Buying a MIG welder is typically the first type of welding machine beginners choose. This is because MIG welding techniques are easy to learn. Also, a MIG welder is straightforward to use because you can operate it with one hand. It creates clean, precise welds on various metal types, including thinner metal. But how to choose a MIG welder.
If you are just getting started welding, choosing the right MIG welder can be tricky. There are many things to think about — voltage, amperage, and thickness of metal. So, buying the right MIG welder for the sort of welding you will be doing is essential.
What to Consider before Buying a Welder
Think about your budget before Buying a Welder.
It may be tempting to buy the cheapest welder you can find. After all, you can find welders online for under $100. However, even if you plan to take up welding as an occasional hobby, a cheap welder may not even last your first job.
If you are a DIY enthusiast who wants a MIG welder for a home workshop, you should budget between $300 and $500. For that price, you can buy a quality MIG welding machine that will handle most welding jobs you will be doing. But, of course, if you know you will be welding thicker pieces of metal, stainless steel, or aluminum, then you will need to budget more.
This article is a comprehensive guide to choosing a MIG welder. You will find helpful tips on selecting the correct type of welder for your welding jobs. Additionally, if you are a beginner, you will get advice on which MIG welder is best for starting out.
Tips on What You Need To Know Before Buying a MIG Welder
If you are investing a few hundred dollars, you want to be sure you are buying a good welder. Your primary considerations are budget, input power voltage, welding amperage, and duty cycle. Then it is also vital to ensure the welder comes with a good warranty.
Here are the top tips on choosing a MIG welder to make the welding process as effortless as possible.
Buying a MIG welder — budget
For most beginner welder enthusiasts, budget is the most significant consideration. You need to find a MIG welder suitable for the types of metals you plan to work on. Also, it’s worth buying a welder with options to add additional welding equipment later. However, you don’t want to spend money on specs you will never use.
Tip 1 — Quality tools don’t come cheap, and the same goes for welding equipment.
MIG welder amperage — a crucial consideration
After determining a budget, the next factor to consider is amperage. A greater number of amps and volts equals more heat and power for your welder. With more heat, you can weld thicker metals and create beautiful welds on stainless steel and aluminum.
If you buy a MIG welding gun that lacks enough amps for your needs, you may find yourself struggling to complete jobs quickly and efficiently
Tip 2 — It’s better to spend a bit extra now on a MIG welder rather than having to replace the machine later because it doesn’t meet your needs.
Choosing the correct voltage for a MIG welder
For most beginners, buying a 115-Volt or 120-Volt MIG welder is suitable for a home workshop. However, you must ensure that the connection is grounded and has a 20A or 30A fuse for protection. This allows the welder to operate at maximum capacity.
If you plan to work on thicker metals over 1/4 inch in size, you will need to invest in getting a 230V circuit installed. A larger 230V welder will tackle tough welding jobs like aluminum and stainless steel welding.
Tip 3— If you are a beginner, a MIG welder running on 110 – 120 volts is ideal. However, remember to have a dedicated electrical circuit for welding; otherwise, the weld gun will stop and start and cause spatter.
Spool gun capacity for a Welder
One of the best tips for buying a MIG welder is to make sure it has spool gun capacity. Even though you may not need one at the outset, if you think you will weld stainless steel or aluminum in the future, then a spool gun is necessary. The best choice is a welder with at least 140V amperage MIG gun with the option to attach a spool gun later.
Do you need a MIG Welder with a Gas Regulator?
A gas regulator is necessary when MIG welding. The regulator should have one or two dials to show the level of gas in the cylinder. Usually, MIG welders come with at least one dial. However, some cheaper models may not have these. You will also need to ensure and buy one with a suitable regulator for the type of gas you plan on using — common shielding gases are argon or carbon dioxide.
Tip 4— Always buy a welding machine with a dual-dial regulator.
How To Choose the Right MIG Welder for Your Welding Job
When selecting a MIG welder, it is crucial to consider the type of welding task you will be doing. MIG welders use a wire electrode that automatically feeds through the weld gun. The electrical current creates heat, melting the metals to create a weld puddle that forms a quality, clean weld.
When buying a MIG welder, there are two types to choose from —gas metal arc welding (GMAW) and flux-cored arc welding (FCAW). Most MIG welders have the capacity for flux-cored welding and gas MIG welding.
The difference is that inert gas welding uses a shielding gas to protect the weld pool from contaminates. On the other hand, flux-cored MIG welding uses a flux-cored wire that produces an inert gas shield as the electrode wire burns off.
Typically, gas MIG welding is the best all-around type of welding. It is excellent for auto repairs, welding sheet metal, repairing bicycles, and welding aluminum and stainless steel. The downside of welding with a gas MIG welder is that it’s not useful outdoors as the gas shielding is ineffective in windy conditions.
The obvious advantage of flux-cored MIG welding is that you can weld outdoors in windy conditions. Also, you don’t have to hook up gas cylinders when welding. However, the welds on thin metals and aluminum are inferior compared to gas MIG welding.
Tip 5 — A gas metal arc MIG welder is the best option if you plan to work indoors. Also, most auto repairs use thinner materials, so choose a MIG welder that can perform well at 22 gauge.
What To Look For When Buying a MIG Welder as a Beginner
By now, you should have a good idea about what to look for when choosing a MIG welder. However, there are a few other things to think about if you want to buy a quality welder. So here are some helpful tips when purchasing a MIG welder online.
Amperage and Metal Thickness of MIG Welder
The total amperage of a MIG welder determines the material thickness that can be welded with deep penetration on a single pass. Here is a handy guide about amperage and thickness of metal if you want good weld quality:
- A 140-amp MIG unit — welding thickness up to about 1/4-inch steel
- A 180-amp MIG unit — welding thickness between 3/8-inch and 5/16-inch steel
- A 200-amp MIG unit — welding thickness between 5/16 steel and ½-inch steel
- A 250-amp MIG unit — thicker materials over 1/2-inch
As a rule, you need 1 amp of power output for every 0.0001 inch of steel thickness.
Wire Feeder is Important in the Welding Process
The wire feeder determines how easy the welding process will be. The wire-feed process pushes the electrode wire or flux core wire around 3 feet through the gun handle, hot welding tip, and into the weld puddle. The problem is that the wire feeders tend to be low-quality on small MIG welders and often stick. This results in a slower process and messy welds that look like popcorn.
If you are using hard wires, two roll feeders are ideal. These will easily feed steel wires, resulting in a smooth welding process. However, if you plan to use softer aluminum filler wire, you should ensure there are four feeders, not just two.
Duty cycle — why is this important?
When looking to buy a MIG welder online, you will come across the specification duty cycle. This spec is given as a percentage and refers to how long the welder can operate before overheating. So what does the percentage of duty cycle mean?
A 30 percent duty cycle means you can weld continuously for three minutes during a 10-minute period. Then you will have to stop welding and wait for the gun to cool down. Sometimes, you may have to wait for up to 15 minutes before you can resume welding.
If you want longer welds, you could invest in a MIG welder with an air-cooled gun or water-cooled gun. However, these are typically only for industrial applications.
Choosing a MIG Welder — In Conclusion
Before buying a MIG welder, it’s crucial to determine what kind of welding jobs you plan to do. Then it would be best if you chose a machine with sufficient amperage for your needs.
Once you buy your MIG welder, you will find that it is easy to master the art of welding. Like using a hot glue gun, you pull the trigger and start. In no time, you will master the basic processes of welding and produce quality welds you are proud of.