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RSS By: Dan Anderson, Farm Journal

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. 

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COMMENTS (2 Comments)

Dan Anderson
Good questions! Sorry I wasn't able to reply more quickly.
(1) I've found that stick welders will burn into and have better penetration than MIGs when welding thick metal, though MIGs will always produce cleaner looking welds with less spatter. DC stick welding is a nice mid-point between AC stick and MIG--DC leaves less spatter, welds more smoothly, but has the penetration potential of AC. Another thing DC stick has over AC stick is that you can reverse polarity--in simple terms, you can have the electricity flow from the electrode to the piece you're welding, or from the piece to the electrode. You get more penetration from having the flow toward the metal you're welding. When the flow is from the metal to the electrode you can weld thinner metal with less concern about blowing holes. I predict if you buy a new stick welder, there are places where you'll use the MIG you already own, and places where you'll prefer the stick welder, once you become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.
(2)According to the folks at Miller, Lincoln and Hobart...I should trade in my 16-year-old 115-volt portable Lincoln wire welder and get a new one, because circuitry and technology have improved dramatically, especially in the past decade. I'll admit that when I weld with my aging Lincoln then weld with a coworker's 1-year-old Miller 115-volt wire welder, the newer welder welds easier and better. A new 115-volt wire welder rigged with flux core wire is definitely on my "someday" list.
(3) I don't have a lot of experience with TIG, but if you already have frequent use for a spoolgun, you might find justification for a complete TIG unit. TIGs make beautiful, strong welds. If you've got the interest, time and skill to use TIG for more than just aluminum welding, they're great units.
Suggestion: check with a local industrial welder dealer and see if they'll bring out a demo-unit to let your dad compare side-by-side, weld for weld, with his buzz box. Seeing is believing.
8:53 PM Nov 10th
Bruce in Minnesota
Good article. I too am a mig-generation welder,owning a Miller 200. I grew up with my Dad's old Lincoln. The mig really gave me a step up on repairs and fabrication. My Dad still lives with the old AC Lincoln and can't seem to cross the barrier.... "his barrier". Maybe this is his way out. I didn't want to invest in a new "old buzz box". 1)Would I like and use a new AC/DC ? 2)Have the newer Migs changed since the mid 80's Millermatics? 3) Would I use a Tig on the farm? I already have a spoolgun for aluminum. Thank you.
2:17 PM Nov 9th
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