Essential Power Tools – The Wire Feed (MIG) Welder
A visit to the local Princess Auto store (roughly the Canadian equivalent to the American Harbor Freight stores) when I was in high school netted me an arc welder that was heavily discounted because the manufacturer had mistakenly shipped the wrong model to the store. That purchase proved to be the catalyst that saw me gradually get drawn deeper and deeper into metal working.
Since then I’ve picked up a number of different welding systems, oxy-acetylene, engine driven stick welders, plasma, MIG and finally a spot welder.
It’s the MIG / wire feed welder though that ends up being the sixth most important power tool (in my opinion) to add to your workshop – and the one that will really open up a big segment of metal working to you.
Since I have and regularly use a number of different welding systems you would be right to question why the MIG is the first one that I suggest you should get, particularly since it was one of the last to actually assume a place in my own shop.
Simply, a MIG/wire feed welder offers the best combination of capacity, learning curve and price among all of the welding systems I have. On price – the 170 amp unit I have from Harbor Freight is on offer as I write this for $190, but I am reasonably sure that there will be some discount coupon in the next few months that knocks that price down to about $150 – which is very reasonable indeed.
While a stick arc welder could be had at a similar price point, the learning curve for this latter welding setup is more difficult. A wire fed rig by comparison is downright simple. It’s not quite “If you can pull a trigger you can be a welder” but it’s not that far off. Likewise, a wire fed rig will allow you to weld a greater range of material thicknesses that are of interest to a home shop fabricator. You can work on fairly substantial thicknesses of steel – not as heavy as can be handled by stick arc welding – but probably most of what you’ll be doing on one side. But then unlike the arc welder you’ll be able to effectively weld sheet steel – like car and truck panels – that a stick welder would find difficult to handle.
On the Oxy-Acetylene side the learning curve isn’t significantly different from a MIG. It is probably even easier if you get a torch like the Henrob. But, the cost – especially if you are going to be doing run of the mill work – is going to be several times what a MIG would run you when you figure in the cost of decent sized tanks.
Now, I really appreciate having both of those systems in my shop, but I have no hesitation in recommending folks grab a MIG/wire feed as their first welder. For some it may prove to be all the welder you’ll ever need. Others may find it simply serves as an introduction to what is possible for them to accomplish and serve as their own catalyst to broaden their metal welding systems.