How to Choose a Welder
A welder is a long term investment where many find that they get what they pay for. While it is sometimes advisable to test the waters with a used model, picking the right machine the first time around can save a lot of headaches and cash in the long term. No one wants a used welder to fail in the middle of a big job or to discover that a used welder's price can help make ends meet but the welder itself can't make two pieces of metal meet.
The best welder will complete every project that comes down the pike and minimizes limitations. This means that the most expensive welder is not always the best for each situation. However, the cheapest welding machine that can't handle every job a welder hopes to accomplish fails to pay for itself in ways that make it worthwhile to review the possible options before investing in a welder.
The Work Determines the Welder
One of the most important questions to consider when selecting a welder isn't what projects it will be used for in the next week, month, or even year. Those interested in buying a welder need to ask if they see themselves using it more frequently in the future for many different kinds of projects.
They'll want to ask themselves, “Am I the kind of person who learns how to use a tool for as many projects as possible or am I only interested in using tools for certain projects?” In other words, using a welder for many other projects in the future will mean looking into purchasing a welder that operates with more power and has a longer duty cycle—both of which will be explained below.
In addition, each kind of welder has its limitations and benefits. For example, a MIG welder is extremely easy to use and quite versatile, but some welders find TIG welders even more versatile and useful for a broader range of applications, even if they are more difficult to learn. MIG, TIG, and Stick welders will be compared below , though before purchasing a welder, it is best to consult a professional to ensure it meets your specific needs. Contact a professional at Baker's Gas and Welding now.
MIG Welders are extremely popular because they tend to cost less than TIG or Stick welders with comparable power and features, are extremely easy to learn, and can tackle a wide variety of projects. Since the filler metal is fed through the MIG welding torch, welders can use both hands to hold the torch steady rather than using one hand to add filler metal, as in TIG welding. The wire feeder also makes MIG welding up to four times faster.
The MIG welding process uses an inert gas to shield the weld and to keep it free from impurities. This makes MIG welding very neat and easy to clean up since there isn't anything to chip away, which is typical for Stick welding.
MIG welding can be used on a wide variety of materials such as aluminum and is also frequently used for automotive work. However, MIG also requires the purchase of shielding gas and generally requires materials that cost more when compared to other methods.
When appearance counts, TIG welding creates a high quality, clean weld that is far less likely to distort the metal by using a nonconsumable tungsten electrode. There is no need to worry about splatter because it only uses the necessary amount of filler metal needed in the welding puddle, making for the highest quality weld in every respect.
However, TIG is fairly specialized and requires a good deal of training in order to master it—so make sure any TIG welder purchase is paired with a plan to take welding classes. Instead of the point and shoot simplicity of MIG welding, TIG requires the use of a foot pedal to regulate the welding process. A filler rod that is separate from the torch that must be fed in gradually.
Many professional welders prefer TIG because it can weld a wide variety of metals and because of the versatility of argon gas used during TIG welding. There is no slag to block the view of the weld puddle. Argon gas can weld any metal at any thickness with TIG welding, and therefore there is no need to change the gas depending on the project.
Stick welding is one of the most effective techniques for fusing alloys and joints, but it is also the least efficient. The process utilizes a consumable stick electrode that works anywhere, inside or outside, and the welding process is quite simple. However, the weld is not protected by a shielding gas. Rather, the electrode is coated with flux that covers the weld and protects it. This layer must be chipped away when the weld is completed.
Because it doesn't require shielding gas, stick welding remains popular and cost-effective. It's also the most convenient since a welder can easily switch from one metal work piece to another by changing the filler metal rod in order to match it to the metal work piece.
Welders with a higher power output can work with thicker metals, but higher voltage welders will require special power supply set ups—either generators or appropriate power outlets. A welder with lower voltage in the 100's will not be able to handle heavy duty jobs, but it can be plugged in and operated from any outlet. Any welder with power over 200 cannot run off a typical power outlet and will naturally cost more to run.
In addition, welders will either run an alternating current (AC) that reverses itself at regular intervals or a direct current (DC) that flows in one direction and does not reverse itself. DC offers a steady rate of energy that leads to hotter temperatures and deeper weld penetration.
AC welders usually cost less than DC welders, but the available electrodes are far more limited for AC. In fact, DC welders are more costly but remain popular because their higher power offers a wider selection of electrodes and a number of working advantages such as: simple arc striking, better penetration, and improved control. Welders who expect to work on a wide variety of projects may want to consider an AC/DC combination welder.
Choosing the Right Duty Cycle
A duty cycle is the length of time a welder can run before it needs to be turned off in order to cool. The less expensive welders have shorter duty cycles, while the more expensive welders have longer duty cycles—some can even run continuously at a 100% duty cycle.
Longer duty cycles are critical when welding thicker metals that require more time on task. For home and hobby welders, a duty cycle may not be as important a factor as it would be for professional welders in a shop.
Learn More About the Brands
The top brands that are mentioned frequently in welding circles include Lincoln, Miller, and ESAB. Some welders have also had good experiences with Thermal Arc, Hobart, Kempii, and Fronius. When discussing which brand to choose, one welder commented, “Why are some people Ford guys, and others Chevy or Dodge? It amounts to about the same thing.”
There are welders who have had bad experiences with each brand, but generally speaking, most problems can be avoided by choosing a top name brand. When choosing among supposed equals, it may be most important to choose one that can be easily serviced and supplied nearby. Oftentimes the best choice is the welder that keeps you on task, rather than driving across state lines in search of a repair shop or welding supplies.
Where to Purchase a Welder
Baker's Gas and Welding offers free shipping on some welders and competitive prices on many of the leading brands such as Miller, Lincoln, and ESAB. While beginner's uncertain about how much welding they plan to do can usually find a suitable used welder, those interested in a long-term investment will find extensive research, manuals, and article links on the product pages. Review welders at Baker's Gas and Welding.
Resources and Articles
- Baker's Welding Machine Selector
- Ten Tips to Reduce Your Welding Costs
- How to Stick Weld
- The Best Electrode for the Beginning Arc Welder
- Miller's MIG Welder Selection Guide
- Advice on Buying a Welder
- Buying Used Welding Machines
- Advice on Buying a Welder
- How to Buy a Welder
Written Exclusively for Baker's Gas and Welding by Ed Cyzewski