Figuring out the best MIG welder for your needs will be determined by how much you’re able to spend, what kinds of metal you want to weld, and how frequently you plan on using your welder. Before you hunt Craig’s List for the cheapest MIG welder you can find, keep these important factors in mind.
Power for a MIG Welder
Unless you plan on working on some very thin metal and don’t see yourself welding for a long time each day, you’ll need to get a welder with enough power. Usually a welder like a Millermatic 180 or 211 is about as low as you want to go for power output, with a Millermatic 212 or 252 representing larger welders with more power.
The Size of a MIG Welder
If you need your welder to be portable, a smaller machine that weighs under 40 pounds will be ideal for hauling on your truck or in your van. Larger welding units can weigh up to 80 pounds and will need a cart in order to move them around your shop conveniently. Even if you buy a light welder, a cart is a good idea for conveniently storing and using your MIG welder in your shop.
Duty Cycle for a MIG Welder
The duty cycle for a MIG welder is the number of minutes it can weld within a ten minute time frame. Unless you plan on welding all day and require a 100% duty cycle, a 60% duty cycle (6 minutes of welding for every ten before the welder needs to cool) will be enough to accomplish most jobs.
Wire and Shielding Gas for a MIG Welder
Many MIG welders use a solid wire and shielding gas in order to protect the weld from impurities. The shielding gas represents an ongoing expense that will last as long as you want to weld. In addition, shielding gas only works if you’re welding indoors or if there’s no breeze outside.
Some welders prefer to use flux cored MIG wire so that they don’t need to buy shielding gas. This can save money, but it will create a sloppy weld that needs to be cleaned off when you’re done. Some welders think this is a good trade off, but others prefer to use shielding gas in order to create a “stack of dimes” look for their welds.
It’s also possible to use flux cored MIG wire with shielding gas in order to protect your weld more completely. The shielding gas makes it easier to chip away any slag on the finished weld.
Get the Right Accessories for a MIG Welder
If you plan on welding aluminum, a spool gun accessory for a MIG welder is essential because the aluminum electrode wire tends to bunch up in the wire feeder. A spool gun that attaches to the MIG torch feeds the aluminum wire right into the torch and provides for a smooth welding experience.
Does MIG Welder Brand Matter?
So long as you buy a top name brand, you’re going to do fine with your welder. Some brands to consider are Lincoln, Miller, ESAB, Hobart, and Thermal Arc. As you consider brands, ask around for reviews from welders you trust and look into which company offers the best service and guarantee. Since welders are a life-long investment that use a lot of electrical current, they are one investment where you don’t want to cut corners.
Learn more about how to choose a welder at Baker’s Gas and Welding.