Best Welder For Automotive
There is no single welding process suitable for all automotive needs. Some are easier to get started with than others, some are less expensive than others, and some take more time to master. The following article will help you select the best welder for automotive projects and home garage use.
The most common types of welders are Gas, Arc, Mig, and Tig. Between these four, the most versatile for all-around automotive use is the MIG welder. With a good quality machine, the home hobbyist and classic car enthusiast can repair automotive sheet metal as well as fabricate brackets and special tools.
Gas Welding - Pros and Cons
Gas welding is the oldest form of welding. Having an Oxy-Acetylene set-up in your home garage allows you to heat up stubborn bolts and pre-heat parts. Having a rosebud tip allows you to cut through thick metal. However, gas welding is hard to learn and difficult to weld thin metal.
Arc Welding - Pros and Cons
ARC, or stick welding, is easy to learn, but requires a lot of clean-up. It is not suitable for thin sheet metal.
Tig Welding - Pros and Cons
TIG welding is neat and precise, but the most difficult to learn. It is also the most expensive welder to buy.
Advantages Of MIG Welding
- Easiest welding process to learn
- Produces cleaner welds than Arc welding
- Provides good control on thinner metals
- Can weld steel, stainless steel, and aluminum
- Good for out-of-position welding
Disadvantages Of MIG Welding
- Initial cost of welding machine
- Paint and rust need to be cleaned off thoroughly before welding
- Very smoky and throws sparks
- Difficult to use outdoors
The MIG Welding Process
A MIG welding machine uses a spool of wire fed through a hand-held gun. Squeezing the trigger controls the wire output. Because of this action, starts and stops are easy, which makes it quicker to learn than Arc or Tig welding. The arc is created by an electrical current between the base metal and the MIG wire, melting the wire and fusing it with the metal. This type of welding is fast and economical, and well suited for thin metal.
Wire-Feed Welding vs MIG Welding
The two types of welding that can be done with a Mig welder are Mig and flux-core. Simply put, you can weld with shielding gas or without shielding gas.
Both the Mig and flux-core techniques are relatively easy to learn and give clean welds on steel, aluminum and stainless. Both have the capability to weld materials as thin as 26-gauge.
MIG Welding With Flux Core
Two limitations of Mig welding is that it can be difficult to use outdoors (wind can blow away your shielding gas), and that you have to cart around a gas bottle. Flux-core welding, also known as wire-feed welding, does not require gas, instead using a flux-cored wire to shield the arc. This process is effective when welding outdoors, in windy conditions, or on dirty materials. Flux-core is not a good choice for thin sheet metal.
MIG Welding With Shielding Gas
As it's name implies, the metal inert gas (MIG) welding process uses a shielding gas to "shield" the molten puddle from the atmosphere. The shielding gas is fed through the gun, and basically "suffocates" the weld area from oxygen. Mig welding is the best choice for welding automotive body panels.
Most inexpensive MIG welders run on 110-volts that have a high current but only for a short time. This duration is called the duty cycle. 220-volt welders will feature a higher current with longer duty cycles.
What Size MIG Welder Is Best?
The smallest Mig units put out 60-100 amps. They run on standard 110v current and can hold an 11-pound wire spool. Obviously, the smaller the unit is, the more portable it is. Small gasless Mig welders will retail for as little as $150.
The largest Mig units will have 40-250 amps with a 60% duty cycle at 250 amps. These are capable of welding up to 3/8" steel and will require 220 volts. Mig units like these will retail for $2,000 and up.
Personally, I have found the best welder for automotive use is a 110v unit that has 30-140 amps. Look for one with at least a 20% duty cycle at 140 amps. Medium-sized Mig units like these retail between $350 to $950.
Buying a welder for your garage workshop can be a pretty large investment. However, buying the cheapest unit available is false economy. The expression, "You can't weld with amps you didn't buy" is true.
Consider that a larger Mig unit will retain more resale value if you ever decide to sell or trade. If you think that someday you may want to weld anything thicker than 3/16", you'll want a welder that goes up to (or past) 120 amps. Preferably about 130 amps or above with a 30 amp minimum setting. These will go low enough for bodywork but will have enough power to do occasional thicker stuff.
Although set-up time can be time-consuming, the actual welding process is relatively quick. With sheet metal, a short, one-inch bead will be laid down, then a pause in time, while the welder moves to another point to weld. Therefore, a smaller, 110v unit may suffice for the home welder.
Best Brand Mig Welder
There are many brands of welders, the better-known American companies being Miller, Lincoln, Hobart, and Campbell-Hausfeld. Not all components are American made, most are only assembled in the U.S. from foreign and U.S. sourced components.
Presently, and for some time, the welder market has been flooded with inferior Chinese-made units. Not all these are junk, but some are. Many of these welding machines are the same unit, sold under different brands. These include Everlast, Longevity, Harbor Freight and Eastwood.
Buyer Beware - the initial low price also buys lack of customer support and poor after-the-sale service.
The Mig Welder in my garage workshop is a Solar 2150 made by Century Mfg. (Century was acquired by Lincoln Electric in 2003.) It's a transformer-style 110V unit from the eighties, and does a good job on thin to medium metal. I've welded up to 3/16" without problems.
It's All About Practice
MIG welding is clean, fast, and works well with thin metals. It is the easiest welding process to learn, and most commonly used for automotive body work. I have done a lot of patch and panel welding, and through trial and error, I'm always learning better techniques. Like any skill, it's all about practice, and then there's really no limit to how good you can Mig weld.
Welding tanks are under great pressure, and there's plenty of stories of tanks getting knocked over and taking off like a rocket through a wall or roof. Welding sparks are also dangerous. Keep a charged fire extinguisher nearby. Fires do happen.