For years, the local experts have advised new craftsmen to “buy the best welder you can afford.” The evolution of welding equipment has advanced to the point where buying the most expensive welder on the market probably is not the right choice for you. Your first welder should be one that you can easily master and that can do the specific type of work that you want to do.
Just because you’re Bill Gates and can afford the most expensive welder on the market doesn’t mean you can or should run down to the local welding supply store and order the biggest, baddest, arcing beast you can find.
Welders come in a wide variety of sizes and ranges. For a first time buyer, it can be confusing to know which welder to buy. Our shop is outfitted with Lincoln Electric's Precision TIG 275 Ready Pak (K2618-1), a Power MIG 256 (K3068-1), and Lincoln's Tomahawk 625 (K2807-1) plasma cutter.
We checked in with the experts at Lincoln Electric for some advice for craftsmen buying their first welder and learning how to weld. Lincoln Electric has partnered with powerTV as the key technical welding resource in our project car builds and technical articles as previously discussed in the partnership announcement, “Lincoln Electric helps powerTV put things together.” As we suspected, when we talked to Scott Skrjanc at Lincoln Electric, technology and advice on selecting welders has changed in the past twenty years.
I’d probably recommend a MIG welder as your first machine.
– Scott Skrjanc
Unless your specializing in something like building fuselages for aircraft, your very first choice in welders should probably be a portable MIG welder. “If we were talking twenty years ago, I’d probably say get a stick welder,” said Skrjanc, “but now I’d probably recommend a MIG welder as your first machine.”
Your first welder will be a special purchase. For rebuilders and project repairs, your welder will save time and money, eventually becoming a workhorse in your garage. Buying a welder is a rite of passage for every craftsman.
MIG welders have a consumable wire electrode that is fed through the machine to the welding torch. This type of welder is easy to use and very versatile.
Stick, MIG and TIG? What’s Right For Me?
Looking at the wide varieties of welders, it’s easy to get confused. Arc Welders (traditional stick welders), MIG, TIG and even Oxy fuel welding equipment can complicate the choice.
Welding processes can initially be broken down into two distinct types; gas welding and electric Welding. Because gas welding requires a little bit more practice to become proficiently skilled, most novice craftsmen would be better served by buying a portable electric welder.
Electric welders operate by an electric arc rather than burning gas for the heat source. The three most common types of electric welding; Stick welding, MIG and TIG, are all done with electricity but with some differences in the processes. Stick welding and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), commonly referred to as TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding, require a little more skill and probably won’t be the first choice for a novice welder.
Weld bead created by the MIG welding process.
Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding or Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) is the most common industrial welding process, preferred for its versatility, speed and relative ease. With this welding process, an electric arc is formed between a consumable wire electrode and the workpiece metal, which heats the workpiece metal, causing the two to melt and join. Along with the wire electrode, a shielding gas is fed through the welding gun, which shields the process from contaminants in the air.
Solid Wire with Shielding Gas and Flux Cored Wire
Most wire-feed welders will also work without shielding gas if you install flux-cored wire instead of solid wire in the welder. The flux in the core of this wire protects the weld puddle as it burns instead of the shielding gas that solid wire requires. The choice of shielding gas blends has made a lot of difference to the ease of welding. A blend of Argon/CO2 shielding gas results in easier and neater welds. We covered choosing the correct shielding gas in our recent article; “Selecting the correct shielding gas for MIG welding.”
Craftsmen using shielding gas with solid wire can run into problems when welding outdoors in windy conditions. Wind can blow the shielding gas away from the weld puddle and allow the weld to become contaminated by the atmosphere.
Flux-cored welding can allow for deeper penetration, which means the weld can penetrate thicker material. Flux-cored welding does have more splatter and produces more off-gassing (fumes) but is a very reliable and easy welding process as well. The bottom line is that a good craftsman with lots of practice can make safe welds with either the gas-shielded MIG process or the flux-cored wire process.
What Equipment Do You Need?
Fiquring out what equipment you need is a cinch with Lincoln’s equipment selector program, a new feature on the Lincoln Electric website.
Clicking on the equipment selector, the user is guided to the first fundamental question that needs to be answered, “What type of welding process?” We’ve already discussed that the MIG welding process is the easiest to master and the wire feed welders works in any welding position.
Seated, standing, or even lying on your back under your hot rod, the MIG welder will produce great results. Many of the electric welders offered by Lincoln Electric are portable and will operate off of the AC current found in home garages which make them ideal for the home project car builder.
Lincoln's equipment selector program helps the first time buyer find the right machine. Simply choose what welding process, what voltage you have available, what type of material you will be welding and the thickness of the material.
Select view recommendations and you will be rewarded with several machines capable of handling the task. From here it is a matter of budget and how much more do you want to be capable of in the future.
Most craftsmen considering purchasing a welder for the first time will opt to go with the MIG process, but if you are unsure of what process would suit your needs best, you can select the “Not Sure” button in the equipment selector program. Next, you will have to select the input voltage that you have available. If your home garage is wired with normal household 110-120 voltage, you will select that, but if you have a 220 circuit in your garage, it may be a good choice to select the 208-230 button.
The third consideration in Lincoln’s equipment selector is fuel type. Options include gas, diesel, LPG or not sure. This is typically for the larger engine-driven welding units that have their own generator that powers the welder for outdoor use. This is not typically the first time welding unit, so selecting “not sure” is a fair option here. For our home craftsman buying a first welder, it’s unlikely that they will be buying a welder that is powered by anything other than electricity. Supplemental fuels are for the generator/welder combinations.
Power MIG 180 dual MIG welder
120/1/60 or 208/230/1/60
120V: 30-140 Amps DC
230V: 30-180 Amps DC
Solid wire size range .025-.035
Dimensions (H X W X D)14 in x 10.15 in x 18.16 in
Net weight 64 lbs.
Getting Down to the Bottom Line
Now it gets down to the nitty-gritty. You need to decide if you will be welding strictly steel or if you plan on welding aluminum too. There are options for all three of these choices in the equipment selector.
Lastly, you will have to decide what is the maximum thickness of the material that you plan on working with. The options range from .135” to over an inch thick. Most home garage craftsmen will be working with sheet metal, typically around 3/16” thickness or less.
Lincoln’s equipment selector will return a list with several recommended machines based on your selected criteria. If you still have doubts, you can call the service department at 888-935-3877 or leave them a question on Lincoln’s “Ask the Experts” webpage.
We’ve included the details on Lincoln Electric’s Power MIG 180 Dual welder as an example of a welder that will handle almost anything that a home custom car builder can throw at it. Not only will it operate on household 110 voltage but it is also intended for use with 220 voltage. This welder is portable so it can be hauled back and forth from work to home. The unit is spool gun ready in case the user wants to weld on aluminum components and the machine’s internal wire drive and setup is made for ease of use. No tools are required to change wire, drive motor setup or gun changes. Not only is it perfect for a first welder, but it might be the only welder you ever need.
Welders like those found at Lowes or Home Depot and other retail stores are referred to as retail wire feed welders. These are also very good choices for home garage car builders.
For more information on Lincoln’s Retail Wire Feed Welders, watch the video below.
Duty cycle is a term that you will frequently hear when comparing one machine to another. If you are spot welding sheet metal or working on smaller projects, you won’t be too concerned about duty cycle but if you are going to be welding on large projects with the welder on high power settings, you will need to know the duty cycle.
Duty cycle refers to the amount of time you can continuously weld versus the amount of time the welder needs to cool off. The duty cycle is generally expressed in percentage form over a certain period of time. If the welder is rated at 20% over a ten minute period, you can weld continuously at the max power setting for 2 minutes then the machine needs to cool off for 8 minutes before you start welding again.
A warranty is a good thing, especially when electronic components are involved. Skrjanc reminded us that “Lincoln offers a three year warranty” to help keep their customers covered. When shopping for a welder, it’s completely fair to consider all the extras, like a long warranty, before making the purchase.
Skrjanc reminded us that gas and wire are things that a wire-fed welder will use up as you weld. Contact tips and gun nozzles also need to be replaced from time to time. A smart project car builder will want to factor these costs into his welding budget. “You can pick up most of our consumables at a local retail store,” said Skrjanc. That takes away some of the concern about availability of replacement parts which can be a huge deal when you run out of wire or need a new tip on Sunday and the local welding store is closed.
One of the nice things about Lincoln Electric’s Power MIG retail packages is that they come complete. “It’s a complete package and comes with everything you need minus the gas,” says Skrjanc adding, “I know we’re eager to get started, but the first thing you need to do is read the instruction manual.” Great advice considering that each welder has its own operational parameters. Without knowing what those parameters are, you could be inviting trouble, so making sure you have a manual and reading through it is a necessity.
The arc produced by welding is more intense than the rays from the sun. Protecting your skin and eyes from burns are necessary under every circumstance. Lincoln's Red Line trade marked protective equipment offers so many choices that expressing your individuality while still being protected is not a problem.
PPE or “Protect Yourself at all Times”
PPE (personal protective equipment) is another factor to consider. Don’t cheat yourself here. The least expensive gloves probably won’t be the most comfortable or provide the best protection – and you will need hand protection. Likewise you will need skin protection. Long sleeve shirts will protect you against some of the UV exposure but do very little to protect against sparks and splatter. A good pair of leather boots won’t burn through as easily as nylon or canvas tennis shoes. Remember not to tuck your pants into the boots. Hot metal can get trapped between your pant’s leg and the boot.
Remember those UV rays we talked about? Staring at the intense light created by welding produces UV rays that can cause eye damage. The brilliant light from the electrical arc alone is enough to do some irritating damage to your eyes. Getting the right helmet for the type of welding that you are doing is essential. For example, gas welding goggles will not suffice for MIG welding.
We want to stress it again, do not cheat yourself on safety equipment. “Helmets that are more expensive will probably be lighter and have features like auto-darkening shields,” says Skrjanc. These features add to comfort and ultimately a comfortable craftsman produces a better weld than a hobbyist that is fighting with or irritated by his equipment.
Don't forget welding gloves. Not only do they protect you from welding splatter, the heat created by welding can leave bare hands a nasty reminder of how hot metal can get.
While you are likely to have a price in mind, one that fits in your budget, when you are purchasing you first welder it is important to consider all the factors that we mentioned above. The key to success is picking the machine that is best suited for the functions you are going to be doing. If you are planning on welding thicker material, select a welder that has more power and amperage.
Don’t forget to calculate the cost of accessories and consumables that you will need to operate your welder. Above all else, make sure you get the appropriate personal protective equipment. A good helmet, nice gloves, protective welding jacket and welding cap are money well spent.
Then it’s all about practice. It’s like the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice!