You are excited about welding – great! Researching welders online might be your next step, but you most likely find hundreds of different options for welders, including different polarities, different amperages, and different duty cycles, and you may become overwhelmed with information.
You are not alone. The welding equipment market is typically geared towards experienced welders since that is where most sales originate. Therefore, it can be challenging to decide on which welder you should buy as your first one.
Should you spend a lot of money? Should you buy a TIG welder or a MIG welder? This article will step you through the decision process in order to guide you through to your first welder purchase.
Let’s first start by defining the different welding technologies which we will be discussing, Stick, MIG, and TIG welding technologies:
Stick Welding, also known as Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)
A type of welding which involves a simple welding machine set up with the electrode negative and the workpiece positive polarities.
The electrode consists of a handle which is a spring-loaded clamp holding onto a welding rod. The welding rod is consumable and consists of a metal core with a dry casing, which when melted becomes the shielding for the weld puddle.
The shielding stays on top of the puddle, and once the weld is complete the same shielding is called “slag” and must be removed manually, typically by chipping it away using a special hammer designed for this purpose.
The resulting weld is very strong and is often used to join together heavy duty industrial items such as pipes, plates and I-beams.
MIG Welding (Metal Inert Gas), also known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)
A type of welding process in which the welding arc occurs between a consumable wire and the work piece. The welding arc melts the consumable wire, which is continually fed through the handle which the user controls with a trigger.
The consumable wire is fed into the weld pool and can build up the weld to the required specification based on the machine setting and the user’s technique.
In order to achieve a clean weld, a shielding gas is used. The most common shielding gas for MIG welding is carbon dioxide, mainly due to its lower cost when compared with argon or helium.
TIG Welding (Tungsten Inert Gas), also known as Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)
A type of welding process in which the welding arc occurs between a tungsten electrode and the work piece. The tungsten electrode is held in a collet inside of the welding torch.
The user holds the tungsten electrode approximately an eighth of an inch away from the work piece to keep the arc constantly forming the weld puddle. The user can weld with or without out a consumable filler rod which is manually dipped into the weld puddle.
Skill and technique are key to a cosmetically appealing TIG weld bead since the process is manually controlled.
Whereas fusion TIG welding does not require any filler and just a technique of waving the torch back and forth across work pieces being joined, producing a weld with filler rod requires pulsing of the foot pedal and dipping the filler rod into the weld puddle with one hand and holding the torch with the other hand – a technique requiring serious coordination of the operator’s foot, both hands, and eyes.
(For the following 4 questions select A, B, C, or D and remember your answer.)
Question 1: What is Your Welding Application?
This is the first exploratory step to deciding which welder you need to ultimately purchase. This step involves thinking about what you will be using your welder for most of the time.
If you are going to be using your welder most of the time for one application in particular, you should not get a welder which is suited for a different application all together.
Below are three general applications categories which beginner welders frequently decide on. Don’t worry if your application does not fit in one of these areas, you can simply choose the one which fits your application the best.
Welder Used as a Repair Tool for Items on Your Property
If you have a property which has farm implements, tractors, trailers, or fencing, then this category would most likely fit your application the best.
This application category suits repairing items which are typically outside, in less than optimal conditions. Perhaps you need to repair a steel fence which one of your livestock broke – and you can’t wait for a repairman to come to your property.
It would be very handy and convenient to have a welder in your arsenal which you can use to quickly make a repair with. The welder needed for this category needs to be durable and easy to use.
Welder Used for a Small Business or for a Hobby
If your intentions for this welder are to use it for you small business or hobby, then this application is quite different from the previous category.
Perhaps you are going to weld tubing together for some off-road bumpers or roll cages, or perhaps you are going to weld pieces of metal together for an art sculpture you are designing.
The welder for this application needs to be easy to use and able to create high quality welds.
Welder Used for Important, Small, Tight-tolerance, and/or Aluminum Items
If you plan on welding aluminum items together, or if you need to fusion weld small intricate pieces together for an assembly, this is your category.
Sometimes small components such as a small bracket or a port to an aluminum tank need to be welded together with precision.
This application category describes a welder which can also be used for a small business or hobby but goes beyond that to more advanced group of parts.
Not Yet Sure of the Application
It is quite alright to not know your final application for the welder yet. If you are not sure how you will be using your welder yet – maybe you are still new to the idea of welding items on your own – select this category for your application.
Question 2: What is Your Budget?
This second question in this easy quiz asks you to determine your budget since this is a deciding factor in the selection of a type of welder.
More expensive welders and more economical welders have different characteristics unique to their different price ranges.
Budget is a Strong Factor in the Decision-Making Process
If budget is a real concern in your process of deciding on a welder, then this is the category you should select.
There is nothing wrong with being budget conscious, and there is definitely a sector of the welding equipment market which caters to this category.
The type of welding equipment which fits into this category is typically more economical and built for durability and simplicity – without any of the more advanced features which come with high-end welders.
Budget is Important but Can Be Flexible
If budget is important to you, but it is flexible since you want to optimize your balance between good quality equipment and cost, then this category is for you.
In this category you might consider spending a little more than you originally expected if you see some features which you deem worthy of a bit more cash outlay.
Budget is Not That Much of a Concern
If budget is not that much of a concern to you (and perhaps you have a very good credit limit) then this category is for you.
You probably hold a decent amount of welding knowledge already and wouldn’t consider yourself as starting from zero as far as welding skills.
You might have already taken some courses to learn welding skills, and you are ready to buy welding equipment which you can grow into.
Not Yet Sure of your Budget?
If you are undecided on which budget to select since you are not sure what you can afford yet, then this category is for you.
Question 3: What Materials Do You Intend to Weld?
The third question is very important and gets straight to the heart of the welding process, determining what materials you will be welding with your welder.
Don’t worry if you will be welding many different types of materials, simply select the category which best fits your intended material group.
Materials Will Probably Include Angle Iron, Steel Pipe, Steel Fences, or Moderately Thick Ferrous Plates
If the materials you intend to weld together include ferrous materials which might not be that clean to weld on, such as pipes, angle iron, and fences, then this category is for you.
The materials in this category might be found outdoors and might not be fully clean prior to welding on them. Materials could also include moderately thick steel plates which need to be welded together.
Additionally, the weld material could be your desired material itself if you are surface welding.
Materials Will Probably Include Sheet Metal, Steel Tubes, or Thin Ferrous Plates
If the materials you intend to weld together include sheet metal, steel tubes, or thin plates, among other various materials, then this category is for you.
You might be planning on welding sheet metal on a vehicle, welding steel tubes for a race car, or welding thin ferrous plates for an agricultural tool.
Materials Will Probably Include Specialty Steels, Aluminums, or Sometimes Sheet Metal
If you intend on welding specialty steels such as chromoly, any kind of aluminum, or sheet metals (both steel and stainless steel), then this is your category.
Not Yet Sure Which Materials You Will Weld Yet?
If you find yourself not knowing which materials you will ultimately end up welding together, then this is your category.
You probably won’t be welding aluminum, but you will probably be welding an assortment of metals.
Question 4: How Important is Ease of Use to You?
This last question is intended to help determine what kind of welder you would prefer based on how important ease of use is to you.
Some welders are quite simple and easy to use, while others are quite complicated and require lots of complex equipment and high level of welding skill to master.
Ease of Use of a Welder is Highly Important
One reason why ease of use of a welder is highly important to you might be that you equate ease of use with simplicity.
A simple outfit of welding equipment might be all that you need for the jobs which you intend to complete.
Your intended uses for this welder should not be complicated since complications with equipment nullify the usefulness of the machine for you.
Ease of Use of a Welder is Somewhat Important
If you are okay with sacrificing some simplicity for some all-around utility of a welder, then this category is for you.
The best welder in your eyes is easy to use but at the same time you are okay with some complexity in order to improve production speeds and improve all-around utility of your equipment.
Ease of Use of a Welder is Not That Important
This category is for you if you are eager to advance your skills and become proficient in advanced welding techniques.
Whether to achieve weld penetration, cosmetics, weld quality, or just to show off, you prefer to use a welder which is reserved for those with advanced skillsets.
Not sure what your preference is yet regarding Ease of Use of welding equipment?
If you simply are not sure yet how you will be using your welding equipment, this category is for you.
Perhaps you are still exploring the welding process and need to keep your options option to different types of welders.
Please tally your total number of answers from each of the 4 questions.
The results below are based on how many of each answer you counted (A, B, C, or D).
After you tally your answers, this section will help guide you to the welding equipment which you need the most.
If you Answered Most of the Questions “A”
Your answers have directed you toward purchasing a stick welder (SMAW: Shielded Metal Arc Welding) due to the basic welding applications, economical budget, basic material selections, and best ease of use.
A stick welder machine is a great repair tool for items on your property since the machine is simple, portable, and the technology is such that you can weld on less-than-clean base materials. Budget conscious people will enjoy the fact that since stick welders are simple machines, their price tag is typically more affordable.
Ease of use is high for the stick welding technology. There are no moving parts at all, and the only tricky part is starting the arc – which can be learned relatively quickly.
If you Answered Most of the Questions “B”
Your answers have directed you toward purchasing a MIG welder (GMAW: Gas Metal Arc Welding) due to the more focused welding applications, flexible budget, slightly expanded material selections, and moderate ease of use level.
A MIG welder is great for your small business or hobby application since you can consistently produce welds which have a nice cosmetic appearance and which are high quality without too much advanced welding skills.
Budget can come into play in the MIG welder category of machines since there are options for higher performance components on MIG welding machines – whether those are user-interface components such as a better MIG handle, or internal components such as upgraded MIG wire pusher wheels.
If you Answered Most of the Questions “C”
Your answers have directed you toward purchasing a TIG welder (GTAW: Gas Tungsten Arc Welding) due to the highly focused welding applications, larger budget, specialized material selection, and the lack of need for ease of use characteristics.
Your applications include welding aluminum and exotic allow materials, all of which are achievable with the TIG welding process.
Since TIG welders can be quite expensive with all of the required accessories, budget is not too much of a concern for you and your objective is to purchase welding equipment which will last a long time for you.
You don’t need the process to be easy to use since you are already familiar with the challenges inherent with the process.
If you Answered Most of the Questions “D”
Your answers have directed you toward purchasing a MIG welder (GMAW: Gas Metal Arc Welding) due to the versatility of the MIG welder – it fulfills multiple applications, it is affordable, welds on many different ferrous metals, and it is relatively east to use.
Purchasing a MIG welder as your first welder is a good option which makes sense. MIG welders will meet the majority of your requirements for the majority of your projects.
Additionally, the affordability, ease of use factor, and the great all-around utility of the technology make it a good choice for the beginner who is not sure about the intricacies the welding processes yet.
This article is only a guide and cannot exceed the advice from a trained welding professional.
If you have reached the end of this article and you are still undecided on which type of welder you should purchase then perhaps you should consider taking a welding course at a local vocational school or community college.
Welding classes vary by the region you are in but typically they will teach you everything you want to know about the different types of welders and allow you to try your hand at the different technologies.
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