We recommend following the following procedure to select your welder:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?