Common sense advice from Miller Electric on equipment picks.
Published in Popular Mechanics, April 2003.
Having the ability to weld greatly expands your ability to repair and to build, but it can be daunting for the first-time buyer to select equipment. With that in mind, here are some words of advice from Charlie Minnick, a welding instructor for Miller Electric Mfg. Co., a manufacturer of welders based in Appleton, Wis.
Where To Start
First, your equipment choice is based on several factors. Listed in random order they are:
1. The power you have available.
Most home shops will have 120- or 240-volt single phase power. This is the typical power available for hobbyists who are setting up shop in their garage or an outbuilding. This also holds true for most light-commercial buildings. Higher-voltage machines enable you to weld heavier metals more quickly as well as run other kinds of large shop machinery--such as sandblasters and large saws.
2. Material type.
What will you be welding most of the time--sheet steel, stainless steel, aluminum? Minnick advises to think in terms of the long haul. Maybe you're buying a welder now to restore an old car, but in the future you may want to do other kinds of welding--such as repair the running gear for your snow plow. Sure, you have to buy equipment to meet your present need, but include some forward thinking in your choice.
3. What is the maximum thickness material you intend to weld?
The thicker the metal, the heavier the machine you need--at least if you intend to weld it in one pass.
4. How hard will you use the machine?
Are your welding sessions long or short? Do you plan to work all day, or for a Saturday morning? If you intend to really work the machine, you need to choose one with a high duty cycle. A welder's duty cycle refers to its ability to work at a given output based on a 10-minute welding period. The higher the duty cycle, the more time during a 10-minute period that you can operate the machine at the rated output without overheating it. A machine with a 60 percent duty cycle at 300 amps can weld for 6 minutes at that setting, but then it must be allowed to cool for 4 minutes before welding again.
Minnick points out that many overseas machines are based on a 5-minute duty cycle, so keep this in mind if you buy a machine that is not made in the United States.
Some General Advice
Minnick has learned from his years of teaching welding that wire-feed welders are the easiest to learn to use. If you are self taught, you might consider one of these machines first. Ordinary stick welders are the next easiest to use, he says, followed by TIG welders (machines that produce an arc using a tungsten electrode and filler metal that is supplied by a rod held to the side and under the electrode).
Although welders are available through any number of distribution channels today, Minnick maintains that many inexperienced welders are better served by buying through full-service welding equipment dealers. (Miller sells its products only through dealers. Its sister company Hobart sells through catalogs and a variety of retail channels, such as agricultural supply houses.) Dealers can take a first-time buyer through a more detailed version of the issues discussed above, and they do a good job of stocking repair parts and accessories, he says.
For more information, visit Miller Electric's welding Web site at www.millerwelds.com.--Roy Berendsohn