As in most things, the more you know and the more you can do, the more you make.
A welder without a welding machine on his trailer or truck is called “single hand.” A welder with a welding rig is a rig welder. A combination welder or “combo welder” is a pipe welder who is certified 6G in stick and TIG.
Pipe welders with their own rigs are making up to $12,000 a month in North Dakota.
If a rig pipe welder is selling himself and his machine, what is he getting per hour? Somewhere from $70 an hour to $100 an hour. If that same pipe welder has to use an employer’s welder, he’ll be making from $30 to $50 an hour.
Another pay factor which is part of the total equation is per diem – money for staying on or near the job, far from home. Still another factor that makes up the big numbers is the amount of hours worked. A welder can be on a job working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for as much as sixty days straight.
What you need to be valuable to an employer starts with your welding skill.
Rig or no rig, you’ll never get hired or stay hired unless you can pass a code welding test for the company that puts you to work. There’s a “Catch 22” here. (FYI, if you don’t know what a Catch 22 is, rent or stream the movie). They will NOT invite you to test to weld pipe for them unless you have first certified as a 6G pipe welder somewhere else. What this means:
You’re going to have to get your first 6G welding certification on your own, somewhere.
If you’re a good welder now, and you think you can pass a 6G test, you can normally find a Certified Welding Inspector – a CWI (under the American Welding Society – AWS) at one of the junior colleges who’ll certify you for $300 to $600. Now, you can look for pipe job, but it isn’t over yet.
If you are invited to take a weld test for a pipeline company or an oil rig outfit, and you pass, they still won’t let you weld pipe if you have never field welded pipe before. They will put you on as a helper to a pipe welder. With any luck, that pipe welder will slowly work you in to welding pipe. Once it is evident that you’re not going to be blowing joints, they’ll let you weld fulltime.
Pipe schools are full. Your best bet is to get a good school welding book, and follow that to set up to practice pipe joints at home. You’ll save a ton of time and money. You’ll get more practice in then you would at pipe school.