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Our Recommendations

We recommend following the following procedure to select your welder:

  1. Decide on your budget.  The units listed here range from $200 to right around $800, but they generally fall into three categories: sub-$350, $350-$600, and $600 and up.  In the sub-$350 range, you can expect to find welders with lower duty cycles and limited capability.  Stepping up into the $350-$600 range gives you the option of MIG conversion (and even some MIG-ready units) and offers a selection of welders with 20% @ 90A duty cycles.  Jumping into the $600 and up range opens the door to MIG-ready units from big-name manufacturers.
  2. Consider what you plan to do with the welder.  If you’re only going to weld mild steel for basic fabrication projects, you’ll be fine with a flux-core only unit.  If you expect to weld thinner or thicker material or to weld other metals such as aluminum or stainless, you’ll need a MIG unit.  If you want to start with steel, but retain the option of MIG later, seek a convertible unit.
  3. Read the specs carefully.  Avoid welders that offer very low duty cycles.  This is often an indication of an inferior power supply.  After you’ve weeded out the specs to compare like units, select the welder that best fits your particular needs.
  4. Finally, speak to the retailer or manufacturer about what else you’ll need to buy to use the equipment you intend to purchase.  If you’re buying a MIG welder, make sure you know what type of gas and wire you’ll need and where you’re going to get it.  If any accessories are needed to start welding, be sure to factor them into your price. comparisons.

Understand that our list of 14 units is by no means the ultimate list of every unit available, though we do believe it to be a strong representative sample.  We located these 14 online and in our local retailer’s/distributor’s stocks.  Depending on where you live and which store you visit, you may find numerous other wire welders that fit your budget. 

That’s why we (as always) seek to provide guidance in reading and understanding the specs as opposed to recommending a specific unit.

Where to Buy/Service

Now that you’ve picked out the unit that’s right for you, where should you buy it?  Beyond looking at the simple specs, consider the service and support offered by each unit’s manufacturer and the retailer or distributor from whom you’ll purchase it. 

Distributors/The “Welding Shop”

If you haven’t visited your local welding shop yet, we definitely advise doing so before you purchase a welder.  As you can imagine, service varies dramatically from business to business — they range from Mom ‘n Pop shops to nationwide chains — but welding supply shops commonly offer a level of personal service you can’t find elsewhere.  Not only can they offer advice in selecting a unit, they’ll also serve as your source for welding consumables (wire, gas, tips, etc.).  Many of them, if asked nicely, will also offer welding advice, and some even offer classes.

Retail/Service from the Manufacturer

Though retailers (such as Home Depot and Lowes) can’t provide the same level of direct welding support that a specialized distributor can, you’re not entirely out in the cold if you buy from these venues.  Hobart and Lincoln — two big-name manufacturers whose units comprise the majority of our sample set — both offer units through retail, and consequently offer a wide range of support on the phone and online. 

Conclusion/Resources 

We hope this helps you select a welder to get started, and look for our “how-to” tomorrow with a hands-on review of one of the listed welders along with a step-by-step walkthrough of a great starter welding/fabrication project.

Of course, we’d love to hear about your welding experiences.  Why not tell leave us a comment and tell us about it?

Complete Specs for the 14 Listed Wire Welders [PDF] 

Manufacturers

Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Hobart]
Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Lincoln]
Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Miller]

Retailers

Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Harbor Freight]
Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Lowe’s]
Flux-Core/MIG Welders [Home Depot]

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    Here’s the Sears link.

  4. Roy Ortiz says:

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

  5. MARK SLONKA says:

    Excellent article !

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

  6. 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

  7. 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!!!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Bob says:

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

  13. 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

  14. 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!

  15. Rachet says:

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

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. lee meadows says:

    can a mig welder weld aluminum?

  20. can a mig welder weld aluminum?

  21. Richard says:

    Are you saying that MIG Welders which cost less are not worth buying? What about the Ironton Reconditioned Flux Core 125 115V Flux Cored Welder for $99 or the Forney EZ Weld 299 for $149 ?
    I’ve never welded & don’t wish to spend close to $1000 to find out if I can use it.

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