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Though you’ll hear lots of weekend warriors spouting the “you have to have a TIG rig to work aluminum or stainless,” that’s not entirely true. In fact, most commercial apps don’t go the TIG route for heavy assembly work: Just like with steel, MIG is faster and easier. Of course, you’ll need a separate feed for the aluminum or stainless wire. That’s where a spool gun comes into play.

This new model from Hobart serves as a good example. It’s designed to work with Hobart’s IronMan 230 MIG welder, attaching easily without tools. It features a 20′ cable, a direct-connect power pin, and a spool optimized for aluminum and other soft-alloy welding. And it’ll feed between 200 and 1,200 inches per minute.

It’s rated at a 60% duty cycle at 200 amps, which means this should work very effectively for MIG users who primarily weld steel but would like to expand their capabilities. It also ships with extra drive rolls, contact tips, and a blow-molded plastic case — all for around $500 street.

The lesson here? Don’t buy into the casual shop talk. If you’d like to try your MIG hand on other materials, contact your local dealer to find out about spool gun options for your specific make and model. Most manufacturers offer ’em for their pro and semi-pro rigs, so don’t be afraid to ask!

DP-3545-20 Spool Gun [Hobart]
Street Pricing [Google Products]

 

7 Responses to New Spool Gun: Time To Try Your MIG On Aluminum?

  1. SharkyTM says:

    You actually don’t need a spool gun for Stainless, and you can MIG Aluminum without on too. Aluminum w/o a spool gun just means you need to reduce the tension on the drive rollers so they slip rather than birdsnest if you stub the wire. The biggest drawback with a spool gun is the limited amount of wire you can fit on one, and how darn heavy they are… well, that and the price. $500 for a spool gun on a $1500 welder.

    However, a spool gun makes it easier, and you don’t need to worry about keeping the cable straight.

  2. Cameron Watt says:

    If you’re going to run aluminum wire through a MIG gun, don’t forget a nylon liner. A shorter whip is better, and keep it as straight as you can. It’s often easier, even in a small shop setting, to just buy a dedicated machine and keep it set up to save switching the liner/gas cylinder every time you need to do a bit of aluminum welding.

    There are also push/pull systems with a second set of rollers at the gun that help pull the wire and prevent kinks, but I’ve never used one and can’t offer testimony on it.

    As for the spool guns themselves, SharkyTM is bang-on regarding their limitations, but they have their place. They’re great in confined or hard to reach places where you can’t easily get a MIG machine or its whip; like way up a ladder, or down in a bilge.

  3. Aaron says:

    @ Jim,

    I have an older version of this welder that I have used for many small repairs and some larger projects (trailer). Easy to use, but does everything you need now and probably in the future.

    Lincoln SP-140T 120/1/60
    http://www.mylincolnelectric.com/Catalog/equipmentdatasheet.aspx?p=59618

    It runs on house hold 120V and does gas-less flux-cored and gas-shielded MIG

  4. shopmonger says:

    I am still waiting for them to come up with come metallurgical solution to welding aluminum without sheilding gas

    ShopMonger

  5. SharkyTM says:

    Shopmonger, you’ll likely be waiting for a LONG time. Aluminum and its oxides are tough enough to weld using a shielding gas.

    Jim, it depends on your usage. A 120v machine is more portable (think: friend’s house), but they really don’t have the power to weld thick material, and their duty cycles are often very low (that Lincoln SP140 has a 20% rating at 90A). If you just need to tack sheet metal and make some light tables/frames/whatever, a 120V unit might serve your purposes. I’ve got a cheap 140A 120v machine that does FCAW or GMAW (fluxcore and MIG) that basically gets used for outside work, lending out, and “its too small to bring out the big machine” tasks. That said, I usually use my 250A Lincoln GMAW-only machine on pretty much everything. I picked it up used for $850 on craigslist.

  6. @shopmonger:

    Have you ever tried anything like Alumiweld or DuraFix? I haven’t yet but It on my lists of things to try someday.

    http://durafix.com/
    http://www.alumiweld.com/index.html

    There are a few more companies that make similar products that allow you to “weld” aluminum with a torch.

  7. R. E. Adams says:

    Gentlemen;

    Once again, the debate rages on how to weld Aluminum Alloy! If you are fixing single parts that are made of some kind of Aluminum Alloy, do what I do in my shop, that is, use ‘ Map Gas and compressed Air ‘! I have been fixing everything Aluminum in parts for over three decades now with my home built ‘ Map Gas – Compressed Air ‘ carry unit and it always works!

    I have bought up various Aluminum Alloy repair rods that I use in this regard! It is basically and essentially a Brazing Operation for the repairs. It works just fine, repaired parts always show good durability and strength of application.

    I have three MIGs, two rod welders, Plasma Cutter/welder and miscellaneous other equipment. Yes, a dedicated MIG for welding Aluminum Alloy fabrication is the best when starting from scratch. And, a MIG Spool Gun is an extra blessing in doing such work. However, both propane/compressed air and Map/compressed air gives better control of both metal flow and finished repairs by far. regards, R. E. Adams, Ph.D, physicist.

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