Maybe you’re here because you’re looking for a good job that doesn’t require a degree—one you’ll have to spend four years and lots of money to get. Or, maybe a friend or family member suggested you look into welding and you’re wondering, how much money can I really make as a welder?
We’ll break down welding salaries in precise detail, including which jobs pay the most and where to look for jobs to maximize your earning potential.
A welder’s core job function is to join pieces of metal—and sometimes other materials—using various welding techniques.
Welding is the process of using a combination of heat and fuel to form a pool of molten material, which is made up of base metals and (usually) a filler metal. When the materials cool, they form a joint which is just as strong or stronger than the original materials.
There are hundreds of different welding techniques, and part of a welder’s job is to use the one that’s most appropriate for the materials and the application.
Welders work in all kinds of industries, with some of the main ones being manufacturing, construction, transportation, defense, and energy. They may work indoors, like in a mechanic shop or on an assembly line, or outdoors, like on an oil rig or a construction site.
You might be a good candidate for a career in welding if you like working with your hands, have a tendency to do things with precision, and enjoy using a pragmatic, measured approach to solving problems.
Most importantly, you can be successful in a welding career if you’re willing to work hard and learn as much as you can. The great thing about the field is that there’s always something new to learn and no shortage of excellent resources to help you with your education.
According to Payscale, the average base pay for all welders in the United States is $18 an hour. This amounts to about $35,100 a year. Depending on experience, location and speciality, which we’ll talk more about below, pay can range from a low of around $13 an hour to a high of around $26 an hour.
Overtime pay, which is common in the welding field, builds on your base salary. Welders frequently work overtime during busy periods or when working to finish an important project.
The Department of Labor requires that employees who work more than 40 hours in any one-week period are paid overtime at a minimum of 1.5 times their hourly rate.
So, if your normal rate is $20 an hour and you worked 50 hours in one week, you’d be paid for 40 hours at $20/hour ($800) and 10 hours at $30/hour ($300) for a total of $1,100. Many welders don’t mind working overtime because it equates to a nice pay bump.
You can significantly up your earning potential if you obtain more advanced certifications. These will enable you to win higher job titles and take on more responsibility, which comes with a commensurate increase in salary.
Here are a few of the most lucrative welding jobs in different fields.
Pipeline welder. Pipelines for oil, gas and other substances bring us the fuel we need to power our lives. Fuel has historically always been in high demand, which means welders who work on pipelines are, too.
Pipelines are often in far away locations that require welders to be away from their families for long periods of time. Accessing pipelines can also be difficult due to their location underground or in tight spaces, so welders in this field are paid handsomely for their skills.
The average annual salary for pipeline welders is just shy of $70,000 a year, with the top tier of earners bringing in over $100,000.
Underwater welder. You’ll generally find that the more dangerous the welding job, the more it pays, and underwater welding is a prime example. In addition to dealing with the inherent hazards of welding, underwater welders must also be concerned with things like barometric pressure and air supply.
Underwater welding can be done ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’ Wet welding is done while the welder is submerged in water, while dry welding is done from within a sealed, submerged chamber. In addition to advanced welding skills, this job requires SCUBA knowledge.
Underwater welding is largely project-based, so it’s possible to earn your entire year’s salary in just a few months’ time and spend the rest of the year on other pursuits or boost your earnings with another income stream.
Welding inspector. Honing your skills and becoming a Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) is another feasible way to increase how much you can make as a welder. The average annual pay for this profession is $61,500, with the top 10% earning well into the $100,000 range.
Welding inspectors ensure that welded products and structures conform to all pertinent specifications. They review standards, inspect materials, oversee the welding process, inspect the finished product and prepare reports. To become a CWI, you’ll need to get certified through the American Welding Society (AWS).
One of the best things about a career in welding is the certification structure; your earning potential is heavily influenced by the certifications you hold, and it’s entirely within your control to go after increasingly advanced certifications. The more motivated you are to expand your skills, the faster you can climb into the upper salary echelons.
Organizations like AWS and the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB) offer a broad range of certification programs in various welding techniques and specialties, which can greatly advance your earnings. The average annual pay for a Certified Welding Engineer (CWEng), for example, is $83,000, while that of a Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI) is $101,000.
Welding is a field that places a high value on experience. And rightfully so—there are some techniques you simply can’t master in just a few months on the job. The longer you’ve been in the welding business, the more you’ll earn.
We mentioned earlier that the average base welding pay was around $18 an hour. For welders with upwards of 10 years experience, that number climbs to between $20 and $22 an hour.
According to data from ZipRecruiter, some of the highest paying jobs for welders in general can be found in New York, Massachusetts, Washington, New Hampshire and Hawaii.
However, these are also places that tend to have a higher cost of living. Rather than looking at hourly rates alone, it can be helpful to analyze earning potential in addition to the cost of living in and the opportunities available in any given place.
Alaska, which has a large maritime industry, is a great market for welding jobs in the shipbuilding field. During extreme weather conditions, like the harsh winters, welders may be eligible for bonuses ranging from 20 to 30%.
If you crave wide open spaces, consider heading to North Dakota. In addition to low population density and ample natural beauty, this state is ranked within the top 15 least expensive places to live in the United States.
North Dakota sits on top of one of the largest oil reserves in the world, making it a hot spot for welding jobs in the energy sector.
West Virginia takes the number 8 spot on the list of states with the lowest cost of living. Pair that with strong energy, aerospace and manufacturing industries and you’ve got a great opportunity to earn a sizable living as a welder in the Mountain State.
In addition to the earning prospects, there are lots of things to love about a career in welding. For starters, there’s plenty of variety. Many welding jobs are project based, and each project can look completely different from the last, which is perfect if you get bored doing the same job day in and day out.
Welding also comes with some incredible travel opportunities. You can find welding jobs in all 50 U.S. states and on every continent–yes, even Antarctica. Or, you can pursue a job where you’re based in one place but travel frequently to different job sites.
Finally, it’s a career you can take pride in. Welders build the framework for our society, from our buildings to our critical infrastructure to the products we use in our daily lives. It’s highly rewarding to finish a day’s work and see the tangible fruits of your labor right there in front of you.
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