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Buying Your First Welder: A Practical, Informative Guide for Do-It-Yourselfers

You may be the creative type. Or, perhaps, you have the handy knack and just looking to tinker around … building and fixing stuff. You might have your sights set on opening a small repair shop, a studio or new gallery. You could be a farmer or rancher, classic car enthusiast, fabricator or woodworker … or you may just want to be able to repair or salvage something that is broken versus opting to toss it away.

 

Regardless of your interests, needs, or motivation, you’re a do-it-yourselfer interested in buying your first welder.

 

Whether you already have previous welding experience, or, you’re a welding novice, you are likely here because you need some help getting started. Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is dedicated to providing objective, informative and practical information to assist you in making the appropriate choice.

 

Relax and read on. You’ve come to the right place!

 

Getting Started


Unfortunately, there is no single welding process suitable for all applications, so let’s begin with an overview of the basic processes and highlight the capabilities and advantages of each. This will help us better match a process to your specific needs.

 

If you have previous welding experience, feel free to skip ahead. If you are somewhat of a novice, this section will provide you with a better understanding of the types of welders available, how each performs and degree of welding skill required to operate each. In addition, we’ll offer examples of specific applications best suited to each process.

 

Matching your needs and welding skills with a specific process is critical before moving on to discuss specific welder model options.


 

Welding Processes


The most common welding processes include Stick, MIG/Flux-cored and TIG. Each process has its own unique set of benefits and limitations, works well in some welding applications, and not well in others. There’s no “one size fits all” — and as you will soon discover — for good reason.


Stick Welding
If you learned to weld years ago, you likely learned using an arc welder. Stick welding has, for many years, been the most popular method for most home-shop welding needs. Stick welding uses an electric current flowing from a gap between the metal and the welding stick, also known as an arc-welding electrode. Stick welding is an effective method for welding most alloys or joints and can be used both indoors and outdoors, or in drafty areas. It is also the most economical welding method and largely popular because of its ability to create an effective bond on rusty or dirty metals. 

  

Arc welding is limited, however, to metals no thinner than 18-gauge, requires frequent rod changing, emits significant spatter; and welds must be cleaned upon completion. Stick welding is also more difficult to learn and use, particularly the ability to strike and maintain an arc. Arc welders are available in either AC or DC or AC/DC; with AC being the most economical. It is used for welding thicker metals of 1/16-inch or greater. They are a good choice for farmers, hobbyists and home maintenance chores.


 

 

MIG Welding / Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) — MIG welders use a wire welding electrode on a spool that is fed automatically at a constant pre-selected speed. The arc, created by an electrical current between the base metal and the wire, melts the wire and joins it together with the base, producing a high-strength weld with great appearance and little need for cleaning. MIG welding is clean, easy and can be used on either thin or thicker plate metals.

 

A slight variation of MIG welding — Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW) — is similar in that it is also a wire-feed process but differs in that it does not require a shielding gas. This gas-free welding application uses Flux-Cored wire to shield the arc, and is a simple, efficient and effective welding approach, especially when welding outdoors, in windy conditions or on dirty materials. The process is widely used in construction because of its high welding speed and portability.

 

Both MIG and Flux-Cored are very easy to learn and can create extremely clean welds on steel, aluminum and stainless. Both types have the capability to weld materials as thin as 26-gauge.


Stick welding application

Stick welding application



 

TIG Welding / Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) — TIG welding is an arc welding process that uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld. The weld area is protected from atmospheric contamination by a shielding gas (usually argon), and a filler metal, though some welds, known as autogenous welds, do not require it. A constant-current welding power supply produces energy that is conducted across the arc through a column of highly ionized gas and metal vapors known as plasma.

 

TIG welding is most commonly used to weld thin sections of alloy steel, stainless steel and non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and copper alloys. The process grants the operator greater control over the weld than other welding processes, allowing for stronger, higher quality welds. TIG welding is comparatively more complex and difficult to master than other welding types, and is significantly slower.


MIG welding application (left), Grinding application (front right)

MIG welding application (left), Grinding application (front right)



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The below diagram summarizes each welding process. Take a quick glance at what process might be best for your general needs.

 

 

 MIG Welding

  • Easiest process to learn
  • High welding speeds possible
  • Better control on thinner metals
  • Cleaner welds possible with no slag to clean
  • Same equipment can be used for Flux-Cored Welding

 

 Flux-Cored Welding

  • Works as well as Stick on dirty or rusty material
  • Out-of-position welding
  • Deep penetration for welding thick sections
  • Increased metal deposition rate
  • More forgiving when welding on dirty or rusty metal

 

  Stick Welding

  • Better suited for windy, outdoor conditions
  • More forgiving when welding on dirty or rusty metal
  • Works well on thicker materials

 

 

 

   TIG Welding

  • Provides highest quality, precise welds
  • Highly aesthetic weld beads
  • Allows adjustment of heat input while welding by use of a foot control


TIG welding application

TIG welding application



 

What Process Best Fits Your Needs?


You now have a general overview of the welding processes available, but we still have a way to go before honing in on the method that will best meet your specific needs.

 

Let’s identify the types of welding projects and materials you will be welding the majority of the time. Will you be creating metal sculptures?  Do you intend to restore an old muscle car in your garage?  Does the motorcycle you bought years ago require some fabrication?  Maybe you intend to do basic repair on equipment used on your farm.

 

Let’s review the following diagram.

 

Possible Projects

Average Metal Thickness

Auto body

3/16-inch or less

Trailer frames and fencing

1/4-inch to 5/16-inch

Farm, ranch and landscape

5/16-inch to 3/8-inch

Thick structural components

Over 3/8-inch

Bicycles, lawnmowers or tube frames

1/16-inch

Boats, cars and motorcycles

1/16-inch to 1/8-inch

Hunting stands and utility trailers

1/16-inch to 1/8-inch

General to heavy repair

3/16-inch to 1/4-inch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking this time up front to identify the projects that will occupy the biggest percentage of your welding activity will help you determine the specific thickness of the metal you likely weld most often, and ultimately select the most suitable welder model. 

 

Now let’s get a bit more specific. The chart below identifies which weld process you can use for each type of metal. Keep in mind that many of these materials are also processed using varying combinations of two or more metals, a process that is helpful to reinforce strength and functionality.

 

 Metal

Weld Process

 

MIG

Stick

TIG

Steel

Stainless Steel

Aluminum Alloys

 

Cast Iron

 

 

Chromoly

 

 

Copper

 

 

Brass

 

 

Exotic metals

(Magnesium, Titanium, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

What factors should you consider when determining a budget?


You likely already have an estimated budget in mind.  But first-time owners should consider several important factors when deciding which welder is most appropriate.

 

The type of welder you purchase should be best suited for the specific functions you require as well as the projects will you will be working on the most.  Think about your end goal and consider opportunities to expand the usefulness of your welder.  In other words, will you need more power and amperage in the future? 

 

In addition to the cost of the welder itself, don’t forget to include costs for accessories and supplies you’ll need to operate your new welder. This includes welding protection (helmet, gloves, jacket, etc.) as well as gas and consumables.

 

A Few Last Things to Keep in Mind …

We’ve thrown a lot of information at you in a short amount of time. But now comes the fun part.

 

Below, we’ll take a look at some specific welder models offered by Miller in each of the welding process categories developed with the do-it-yourselfer in mind. As you review the list of Miller offerings, take note of the varying amperage requirements of each, including power requirements and duty-cycle necessary to achieve the most effective and economical operational results. So what is duty cycle, you ask?

 

One way of classifying a welder's "size" is by how much amperage it can generate at a given "duty cycle." Duty cycle is the number of minutes out of a 10-minute period a welder can operate. For example, a Dynasty® 350 TIG unit can deliver 300 amps of welding output at a 60 percent duty cycle. It can weld continuously at 300 amps for six minutes, and then must cool down during the remaining four minutes to prevent overheating.

 

To see if a machine meets your do-it-yourselfer needs, consider the following power classifications: Light Industrial products typically have a 20 percent duty cycle and a rated output of 230 amps or lower. More industrial products typically have a 40 to 60 percent duty cycle and a rated output of 300 amps or lower.

 

The Miller lineup of welders also incorporates several exclusive features including our Adaptive Hot Start™ technology which means you no longer have to worry about those difficult-to-strike stick electrodes. And, the Multi Voltage Plug (MVP™) allows you to connect to common 115 or 230 volt power receptacles without the use of any tools. Simply choose the plug that fits the receptacle and connect it to the power cord. Read on below for specifics regarding each of our suggested products.

 

Don’t feel you have to make a purchasing decision right now. Take some time to define your needs. If you have questions or something is unclear, please call us. We’ll be here to answer any questions you have about welding processes, benefits, limitations, operation, you name it. And when you’re ready to match a specific model with the task, hobby, or business — we’ll be here to suggest the model or product that is the best for you.

 

We’ve been here since 1929 … and we’re not going anywhere. When you’re ready to buy, we’d be honored if your first welder was a Miller welder.


 

Let’s Go Shopping

 

Stick Welders

To review, the Stick welding process is ideal for general construction, maintenance and repair, shipboard installation/repair, farm and ranch applications, home repair, and plant fabrication/repair. Miller compact designs allow for greater portability. When considering duty cycle for a Stick machine, note that most Stick electrodes are consumed in less than two minutes. About 80 percent of all Stick welding is done with a 1/8-inch-diameter electrode, which takes about one minute to consume.


Suggested Products:


Maxstar® 150S 

Maxstar® 150S 



Thunderbolt® XL 225/150 AC/DC

Thunderbolt® XL 225/150 AC/DC



 

MIG/Flux-Cored Welders

Again, the MIG welding process is ideal for general maintenance and repair, farm and ranch applications, home repair, and auto body. Key features exclusive to the Millermatic family of MIG welders include:

  • Auto-Set™ — A breakthrough control that automatically sets your welder to the proper parameters. Auto-Set offers all-in-one MIG minus the guesswork. Simply set the wire diameter and material thickness and you’re ready to start welding.
  • Standard Built-In Solid-State Contactor Circuit — Makes wire electrically "cold" until trigger is pulled. This makes the unit safer and torch easier to position before starting to weld.
  • Thermal Overload Protection — Shuts down the unit and activates over-temperature light if airflow is blocked or duty cycle is exceeded. Automatically resets when fault is corrected and unit cools.


Suggested Products:


Millermatic® 211 Auto-Set™ with MVP™ MIG welder

Millermatic® 211 Auto-Set™ with MVP™ MIG welder



Diversion™ 180 TIG Welder

Diversion™ 180 TIG Welder



TIG Welders

Miller Diversion AC/DC TIG welders contain all the features you need to make welding easy, fun and affordable. The TIG welding process is ideal for home repair, garage and shop jobs, auto body, chassis / frame fabrication, aluminum oil pans, stainless exhaust, metal art and sheet metal applications. Key features exclusive to Miller include:

  • Easy-to-Understand Operator Interface

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3 to set your machine and start welding!

1. Power up
2. Select material type
3. Set material thickness range

  • Inverter Technology

By utilizing an inverter-based AC/DC power source, a more efficient (consumes less energy) and consistent welding arc is provided than older transformer based machines.

  • Eliminates Waste of Expensive Shielding Gas

Our Auto-Postflow feature optimizes postflow time based on welding amperage. This allows for proper shielding of both the weld end zone and electrode every time without waste of gas or need for adjustment.

  • Reduced Noise, Maintenance and Operating Costs

Our Fan-On-Demand™ cooling system operates only when needed. This cuts down on fan noise, along with reducing power consumption and contaminants drawn into the machine.


Suggested Products:

 

To access a thorough listing of all Miller welder models, supplies and related accessories, visit www.millerwelds.com/products. You may also request a free Full-Line Catalog of welding and cutting equipment by visiting the literature request page at www.millerwelds.com. Visit the Miller Online Store to buy online. 

Visit the included links mentioned for information on our welding protection and safety apparelsafety guidelines and resourcesdistributor networkproduct registration and other welding resources.

 

For general information, visit MillerWelds.com.

 

 



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