Get your credit cards ready, girls. I found a gift that will set your guy’s heart on fire. My husband is like most—if he wants something, he buys it. That "I don’t need nothing" attitude can make gift-giving a tough task, but it also makes outsmarting him that much more fun.
Learning new tricks with a MIG welder is all a matter of practice, says Jay Smith. It’s also a lot more fun when someone gives you the machine.
I formulated my gift-giving plan by hanging out at the shop. We’re constantly repairing equipment, and striking an arc with our ancient AC stick welder invariably ends up with the electrode stuck to the workpiece.
I’d read about metal inert gas (MIG) welding, and the literature made it sound easy. With MIG welding, you weld with a continuously fed wire. Just pull the trigger and guide the tip along the joint to be welded. Ta-da—you get a nice, liquid, flat weld with no slag to chip. How cool is that?
A few subtle, flyby MIG mentions got a "sure, maybe we could use it" shrug. Of course, he didn’t think we needed a self-darkening helmet either, but the fancy, decal-covered hood I purchased for my use has been permanently "borrowed."
Serious flame. A little online shopping confirmed that I’d better be serious about this gift. Welding units run $1,000 or more. The Hobart, Lincoln and Miller websites were all helpful for comparing features, but there were so many choices that I started getting bogged down.
Frustrated, I e-mailed Dan Anderson, our Farm Journal shop guru. I outlined what kinds of metal we typically weld and the average thickness. "You’re a prime candidate for a MIG welder," Dan typed back. "MIG welds are clean, easy and ‘pretty.’
"You can’t beat an arc for welding heavy, thick, rusty metal," Dan added. "But you can’t beat a MIG for welding thin metal, average metal or aluminum."
My research led me to purchase a Millermatic 212 Auto-Set because we mostly weld up to ½"-thick steel and send heavy-duty fabrication work to a local professional. Dan told me that model will happily weld 1⁄8" steel all day. "Try that with your arc welder," he said.
"With an MIG, the diameter of the spool of welding wire, tip and wire guide restrict how much filler you can put down in a single pass," Dan said. "To weld really thick stuff, you either have to do a lot of weaving or make multiple passes.
"I still prefer the arc welder when I’m welding upside down," he said. "I use the MIG for welding thick metal (½" and thicker), if I need pretty welds or if I’m welding vertically."
Dan said most guys—being guys—tend to exaggerate the size of the welding they do. "When I was shopping for welders, I had it in my mind that I needed to weld ¾" steel, but when I measured, I found what I weld is rarely thicker than ½"," he admitted.
Some folks size their welders to accommodate the thickest metal they ever expect to weld. Dan likes to size to fit the metals welded most frequently and adjust welding practices.
"On really thick stuff, I tend to use my arc welder because it burns deeper and I can use thicker rods to provide more filler metal," he said.
The local dealer that gave me the most information (and respect) got the nod for my purchase. He showed me competing models and didn’t try to sell me more than I needed. His price was competitive, but he went gold in my book by agreeing to barter some of the cost of the argon gas and a spool of wire for homemade brownies.
Dan also warned me that initially, my hubby might be a little flummoxed by the complexity of getting the gas and wire speed set right. For the price of a six-pack, I got a friend with MIG experience to show up on the big day. He demonstrated some basic tips on how to hold the nozzle, set the length of the wire from the contact tube and control the size of the weld bead by keeping the wire directed at the leading edge of the weld pool.
Best of all, Jay thinks this welder is "slicker than snot." Our employees think so too—suddenly, they all like to weld and that means my husband can spend more time with me. I just love it when a gift keeps on giving.
- February 2011