Choosing the Right Drive Roll – A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Being a professional welder, the basic job for you is to make some perfect welds with the best bead appearance and profile possible to earn some money. For making some smooth wire feeds, selecting the right drive roll must be your major concern. We are going to provide you some guidelines and tips to obtain smooth wire feeds and prevent maximum downtime.


Drive rolls feed the wire smoothly from the wire spool to the gun cable. Sometimes, certain welders tighten the drive roll too tight which causes arc instability and burn-back. Even if the tension is too low, the wire feed will cause slippage.

Drive roll for MIG Welder
Source: National Welding

The first step to set the proper tension conditions for the drive roll is to release any kind of tension on the drive roll formed. When you are feeding the wire into the woodblock, increase the tension slowly one-half turn by one-half each time the drive roll is changed.

Each type of drive roll requires specific treatment for the wire feed used. V-knurled drive rolls are used with gas and self-shielded flux-cored and metal-cored wires as they are softer because of their tubular design. When you use a V-groove roll, you need a solid wire feed. U-groove rolls are used with aluminum and other soft metal wires.

Hence, it is understood from these facts the choosing the correct type of drive roll is essential for improving welding productivity, quality, and efficiency. Moreover, you can save a huge amount of time and money on the troubleshooting and maintenance work on these items.

Let me guess. You might have a lot of questions that arose in your mind right now like: What exactly is a wire feeding issue? What causes these wire feeding issues? And can we troubleshoot these wire feeding issues? I will clear your doubts with my answers.

Drive roll Birdnesting
Source: Welding Productivity

The certain issues that a welder might face are issues with feed ability, birdnesting, burn-back, and clogging of the MIG gun liner. These are known as wire feeding issues and are caused due to poor drive roll quality, improper tension of the wire feed, and so on. We can troubleshoot them and we will talk about it later. But what about its effects on the quality of the weld?

Expensive downtime and maintenance, excessive spatter production, and other defects in the weld as well as bead profile.


Choosing the right drive roll

The most common drive rolls used for semi-automatic welding processes are V-knurled, V-groove, and U-groove.

  • V-knurled: These drive rolls are only used with self-shielded and gas-filled, flux-cored, and metal-cored wires as these are tubular and soft drive rolls. As the name says it all, the drive roll has a teeth-like structure that digs into the wire and needs a huge amount of force to push hard into the feeder system and gun cable. It is recommended to use it with solid wires as they clog the liner with debris due to the shavings and impact the feeder system quite a lot negatively.
  • V-groove: These drive rolls are solid-wire specific. As they are much stiffer than ‘V-knurled’ drive rolls, you can easily push these drive rolls and feed better.
  • U-groove: You can use them with aluminum wires and other soft materials. The U-groove helps in maintaining the round shape of the wire when feeding it through the liner slowly.


Drive roll:

There are several options and parameters of a drive roll that must be kept in mind to select the best-in-class drive roll.

  • The drive roll must always match the wire size accurately. For example, if the wire has a diameter of 0.045 inches, then the drive roll must also have 0.045 inches of diameter.
  • You must have got a good idea about the type of drive roll needed as per the wire you use. It may be V-knurled, V-groove, U-groove, or U-knurled. FYI, the ‘groove’ term defines the geometry and shape of the drive roll while the term ‘knurled’ defines the finish of the groove used.
  • Next and the most important parameter is the ‘tension’ which must be set accurately perfect for the type of wire used. This ensures proper pushing of the wire through the liner without any deformation in its shape.
  • It is recommended to check for any issues or damages with the drive rolls whenever the spool of wire is put on.
  • Lifesaver Tip: If you have trouble in feeding the cored wire properly inside, using a U-shaped drive roll on top along with a V-shaped knurled drive roll on the bottom can be a great way to push the wire through by the teeth on the bottom and the smooth drive roll on the top protects it from further damages.


  • You need to first install smooth V-groove drive rollers for the solid wire. Once you have installed all the drive rolls, you can slowly insert and feed the wire.
  • Feed the wire through the inlet guide, intermediate guide, and lastly via the back of the power pin. Once that is done, you can close the feeder housing.
  • Once you have made it out through the welding gun, make sure you have an appropriate stick-out link.
  • Now is the time to tune the tension settings as per the requirement properly.
  • For aluminum and other metal-cored and flux-cored products, it is essential to have a higher tension setting with the solid wire used.
  • Using a glove on one of your hands, curl the wire into a small ball and if you are successful in doing 2-3 turns of such, then it ensures you that you have set the perfect drive roll tension with the right amount of pressure.

Best Practices

If you follow some key steps and measures for the wire feeding that you do before beginning your welding process, then you can prevent excessive spatter production, downtime, and large maintenance costs. Let us look at some of the best practices that one must follow for a good wire feed:

  • Selecting the right type of drive roll along with the right size that matches the diameter of the wire used.
  • Set the right drive roll tension. High tension and pressure cause birdnesting, burn-back, and wire deformation while too low of tension causes wire spillage and huge wastage of time and money.
  • Use the inlet and intermediate guide that come along with most feeders today in order to properly guide your wires into the drive rolls without meeting with any sort of trouble later.
  • Regular cleaning of the drive rolls using a wire brush can be a great way to improve the weld quality and performance of your drive roll when you have a lot of welding work and regularly use it.
  • Never forget the fact that drive rolls are as important as liners that produce a smooth and consistent experience in wire feeding and welding performance.