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

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

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November 15, 2017
Get objective, informative and practical help and information in buying your first welder.

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 match a process to your specific needs.

If you have previous welding experience, feel free to skip ahead. If you’re a beginner, this section will give you a better understanding of the types of welders available, how each performs and the degree of welding skill required to operate each. In addition, you’ll find examples of specific applications best suited to each process.

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

Overview of welding processes

The most common welding processes are MIG, TIG and stick. Each process has its own benefits and limitations and is better suited to certain applications. There’s no “one size fits all” approach.

  • 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 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 thin or thicker plate metals.

    Similar to MIG welding, flux-cored arc welding (FCAW)* is a wire-feed process but differs in that self-shielded flux-cored welding does not require a shielding gas. Instead, flux-cored wire is used to shield the arc from contamination. This 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 welding are easy to learn and can create extremely clean welds on steel, aluminum and stainless. Both processes have the capability to weld materials as thin as 26-gauge.

    *The FCAW welding process is offered through Miller MIG machines.
  • 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 nonferrous metals such as aluminum, magnesium and copper alloys. The process grants the operator greater control over the weld than other welding processes, allowing for strong, high-quality welds. TIG welding is comparatively more complex and difficult to master than other processes and is significantly slower.
  • Stick Welding — If you learned to weld years ago, you likely learned using an arc welder. Stick welding for many years has been the most popular method for most home-shop welding needs. This process 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 indoors and outdoors or in drafty areas. It’s also the most economical welding method and provides the ability to create an effective bond on rusty or dirty metals.

    However, this method is limited to metals no thinner than 18-gauge, requires frequent rod changing, emits significant spatter and requires that welds 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 AC, DC or AC/DC, with AC being the most economical. It’s used for welding thicker metals of 1/16 inch or greater. These machines are a good choice for farmers, hobbyists and home maintenance chores.

The diagram below summarizes each welding process. Consider these factors in deciding which 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



TIG Welding

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



    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


    What process best fits your needs?

    Identify the types of welding projects and materials you will weld most of the time. Are you 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 need to do basic repair on farm equipment.

    Possible Projects

    Average Material 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


    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 the 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 metal you will likely weld most often — and ultimately help you select the most suitable welder.

    Time to get a bit more specific. Let’s take a look at what welding process you can use for each metal type. Keep in mind that many of these materials are also processed using varying combinations of two or more metals to reinforce strength and functionality.


    Weld Process









    Stainless Steel




    Aluminum Alloys




    Cast Iron
















    Exotic Metals (Magnesium, Titanium, etc.)





    What factors should you consider when determining a budget?

    You may already have an estimated budget in mind.

    The type of welder you purchase should be suited for the specific functions you require as well as the projects you will work on the most. Think about your end goal and consider opportunities to expand the usefulness of your welder. Will you want more power or amperage in the future?

    It is important to take note of the varying amperage and power requirements as well as the duty cycle necessary to achieve the most effective and economical operational results for the projects you’re looking to complete.

    In addition to the cost of the welder itself, don’t forget to include costs for the 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.

    Don’t feel rushed into making a purchasing decision right now. Take some time to define your needs. If you have questions or something is unclear, Miller can answer any questions you have about welding processes, benefits, limitations and machine operation. When you’re ready to match a specific model with the task, hobby or business — Miller can suggest the model or product that is the best for you.

    Miller has provided quality welders since 1929. When you’re ready to buy, we’d be honored if your first welder was a Miller® welder.


    What machine is best for you?

    Now that you’re more familiar with each welding process and which one best fits your needs, let’s review the recommended models Miller offers for each process.

    MIG/Flux-Cored Welders

    Suggested Products:

    • Millermatic® 141

      All-in-one 120-volt wire welder that welds 24 gauge to 3/16-inch-thick (0.8-4.8 mm) mild steel in a single pass.

    • Millermatic® 211

      Welds material from 24 gauge to 3/8-inch thick in a single pass. Multi-voltage plug (MVP™) provides the versatility to use 120- or 240-volt input power.

    • Millermatic® 212
      All-in-one wire welder that welds material from 22 gauge to 3/8-inch thick in a single pass. Exclusive Auto-Set™ feature makes setup quick and easy.


    TIG Welders

    Suggested Products:

    • Diversion™ 180

      Perfect for the personal user, this AC/DC TIG machine upgrade has both 120- and 240-volt input power capability.

    • Syncrowave® 210

      Ideal for both light-industrial applications and personal users, this AC/DC TIG and DC stick machine does not compromise power or performance for affordable inverter technology.

    • Dynasty® 210
      Maximum flexibility and advanced inverter technology with Auto-Line™ from this AC/DC TIG/Stick power source.


    Stick Welders

    Suggested Products:

    • Thunderbolt® 160
      Best-of-class dependable, portable, powerful stick welder. Includes 120- and 240-volt input power capability with multi-voltage plug (MVP™).
    • Thunderbolt® 210
      Welds up to 210 amps and offers power and lightweight portability for a variety of light industrial applications.

    If you are looking for a machine with multiple welding capabilities, we recommend the Multimatic® 215 multiprocess welder. This machine is a MIG, TIG and stick welder that is versatile and easy to use. This all-in-one welder connects to 120- or 240-volt input power and welds up to 3/8-inch mild steel.


    For a complete listing of all Miller welding machines, visit To request or download a free full-line catalog of welding and cutting equipment, visit