Welding is great…I love the fact that I can fabricate almost anything I can think of. And, that occasionally I can restore old machines when parts are impossible to find. Because often I can make them.
As a professional fabricator and welder, I get asked welding related questions all the time. I get every kind of question imaginable on the topics of metalworking, fabricating and welding. Questions such as:
- What kind of metal do you love to work with?
- Can I get shocked while welding?
- As a beginner what do I need to Start welding?
- Do I need to remove paint before welding?
- Who are some of your favorite clients?
But…my favorite question of all time is…
What is the best welder for beginners?
I really enjoy getting asked this question. Why do I love this question so much? Well, let me break it down for you. On the surface, it seems quite simple. Almost as if I could just give you the name of one specific welder. Then, BAM! All of your welding questions are answered!
Ok, it may not be exactly like that…But, when asked that question the real revelation surfaces. And that is…
There is no “One size fits all” welder.
Now can you understand why I love the question so much? We could talk for days, or at least hours, about the pros and cons of all the welders on the market. But ultimately, I want to help you find the best welder for your specific needs.
So, in this article, we will talk about :
- What specific type of welding you want to do…
- Difference between a cheap and expensive welder
- Safety gear recommendations
- Best welders I recommend at different price points.
And by the end, you will have a better understanding of what kind of welding you want to specialize in. That is if you want to specialize at all. In addition, you will know how to buy your first welding machine.
What kind of welder do you want to be when you grow up?
Yep, I just asked you a kindergarten question. Actually, it is a very important question. I am really asking what kind of long-term outcome you envision for your welding.
Let me give you some examples of paths you could take with welding…
- Become a professional welder and work in a Union or non-union shop…
- Specialize in a structural welding and work on buildings…
- Focus on TIG welding and work on intricate airplane parts…
- Help artists bring their vision to life with TIG/ MIG/Stick welding
- Fabricate steel items like fixtures, stage decks, or auto parts
- Fabricate furniture, various items in your garage during your spare time
- Have a small repair business/ fab shop from your home
So, the above list provides just a sampling to get your thoughts flowing…Wait a minute! I know exactly what your thinking here. “I Don’t even know how to weld and you want me to pick a career path?” For that reason, I know it must feel like a lot of pressure. Just know, there is a method to my madness. I promise. If you look at the end goal, the eventual outcome you want. You can avoid a lot of frustration, wasted time, money, and resources.
Having said that, if you know what you want to be doing with your welder in the future it can serve you for years to come. Or, if you start to weld and don’t like it…(I know that’s hard to believe…), you could have saved a bundle of cash before you committed to a more expensive machine.
So, Step one:
- What do you see yourself doing with your new welding skills?
- Do you see yourself as becoming a professional?
- Or just a Weekend warrior…
Above all, keep this in mind. There is absolutely no wrong answer. Due to my being a professional, the welders that I use and love would be overkill for the weekend warrior.
Similarly, the MIG welder I love would be useless to the brass welder. And lastly, if you are not sure what you want to weld when you grow up…That’s ok too, I’ll be sure to point you in the right direction.
Types of welding
If you’re not familiar with the different types of welding there is an in-depth article you can check out here.
As a result, I’ll skip the finer details covered in the above article and just give you a high-level overview:
- MIG Welding: It is one of the easier disciplines to learn. MIG welding is useful in all types of construction and is great for the DIY’er concentrating in mild steel.
- TIG welding: This is going to require a higher skill level to master. In reality, I would say it’s the most difficult yet the most rewarding type of welding. In part, this is due to the fact that you have the most control over your welds and you can join materials like Aluminum, Brass, and Bronze. This is a great type of welding to master.
- Stick Welding: Stick or Electrode welding is down and dirty and a whole bunch of fun. Stick is arguably the easiest type of welding to master. Additionally, it’s great if you want to structurally weld I -beams in a building for instance. And, it can be financially rewarding as well. Stick welding is also great to repair large and small equipment around the farm or construction site.
Certainly, that’s a very quick overview and not meant to be all-encompassing. However, it will help us drill down and get the best welder for you.
Now, Step 2:
Again, decide on the type of welding you want to “major” in. If you think you might be interested in structural welding, that would mean getting your hands on a good stick welder.
In contrast, you might want to do occasional welding on the weekends. Maybe to build some backyard furniture for your BBQ’s or a spare tire mount for your trailer. For these, a good MIG welder would be a great choice.
Hopefully, you may be starting to get an idea of what direction you want to head in.
Let’s detour for a second and discuss a very important, related topic…
One thing always on my mind when working metal is Safety.
Really, I am no good in the shop if I’m recovering from an injury. Or worse…
For that reason, I always have good safety gear!
Safety gear consisting of:
- A good welding jacket
- Both heavy duty and light duty gloves
- A good welding hood
- Safety glasses, and several pairs, scratched glasses are useless
- Steel toed boots
You always want to be safe when welding. Therefore, make absolutely sure you have some room in your budget for gear. The basic gear is not that expensive. Certainly, good gear will repay you many times over. But you must use it. In order to use it, you must first have purchased it.
Now that we talked briefly about good safety gear, let’s get back to getting the best welder for you….
Cheap VS. expensive
A lot of guys will buy the most expensive welder on the market. Why? They think if it is expensive it must be good. And that can be very true. For that reason, let’s compare welders to watches. A Timex will tell you the time quite well. Futhermore, it will do so for a reasonable price. But obviously, it doesn’t have the quality of a Rolex. Or, the flash of one either.
Is one better than the other? Well, if we are looking at pure craftsmanship then the Rolex will be 100 times better crafted than the Timex. However, if we simply need a watch to tell the time accurately at a decent price, the Timex wins hands down. Using this example I challenge you to think a bit differently…
And that brings us to Step 3 :
Ask yourself, “What is my current budget?” Then, try to determine where you see yourself progressing to over the next few years. Yes, a more expensive welder will be better built. The ergonomics and the quality of the materials used in the construction will be better. Having said that, why buy a Rolex when a Timex may do everything you will ever need it to do?
A high-quality MIG welder will have a better wire feed and drive system. A great TIG welder will have more control for the user. Is all of that really worth the cost when first starting out?
I’ll tell you about my first welder. It was straight off craigslist. Really! It was a super ugly tombstone (cracker box) welder. It was cheap. But it was also plenty good enough that in a short time I learned how to stick weld. Most noteworthy, I still have that machine to this day. And consequently, it has earned me at least 500 times what I paid for it.
So my advice to you is to buy enough welder for right now. However, if you know where you want to be with your welding a year from now, purchase a welder to get you there. There will always be the chance that sometime in the future, you might outgrow it. And that is ok. You can keep it for a backup or resell it to recoup some of your original cost. Having said that, for the beginner, I wouldn’t start with a Rolex right out of the gate. Unfortunately, there is always the chance that you might not use it that much. As a consequence, never getting your full value out of it.
For this reason, think about your budget and be smart with your purchase.
Brands and Recommendations
Welding machine brands are a lot like car brands to welders. Everyone has a favorite. Bentley over Rolls Royce or Honda over Toyota. But what is a car really? It is simply transportation. It gets you from point A to point B. Admittedly, some get you there with a bit more class. But in the end, what matters is that it got you to your destination.
Hobart, Forney, Lincoln Electric, Miller, Lotos, Goplus, I have used and abused all of them. Therefore, I can tell a sketchy welder from a great one very quickly. Never the less, many times, a lower quality welder will work for you when you are on a budget.
Here are my thoughts for good and better welders in each welding category:
MIG Welders for the Beginner
For the absolute beginner, I think a great welder is the Hobart Handler 140.
- Stepped voltage control
- Cast aluminum drive
- Total weight of 57 lbs
- Great customer service
- It will run off regular 115v power (most households)
- limited AMP’s – can weld up to ¼ thick material
- Grounding clamp needs to be upgraded.
I like the Hobart for a freshman level beginner. It has everything you need to start welding immediately. And the stepped voltage is perfect for someone starting out.
If you simply have to turn a knob that allows for basically, an infinite amount of settings, you could miss out on the learning curve that stepped voltage settings will force upon you. Potentially making you a better welder in less time
In simpler terms, you don’t want to get caught up in trying to find the perfect voltage to get your job done. When you are new, it is more about spending time welding, getting experience.
The Hobart will get you the necessary experience and get the job done at the same time. I also rate their support highly. When you are new, you are going to have a lot of questions. And probably more questions. And, maybe a few more. If you don’t have a group of welders to talk with just yet, Hobart’s phone support is your next best bet.
MIG Welders for the Beginner who wants to grow quickly
Let’s say you have some welding skills and want a MIG machine that will grow with you. I would recommend the Lincoln Easy MIG 180. (click this link for a full review)
- Higher Voltage and AMPs means you can weld up to ½ thick material
- Spool gun ready – for aluminum projects
- 56 lbs
- Warranty is only 3 years
- Grounding clamp needs to be upgraded
- The spool gun is sold separately.
I like the Lincoln 180 because it retains a lot of what I like about the Hobart but has more power. To boot, it is still light enough to transport with ease.
If you wanted, you could start bidding on some small welding jobs with this machine. This is a machine that could help you start your first paid welding gigs. In addition, it is reliable enough that it will be around for years to come.
Now let’s talk about TIG welders. I really love TIG welding. It’s a skill that builds on top of MIG welding. Just know, you must have patience in order to do it right.
So what would be a great TIG welder for a beginner?
Before I recommend a TIG welder…There is always one question that comes up, “Should I get a foot pedal or can I skip it and save some cash?” Well, the answer is both yes and no. I Know, you are probably thinking to yourself, “I can never get a straight answer from this welder.” And that is probably a fair statement. Inevitably, it all depends on your needs.
First off, let’s look closely at the foot pedal. What does it do? It controls the Amperage. Or, in other words, how “hot” your arc will get. More amps and you’ll form a puddle in no time. Conversely, too many amps and you will burn through.
Now, a lot of machines already have that ability built into the system. It is called upslope. You set your amperage level and the machine will increase the amps on its own, over time.
However, the best thing about a foot pedal is that you’re able to creep your amps up manually. In essence, you could start at a really low amp level of say 5 amps, then slowly increase up to 80 amps. The operator is in full control of the amperage setting, adjusting it on the fly.
Without a foot pedal, you can’t change your amps on the fly. Once increased to the preset level, you are locked in. Which can be good if your working in a hard to access spot. Or, on a large project that cannot be set up on a fab table.
So again, think about the type of projects you want to do. This will help you decide if a foot pedal is necessary. Having said that, I will always recommend a foot pedal. In this case, I think the more control you have while TIG welding, the better your end product will turn out.
Hobart EZ TIG 165i
I really love this welder. And no, I do not work for Hobart. I just think they have a great product. This welder is excellent for someone who has never touched a TIG welder.
- Very simple interface
- Hobart customer service only a phone call away
- Weights under 60 lbs
- Welds both AC ( aluminum) and DC ( steel)
- Expensive unit to start out with
- The duty cycle can be short if you’re doing a lot of welding
What I really like about this unit is the simple interface. Again, when you’re starting out, it’s about building confidence. And not getting overwhelmed with too many options.
The EZ TIG delivers big time. Fortunately, it will also grow with you. If you want to fabricate intricate items, this machine will help you do that. I know many people who began with this TIG machine and still have it to this day.
Now here’s a ground floor TIG recommendation
The Esab Mini-Arc 161
This machine will get you acquainted with TIG on a budget.
- Very affordable
- Esab produces quality machines
- Runs 115v or 220v
- Lack’s AC capability
- No foot pedal for added control
I think this is great for someone who really wants to learn and practice their TIG welding. I also feel that you will outgrow this machine quite quickly if you wish to continue learning. Unless you want to specialize in one specific type of welding. Say, mild steel pipes as an example, you may want the Hobart EZ TIG 165i.
Stick welders are fantastic. Most “old pro’s” learned the trade of welding with a stick welder. Many industries still rely on stick welding to build buildings, repair heavy equipment and manufacture their products.
One thing I really like about stick welding is metal preparation. Even though you should always prep your metal and clean it up the best you can, with a stick welder, slightly rusted and dirty metal is often not a problem. You can still make a solid weld over this stuff. And it’s economical. Just purchase the machine, your rods, and your set.
So what’s a great stick welder to start with?
I really like the Miller Thunderbolt 160
- Lightweight at 15 lbs – truly portable.
- Can run on either 115 or 220v
- Short power cord provided
- A bit on the pricey side
I like this Miller a lot. It is really lightweight, dependable and a great welder. However, if you buy a brand new one, it can be on the expensive side.
Moving forward, if weight is not an issue. And you want to save some cash. A great welder is:
The Lincoln k1170
The “tombstone” welder design has been around forever. In fact, it’s one of Lincoln’s best selling machines. It’s a tried and true machine that’s super dependable.
- Wide amp selection
- Heavy – 110 lbs
So there you have it for stick welding. In reality, they are great for beginning your welding career. No doubt, these machines are simple to use. Mainly due to there being little to no prep needed for the materials to be welded. In no time you will learn to make some great structural quality welds with these machines.
Finally, what if you couldn’t decide which welding process you want to start with? Thankfully, the is another option for you to consider. It’s the multiprocess welder. This machine will do stick, MIG and TIG welding from just one machine. As a result, you can have a machine that allows you to experiment with all three types of welding.
Consequently, you can get a feel for which process you like best.
A great budget welder to get you going would be the:
The Esab fabricator 141i
This really is a great budget welder for a Multi-process welding machine.
- Uses Tweco parts – known to be well constructed
- Very manageable weight at 60 lbs
- No extra system for dual gas – you’ll have to switch your gas lines to weld MIG and TIG
- Only a 10 ft MIG gun included. 15 ft makes a big difference.
Obviously, this little machine would be good for a first-time setup. Having said that, if you want to spend a bit more,
I’d go with the Miller 215
This welder can handle all the processes and it has some nice added features…
- Dual gas lines – no switching between gases for MIG/TIG welding
- 38 lbs total weight for an MP machine!
- Runs on 115v or 220v
- Expensive for a beginner
Now I didn’t really explore the multi-process machines in depth for a reason. I wanted to give you a look at a good machine and a better machine. And that’s about it. Again, there is a method to my madness.
I wouldn’t recommend starting out with an MP machine. Why? I’m glad you asked. It goes back to the heart of our conversation really. Start with one thing and then master it before you go on to a related skill. And, don’t get caught up with too much detail in the beginning. For instance, start with MIG or stick welding before you tackle TIG.
These machines are great if you already have the skill sets. Maybe, if you’re already good at MIG welding or learning stick and want to practice TIG in the future, you might consider one. But, as a newbie, I would steer clear regardless of the price point.
There are many great welding machines on the market. Consequently, as a beginner, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. I know, I’ve been there as a brand new welder and we didn’t have as many choices in those days. New technology and the internet makes your research ability almost overwhelming. Mainly because of the sheer volume of information to filter through.
However, even though new technology has made welding easier, more accessible, and has improved the welding machines themselves, nothing can replace welding time.
Most importantly, pick an outcome. After that, choose the process that will get you there. You don’t have to stick with it forever…. Ideas and goals change. Just get started and practice regularly. Your welds will improve. Later, you can upgrade or add to your welding collection over time.
And that’s really a great thing about this craft. You will get better as time goes on. Your projects will become more complex. And as a result, you will be able to repair and build many things you never thought possible.
But you have to start now.
Visit our Recommended Gear page here where you can review and even purchase much of the equipment described in this article.
If you order now you can be welding in just a couple of days.
Click here to view a great video from Miller Electric about beginner basics.