How to Buy a MIG Welder with Enough Power
A MIG welder is an ideal machine for a wide variety of fabricating jobs at home or in a welding shop. The typical hobby welder who gets to work on his projects on the weekends may not want to shell out the $1700 for a premier MIG welder that provides a wide range of options for welding materials, but then again, no one wants to buy a welder at half the cost if it doesn’t have enough power for a typical weekend project. When should you spring for the expensive MIG welder that offers 230V and when is 115V/120V good enough?
Image Source: Baker’s Gas and Welding
Using some specs from Miller’s Millermatic MIG welders as a rough guide, here are some comparisons of the power options offered by different kinds of MIG welders:
Material Thickness for a MIG Welder
If you’re trying to figure out how much power you’ll need in a MIG welder, a good place to start is the kind of material you plan on welding. You can manage to weld 1/8” thick metal with a 115V unit, but once you start working on 3/8” thick metal, you’ll need to consider a MIG welder with more power. Typically a 115V MIG welder won’t have enough power to effectively weld 3/8” metal, though some have been willing to give it a shot!
A 230V unit will have enough power to effectively join the metals together. Multiple passes with a lighter duty machine won’t work as well.
Duty Cycle for a MIG Welder
A duty cycle is the amount of time a welder can run within a ten minute cycle. It’s common for an affordable 115V machine to have a 20-30% duty cycle, which means it can run for 2-3 minutes for every ten before it needs to stop for cooling. On the other hand, there are some more expensive MIG welders that provide 230V of power and operate at a 60% duty cycle.
The difference between a 115V welder and 230V welder will be around $300-$800 depending on the features you want. A longer duty cycle and more power make for a very versatile welder than can handle whatever you want to do, but you do pay for that expanded performance.
The Best of Both MIG Welders
You can pay a little more for a MIG welder that offers both 115V and 230V. This provides more power and versatility and may be the best option if you aren’t quite sure what you’ll be working on and can afford to invest in a slightly more expensive unit. The one drawback is that you may lose some of your duty cycle when operating at 230V.
Of course each brand’s welder will differ slightly from one model to another. However, when it comes to power, the big question will be what kind of material you want to work on, especially its thickness.