MIG (metal inert gas) welding is a great method for new welders to start with, but it’s not limited to “beginner” applications. It’s commonly used for:
- Hobby projects
- Automotive manufacturing and repair
- Industrial metal fabricating
- Any metal joining work that does not require fine or art-quality welds
But if you are just diving into welding, how do you choose a MIG welder that will meet your needs? Here’s what you should know so you can find the best one for your welding use.
How will you use your MIG welder?
Are you getting into MIG welding as a hobby, or will you be working in metal fabrication on a regular basis? Do you need a unit that can deliver long or fast welding runs?
What kind of budget do you have?
Even if money is no object, it’s wise to choose your MIG welder based on your needs. If you need the power that only a high-end and top-of-the-budget tool can deliver, then it doesn’t make sense to get a lesser model. But if you will only use the welder for occasional jobs that don’t require an advanced setup, it also doesn’t make sense to buy a model designed for the metal fabricating professional. Also consider any important add-ons and how they will add to the cost.
What materials will you work with?
If you will work only with one type of metal (such as thin gauges of mild steel), a lighter-duty welder may be adequate. But if you work with thicker stock or other materials like stainless steel or aluminum, you’ll need a more powerful machine.
After you’ve evaluated your general needs, now it’s on to specifics.
More power might always sound like a good thing, but it’s not quite that simple. Welding output voltage is measured in amperage (amps). The more amps, the more power—and heat—you can work with. High amperage is necessary for welding thicker materials, but it also requires more input voltage to run. If you’re home’s or shop’s power is limited to a 110V line, you won’t be able to run a 230-volt welder (a 220V power supply is necessary). But if you’re regularly working with multiple materials or stock thicker than 1/4 inch, then upgrading your power supply to handle a higher-voltage MIG welder will be necessary.
For short and occasional welding tasks, low duty cycle isn’t likely an issue. But for lengthier usage, choose a welder that will allow you to work efficiently with minimal downtime. Duty cycle is expressed as a percentage relative to 10 minutes of time. So a duty cycle of 30% means the welder can run up to 3 minutes continuously over the course of 10 minutes before it needs to be rested to prevent overheating. That resting time can be another 10 minutes or more, so a higher duty cycle can be important if you expect a lot of continuous usage.
If you will always work with one type of material, you can choose a machine that will fit that need. But if even occasionally you will work with other types of metal and a variety of gauges, choose a machine—and accessories—that the welder will support. If you’ll work with aluminum, spool gun capability will make the work much easier, so you’ll want to budget the spool gun into your cost. Regulators, consumables, and additional gas hoses (if you need different lengths) are other items that may or may not be included with the unit but can be helpful (or even critical) to your welding success.
Where to Start
A welding hobbyist needing a lighter-duty MIG welder would find a machine like the Weldmark Inverter MIG Welder to be perfect for home or garage use. A flexible welder, it supports solid and flux core wires, is spool gun capable for thin aluminum, and includes the gas hose and regulator. It runs on household voltage outputting up to 140 amps, and supports materials from 24 gauge to 3/16 inch thickness. For professional and heavier-duty applications, the Fronius TransSteel 2200 3-in-1 Multi-Process Compact Welding Machine can connect to both 110V and 220V outputting up to 230 amps. Both units are quite portable at just over 30 pounds each (the Weldmark is 31lbs and the Fronius is 34lbs).