I’d like to clarify things if I can. I may not have the best
opinion, but I’m sure there are others here that can add to it. TIG,
PUK, and laser welding are all a little different in the way they
I have a PUK, and I’ve used lasers and done TIG. First, the laser
may not give you deep penetration, but neither, exactly, will the
other tools on a jewelry scale. With a laser, the heat goes exactly
where that cross-hair puts it. The pulse can be shaped, with some
models, meaning, you can start off low heat, then quickly ramp up, or
have an intense beam that broadens out to planish out the metal, or
hits rapid fire short pulses, etc. Can’t do that with a PUK. With the
PUK, you can choose a short or longer pulse. Also, the PUK pulse goes
to the path of least electrical resistance, which means you hope it
will go where you aim it, but it could, for various reasons, jump
over to an area you didn’t want it to. It’s penetration isn’t
particularly deep either, but if it’s working right, it’s a bit
stronger than a laser. With both, you can “V” out an area and fill to
get a deeper weld. But compared to a laser, the PUK is infinitely
harder to control.
If you’ve worked with a laser, the PUK will frustrate you. It’s
harder to learn, harder to control, but it’s a lot cheaper. That
said, I use mine almost every day for something or other. A laser is
a much finer instrument though.
Now TIG is a different animal. Think of it as a electrical torch.
You strike an arc, which you have to keep going by controlling the
distance of the electrode to the metal and keep moving it, not fast
enough to break the arc, but not so slow as to melt a hole in the
metal, and add filler wire or rod. It takes practice to strike that
arc and keep it up. And getting the amperage and voltage and gas flow
settings right is also quite an art, taking into consideration the
type of metal, the thickness, the filler rod used, etc. But the
problem with TIG is it will, in a short time, heat up an article just
as a torch would. So you won’t be doing any welding on of prongs with
heat sensitive stones in place with a TIG setup. It would be like
clipping your fingernails with the hedge trimmers.
If you want to weld copper, TIG will do it, but PUK will not. A
laser will, but not great. And silver is, in my opinion, virtually
impossible with laser or a PUK. Think of it this way. Imagine you
want to light a match that is sitting on an ice cube. You can use a
huge torch, big enough to incinerate that match instantly, but still,
you get it hot enough to ignite and the cube melts putting it out.
You can get enough power with a 60+ joule laser to melt the silver,
and a PUK on the highest setting will melt it, but at that high a
blast, the molten metal just gets blasted right out of the puddle
unless you pre-heat the piece significantly, which kind of defeats
the purpose. A TIG will do it, but that entire article is going to
get very hot. But if you want a seam that is the same metal as that
around it, not solder, but real fusion, the TIG is the way to go. A
skilled TIG welder can weld the lid back on a tin can, I’ve seen it.
I can’t though.
In closing, I’d say, get the PUK if you don’t have the money for a
laser, and be patient and practice and pay attention to what it’s
doing. You’ll get use out of it. Then get a laser when you can afford
one. If you are doing more general types of metalsmithing, a TIG is a
great tool, especially for larger articles or steels, but it’s not a
cheap laser and I’ve not seen any true “jewelry scale” TIG setups.
David L. Huffman