The biggest step for a hobby welder is to find a welding machine. A welding machine is a big investment, prices can range from a couple of hundred dollars up to $16,000, so making the right choice for your needs is critical. There are four types of welding machines for metal fabrication that are readily available for the general consumer:
1.Gas welding machines or oxy-acetylene torches
2.Shielded Metal Arc Welder (SMAW)
3.Mig Welders (Gas Metal Arc Welding)
4.Tig Welders (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding)
In this article I’m going to tell you a little bit about each of these so that you can make a more informed decision when you buy.
Gas Welding Machines (Oxy-Acetylene Torches)
Gas welding machines or Oxy-acetylene Torches as they are more commonly known are probably the cheapest and most versatile system for the beginner. The cost of the kit, which includes lines, regulators, a handle, a welding tip and a cutting tip as well as a sparker and protective mask come in at around $300. The bottles are around $160 for both bottle so, to start the cost would be just under $500. There are two big advantages to a gas welding machine over the more expensive models.
The first is that gas welding is a slower process, which makes it easier for a beginner to see the welding process. The second advantage is that the gas welding machine can also be used to cut steel. The last advantage of a gas welder is that it can be used to weld all kinds of metal whereas a stick welder (SMAW) welder must be DC to weld Aluminum. This is not to say that using a torch to weld Aluminum is easy, in fact even professional welders can have trouble with this process.
Shielded Metal Arc Welder (SMAW)
The next cheapest type of welder is the SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welder) or Stick Welding machine. These machines start at around $500. They can be portable, are simple and are excellent in all kinds of environments because they do not use gas, which when used in windy conditions can be blown away. Stick welders are slightly easier to use than a torch (and require less hands to use), but there is a certain level of coordination required because your hand must move toward the work piece as the electrode is consumed.
Mig Welding Machines (Gas Metal Arc Welding – GMAW)
Mig Welding Machines (Gas Metal Arc Welding) are by far the easiest to use. For the beginner, a mig welding machine is by far the best choice. It is a little more expensive, a small one starts around $900 and a decent midsized welder is around $2000. A mig welding machine can have flux cored wire, for outdoor use (though it doesn’t make as good of a job as solid core wire) and can weld Aluminum if you buy the extra spool gun. The downside of a mig welding machine is that they generally don’t weld as thick of material as a Stick Welder.
Tig Welding Machines (Gas Tungsten Arc Welding – TMAW)
A tig welding machine is basically an electric version of a welding torch. A Tungsten rod is the electrode, while fillet metal is added by the operator in much the same way was with the gas torch. Tig welding machines are expensive (prices start at around $1600) and are the trickiest type of welding machine to use, but they also can weld any type of metal and are excellent for welding thin material.
At the end of it all, the choice is personal. One thing that should be remembered is that once you have the welding machine, you will end up using it for far more projects than you planned on so get the bigger model.