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Toolmongers WeldingYou can’t turn on the Discovery channel anymore without seeing someone welding, and we’ve received a number of requests from readers asking for more coverage of the subject.  So, ask and you shall receive: we did some research and discovered that it’s a lot easier to get started welding than in years past.  Flux-Core and even MIG welders are easily within the range of the beginner, and offer the ability to quickly reach a point in the learning curve where you can build some fun projects.

In this post we’ve rounded up fourteen “entry-level” flux-core and MIG welders to give you an idea of what to expect when you go shopping.  And look for a combination “hands-on” and “how-to” tomorrow where we build a project with one of the welders included in the comparison.  (Lots more after the jump.)

Welding Methods

Wikipedia defines welding as “a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence.”  As you can imagine, there are dozens of ways to accomplish this, ranging from frictional heat to the use of lasers.  For purposes of this post, we’re interested in welding metal, and we’re specifically interested in units that you can afford and use easily.  That narrows the field down quite a bit. 

A little too cold… 

Gas WeldingGas welding has been around for a long time.  The most common form of gas welding is oxyacetylene welding, which uses the same oxygen/acetylene rig that’s used with a “cutting torch” but with a welding torch instead.  (The differently-shaped tips allow for more variance and accuracy in the application of heat.)  Though very portable — no power is required — and somewhat affordable, gas welding requires a pretty steep learning curve, and storing acetylene at home can be problematic. 

Stick welding is often considered the most basic welding process, and welding manufacturer Miller offers a great description of it:

Stick welding power sources deliver inexpensive options for welding versatility, portability and reliability. Stick joins metals when an arc is struck between the electrode and the work piece, creating a weld pool and depositing a consumable metal electrode into the joint. The electrode’s protective coating also acts as a shielding gas, protecting the weld and ensuring its purity and strength.

Stick WelderIndeed, stick welders are basically a power supply only, are some of the least expensive units on the market, and work in all sorts of adverse conditions.  The main drawback to stick welding for beginners (in our opinion) is that it, too, requires a pretty steep learning curve.  Everything happens very quickly after you strike the arc.

A little too hot…

Tig WeldingTIG welders use a non-consumable tungsten electrode to provide an arc for welding, and they channel an inert gas to the torch to shield the weld from oxidation — hence “Tungsten Inert Gas.”  As TIG allows the welder to very precisely control the amount of heat put into the material and only add filler metal as needed by hand, it often produces the most clean (and best looking) weld beads.  TIG is commonly used in the aviation industry and in other critical applications.

The bad news about TIG is that it’s relatively expensive as well, and like gas welding requires a steep learning curve.

Just right! 

Mig Welding GunOriginally developed to increase speed and productivity in production environments, “wire welding” uses a continuously consumable electrode — wire — that is fed automatically from a reel in the welder.  Flux-cored wire creates a shielding gas by burning the flux contained in the center of the wire.  Flux-core’s older brother MIG welding uses solid-core wire along with a separately-provided shielding gas (often a mix of carbon dioxide and argon for steel).  MIG stands for “Metal Inert Gas.”

Wire welding is very operator-friendly.  No special skill is required to strike an arc, as you simply place the “torch” near the material and pull the trigger to activate the power, begin feeding wire, and (in the case of MIG) flow shielding gas all at the same time.  Press releases from some major manufacturers of wire welders have described the technique as “like a metal glue gun,” and as our experience shows this to be not far from the truth.

When you combine that ease of use with units that are small, inexpensive, and able to run off readily-available current sources, it’s easy to see that wire welding is a great place to start. 

Comparison Criteria

To show you welders that we feel a novice can afford and use, we established the following criteria for inclusion in this comparison.  Besides being a flux-core and/or MIG welder, the units must: 

  • sell for under (or around) $800 list, which would allow you to put together a complete MIG unit for under $1000 (or a flux-core only rig for much less)
  • operate on a standard 20A 115V circuit to make them easy to use in a home shop
  • and be available directly from the manufacturer or through distributors or big-box stores locally in the U.S.

We found fourteen welders that matched:

  • Chicago Electric’s 90 AMP Flux Wire Welder (Harbor Freight, $199)
  • Century’s Century 80 GL (Home Depot, $229)
  • Lincoln’s Weld-Pak HD (Home Depot, $249)
  • Lincoln’s MIG-Pak HD (Home Depot, $299)
  • Lincoln’s Weld-Pak 100HD (Home Depot, $339)
  • Lincoln’s Pro-Core 100 (Lowe’s, $369)
  • Lincoln’s Pro-MIG 140 (Lowe’s $429)
  • Hobart’s Handler 125 EZ (Direct/Online, $437)
  • Hobart’s Handler 125 (Direct/Online, $444)
  • Lincoln’s SP-135T (Distributors, $572)
  • Hobart’s Handler 140 (Direct/Online, $599)
  • Lincoln’s SP-135 Plus (Distributors, $715)
  • Miller’s Millermatic 135 (Distributors, $742)
  • Hobart’s Handler 180 (Distributors, $808)

(See the bottom of the page for a link to a PDF containing the full spec list which was way too big to fit in this middle of the post.)

How do you tell them apart?  Let’s look at the specs.

pages: 1 2 3

 

22 Responses to Getting Started Welding: A Comparison of 14 Flux-Core/MIG Welders

  1. [...] In yesterday’s comparison post we gave you the information you need to select an entry-level flux-core/MIG welder for your shop.   In today’s follow-up, we’ll walk you through using one of the welders from the comparison to build an inexpensive game chair to make playing GT4 or Forenza a lot more fun.  [...]

  2. Cybergibbons says:

    The water tower analogy with the duty cycle in this article isn’t correct – the welder doesn’t have any significant amount of energy storage inside it. The reason the current is higher is because the voltage has been stepped down. The duty cycle is because the wires and components aren’t rated at full current and would overheat if used all of the time.

  3. Eric says:

    You may want to dig a little deeper into the theory of operation for welder power supplies. Duty cycle is dependant on the ability of the welder to cool it self, not the amount of electricity it is “storing”. MIG welders work by taking wall voltage and stepping it down (usually with a transformer) to the voltage you are going to be welding at, then rectifying it to DC. Other than the energy stored in the magnetic field of the transformer and perhaps a few capacitors here and there, no energy is stored for later use.

  4. Colby says:

    The Hobart Handler 125 EZ can be had for $354.89 at Sears. Thanks for the article, I’ve been looking for some advise like this as I really want to buy a welder.

    http://www.sears.com/sr/javasr/product.do?BV_SessionID=@@@@0143703178.1150464535@@@@&BV_EngineID=cckcaddidekhhemcegecegjdghldfom.0&vertical=SEARS&sid=I0093600100004900085&pid=00946848000 ” target=”_blank”>Here’s the Sears link.

  5. [...] Getting Started Welding: A Comparison of 14 Flux-Core/MIG Welders (June 14, 2006) If you’ve been wanting to jump in and start welding, now’s the time.  Wire welding’s a whole lot easier than stick welding, and prices have dropped to the point where we found a number of great wire welders for under $500. [...]

  6. Roy Ortiz says:

    You should do an additional story on welding aluminum with a MIG welder. Do the same chair but with aluminum.

  7. MARK SLONKA says:

    Excellent article !

    Now I don’t have to spend hours explaining welding to my brother !!!

  8. tim says:

    actually you are wrong in stating that a mig welder will weld thicker material than fluxcore. fluxcore will weld thicker metal better with better penetration than mig all other things being equal

  9. jake k says:

    Thanks, even with the small error’s re stored energy and flux vs mig for penatration and weld material thickness your explanation is very helpful. It should make a newbiees decision easier!!!

  10. Moo says:

    Great article – helped me a lot. Yeah, there’s a couple of factual errors that should be fixed… but they don’t affect the target audience (welding newbies) – so lighten up people. I get tired of the know-it-alls who just HAVE to make believe they’re smarter than they guy who did the research. Let’s see YOU crank out some articles that help others, instead of just blowing smoke up everyone’s arses. Bottom line, this was an informative, info-dense piece that is going to help a lot of people who want to get in to welding. Good job!

  11. Moo says:

    Oh…and PS…. let’s see you know-it-alls do all of the above for what Chuck got paid for this.. probably $0.

  12. Thank you for posting this entry level welder comparison article. After reading this article and the Lincoln electric manuals/literature I still cannot figure out the difference between the Lincoln 140C and 140T models. I understand that the C is for “continuous start” and the T is for “Tap start”. Please explain what this means and how it applies to welding.

    Thanks;

    Scott

    • Dugndeep says:

      C means continuous voltage selection as to where the voltage dial goes from 1-10 and anywhere in between and the T means tapped as to where the voltage dial goes 1-4 and no where in between so you just have 4 positions for voltage on the tapped machine and continuous voltage selection from 1-10 on the C machine.

  13. Charlie H. says:

    I’m coming in a bit down the road, here, but I’ve been researching for a bigger 110v welder. I just read (somehwere) the ‘C’ stands for rheostat. Brand wise I’m leaning toward a lincoln either the Weldpac 3200hd, Power mig 140, or Pro mig 140. Cept I can’t quite see the significance between these verses the money difference. If in doubt go for the middle one, I guess. Enjoyed the comment’s.

  14. Bob says:

    I have sure enjoyed the informative links on your website. Great information and will visit regularly.

  15. Alec says:

    Chuck thanks for an informative article, Though I’m a total newbie to welding, your article helped explain the differences between mig, flux and stick welding and how it would relate to my welding projects. In fact your article helped me with my decision to purchase the Lincoln Electric Weld Pak 125HD.

    THANK YOU CHUCK!!

    Alec
    San Diego, California

  16. Rachet says:

    I`m a newb to welding and i`m soon to get my hands on a Pro-Core 125Mig Flux-Core wire welder. At $419, it isnt the cheapest to buy but I figure the best bang for the best welder company out there buck. I`ve looked around at a few places and a few sites and found it to be the best. The reason i`m going for it is simple, most other models have no or very odd types of heat switchs or no good switchs at all, and this model has a plain easy to read heat dial. The arcticle is awesome and Hope to get some more tips and info for MIG welding! Keep it up guys!

  17. Rachet says:

    Oh and P.S. That Welder is a Lincoln.

  18. Crazy Horse says:

    Crazy Horse Custom Motorized bicycle builder just got new valentine’s day gift from the wife! She purchased the Chicago electric 90amp flex-wire 115v welder. It was on sale for $109 at Harbor Freight Tools and the helmet was half-price, too. This welder is to be used for welding custom-made motorized bicycles. Will consider later upgrading this entry-level welder to gas if the need arises. I appreciate this article and all the information contained therein. Thanks guys! Check out some of my custom-made bicycles at photobucket – search for Crazyhorse krzndn. I’ll keep you all posted on how the welder works out for me.
    Peace,
    Crazy Horse

  19. This is a superb product. Development is good and the product performs to 100% of my expectations. As an aside, this the third Palaris I have bought over the years.

  20. Owen says:

    Im new to welding so for my first welder i bought the Jobsmart 125 Mig/Fluxcore Welder from the Tractor Supply Company. I’m a former Commercial Electrician and I’m wondering what would happen if I beefed up the power cord and the grounding electrode do besides void the warranty?

  21. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clickesd submit my comment didn’t appear.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just
    wanted to say fantastic blog!

    My blog post how to bowl underarm spin

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