Chelonian

Welder Questions

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Hi, hopefully this is the right place to post this. I'm starting to consider getting a welder, and I'm looking for advice on different options.

I think I'd like to start with a stick welder since they don't require the hassle of shielding gas, and I've heard from several sources that it is a good type to start with. Now the problem I'm facing: the only 230v circuits I have access to are wired with 20A breakers. I'm not an electrician, but I'm pretty sure that rules out being able to use a Lincoln tombstone welder for instance.

I'm assuming this amperage constraint this limits me to relevantly low-amperage welders, but I don't see myself needing to weld huge pieces of material anyway. Currently what I imagine I'd use it for is repairs and relatively light fabrication.

Am I better off  buying new, or trying to find a used unit? I don't mind waiting a while to find a good deal, but is buying an old one relatively risk-free as long as the leads are in good condition and it strikes an arc? If I do purchase one used, what amperage would be able to work with the 20A breakers? I know new welders have documentation with information about required input power, but an old one likely won't still have its manual. Is 100A a safe choice? Alternatively, if a new welder is a better choice, any specific recommendations that aren't too expensive?

If I'm missing any information, please let me know. Thanks!

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Just for some rough "beginning"  numbers...went out and looked at my at my old Canox DC buzz box to give a starting point.

Maximum welding (output) amperage is 225.  230 V input, 45.5 amps at max except it specifically says 75 amps when shorted.

For general fabrication..though I rarely use this one...I tend to be in the 125 to 140 amp output range. That's typically with 1/4" thick or possibly thicker material.  I absolutely HATE doing thinner on this because either I am not "good" enough at welding to keep from blowing holes or the machine isn't (always blame your tools so you can feel vindicated).  Lower amps to better handle the thinner stock ends up being a frustration of sticking down electrodes for me as though I have to re-learn every time.  It does get a little easier if I am running a lot of bead and can get in a "groove"....I temporarily improve but the gaps between using it are so long that I also unlearn every time.

So....though you might be able to do some welding at 20 amps input, it might also be a quite frustrating prospect until you find your groove.  You'll be working at such low output amperage that penetration will always be a bit mediocre and rod sticking will probably be a regular thing.  However, it might work for the occasional minor and non-critical weld situation--just sticking some stuff together.

I'd personally lean toward one of the low end wire feed welders.  You throw a bit more money at them but it's really worth it in terms of usability and results, especially for someone who doesn't weld enough to get superior skills drilled in.

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My Lincoln Tombstone says 50amp input. I have two circuits that I use it with. One has 40amp double-pole breakers which I've used for years with up to 125amp output the other has 60amp double-pole breakers that it will run on at max output (i think is 275amps).

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Why not wire up a bigger circuit? Most dryers and ovens are on a 50A line.

You can run core wire in a MIG and not worry about a gas. My Lincoln SP100 will run gas or gasless wires.

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Thank you for the responses and suggestions!

Perhaps wire-feed is a better choice here. I will look around at some when I have time.

I really don't know much about wiring circuits, but I will look to see if it's a viable option.

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Wire welding is easy to learn, and there are plenty of machines that plug into a regular 110/115v outlet.

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Chelonian, your 230VAC circuit(s) are adequate for your welder, just make sure that ALL your WIRING, RECEPTACLES, PLUGS and BREAKERS are proper for carrying up to 50 amps or whatever your welder requires.  From your question, I would recommend you consult a licensed electrician to do ANY work on your welder circuit.  As others have mentioned, the 110/120VAC welders are underpowered for anything above 90-100 amps and that is really stretching it for anything but thin steel.

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Chelonian, I have a little Lincoln 140 MIG welder that I adore. Seriously. It's cute and it works very well for me. It runs on 110 and doesn't need shield gas (though I can hook up gas if I want).

I learned to MIG well on an HF special my buddy gave me and when I killed it, I bought the Lincoln. I'm lucky because I have two neighbors who are welders by trade who were very free with the commentary as I was welding up projects. Yes, they pointed and laughed, but I've gotten pretty good with the little Lincoln. I also took a 1-day class on basic welding that let me try different types of welding and welders, and that was really helpful. One thing I learned is that I suck at is striking an arc with a stick welder. Whatever the talent is to get that to work, I have the exact opposite talent. Even the instructor was like, "Yeah, how's about you go back to practicing with the MIG welder."

The Lincoln 140 I have takes reels of flux-core wire. A piece of advice---get good wire. Crappy wire makes crappy welds and is annoying. Also, follow the chart on the inside panel regarding the correct use of wire for the material you're welding. Accept that you'll be really bad at welding because, like playing the ukelele, you have to practice. And then you'll get the hang of it. Get a decent angle grinder and decent wheels because you'll be grinding a lot. Buy a good welding helmet, leathers, and respirator---Jody on weldingtipsandtricks.com gives very good advice about PPE and everything else welding. HF is not the place to buy that stuff, though Northern Tool has some good gear for not too crazy an amount of money.

You can use shielding gas with these small MIG welders. My welder neighbor said you get better welds, but you should still use the flux-core wire. You can use the weld mix (argon and CO2) or just CO2. I'm going to try just the CO2 because I already have a tank and I have to weld up some workbenches for my new shop.

Welding is useful and fun. It's also messy and dangerous. My neighbor literally set himself on fire last summer using his MIG. Two weeks in the hospital, skin grafts, it will take him another 9 months to heal. He has to wear Lycra to help prevent scar tissue buildup and he has chronic pain from nerve damage. He's getting better slowly and he was outside working on a new welding table last Friday.

Hope this helps.

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Ohio made a good point on the PPE...but one thing you should always add when buying a welder is a good (large enough and properly rated) fire extinguisher that follows the welder around wherever you are using it.  Having it nearby and in a place you can grab it quicker than running across the room is no different than wearing a helmet--a requirement.  

2 times I've come close to danger.  One, I was stupid and didn't pick up some scrap paper from the floor in the area.  Lifted my helmet and there was a little camp fire right at my feet, looking for my pant legs.  The other was weird--my ex wife loved to throw about 6 dryer sheets in every load.  Those leave a flammable coating on fabric when you way over do.  I started feeling warm, lifted my helmet, and had blue flame crawling up my clothes.  It doesn't burn that hot (more like a barely visible alcohol flame) but with the wrong fabric, I would have been in some deep manure.

Anyway...be sure and cost protective measures into your welder purchase.  It's basically a one-time expense but well worth it.

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Look into a CO2 fire extinguisher or a Halon extinguisher to have close at hand.  There is little or no clean up from CO2 or Halon. A dry powder extinguisher throws powder everywhere, as it should, and clean up is a reminder not to set things on fire. 

When in doubt pull the trigger on the extinguisher. You can knock down a small fire on your own before the big red trucks are needed.

 

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The negative about some extinguishers like CO2 is that they can blow loose fire material if you use them incorrectly.  In the kind of panic people tend to be in when using, inexperienced folks tend to point them directly at the fire which is not correct for just that reason.  You work your way toward the fire rather than directly spraying right at the center in most cases.

Some fire departments have public trainings on extinguishers that can be a handy half hour and worth it.  They'll often light a small fire and let people use an extinguisher to get a "feel" for what it does.  Yea, I know--it seems obvious--but having done it once on an actual fire does really help.  Long ago when I had to take that training for business I was surprised that even after being told pointing right at the fire could basically spread it, many people still did exactly that..and it splashed the oil they were using and spread.  It was also surprising how many people closed their eyes and acted terrified the first time they pulled the trigger..like it was going to blow up in their hands.

Or sacrifice an old extinguisher of your own just to get the feel.  Especially get a notion of just how quickly they run out:  Those really small ones often only give you 10 or 15 seconds.

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Thank you for the additional information.

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On 10/20/2019 at 7:26 PM, Chelonian said:

I think I'd like to start with a stick welder since they don't require the hassle of shielding gas, and I've heard from several sources that it is a good type to start with. 

As much as I love old welders, have a 200 amp buzz box and a 3 phase rocket welder ... the new inverter welders have come a long way from the initial poor reliability. An inverter be it using stick or mig or tig, will require a lot less power than a transformer. Consult an electrician as to how much power you can draw from your circuit and if it is feasible to be upgraded. 

Modern inverters can do more than just one task, so you can learn to weld using inexpensive rods, then try your hand at gasless MIG and if your machine does that, even TIG. Best of both worlds. An old buzz box is attractive because they can be had for very little money, typically $50 or so, but they can be unforgiving and learning from scratch on it can be a bit of a task. An inverter with all the electronics in it, is a breeze to use. 

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The issue with 110v welding machines tends to be lack of penetration on thicker materials (3/16 and thicker). Until some experience is gained, it can seem as if a weld has been made, only to discover that the bead did not penetrate sufficiently. Also, a regular 15 amp household circuit breaker will trip regularly using a welder on it, so 20 amp should be considered a minimum for those machines. An arc welder running on 110 volts can do some decent welding for small shop stuff if using small electrodes and multiple passes, and tends towards better penetration than a 110 volt wire feed welder.

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