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One of the most frustrating challenges of MIG welding is having your progress come to a screeching halt because of a tangled wire, often referred to as a birds nest. It can happen anywhere from the drive roll to the contact tip and brings your productivity to a grinding halt while you cut, remove, re-feed and re-start. The good news is that with the proper setup and maintenance, MIG wire kinking can be greatly reduced. But to properly fix it, the first step is to figure out what’s causing it. Here’s our how-to guide for fixing the top five causes of bird nesting.

1. Improper Feed Wire Setup

It’s important to have your feed wire set up for success from the moment it leaves the reel. Think of it as the great over/under toilet paper debate -- you want the wire coming off of the roll to remain as straight as possible, without any kinks or bends. If your drive rollers are at the top of your welder, the wire should exit at the top, and vice versa. Welders are widely different in how they are assembled, so be sure to follow your manufacturer’s guide.

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2. Incorrect Tension Settings

Having too much -- or too little -- tension on your wire is the second common cause of bird nesting. It’s a tricky fix that requires combination of technical specs and good old-fashioned instinct, but with a little trial and error you can find your machine’s sweet spot. To check your current setup, look for “teeth marks” on the wire that’s coming out of your nozzle -- if you have them, you need less tension. If the wire is slipping, you need more.

There are a few ways to set your drive rollers. One approach is to lay the gun out straight and feed the wire through. Then, feed the wire into a wooden block or metal plate until the drive rolls slip. At that point, tighten the drive rolls a half-turn more. (You can also feed the wire into the palm of your glove, just make sure that it’s well-padded and that the wire is bent over at the end so it’s not too sharp.)

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The one thing you don’t want to do is to crank down on the tension setting knob with pliers.

MIG Troubleshooting

3. The Wrong Rollers

It’s a misconception that any type of drive roller can feed any type of wire, and using a mismatched combination can lead to bird-nesting, slippage or damage to the wire (and eventually the liner). The general rule is to use V-grooved rollers for solid wire, U-grooved rollers for aluminum or other soft metals, and V-knurled rollers for flux-core to give it that little extra push. From there, consult your owner’s manual for the correct roller size.

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4. A Dirty Liner

Your liner can develop issues over time that lead to bird-nesting, including buildup and incorrect tension and often, a dirty liner is caused by dirty or rusty wire, but also happens over time with the wire shaving against the liner. Ensure that your wire is clean by taking it out of your welder at the end of each job and storing it indoors in a dry place. In addition, blow out your liner with compressed air. It’s arguably your most important consumable, so a good maintenance and replacement schedule can go a long way to keeping your gun in top shape.

5. Incorrect Tip Size

The wire can run smoothly all the way to the nozzle, and then experience pushback as it exits the gun if the tip is incorrectly sized or blocked with slag. If the wire stops but the feeder keeps going, a bird nest quickly follows. And even 1/100’th of an inch can make a difference when it comes to precision welding, so check your tip diameter to make sure that it’s correct for your wire. If it’s giving you trouble, try going up one size.

For more tips and tricks, download our free MIG Troubleshooting Guide.

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