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Matt writes: “I want a welder for my home workshop and wonder which is the best to have.  I want a welder that is not only diverse in application, but also well-built.  I expect to use it for auto, home projects, and metal scultping.  I would also like to use it for building bike frames.”

Those are some pretty vauge uses, but we do have a few suggestions — as I’m sure other Toolmongers will as well.  If you’re just getting started, you might want to consider a wire welder.  MIG welders — wire welders that also feed shielding gas — are even easier to use, but a basic no-gas wire welder will offer the best combination of simple setup and easy use.  Wire welding is many, many times easier for the beginner than stick welding.  For auto and home projects, you can often get away with a 120V unit, which will alleviate the need for special 220V wiring and render the welder much more portable as well.

Just as an FYI: we reviewed a pretty nice starter welder quite a while back — Hobart’s Handler 125 EZ.  We even built a small project with it to demonstrate its capabilities.

As far as “bike frames” go, I’d start with some simpler projects before you jump into something you’re going to bet your butt on.  To build bike frames you’re going to need a tubing notcher — and a lot of welding knowledge.

But what say you Toolmongers?  Any good recommendations?  Let us know in comments.


13 Responses to Reader Question: A Good Starter Welder?

  1. I recommend the Campbell Hausfeld RBWF200000 115 V Wire Feed Welder. I have this model myself and its cheap, cheerful and does the job. Campbell and Hausfeld have a recon one there site for $135 Factory recon. 115 V Wire Feed Welder”

  2. Fong says:

    I would’ve given the exact same advice. I started out with Gasless MIG wire feed Lincoln (i.e. Power MIG 140) and built anything from a industrial acetone seeder for laser holography to a baja car for an SAE sponsored event.

    The beauty of the MIG, esp on the baja project, is that you don’t need the tolerances of a notcher normally needed for good TIG welds. All my connections were hand ground with a 4″ Makita Die Grinder and larger gaps (0.125″ or larger) can be easily filled in with some scrap shoved in. I’ll admit this isn’t the cleanest or strongest weld but we spent an afternoon out in Big Bear, CA torture testing, driving up and down stairs at the university and withstood a 4 hour endurance race during the competition; never breaking a single weld.

  3. jgb says:

    I started out with a Lincoln HandyMig. It will weld with gas or flux core. Did well for sheet metal repairs and was pretty cheap.

  4. Brent says:

    I have been on a similar search. I like the Hobart 125, but the 140 will let me move up to gas. I believe the 125 is flux core only.

    Of course, I would prefer to have a nice Miller.

  5. Chris says:

    While I am a big fan of MIG welders and the more finicky stick welders. My first choice for general purpose welder would be a small oxy-acetylene rig. I find it just as capable for welding as the MIG for my projects (except maybe welding upside down,) but it also has the big advantage of being able to solder and braze. Brazed joints are incredibly strong, usually easier for beginners and a great way to join thin walled parts like bike frames.

  6. DaleC says:

    I have the hobart 140 and I love it. I’m a hobbiest that uses it mainly for motorcycle and hotrod fabrication, and everything else that I can find to stick together.

    BTW – Miller purchased Hobart several years back and now manufacture some of the models on the same production line. The Hobart 140 is one of these models – The gun and internals are miller. Whichever brand you buy, the weldtalk forums at hobart’s website are awesome.

  7. Dan Lyke says:

    For a bike frame, an Oxy-MAPP torch and brazing is probably a better solution. Sure, you won’t be able to work in fancy aluminum alloys or titanium, but you’ll get good solid joints in easy to work with mild steel, and if buying the super lightweight parts from Reynolds isn’t your speed, you can pick up older bikes for cheap at garage sales and weld them into all sorts of interesting contraptions.

    I’ve built a tandem recumbet quadricycle this way, using an Oxy-Acetylene setup, which is why I recommend Oxy-MAPP.

  8. eschoendorff says:

    I want to echo DaleC’s comments. I have a Hobart 140 and love the thing! I don’t have 220vac access, so this welder was the best that I could do. It has never let me down!

  9. T says:

    Hmm. I’ve been going through this process myself. The one piece of advice everyone has offered me was to get the wire-feed welder that either had gas or that could be retro-fitted with gas later. Every person I’ve asked for advice has made this point abundantly clear. YMMV, of course, but the consensus was clear on this issue: gas is good. Cleaner, less spatter, less smoke, etc.

  10. james b says:

    Something to keep in mind with the 110v MIGs is that you might have to switch to gasless flux core wire for working with thicker material. My Lincoln MIG is rated for 1/4″, but the shielding gas is only used up to about 1/8″ – then the spool has to come off, the leads have to be reversed, and the tip is changed out. When I went from a fluxcore only to MIG, I wish I would have shelled out a couple of hundred extra for a 220V that has an easier time heating the 1/4″.

  11. Chuck Cage says:

    James: We have a Millermatic 250 in the shop and it’s great, but I think sometimes the need for gas in a starter rig is overstated. Sure, gas makes for a lot less spattering and a cleaner weld, but the cost of upgrading is pretty severe. And while a 220V welder will certainly increase your capabilities, it’ll also tie you down a bit. There’s something really cool about being able to pick up your 110V gasless welder, drag it over to a friend’s garage, and weld their mower deck back together. Good stuff!

    OTOH, I can totally see the idea of spending just a few bucks to give yourself the ability to add gas later. Why not?

  12. luthier58 says:

    I’ve got the Campbell-Hausfield “Farmhand 115” MIG/fluxcore. It’s compact, easy to carry and use (especially in locations where you don’t have 220 available), and does a fine job on smaller, around the house/farm jobs. I happened to have a bottle of CO2 left from beer-brewing days, so I’m using it as MIG in the shop (I know, I should use argon/CO2 mix, but hey, I already had a nearly full bottle of CO2 – I’ll switch when I run out). I have used the fluxcore outside of the shop, and it works great – just messier. It comes with the gas regulator and fittings, so you could start out with fluxcore and add gas later. You can get this on the C-H website reconditioned for a little over $200 (I think somebody on here pointed out that site), but I found it on eBay for $160 SHIPPED (same model, factory reconditioned). You can get the fluxcore-only for a little cheaper, but I recommend getting the MIG-capable; it’s only a little more, and the welds really are much cleaner.

  13. james b says:

    Hi Chuck, all,
    The gas is nice for laying down a nice flat bead on thin metals, but I agree it isn’t necessary for a starter rig. Actually, I would recommend spending for the higher amp capability that comes with the 220v, and paying out for the leased/owned bottle of gas as the need arises. That is if the budget is there for welder+gas to begin with. For me anyway, the thicker metal is easier to weld, and if I had more heat it would be even easier.

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