In The Shop: The Best Welder For You
Feb 06, 2011
Pam Smith's story, "Make His Heart Smolder" in the February issue of Farm Journal Magazine is a Valentine story with a practical message. Her entertaining tale of buying a MIG welder for her husband raises valid questions about how to select the best welder for a particular situation.
I've used a lot of different welders, bought welders, consulted with farmers preparing to buy welders, and here's my bottom line: the welder you want may not be the best welder for your situation.
I--and most guys who have valid reason to own a welder--want a Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welder. They make beautiful welds with no slag and minimal splatter. They allow the user to weld thin metal. (Perhaps more important, they easily FILL HOLES created by amateur welders attempting to weld thin metal.) Smith's choice of buying her husband a MIG welder was wise because he does a lot of fabrication and repair inside his shop using new, unpainted metal.
But after a lot of research and a fair amount of practical experience, I've decided a MIG welder isn't the best welder for the way I use a welder. MIG welders are designed to weld "new", un-painted metal. You have to scrape or grind away rust or paint down to bare metal to get good welds with a MIG. MIG welders are also fussy when used outdoors. A cross-breeze disrupts the shielding effect of the inert gas and produces scraggy, splattery welds. Heck, I've even had problems with poor welds caused by welding downstream from a shop fan inside a shop on a hot summer day. Plus, with a MIG welder you have to switch wire spools and sometimes the type of shielding gas if you want to weld really thick metal or exotic metals.
With a good ol' stick welder, you can weld through rust or paint (within reason), you can weld outdoors in the middle of a windstorm if necessary, and changing metal thickness or metal composition is as easy as putting a different stick in the handle. As much as I'd love to have a MIG in my home shop---my personal welder is a MODERN stick welder.
And that's a key issue. If your current stick welder is a 30-year-old hand-me-down from dad, or even worse, a 50-year-old antique purchased by grandpa, it's time to upgrade. You will be amazed at how much better the latest generation of computer-assisted welders weld. They strike and hold arcs more easily, don't "stick" nearly as much, and are capable of welding thinner metals (with the proper diameter stick and a little practice.)
In my dream shop I'll have both a MIG and a stick welder. But in my reality of often working outdoors with painted, rusty scrap iron, stick welders work best.