MIG Welder Buying Guide: 10 Awesome Tips To Pick the right MIG Welder  

 April 5, 2022

By  chris

Picking the right MIG welder can be a daunting task. There are so many brands and models to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you? You need a MIG welder buying guide to decipher the crazy amount of opinions and reviews on welding machines.

In this buyer's guide, we will outline ten tips to help you pick the perfect MIG welder for your needs. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, these tips will help you make an informed decision. So, what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

MIG welders- What do you need it for?

MIG welders can be used for a lot of different welding projects.  Purchasing a welder can be expensive depending on your situation and your reason for needing a welder.

Will you just weld steel or will you weld aluminum, too?  The reason I ask you this is because there is a difference.  Welding steel is easy.  If you're gonna be working aluminum, then you'll need a welder that is spool gun capable.  

What's the thickest material that you think you'll be welding on?  Answering this question will help you know how powerful of a welder you'll need.  The thicker the material, the more amps you'll need for single pass and good weld penetration.

Are you going to be welding in a shop or outside?  The question is real if your significant other is a clean freak like mine.  Welding in a shop allows for MIG welding (with gas).  

If you're outside in windy conditions, then you'll need to use the flux core welding process with your MIG.  The wind would blow away your shielding gas with MIG. Flux core wire produces it's on shielding gas as it burns. This can be handy for working on farm equipment and other outside projects.

Another option is to purchase a multi process welder that is also capable of the stick welding process for welding outside.

Are you just learning to weld?  If so, a smaller machine might be your best option until you determine if you even like it.  I always tell people to take a class if they can afford it.  You'll learn real quick on whether you like it or not.  You'll also get a good idea as to the welder you'll like and need.

1. Research the Top Brands

When researching options, start by making a list of the top brands in the industry. From there you can narrow down your search based off reviews that other people have given about them. Here are some popular brands that are known to produce good quality welders:

Lincoln Electric :

Considered one of the best manufacturers in this industry, they are trusted by professionals throughout North America. I personally own a Lincoln MIG machine that I use just for flux core welding. Depending on the machine whether it's made in America or overseas.

Miller Welding :

A company with nearly 100 years in business, Miller is one of the leading names in welding equipment. Miller is my personal favorite. I use their welding machines both at work and at home. All of their machines are made in America.

ESAB Welding & Cutting Products :

With an established presence around the world for over 60 years, ESAB offers high quality welding products at reasonable prices.

Hobart Welders :

Another trusted name in the industry, Hobart has been producing quality welding machines since 1928

2. Know Your Price Range

Before you start narrowing down your search, decide how much money you want to spend. After deciding on a price range, you can then use that number as a reference point when making decisions and looking at options available to you. If you aren't sure what an appropriate price for a welder is, here are some typical prices:

Budget (under $1000) :

Cheap Welder

Typically, compact and straight forward machines made for beginners.

Midrange Welders (between $1000 - $2000):

Mig Welder

Compact welding machines with many of the same features as the budget models but tend to have more power.  Will be dual voltage or 220v.

Heavy Duty Welders over $2000) :

Millermatic 250 MIG Welder

These welders are for industrial quality and produce clean, precise welds.  Some will have all the bells and whistles.  There duty cycle will be good as well. 

3. Aim for a Multi-Functional MIG Welder

One of the benefits of owning a MIG welder is that it can do so many different things. Before you start your search, decide which functions are important to you and write them down. You can then refer back to them when making your decision and see which models offer those features.

You may opt for a welding machine that can perform multiple welding processes.

Here's some common processes that are available on multi-functional welders:

Stick/MMA Welder:

If you will be welding thick metal objects such as car frames, fencing, gates and weld outside, the stick welding process may be your thing.

Stick welding doesn't use gas. The electrode protects the weld puddle with off gas as the flux is burnt off during the welding process.

TIG Welder:

For more delicate projects such as jewelry, lighting fixtures or ornamental pieces, clean welds, roll cages, art work, and fuel tanks. TIG welding on some multi-functional welders will allow you to weld aluminum.

TIG welding is a more complicated process, but can produces a beautiful weld in the hands of a seasoned welder. TIG also provides a spatter free arc for a super clean process.

Flux Core Welder:

You can get some nice welds with flux core. It's perfect for welding outside and on the cheap. Your MIG welding machine is capable of welding with flux core wire. No inert gas is required like stick welding.

MIG Welder:

MIG welding is the most common welding technique used by beginners and pros alike. Metal inert gas welding machines can use a spool gun to allow a welder to weld aluminum.

A MIG welder can also weld steel and stainless steel using an inert gas and proper MIG wire.

These welding machines can use flux core wire by simply loading a spool of wire and changing the polarity of the welder.

4. Make Sure Your Machine is Safe to Operate

One of the first things you should look at when deciding on a MIG welder is its safety features. Some of these include:

Reverse Polarity Protection :

This protects your machine from electric shock if there is an accidental switch in connections

Thermal Protection:

Protects the machine against the user ignoring the duty cycle. Better to shut off than to damage your machine due to ignorance. Basically protects against stupid.

Used MIG welders:

If you are looking at used welders, be sure to inspect it very closely. Check the hoses and gas regulator for cracks and damage. Look at the ground and torch lead carefully to ensure that there isn't excessive wear and tear on it.

Open the door on the side to inspect the electrical area and spool location. If it's pretty clean, the owner probably took care of it.

Sometimes people will buy a welder only to find out their better half doesn't like black smoke and dust in the attached garage. Never fails to find a way into the house. I know, my wife hates it.

Before you buy it. Strike an arc.

5. Wire Feed Speeds

Guys get wrapped up around the inches per minute. I honestly just use the chart or auto settings on my welder. I'm sure you could nerd out on it, but I just keep it simple for my simple mind.

6. Read Customer Reviews

Even though you're probably not purchasing from Amazon, checking out what others have to say about your candidate welders is always a good idea when you are in the research stage.

If you visit one of these sites, simply search for the type of machine you are looking at and add "reviews" after it. Here's an example search string:  Hobart Handler 250 reviews

If you find a few products that interest you, go to each individual page and read the reviews there as well.

Forums are another great resource to see what other welders have to say about your potential MIG welders.

7. Look for a Good Warranty

One of the worst feelings you can have is to own a welder and need it repaired, only to find out that it's not covered by any warranty. To avoid this inconvenience, make sure the machine you are interested in offers good coverage for at least one year or more after purchase.

Another thing to keep in mind is how long of a turnaround time they offer on repairs/replacements - some companies may take weeks for their technicians to address your concerns, while others will ship replacement parts/machines immediately.

For this reason, I prefer to purchase locally. If your in the Fort Collins area, I purchased my last welding rig from General Air.

My Miller came with a 3 year warranty.

8. Know Your Amps!

The number of amps (amps) your MIG welder consumes dictates how much power you'll have during the welding process.

As a general rule of thumb, every .001 inch of material thickness will require 1 amp out of your machine. So .125 inches requires 125 amps. Miller has a good overall article on MIG welder parameters.

Obviously, this is only a ballpark figure. Thicker metal can be welded by beveling the edges and using a multi-pass welding technique.

I always say go for the machine that has more than enough power than what you require for than your welding style.

9. Look for a Machine with Durable Parts

One thing that separates professional welders from beginners is experience - professionals get used to welding day in and out, often times putting their machines through real-world conditions.

To avoid paying for repairs in the future, it is important to look out for parts that are both durable and easy to replace. With some of the Amazon welders, you'll need to ensure the use standard style consumables and replacement parts.

Pay attention to the duty cycle of the machine your looking to buy. The higher duty cycle MIG welders are generally a little more robust.

10. Look for Machines with Advanced Features

Not all machines are created equal - some offer cool features like dual voltage support plug compatibility (allows for easy transition between 220v and 110v), quick change or clamp-style drive rolls, precise tension control knobs, no-load MIG/flux core modes, grind modes, etc… While these features aren't deal break if they are not included in your machine, they can definitely add convenience if it includes them.

Some other examples of advanced features to look for when searching for a new welder:

Digital readouts/displays :

Helps make reading and setting your welder's settings much easier and more precise (a particularly useful feature for anyone who welds in tight spaces or on a vertical surface).

Electronic overload protection:

Protects the welder from potential damage by shutting off the unit before current levels get too high.

AUTO set feature:

Some MIG welding machines come with an auto set feature. It basically sets the welder parameters by the thickness and type of material you input and the wire size that you input. The auto set will adjust volts and wire feed speed automatically. My Miller is like that.

Really cool for somebody like me. It's not perfect, but pretty dang close. Then again, neither am I.

MIG Welder Accessories

Some welders will come with accessories such as a welding helmet, shielding gas, spool gun, spool of flux core wire and some even have packages that include a welding cart and welding tools.

Not all machines are created equal - some offer cool features like dual voltage support plug compatibility (allows for easy transition between 220v and 110v), quick change or clamp-style drive rolls, precise tension control knobs, no-load MIG/flux core modes, grind modes, etc.… While these features aren't deal break if they are not included in your machine, they can definitely add convenience if it includes them.

Some other examples of advanced features to look for:

Digital readouts/displays:

Helps make reading and setting your welder's settings much easier and more precise (a particularly useful feature for anyone who welds in tight spaces or on a vertical surface).

Push button wire feeding control:

Makes it easy to feed wire when you're welding, especially when you're wearing gloves.

Electronic overload protection:

Protects the welder from potential damage by shutting off the unit before current levels get too high.

Automatic wire feed speed control:

Allows users to dial in their desired feed speed without having to adjust the knob every time they switch between .030" and .035" MIG

MIG Welder Accessories

Some welders will come with accessories such as a welding helmet, shielding gas, spool gun, spool of flux core wire and some even have packages that include a welding cart.

Welding Tools

Cheap welders- Are they worth it?

Amazon MIG Welder-

People on forums and other online communities will dog people for buying a welder online. I'm not one of them. I don't know your situation financially.

When I got out of the Army, I was broken as a three-legged dog. I needed a welder for some welding projects and couldn't afford a large machine. I bought a cheap MIG welder from the only box store in Fairbanks, Alaska at the time. It was a little Lincoln 85-amp machine.

You can bet that I would have loved to of been able to buy a MIG welding machine off of Amazon. I could have gotten a lot more welder for the price of the one I bought. Amazon was only 6 years old at the time and shipping to Alaska costs the price of a first child.

Don't worry about all the haters. Just buy the best welder that you can afford. People will hate that I said it, but I did.

Hell, you could use that little welder to earn a little money on the side to save up for a better welder later.

Which MIG Welder Should You Buy?

So, what's the best MIG welder? That question is like asking: "Which car should I buy?" While there are a number of factors that go into picking out a new (or used) machine, here's a good rule of thumb for beginners:

Low-cost: If you're inexperienced and don't know how often you'll use your welder, get one with an affordable price tag.

Rugged/Durable: Invest in something built to last. This way it will be around all through your learning process and beyond.

Durable parts: Parts that aren't going to break or wear down quickly are important because having to replace worn out parts after just a few uses can cost more in pre-repair parts than it would to get a new machine.

Advanced features: Things like digital readouts/displays, push button wire feeding control, electronic overload protection, and automatic wire feed speed control are great for beginners because they will make learning the ropes much easier (and more fun).

Amperage range: For welding thin metals (thinner than 0.030"), you'll want at least 10 amps; medium metals (0.060" thick), 15 amps; and heavy metals (anything thicker than 0.080"), 20-130 amps.

Are there any other tips you'd add? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Good luck with your search!

You can check out some of our how to articles:

How To Make A Plug Weld

33 Welding Tools Every Beginner and Accomplished Welder Needs

Best Welding Pliers For Welders in 2022 (Review and Buyer’s Guide)

MIG Welder Buying Guide: 10 Awesome Tips To Pick the right MIG Welder

chris


Average guy that likes to build things and teach others what I learn. Family comes first. Steel, Jeeps and off-roading are all fighting for second place.

Chris

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