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Welder help

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Hello everyone,
I need a little help if I can get it. I'm a bladesmith and I need a welder to do a few odd jobs. The problem is, other than gas welding, I know so little about welding that I don't even know what I don't know or where to start. I'd like a good general purpose welder capable of preferably welding up to 3/8 inch. of mild steel and will weld high carbon steel. I have a forge body that I want to weld up and billets of layered steel to weld up and weld to a handle when making pattern welded steel. Just simple things like that, but I'd like to have something that can bigger jobs as well, in case I ever want to weld a pole barn some day. I plan on researching thoroughly what I end up getting, but I just don't have the time to research every type of welder and every welder within the type. If I could get pointed in the right direction, given some things to think about, etc., I would greatly appreciate it. Thank You very much, -Sade McCraw.

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From what you say its mostly small stuff. I suggest a small wire feed welder using flux core or, if your budget will reach, a small Mig setup. Lincoln/Hobart/Miller make a 110v rig which is very handy both in just wire feed and also with Mig. The 220v versions are very nice. For general purpose welding in the shop, including making tools and tables etc, these are great.

On the day that you need to weld up a pole barn spend $80 to rent a gas powerd welder for that day. This will let you choose a welder more suited to your day to day needs. IMO if you buy a tool that does everything either you will spend a lot of money for features you rarely use or you will find that it doesnt do anything very well. Just my opinion.

Another thought is that you might consider adding a buzz box later to handle the heavy jobs. Stick is very versatile and well suited to heavy stuff. Its poor at thin stuff. But good stick welders can be had cheap if you shop used and a standard Lincoln Tombstone will do the pole barn. IMO stick is harder to learn than the other processes. It has lot of advantages but it requires a significant amount of practice. OTH if you can already do a nice weld with gas you have a big jump on the game.

There is also TIG to consider. TIG gives the nicest cleanest welds and puts the least heat into the material. TIG can weld almost anything. If two metals can be welded together TIG will do it. But a TIG setup is more expensive, the equipment more complicated and more cumbersome and the process itself more fussy. Its best suited to shops where you need very clean high quality work.

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Since I am a bit bored here's a rundown on the welding processes most commonly found in metal shops.

Oxy fuel - mostly acetylene - versatile but rather slow and not well suited for heavy stuff. The setup can be used for a variety of other jobs such as brazing heating and cutting. Very nice for delicate stuff like welding leaves onto a rose stem.

Stick. Electric arc welding in which the electrode is also the filler material. The electrode is a 14" (typically) flux coated rod. Cheap and versatile. Changing electrode type is quick and easy Will handle heavy stuff but below 1/8" it gets tricky. The welds are not as pretty to look at and there tends to be a fair amount of spatter. Also IMO the most difficult to learn.

Mig. Electric arc welding in which the electrode is the filler but unlike stick its a spool of wire which starts feeding when you press the trigger. Mig uses gas shielding. Will do thin sheet metal and makes a nice looking bead with relatively little spatter. How heavy it will go depends on the size of the rig. Changing out wire rolls is a PITA. Also the gas shielding is vulnerable to windy conditions. MIG setups are comparitively expensive. Also, because of the wirefeed and gas line, a MIG rig has to be a few feet away from the weld, unlike a buzz box where you can use 100' cables to reach everywhere.

Wire feed. Like MIG w/o the gas shield. Uses a flux core wire. Will not weld as thin as MIG and the welds are more like stick welds with more spatter. They are much cheaper and lighter than MIG since there is no gas bottle to deal with. Also fairly easy to learn.

TIG The electric arc provides the heating only and the filler rod is added separately. The arc is provided from a pointy tungsten rod which does not become part of the weld (or shouldnt :) ) Much like Acetylene welding in which you work a little puddle with the gun and add filler rod intermittently. Requires gas shielding for the weld pool and usually water cooling for the TIG gun. It also requires sophisticated electronics for a high freq start and various wave forms to suit different metals. Makes beautiful welds and puts the least heat into the material. Can weld any weldable metals and can do very fine work. I have seen videos of people welding Al foil with TIG. They say that if you know your OA welding TIG is much easier. Rather expensive, fussy, and complicated. Like Racer said ,this is not the weapon of choice for a pole barn

Edited by maddog
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I would reccomend taking an intro to welding class at the local community college that covers all the processes listed above. My personal feelings, if you have some time to burn, get a stick welder and 50# of 7018 rod and use it all up. 7018 is sort of a self-inspecting rod, if you don't use good techniques, it won't look right. If you buy a small wire feed machine and squirt a handle on a pattern-weld billet, I doubt it will last 3 heats before breaking off and flying past your ear..

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If I were you and wanted to get a general purpose welder that will also be more than just a "general purpose" machine. I'd suggest a MIG. I'd actually suggest something around the "Millermatic 180" size machine. I wouldn't bother with a 110V machine at all. You'll be upgrading it right away.

It can use flux core wire or can go gas shielded (which is what I'd suggest) and is able to produce great welds, very easily, very quickly. It's a 220V machine so you can weld some pretty beefy material. It doesn't quite reach your spec. of 3/8" but can weld 5/16" in a single pass, and can weld thicker with multiple passes. They're fairly cheap to get, and are very versatile. Changing wire takes no more than 3-5 minutes, tips are easily replaceable, great for sheet metal, one handed operation....
The list goes on and on for how much I like this machine.

I have the older version of the MM175 which is pretty much the same but can only weld 1/4" in a single pass and I love it. My father in law even loves to use it and has never welded before in his life. A few hours showing him the ropes, and he's off on his own getting better every time.

But if you think you might ever want to weld aluminum, I'd go one step further and get something like the Millermatic 212 because it'll go a little thicker (3/8" mild in a single pass) but can also accept a spool gun for welding aluminum. Again...I also have "last years" version called the MM210, but it's basically the same machine just beefier and newer.

You could also save a little cash by going with the Hobart line of welders which I'm told are made by the same company but with aluminum windings instead of copper windings like in the Miller line. I know plenty of people with Hobarts and love them as much as I love my Millers.

I'd also keep an eye out for a used arc welder. They're not quite as easy to use as MIG but can be helpful for thicker metal and they're cheap. You can find used 220V machines for 100.00.

Oxy-Acet is tricky and slow.

Arc (stick) is tricky, messy and hard to get pretty welds sometimes, but cheap.

TIG is expensive, a little tricky but very versatile and great looking welds.

I'd start with a 220V MIG, take a class, and get started. You'll never regret buying a good 220V MIG.

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Hi again,
I really appreciate all the helpful information you gentleman gave. I think I'm leaning towards a stick welder, not completely decided, but it seems like it has the features I'm looking for. I'm wondering if it would be worth it to put in the extra money to get the ac/dc, or if ac would be sufficient. Should anyone else have something they would like to add I would welcome it. Thank you very much.

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Stick! Great choice!

I use a stick welder and an oxy acet torch for the little stuff. I think stick is great for general purpose welding in a metal shop. I used to have MIG but I got rid of it. However when people ask me for advice I recommend MIG because its easy to learn and will do thin stuff down to sheet metal. The MIG rigs are great but I love stick.

Absolutely get DC. Absolutely. It is easier to control. Easier to learn. Gives nicer welds and some rods are only available for DC. I also recommend a model that has continuous current control. The Linconl Tombstones are great machines but they only give you a limited number of preset clicks. It is a real advantage to be able to set the current a little higher or lower.

Get a good name brand 220v welder. Stay away from 110v stick welders!

The two rods you will use most are 6010 & 7018. (6010 is the DC version of 6011)

Plan to burn about 50# of rod to learn the process. You will improve markedly after 10# & 20 # & practice with both kinds. They run differently but once you get these down, other kinds are easy. Stick with bigger rods while learning 1/8" and larger. Its easier

Get an autodark helmet. This helps tremendously. Again stay away from the $50 HF. models. They work but they dont fit well. Welding is delicate tricky process that takes concentration. You dont want distractions.

Many of the buzz boxes come with wimpy short leads. Upgrade the leads to at least 50' length #2 gauge welding cable. It makes a noticeable difference

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If you are independantly wealthy or plan on becoming a professional Weldor, Hobart is not a bad name to work with. They are actually part/owned by Miller. Their machines are great to work with. Get the AC/DC stick at tractor supply for about $420 (The lincoln version costs about a hundred more but does not have the infinite adjustability the hobart has). for mig, the HH187 (around $650 or so) is a little smoother than the M180, and again, the adjustability is there. If in the future, you wanna be able to weld aluminum, you can get a spool gun for either the H or the M. If you wanna get into tig, you can plug a scratch-start machine into the stick welder.

hobart is cheaper than miller and/or lincoln

Edited by Pault17
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This is a good model.

Miller - THUNDERBOLT XL AC/DC 225 AND - Part No. 903642

Similar models are made by Lincoln & Hobart. (I have the Hobart version for sale if you are in my area :) )

Anything with lower capacity would just be a toy and you will want to upgrade in a few months.

I would stick with Miller/Hobart/Lincoln/Esab. Good quality. Good rep. Been around for years. Parts are available. Your local welding store will know about them. A good quality buzz box will last forever with few repairs.

Things to consider:

The size of the rode in thousands is roughly the current it needs to run. So a 1/8" rod uses about 125 A. You will likely use mostly 1/8" with 3/32 & 5/32 sometimes.

Welders of this size usually have a lower rating on DC due to the mfr economizing on the rectifier. Maker sure the DC rating is what you need.

Stick welders have a duty cycle which gives the ratio of run time to cooling time. Unless you are doing uninterrupted welding for long periods, this is no an issue. In a metal shop its mostly go and stop. But the duty cycle gives an indication of how well the cooling system is made and reflects on the quality of the machine as a whole.

The traditional buzz boxes are mostly a big transformer with a rectifier weighing over 100#. You will probably want a cart to move it around. There is a new technology now that uses semiconductor switching circuits to do the voltage conversion. These "inverter" models are much lighter and more compact. They can put out a varaiety of different currents and some can be used to drive a TIG gun. They also are much heavier on your wallet. About 2x or more.

Continous current adjustment is a real advantage IMO especially when learning.

Plan on upgrading to longer heavier leads and a decent quailty ground clamp.

Its my philosphy to buy equipment that is overrated for the work I am doing. I feel this gets a better built machine and I wont be straining it by always running it at its limits. Plus theres always that job that shows up the day after you bought the machine and if only... :) This of course depends on your budget.

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