Should I buy a stick, MIG or TIG welder?
Traditionally, most farms and ranches have a small AC stick welder, primarily because they cost a few hundred dollars. While stick welders are great for general repairs on steel or for hardfacing, they do have drawbacks:
- Welding thin materials may be difficult or impossible. Even skilled welders would hesitate before attempting to stick weld sheet metal (18 ga. steel).
- Marginal for welding aluminum (and takes a lot of skill).
- You must clean the slag off the weld, a messy and time-consuming job.
- Stick is a slower process than MIG.
Stick does have its advantages beyond its lower price tag. Because the electrodes are self-shielding, they are better suited for windy, outdoor conditions than MIG or TIG. Stick is also more forgiving than MIG when welding on dirty or rusty metal. (Still, it is always advisable to scrape or grind off paint, rust and other debris; welding on the cleanest material possible produces a stronger weld.)
If you plan to purchase a stick welder, try to buy an AC/DC welder. For most applications, DC reverse polarity welding offers advantages over AC, including:
- Easier starts
- Fewer arc outages and sticking
- Less spatter for better looking welds
- Easier out-of-position welding
- Easier to learn
- Smoother arc
- Welds thinner metals better
While an old stick welding pro may disagree, learning to MIG weld is easier. With a little practice, even a first-time MIG user can achieve a good-looking weld. This means that anyone can use it.
For the farm or ranch, a MIG welder probably offers more advantages than any other welding process. The advantages of MIG welding are:
- Easiest welding process to learn.
- Welds light-gauge material or thick plates.
- Welds all common metals —carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
- High welding speeds can be obtained — up to four times faster than stick welding — reducing repair or construction time.
- Increased efficiency: 50 pounds of MIG welding wire yields 49 pounds of metal deposition, where 50 pounds of stick electrode rods yield approximately 30 pounds of deposition.
A further advantage is that the same equipment used for MIG welding also performs flux-cored welding. Rather than running a solid wire coupled with a shielding gas, flux-cored welding uses self-shielded wire with flux inside.
The advantages of flux-cored welding are:
- Less affected by drafts, so better suited for outdoor work.
- Works as well as stick on rusty or dirty material.
- Continuous wire feed process, which minimizes starts and stops.
- Deep penetration for welding thick sections.
- Increased metal deposition (two or three times that of stick welding), which is beneficial for hardfacing.
- Can eliminate need for a shielding gas bottle, which increases portability.
Between its MIG and flux-cored capabilities, a wire welder can perform any task a stick welder can and do it more efficiently. While a good quality wire welder costs $450 to $4,000 (depending on its size), the costs for wire and gas are much less than that for stick welding rods. Coupled with the ability to weld aluminum and sheet metal, a wire welder can pay for itself very quickly.
This welding process uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode and a shielding gas that protects the welding area from contamination. The concentrated heat and precise control of the TIG arc allows thin material (.010 inch) to be welded. The advantages of TIG welding are:
- Precise welding on thin materials is easily accomplished, plus there is less distortion overall.
- Provides the highest quality work, as well as highly aesthetic weld beads.
- Allows the welder to adjust heat input while welding by using a foot or hand amperage control.
- Welds steel, aluminum and other metals with just a single gas, argon.
Although TIG welding is a relatively slow process, it provides high quality welds. Typical applications are for aluminum irrigation pipes, stainless steel sprayer tanks and aluminum engine parts.
Another factor to consider is that TIG machines also have stick welding capabilities (they are often referred to as TIG/stick w