Common Drive Roll Problems & How to Avoid Them

This Friendly Welding Series comes to a halt with the common problem MIG welders face when they use drive rolls. Drive rolls are quite specific and are essential to feed the consumable wire feeds. As of now, there are three major types of drive rolls available to facilitate welding with certain kinds of metallic substances and their welding parameters. They are:

  • V-Groove: This type of drive roll is used to weld hard wires like steel and stainless steel. As penetration levels are low, it does not damage the copper coating on the wires.
  • U-Groove: Generally aluminum and its wielded wires are clean and free of lubricants making it intense and hard to weld. Hence, U-groove drive rolls are used to have a controlled amount of spillage and tension on the wire feed used. It also prevents the issue of bird-nesting.
  • Knurled Drive Roll: This drive roll is used for flux-cored metals.
Drive roll for MIG Welder
Source: National Welding

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.

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.

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.


  • 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.

Wire Feed Qualities

  • Most of the professional welders generally replace the MIG gun liner after every 100 kilograms of usage which is absolutely necessary. It is true that a liner wears after several hours of use and is considered to be a service supplement/peripheral item. It is quite inexpensive though.
  • The common sizes of wire reels are 1kg, 5kg, and 15kg. The 5kg and 15kg reels have different widths and diameters but have a similar type of mounting. These wire reels are for high-budget and large-scaled projects which is meant only for professional welders.
  • Wire liners are available in three materials- steel, Teflon, and plastic. The steel wire liners are the preferred ones as they are reliable and tough in nature which is majorly used in mild steel wire manufacturing. Teflon and plastic liners are used for aluminum and other softer metals.


Incorrect Tension Settings

Having the right amount of technical knowledge and your instinct from your experience, with a little bit of inquisitive and experiment you can find the best tension settings to match your machine’s welding parameters to the wire used. It has to match the material and thickness of the wire used.

Improper Wire Feed

The wire feed setup is a pre-requisite for any welding process and must be verified at least two times maximum to ensure good-quality welds. The wire coming out of the liner via the power-pin must be straight enough without any bends or kinds in it. If you have your drive rollers installed at the top end of your welder, then the wire must come out from the top and so on.

Incorrect Drive Roller

The biggest misconception that welders have is that one drive roller of a kind can be compatible with any type and thickness of wire feed which is totally incorrect. This is the reason most of the users who have drive rollers installed properly still face issues like bird-nesting, slippage, and damages to the wire feed system.

Dirty Liner

The liner that you use can develop a lot of dirt and debris in it after regular extensive use without proper maintenance. This majorly causes wire shaving into the liner. Make sure you always take out the liner and clean it with a wire brush after every weld completion. Blowing the liner with compressed air is another good remedy.

Replacement of Drive Rolls

Drive rolls on the wire feeder tend to wear out and need to be replaced every once in a while. It is quite prominent for one to see the wear and damage marks on the grooves of the drive roll.

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.
  • Checking for any changes in the tension parameters of the drive roll is quite easy. Using your thumb, pinch the wire as the wire exits from the wire feed system. If the wire can be stopped using your thumb easily, then you need to increase the drive roll tension. The optimum tension level is reached once there is no stoppage in the feeding of the wire while the wire is pinched.