Regardless of your motivations or needs, if you’re a DIY fanatic, then you’ll need to start learning how to weld. For most, it’s not the highest-paying job, nor is it the cleanest, but it has to be among one of the most fun skills you can possess.
As a novice welder, you might have some questions about how you can get started in welding, and we’re here to help. Just to clear things up, we’re going to focus on MIG welders in this article since, as beginners and even experienced people looking to invest in their first-ever welder, this type is definitely the go-to for a wide range of applications.
Who would benefit from a MIG welder?
Most professional welders have a MIG welder on hand for use on several different projects. MIG welders are definitely user-friendly for first-time welders, and they can be used for numerous projects. If you’re into automotive repair, have your own welding workshop, or are just looking for a simple way to join metal together, then a MIG welder can be your best friend.
What to look for in a MIG welder
Before you purchase a MIG welder, there are several things to take into account. In this article, we’ll try and help you in your purchase decision by providing the most important specs to consider when searching the market for an ideal MIG welder.
Gas or Gasless
MIG welders require a shielding gas to prevent oxygen from ruining the welding process. The two choices you have are gas-shielded (usually an argon and carbon dioxide mixture) or flux-corded wire (the wire itself contains a compound which emits a protective layer of gas). Both of these methods have their own set of pros and cons, but generally speaking, gas-shielded produces much neater results. If you’re unsure which to use, the safest bet is to choose a MIG welder that can do both.
Amperage and Metal Thickness
The question “What metal thickness can a unit weld?” refers to the thickness of metal which can be welded together with a single pass while reaching complete and thorough penetration. The consensus is that for steel, any unit below 140 amps is best for sheet metal, a 140-amp unit can do ¼-inch, a 180-amp can do any thickness up to 5/16-inch, a 200-amp is best suited for thicknesses between 3/8-inch and 5/16-inch, and a 250-amp can reach up to ½-inch.
Weight and Portability
Welding is a tricky task, especially if you need to maneuver your body and the welder to get into a proper position to do it. Though portability may not be your highest concern, it’s definitely something to take into consideration, especially when working overhead and traveling vertically.
Another feature that adds (or reduces) the portability of a MIG welder is whether it comes with an inverter which allows it to be plugged into portable generators.
The duty cycle lets users know how long they can run the welder before it begins to overheat. The duty cycle is conveyed by a percentage and at how many amps. For instance, say a machine has a 20% duty cycle at 90 amps.
This expression shows that within a 10-minute window, the welding machine can be operated for 2 minutes at 90 amps and needs to be rested for 8 minutes before beginning again.
Thermal Overload Protection
Thermal overload protection serves to keep your machine running for several years by preventing the unit from overheating and causing long-term damage. Though the intention of this feature is noble, not many welders have a properly-working protection mechanism in place.
Be sure to check out MIG welder reviews to see if that specific device has any glitches in its thermal overload protection system.
What MIG welder works best?
Hopefully, by now, you’re a bit more familiar with the welding process. Let’s take a look at some of our recommendation for best MIG welders that will help you in becoming a welder expert.
This Lincoln Electric MIG welder (K2698-1) can be set up to use a gasless flux-cored wire or gas-shielded.
It has an amperage capacity of between 30 and 180 amps, making it a versatile unit that works great on aluminum, steel, and stainless steel. Fully assembled, the K2968-1 weighs roughly 64 pounds (dry weight) so even though it’s not the most lightweight MIG welder, with the assistance of a cart, it’s extremely portable.
This MIG welder has a duty cycle of 30% at 130 amps (3 minutes of work and 7 minutes of rest for cooling down). It also comes with a built-in thermal overload protection mechanism that hasn’t raised any complaints among customers.
This Lotos Technology-made flux-cored/MIG welder has an amperage range between 30 and 140 amps which, when running at full capacity (make sure you have a 30-amp circuit breaker) will weld perfectly on steel of up to ¼-inch in thickness.
The MIG140 weighs roughly 54 pounds (dry weight) which isn’t that lightweight, nor is it too heavy that you can’t carry it around using its built-in handle.
At 90 amps, it has a duty cycle of 20%. It’s preinstalled thermal overload protection system works perfectly at keeping the unit from overheating and experiencing heat-damage, effectively protecting and extending the life of the welder so you can get several years of use.
This flux-cored/MIG welder by Miller Electric has a wide amperage range so you can plenty of jobs done around the house and even in professional settings. Its amperage range is between 30 and 230 amps which allows the unit to thoroughly penetrate 5/16-inch steel with ease.
Its dry weight is roughly 38 pounds, which is unbelievable for such a heavy-duty MIG welder, and carrying it to higher spots won’t cause any pulled muscles. Its rated output is 40% duty cycle at 150 amps, making it one of the most time-efficient lightweight MIG welders on the market. The machine deals with overheating issues flawlessly so you know you can get several years of work done with the Miller Electric MIG Welder.
The Hobart 500559 Handler also supports both flux-cored and MIG welding. This Hobart-produced welder has an amperage output rating of between 25 and 140 amps, and it works wonderfully on steel up to a quarter-inch thick.
Its dry weight is around 57 pounds so the single handle on top of the unit might not do you too much good, though a cart can help solve its lack of portability (sold separately). While running the unit at 90 amps, the 500559 has a 20% duty cycle rating. It also features a self-resetting thermal overload protection system which keeps the unit from reaching exceedingly hot temperatures, saving the unit from potential heat damage.
Finally, our top pick for best MIG welders that beginners and experienced welders can benefit from is the Hobart Handler 210 MVP MIG Welder (500553) flux-cored/MIG welder. It has an amazing amperage range of between 25 and 210 amps for penetrating up to 5/16 inches into steel.
Its dry weight is around 75 pounds so carrying it around might be a problem, despite the single handle fixed to the top of the unit. The 210 MVP has a duty cycle rating of 30% at 150 amps, and the unit’s self-resetting thermal protection keeps the unit from damaging itself with heat due to careless usage.
Any person can benefit from a MIG welder, whether they’re just starting to get into the game or have been doing it for several years. MIG welders are mainly used on steel, stainless steel, and aluminum alloy.
In this article, we’ve explained the five major points of consideration before purchasing a MIG welder, namely whether the unit uses gas (MIG) or whether the gas is emitted via the wire during the welding process (flux-cored wires), the amperage capacity and the required amps needed to penetrate fully and thoroughly into certain metal thicknesses.
Next, the overall weight and portability of the MIG welder, how long you can operate the welder for within a 10-minute time frame at a certain amperage level (duty cycle).
Finally, whether it has a working thermal overload protection mechanism in place to effectively extend the life of the MIG welder.
Currently, the market is saturated with MIG welders – both good- and bad-quality models – that can be used for a wide range of applications. In general, you’ll want a MIG welder that can use both gas and gasless methods for welding since they each come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll want a unit that covers everything for every application your welder is capable of doing.
Of the top five MIG welders we recommend, we feel that you can’t go wrong with the Hobart 210 MVP MIG Welder (500553) – it’s easy to use, versatile, has a moderate duty cycle for working at high-amp levels and has a flawless protection system to keep the unit from overheating.
It’s not exactly the most portable unit (75 pounds, dry weight), but carrying the unit from place to place – even up ladders – is, at least, doable. You can also purchase a cart to help push to help push the unit around, and it comes with an inverter which lets users connect it to a portable generator for use in sites far away from an electrical outlet.