In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Time For A New Welder?
Nov 08, 2008
I learned to weld on my dad's discount store 180-amp "buzz box" arc welder. In high school shop class, we used hulking, ancient war-surplus behemoths that taught me only how to burn ragged holes in whatever I tried to weld. My welding experiences over the years eventually instilled in me a deep dislike for AC stick-type welders in general.
For the past 16 years I've welded almost exclusively with MIG or flux core wire welders. MIGs weld clean and are very forgiving. My small, portable 115-volt wire welder is rigged with flux core wire so I don't have to deal with gas bottles while welding on service calls. Plus, when welding out of doors with the small welder, MIG welders are very susceptible to any wind that blows away the shielding gas, making flux core wire necessary.
On occasion, I've borrowed a customer's AC arc welder to make welds, and those welders generally did little to improve my opinion of stick welders. Those welders were usually either buzz boxes like my dad's, or large, old-fashioned welders handed down from the farmer's father or grandfather.
While researching a story about welding that ran in Farm Journal a couple years ago, one of the field reps from Miller Electric picked up on my dislike of arc welders. He encouraged me to try one of the new generation of arc welders on the market. He said that welder manufacturers have made significant improvements in welders in recent years. Improved circuitry and improved designs, according to him, made new arc welders much more user-friendly.
"I go into a lot of farmer's shops and see great big old arc welders from the '50s or '60s, or a discount-store buzz box that really wasn't designed for farm use," he said. "Making a sale in that situation is almost easy. I just have the farmer weld some steel with his old welder, then have him use one of our new welders. The new welders make the arc easier to strike, easier to maintain, and weld so much better than those old welders that farmers can instantly see the difference."
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. But in the past few weeks I've had opportunity to use a new , name-brand, high-quality arc welder, and...the Miller rep was right. I'm liking stick welding a lot. The new welder offers DC welding with reversible polarity, infinite voltage adjustment and it welds like a dream. I find myself reaching for the stick welder rather than the MIG. There are places where the MIG still has advantages, but that new arc welder has become one of my newest favorite tools.
So if you're still using your grandfather's hand-me-down stick welder, or using a low-end discount store buzz box (as in, it makes that loud buzzing noise whenever you stick and freeze the electrode to the metal you're welding...), do yourself a favor and find an opportunity to weld with a new generation stick welder. Set it to weld AC, then switch to DC to compare the advantages offered by DC, and spend some time melting metal. You might find that all those disappointing welds you've made over the years weren't entirely your fault.