specialize in completing the work for them. If you are a skilled welder you can earn a significant wage traveling from shutdown to shutdown.

An example of a job posting from a factory shutdown contractor (Click to expand view):

A picture of a factory shutdown welding job and how much welders make.

Here is a breakdown of what you would earn working for this contractor:

  • $36 Dollars Per Hour X 40 Hours = $1,440 (straight pay)
  • $54 Dollars Per Hour X 20 Hours = $1,080 (Overtime pay)
  • $100 Per Diem Pay  X 6 Days = $600
  • Total wage working 10 hours a day for 6 days = $3,120
  • Yearly wage working 9 months out of the year = $112,320

Often times you can work seven days a week with unlimited overtime for these contractors. It is also important to remember that most of these jobs are a 1099 position, you are responsible for your own taxes, transportation, meals and lodging. Less experienced welders will normally earn around 27 dollars per hour.

Shipbuilding Welders ($23.00 +)

The shipbuilding industry employs thousands of welders and is always in need of more. Companies like Ingalls Shipbuilding offers apprenticeships to entry level welders and hires experienced welder alike. At the completion of their welding apprenticeship welders will make $23.40 per hour. Experienced welder can start at much higher salary than this.

Local welding shops ($12.00 +)

Working at a local welding shop is most likely not going to pay a lot. Employees are very expensive for small businesses to have and in the end most of the time there is not much left for you. I am sure that there are some shops out there that pay well and all but they are few and far between.

Pipe Welders ($10.00 – $40.00)

If you are not familiar with the welding industry you may not realize that pipe welding is a generic term. Pipe welder salaries vary greatly depending on a variety of factors.

  • 6G Certified/Stick Pipe Welder – Working with Sch.40 mild steel pipe: $15.00 – $25.00
  • 6G Certified/TIG Pipe Welder  – Working with sch. 80 stainless and passing X-ray inspection: $20.00 – $40.00
  • Pipe welder assembling and welding gates in a factory setting – $10.00 – $15.00

 

Final thoughts on how much do welders make

As you can see welders salaries vary greatly, I can’t tell you how much are going to make  because there are simply too many variables. In the end it really is up to you as to how much money you will make during your welding career.

If you are entry-level welder or are contemplating a career as a welder it is important to get a good education by attending a quality welding school. Attending a welding school or program that only lasts one, two or three months is not going to give you the skills that you need to obtain a good welding job. It is important to choose a welding school that is accredited and has a good reputation for producing quality, higher-able welders.

A key point to think about is your geographic location. Are there jobs in your area? If not are you willing to move to an area that has a high demand for welders? Sometimes relocating for a job is simply the best option if you want to earn a good salary as a welder.

Another key piece of advice for earning more as a welder is to become certified in as many welding processes, positions and types of welding as possible. This proves your welding ability to potential employers and will increase the amount of money that is possible for you to make.

Seven Tips On How To Make More Money As A Welder

1) Move or travel to where the work is

If you live in an area that has little work for welders then you’re not going to make any money. Either you need to work for a contractor that does shutdowns/turnarounds and travel or you need to move to a location that has a lot of work.

2) Niche, Niche, Niche

You have to specialize in something! Being able to butt weld two plates together in the flat position with a MIG welder is not going to make you any money unless you are robbing banks on the side! Become proficient in welding alloys, being AWS D17.1 certified or having unique skills will allow you to get the welding jobs that most people can’t do.

3) Mirrors

You need to be able to weld with a mirror especially if you are going to be doing any type of pipe welding in an industrial setting. Practice and more practice!

4) Welding Certifications

Certifications are not the end all be all but they are a great way to communicate your skills to potential employers on paper. You are telling that employer that without a doubt you have proven that you have the skill to weld “fill in the blank.”

5) Education/Skill Level

Going to a welding school that offers a fast track one month course on pipe and structural welding is not going to give you the skills that you need to get a good welding job. Any reputable company that hires you to weld for them will make you take a weld test as soon as you walk in the door. The only way you are going to become an exceptional welder is with practice and more practice.

6) Listen, watch and learn

If you ever get to work side by side with one of the old timers that has been welding for 25 years, or even five years you need to listen, watch and pay attention to what they are doing. Ask questions! The advice and knowledge that these guys have can help you more than anything else! Here are a few tips for new welders entering the welding career field.

7) Experience Pays

If you are just entering the welding field just stick with it! You may feel overwhelmed at first but you will make it as long as you keep trying. After you hit the three year mark a lot more doors will open for you to better paying jobs. Do not job hop!