What is the best welder for beginners?
There can be a dizzying array of aspects to consider when trying to come up with the best welder for beginners. Helmets, gloves, jackets, rods, welders, grinders, Amp ratings, duty cycles, etc, etc. This article should help you make some decisions to get started with but also with an eye to not throwing away your hard earned money on gear or equipment that you will outgrow. You can easily spend $400 on a complete kit to see if welding is something you want to do. Fornay has a kit for exactly that purpose (see it here on Amazon, or click the image below). This is a kit that includes the welder (MIG), auto-darkening helmet, wire brush, gloves, wire and a grinding wheel…all for less than $400. It’s great for light work you need to do around the home or to just dip your toe into the welding world to see if it’s something you want to do more of or to even pursue a career.
Before we can define what is the best welder for a beginner, there’s some basics to consider. Primarily, the different types of welding and welders you should consider. These are defined elsewhere on this site (and many others) but I’ll give a brief overview here.
MIG: Creates an arc between two metals (can be different types of metal), thereby heating the metal up and supplying the bonding metal from an electrode that actually fuses the two metals together
TIG: Heats up the two metals to the point where they fuse together. A Tungsten electrode is used but this process does not supply any metal filler
ARC/Stick: Also called Flux Core Welding, similar to MIG but without the need for an external gas source to create a gas shield around the weld as the wire used has flux that will create the necessary gas shield. Heats the rod and the two metals so all three fuse together, creating a very strong weld.
There are also aspects of the welder that you need to understand to help you make the best decision:
- Input Power Requirements -- 110V or 220V: This will determine if you can run off normal house power or if you need a dedicated 220V outlet. As you might expect, 220V units are more powerful than the 110V units. Most 220V also have a 110/220V selector so they can be used with 110V volts as needed
- Duty Cycle: At a basic level, this shows how long you can continuously run your welder before it overheats and shuts down. It is shown as a percentage of a 1o minute stretch of time. So a welder that has a duty cycle of 30% can weld for 3 minutes at it’s highest rated power output (30% of 10 minutes) before the machine needs a rest. If using a lower power setting, the welder’s duty cycle is extended -- depending on the unit, you can reduce the power to a point where you can achieve 100% duty cycle. Obviously, the higher the duty cycle (at full power), the more welding you can do in a short amount of time. Also…probably obviously…the higher the duty cycle, the more expensive the welder will be.
- Amperage Rating: This generally determines the thickness of the metal you can work on. The general rule of thumb is you want at least a 130 amp unit for up to 3/16 inch thick metal and at least 200 amps for for larger jobs.
- High Frequency/Lift/Drag start (TIG). You’ll see welders TIG welders with one or more of these. Most late model welding units will have High Frequency and Lift Start while the older and perhaps less expensive units will have only Drag Start.
- High Frequency -- Creates an arc between the tungsten electrode when a small distance from the metal, allowing the weld to start instantly. This must be used carefully as this High Frequency can damage some computer or other some other electronic systems. Vehicle exhaust systems, for example, share electronic grounding with the vehicle’s computer systems so high frequency starts when welding an exhaust system can actually damage the vehicle’s computer.
- Lift Start -- this requires the welder to manipulate the electrode in such a way that it “rolls up”, or lifts to an angle where the tungsten electrode is the correct distance to create the arc so the weld can start.
- Drag Start -- this is like striking a match to start the weld.
So, given this information, what is the best welder for beginners. Well, as with just about everything else, it depends! What kind of welding makes the most sense for you and how much money you have in your pocket to spend will help us decide. Another key consideration is what kind of power you have available -- you can use 120V outlets for the smaller welding units but as you get to the more powerful ones, you’ll want to opt for a 220 volt unit.
Lets take a look at each at few of the highest rated entry level welding units.
Best MIG welders for beginners
110V Miller Electric MIG/Flux Core Welder -- this is a welder you can run off of normal house power, so no special outlets needed. This unit is great for small DiY welding jobs such as mower decks, exhaust systems, trailer frames, and metal sculptures. This unit comes with a 10 foot work cable, extra contact tips, spool of .030 flux cored wire, and of course the manual and setup guide. This unit does a great job of answering the question “what is the best MIG welder for a beginner?”.
220V Hobart 190 MIG Welder -- this is a relatively inexpensive and yet top rated welder that will serve you well as a beginner or around the home hobbyist. In addition to the above type so of welding jobs such as mower decks or trailer frames, this welder also excels at stainless steel and aluminum welding as well. You’ll get a built in gas valve as well as a 10 foot work cable and clamp and, of course, a MIG gun. As a side note, this unit does have a 110/220 voltage switch so you can operate on house power if needed.
Top Rated entry level TIG welders
110V AHP AlphaTIG 200X TIG Welder -- here’s a model that is very competitively priced and yet offers many of the same features as the higher priced models. The AHP will enable you to effectively weld on aluminum, stainless steel, steel as well as precise welding on thinner materials. Foot pedal operated by default with the ability to add trigger switch via the included separate TIG control switch.
220V Everlast PowerTIG 250EX TIG Pulse Welder -- A bit of a dark horse sitting in the stable of otherwise well known brands, the Everlast model is a reliable and relatively inexpensive TIG welder that will serve you well. Color coded controls make it easy to set up and to understand the settings that are available. This unit offers 250 AMPs of TIG welding on 240V with a 60% duty cycle.
Best Stick welders for beginners
110v Lincoln Electric K2278-1 Handy Core -- This entry level unit is one of Lincoln Electric’s lowest priced units and yet is packed with features that will make it easy for the beginner welder to understand and use. Equipped with a gun and cable assembly as well as a spool of self shielded flux core wire, a handshield and a wire brush, this unit can get you up and running almost immediately. And it is backed by Lincoln Electric’s full year warranty on parts and labor. This is a welder that you can start with but that will be a nice addition to your workshop for a long time to come.
110v/220v EVERLAST PowerARC 140 Lift Start -- This Everlast model runs on both 110V and 220V and packs a host of functionality to help the beginner, hobbyist or DiY welder. Comes with 6 foot cables runs at 35% duty cycle. This welding unit is rated at 140 Amps on 220V and with a max of 100 Amps on 110V. This is a Lift Start model.
As mentioned at the beginning, there is no “one size fit’s all” approach to welding as every person’s needs will be a bit different. We encourage you to give strong consideration to the type of welding you will be doing before making a purchase. Some of these units are expensive so do the research ahead of time before purchasing. Make sure you understand the different types of welding and they metals and situations they are best for. Also consider ongoing costs in the form of consumables, not to mention the safety items you’ll want to ensure you have before you start. There is a lot that goes into welding…a lot to understand about the process and safety as well. You must be well informed at all levels as doing any of this wrong can be incredibly dangerous.