These are 10 ways to select the right welding machine for your next project in 2020.
In a world of growing automation and technology, welding is still one of the trades where the human behind the machine is more important than the machine itself. That said, buying the right welder can significantly save you time and cost while improving ease of usage and quality. But how do you decide which welder is right for you?
1. Determine Your Process
Welding is an extremely useful skill to have even if you’re not a professional. Those who are just starting might want to look for an easy to use welder that won’t empty their wallet. If that’s the case for you, a MIG welder is great for two main reasons. First, it’s the easiest welding process to learn and second, it makes working on various metals possible.
Another welding process for new or intermediate welders is stick welding. It’s a bit more forgiving than MIG but requires more skill. It’s also great for repair and field welding.
If you’re not scared of steep learning curves or are planning on becoming a welder full-time (or work on metals like aluminum for a hobby), you should start with a TIG welder.
Related: Learn more about different welding processes.
2. What Metal Will You Be Working On?
Before choosing your machine, ask yourself this, “What metal will I be working on?”
If the answer is steel, stainless steel, or cast iron that you’ll be working on, a stick welder will do the job nicely.
If your work also includes welding aluminum alloys, copper, and brass along with the aforementioned metals, a MIG welder would be the right choice.
However, if you want the most flexibility, get a TIG welder with which you can work on everything mentioned above (with the exception of cast iron) and also on chromoly (chrome-alloy steel, also known as 41xx steel) and rarer metals such as titanium and magnesium alloys.
3. Choosing On The Basis of Urgency (Duty Cycle)
Different welders have different capacities for uninterrupted welding – this is known as its duty cycle. It is measured in terms of minutes and a rating is given to each machine. For instance, a welder with a 90% duty cycle would be able to weld for 9 minutes straight before requiring to be stopped for cooling. Similarly, a welder with a 70% duty cycle for 7 minutes before putting it down.
Two other things to note. First, if your work requires quick turnarounds and more deadlines, go with a higher duty cycle welder. Second, welders with lower duty cycles are more affordable and vice versa.
Editor’s note: After the machine completes one duty cycle, it must be allowed to cool down otherwise you risk damage internal parts or frying circuitry.
4. Fix a Budget
There are various types of welders available and each type has different features. This means the cost of the machines varies anywhere from $250 to over $2,000. It’s a good idea to determine what you absolutely need and then set a budget before you start shopping around.
5. Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC)
A welding machine’s power supply will either use alternating current or direct current. Machines with alternating current are generally less expensive but have fewer electrodes to choose from. On the other hand, direct current offers steadier energy flow that allows deeper and hotter welds and also has far more electrodes to choose from. The only downside to a DC power supply is that they’re more expensive.
6. Portability and Ergonomics
Portability is pretty self-explanatory. If your work involves large objects (cars, bikes, large metal frames) that cannot be moved easily then a smaller welding machine would be more useful. But if your work involves work on smaller objects like mold making and repair, then large welding machines will do.
Professional arc welders seek the right balance between power and portability.
Ergonomics can dictate how comfortable you are with a machine. Though it might not seem like a big deal at first, having a machine that doesn’t fit in your hands properly can significantly hinder workflow.
7. Power Supply Options
If your workplace has power outlets, you can choose from three power supply options:
- 115-volt AC: This is the option for home users. If you plan on welding in your backyard or in your garage, choose a power supply that is rated for 115V (options are limited).
- 220-240 volts AC: This is the standard outlet for more industrial workspaces and also the most common rating for power supplies in welding machines.
- Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase: This is the most powerful power supply that requires three wires instead of two. They are relatively more power-efficient and can be found in industrial warehouses.
8. Will You Be Working Outside?
In case you’re working where there are no power outlets nearby, you’ll either need to buy an engine-driven welder or invest in a welder generator.
Also, in windy conditions, normal MIG welders become ineffective which means you either need to use the flux-cored mode on your MIG welder, or a different straight flux-cored welder or stick welder.
9. Take a Look At The Spec Sheet
The spec sheet is a great way of buying the right welding machine online. Size, duty cycle, efficiency, and various other important details can be found easily on a spec sheet. Pay attention to the thermal overload protection and only buy welding machines that have it as well as on the open-circuit voltage (OSV). OSV is the live voltage flowing in the machine. Stick welders require higher OCV (around 80 volts) while most MIG welders require only 35 volts.
10. Use of Compressed Gasses
Finally, if you’re going to buy a welder that uses compressed gasses, then it’s a good idea to understand the costs and responsibilities associated with it.
First, different materials, workflows and welding machines use different gases (CO2, argon, oxygen, argon, helium, etc.) and may require additional shielding gas. Second, you’ll want to find a place where you can buy and refill your gas ranks. Third, storing and carrying many of these gases is dangerous and requires a lot of responsibility. Finally, if you’re a beginner, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from compressed gasses.
And there you have it – 10 ways to select the right welding machine for your next project. It might seem like an overwhelming task at first, but remember, it’s only a matter of figuring out your needs and going from there.
Forney Industries would like to thank Tony Caceres from ProWelding.org for writing this article!