Buying a welding machine is the biggest step if you decide to get into welding, so you need to do serious research before choosing which welder is right for you. This article could help you get a better understanding of some differences between the different types of welding.
And even if you’ve been around for a while, welding technology has really advanced in the last few decades. You can now find a portable TIG/stick/MIG welder for a few hundred bucks, and that is just amazing, especially if you’re new to the craft. This sort of versatility is a privilege. In the past, you would have to choose the specific type of welding you want to do before buying a welding machine.
You can still choose a machine that only works for one specific type of welding, so I will show you different options. I went through about 100 different MIG welders, stick welders, TIG welders, and multi-purpose welders before selecting the very best options in each category.
In the list below, you will find both high-end brands and also budget-friendly welders, so there’s something for every need and budget.
Disclaimer: None of the welding machines listed below are industrial strength. You can’t actually find these types of welders on sites like Amazon because they’re serious machinery and cannot be shipped easily.
MIG and Flux-Core
Metal inert gas, or MIG welding, is a process that uses a solid wire being fed through a gun and melting as the arc is created in order to create the weld. It also uses shielding gas such as argon or CO2 which protects the weld pool from contaminants. The shielding gas is supplied from a gas bottle which is connected to the welding machine and then run to the tip of the welding gun.
Flux-cored arc welding is a process that uses a tubular wire filled with flux that acts as a shielding gas when exposed to high temperatures. Flux-core welding is a bit messier than MIG welding, but the best thing about it is that it doesn’t require a gas bottle in order to work. This makes flux-core welders much more portable, and in fact perfect for outdoor use.
Best Flux-Core Wire Welder: Lincoln Electric K2278-1
The K2278 doesn’t use gas and you can’t connect a gas bottle to it either, so it’s not technically a MIG welder, but a flux-core arc welding machine. Lincoln Electric proposes you use this welder for up to ⅛ inch mild steel, but it can do a bit more than that. Even on a ⅜ inch, it gets the job done well enough. You could weld even thicker steel than that, but you will not get enough penetration for a strong weld.
This tiny flux-core welder packs a lot of power. It runs on 115 volts and the maximum amperage is 88, which is good enough for a non-industrial quality welding machine. The welding machine comes with an NR211 flux-core wire, which is a great wire – it’s easy to find and very affordable. In the package, you also get a spare nozzle tip, along with a brush/chipping hammer and a handheld face shield. The wire is hollow with a flux inside, which reacts with the weld pool to create a shield that protects it from contaminants.
A very cool feature that’s included in this welder is the automatic adjustment of the wire feeder. Although you have a knob for adjusting the speed, if you turn the voltage up, the speed of the wire feeder will increase too, and vice versa.
This is also a great portable option. It weighs only 45 pounds and the handle on top makes it easy to carry around.
On the inner side of the welder’s opening, there’s a chart that tells you the exact switch combination for each thickness that needs to be welded, which is great, especially for beginners.
Because the welder is so tiny and only uses 115 volts, on 70 amps you only get a 20% duty cycle. So for 2 minutes of welding, you have to rest the machine for 8 minutes. This is understandable for welders of this size, so don’t expect a better result from a different brand welder of the same strength.
What some welders have a problem with is the quality of the ground clamp. It’s honestly a very cheap clamp, but you can very easily replace it with a better one that you can buy just about anywhere. Here’s a good one, also made by Lincoln Electric.
- 4 output ranges;
- Can weld up to ⅜ inch mild steel;
- Very light and portable;
- Automatic wire feeder speed adjustment;
- Settings chart perfect for beginners;
- Very affordable.
- 20% duty cycle at higher amps;
- Low-quality ground clamp.
Best MIG Welder: Hobart Handler 190
As soon as you open the box, you’re in for a treat. The quality is very visible in all of the components right away. The 10ft. HR-100 gun is very reliable, and the connector is durable. The same goes for the 10ft. ground cable, a very sturdy connector with a heavy-duty clamp. The power cord is 6ft. long, and it too is well made.
A flux-core wire is also included in the box, along with two .30” nozzle tips. Switching between flux-core and solid wire is a piece of cake because of the quick-change lever, and it can be done in less than a minute. There’s also a button inside for switching between a spool gun and a MIG gun.
When you look at the front of this MIG welder, you can see there are only two dials and an ON/OFF switch. The upper dial is for the speed of the wire feeder, and the bottom one is voltage control, which lets you choose intensity on a scale from 1 to 7. You can weld any thickness between 24 gauge and 5/16 mild steel.
The inner side of the opening features a welding chart which is very easy to use even for beginners. You simply choose the material you need to weld and its thickness, and it will tell you the exact settings for the voltage and wire feed speed.
The best part about this MIG welder is the spool gun option. You can buy that separately if you want to be able to weld aluminum. Of course, you would need pure argon gas for this because you can’t use CO2 for aluminum.
The duty cycle isn’t bad at all. At 130 amps you get 30% which is understandable, but you can push the amperage up to 190 and at that point, you probably won’t get more than 10%. It runs on 230 volts, so you can run it on the outlets you have at home for washing machines or dryers.
There isn’t really anything wrong with this MIG welder. You can do flux-core welding with it too, and you can use a spool gun to weld aluminum. The weight of the machine may be a problem for some, but you can find a decent yet affordable cart, or you can just build one now that you have a welding machine (it’s actually super easy).
- Reliable and durable;
- You can upgrade it to weld aluminum;
- Simple controls;
- Welding chart featured inside;
- Can weld up to 5/16 mild steel.
- A bit pricey;
- A bit heavy.
TIG and Stick
TIG welding requires some serious skill. It’s the most precision-demanding type of welding, but it also produces the highest quality and most aesthetically pleasing welds.
Tungsten inert gas or TIG welding uses a tungsten electrode that heats up to extreme temperatures but doesn’t melt. Rather, it melts the base metal and you can also add a filler metal. If you’re not sure if you actually need a TIG welder for regular mild steel, this article may help you decide.
Best Value-For-Money: LOTOS LTPDC2000D
This Lotos TIG and stick welder has been an Amazon top-selling product for years now, and there’s a good reason for that. For its price, this 3-in-1 welding machine is incredible. You can do up to 200 amp TIG welding, 200 amp stick welding, and 50 amp plasma cutting.
As a TIG welder, you can go from 15 amp to 200, depending on the type of metal and its thickness. You can install a pedal for controlling the power when TIG welding, but you have to buy that separately. The only drawback it has as a TIG welder is that you can’t use it for aluminum because it doesn’t convert to AC.
Although stick welding hasn’t been very popular in recent years, on some occasions you don’t really have another option and if you’re going to use the Lotos, you’ll be very satisfied with the result. The stick welder provides a very easy arc start and holds a stable arc after. You can penetrate very deep and form a nice, thick weld even on metal plates that are ½ inch and thicker.
Pilot arc start means you don’t have to scratch the surface with the plasma gun in order to cut; instead, you squeeze the trigger and off you go. It’s a great plasma cutter that you can use even on ¾ inch steel plates. It won’t go through completely, but just enough so you can hammer it off. Up to ½ inch it will cut all the way through. The recommended consumable sets for plasma cutting are PCS22 and PCS33.
It’s super easy to switch between each of these functions. The front panel of the welder has only 1 dial for the voltage and everything else you control using buttons. You can use this machine on both 110 and 220-volt outlets.
To sum it up, this is a great machine for its price. The only drawback is that it can’t switch to AC current, so you don’t have all the TIG welding options.
For such a powerful, multi-function machine, it’s quite light, weighing 37 pounds.
- TIG, stick, and plasma cutting machine;
- Stable arc both for TIG and stick welding;
- Pilot arc start;
- Reasonably priced.
- Cannot run AC;
- The gas regulator is a bit flimsy.
Runner-Up: AHP, AlphaTIG
AHP has upgraded their AlphaTIG welder, and they’ve done a great job with it. The old one had an interface with 9 knobs and 4 buttons, which can really freak you out if you’re a beginner. The new model only has 1 knob for adjusting the amps, and everything else can be adjusted with small buttons and a screen.
The interface is very simple and easy to use. On the left side, you can switch between AC/DC TIG and AC/DC stick welding, and under the screen, you can find the buttons for adjusting each setting. You can TIG weld with or without pulse, and you can choose between a lift arc start and a high frequency. You can also choose if you want to use a pedal or not.
You can use this machine to TIG weld any material, and with a maximum of 200 amps, you can weld plates of metal that are quite thick.
The rapid set feature makes setting up the welder for a specific job very easy. Once you press the button, you just pick the electrode you’re using, and the thickness of the material, and it sets everything up for you. You can then use the knob for fine-tuning if needed.
The rapid set feature can be also used for stick welding, which is super useful if you’re just getting into welding. The arc starts very easily and it stays stable all throughout the process. You can choose anywhere between 20 and 200 amps, so it’s good for different-sized metals.
Some welders have complained about the quality of the TIG hose, as it seems to break after only a couple of months.
- Easy-to-use interface;
- Rapid set feature works great;
- AC and DC current available for TIG and stick;
- Lift arc start;
- Holds a stable arc.
- Questionable TIG hose quality.
It’s amazing that nowadays you can get a MIG, TIG, and stick welder all in one. This is a relatively new invention and it’s amazing. Only a few decades ago, welding machines were the size of a Smart car, and now you can do all types of welding with just one machine that you can literally carry in your hand.
For me, it’s a no-brainer, I’d definitely buy one of these. As a matter of fact, I will buy one in the next few months. Let’s check them out.
Overall Best: HITBOX 200Amp MIG/Stick/TIG 3-in-one
Hitbox is not a well-known brand, but their welders are best sellers in their category for a reason. This 200-amp multi-purpose welder is super easy to use, quite versatile, and it gets the job done properly.
The front panel features a simple, easy-to-use control board. It has 3 buttons and a dial. The first button lets you choose between MIG, TIG, or stick welding. The second button is for switching between solid and flux-core wire, and the third one is to feed the wire to the gun when you’re setting the machine up. The dial is for adjusting the amperage and voltage. Although there’s no dial for setting the wire feed speed, the welder automatically does that for you when you adjust the amperage.
On the bottom of the front panel, there’s a European-style connector for MIG welding which is very easy for maintenance and fixing tasks. Then, you have the positive and negative plugs, and below them is a whip cord for switching the polarity.
When you look inside the welder, you can see the despooler is 4” and 8”-adaptable. It runs very smoothly and it provides a very constant wire feed. The drive system is cast aluminum and it can be used both for solid wire and for flux-core.
A minor drawback is the length of the ground cable. For some reason, it’s only a third of the MIG cord, but the power cord is very long, so you can just move the welder closer to the working area.
For stick welding, you can use up to 5/32 electrodes which is good enough even for heavy-duty welding. There isn’t really much more to say about stick welding – the arc starts very easily, and it holds steady all the way through.
As a TIG welder, this machine is close to perfect. You can strike an arc by touch-and-lift so your tungsten rod lasts longer. Plus, once lit, the arc will hold steady with no interruptions. Keep in mind that the TIG torch is not included, so you have to buy one separately.
The price of this welder is the biggest issue, but considering what it’s capable of and how well it performs, it’s well worth it.
- Easy-to-use interface;
- Very versatile;
- You can perform heavy-duty stick welding.
- TIG accessories sold separately;
- Ground cable is very short.
Best Value-for-Money: Forney Easy Weld 140 MP
Forney is a very reliable brand. They have been on the market for almost 90 years now and their quality is only getting better. This 140-amp welder is a great little machine, but it’s definitely not meant for heavy-duty welding.
Once you begin setting it up, you will see that the cables, hoses, and connectors are very well made. The MIG gun, electrode lead, and ground clamp are also very sturdy. When you look inside, you’ll notice that the drive system is cast aluminum, which is not typical for welders in this price range.
The control panel is very simple and easy to use. It features just one switch for selecting the welding process and two dials. The left dial is for adjusting the amperage and voltage. The other one lets you adjust the wire feed speed.
The despooler can fit up to a 10lbs spool, and it’s very easy to assemble. The drive system opens up with a click, and you’ll be able to see the wheel which you can change depending on the type of wire you want to use.
Another feature I really like is the chart on the inner side of the door. Even more experienced welders enjoy a feature like this because it can save so much time. The chart will tell you exactly how you should adjust the settings for each welding process, depending on the thickness of the metal that needs to be welded.
Now, onto the drawbacks. If you want to use this machine as a TIG welder, you would have to buy the TIG torch separately. But the biggest issue this TIG welder has is that it doesn’t do AC, so you can’t weld aluminum. There’s also no option for attaching a foot pedal or a spool gun.
- Surprisingly sturdy;
- Easy-to-use control board;
- Synergic adjustment software;
- Super light and portable;
- Great value for the money.
- Only DC capable;
- No spool gun or foot pedal option.
Runner-Up: Weldpro 155GSV MIG/Stick
As the name suggests, this MIG/stick welder runs a maximum of 155 amps, so it’s not a very heavy-duty welding machine. However, it’s a very decent welder for its price, as it’s capable of performing good welds and it runs both AC and DC current.
Right out of the box, you will notice that the quality is not top-notch. The sturdiness of the plastic and metal sheets is just not a match for what you get with the more high-end brands. The same goes for the cables and hoses. On the other hand, the clamp, the lead for the electrode, and the MIG gun are of decent quality.
When you begin setting up the welder for MIG welding, you will notice the connectors are quite sturdy as well. Because the product comes with a flux-core wire, you might try that one out first. Make sure to check which drive roller is on the drive system because if you use the solid wire roller for the flux-core wire, it simply won’t work.
The drive system is made of plastic, but a very thick sort of plastic, so I don’t think it will break easily. The motor runs well and provides a smooth wire feed. An interesting feature is the automatic feed mode. This means that when there’s no arc sense, the wire feeder runs much faster because it assumes that you’re not welding but just need to get the wire through the liner in order to begin.
That actually makes sense, because in order to adjust the speed of the wire while welding, you first need to do little test welds on a flat surface, and not just watch the wire as it comes out of the gun. The control panel is very simple and easy to use: there are only two buttons and two dials.
The left button lets you choose between 2T and 4T, and the right one is for switching between MIG and stick mode. When in MIG mode, you can use the left dial to adjust the wire feed speed. In stick mode, that same dial lets you control the amperage. The right dial is for voltage control in MIG mode and has no use in stick mode.
When run on 220 volts, the stick welder can go up to 155 amps which is enough for some very thick metal. You would have no problem welding up to ½ inch with a 5/32 electrode, but probably nothing thicker than that.
- Runs both AC and DC;
- MIG and flux-core wire welder;
- Easy-to-use control board;
- Very light and portable;
- Very affordable.
- Doesn’t seem too durable;
- No spool gun option.
The welder is probably the most important piece of equipment for welding. That’s why you should consider the following factors before deciding which one is right for your needs.
If you live in the USA or Canada, the power outlets in your house are 120V, and this is not enough for the bigger welders. In that case, you have to buy and install a step-up converter. It’s best that you consult an electrician if you decide to do that.
The Nature of Your Work
What you want to weld is probably the most important factor you should consider before you even start looking for welding machines. Different jobs will require different types of metal, and that will tell you what type of welder you actually need.
For example, if you want to work in the automotive industry, particularly auto-body stuff, the thickest metal you will be working with is 3/16 inches. For this, even some of the weakest welders will get the job done.
If you want to create art projects, you will probably be working with slightly thicker metals, up to ¼ inch. For this, you won’t need a welder stronger than 200 amps, so most of the welders on this list would be a good match.
Choose the Type of Welding
Once you decide the line of work you want to get into, you will know what type of welding you’ll be doing. All processes are good for welding steel and stainless steel; for aluminum, on the other hand, you can use MIG, TIG, and flux-core welding, but keep in mind that you’ll need alternative current, or AC.
For every other type of metal, you can only use TIG welding, except for cast iron. If that’s what you’re interested in, then stick welding is your only option.
The price difference between high-end welders and budget welders is huge. You can find a decent budget welder for $300 to $500, but a welder of the same power made by brands like Miller, Hobart, or Forney can cost up to $3,500.
In my opinion, go for the budget welder if you’re a beginner, even if it only serves you for a couple of years. It will bring you enough income to be replaced by a higher quality one.
That was a lot of information to process, so now I will go through my top picks quickly, just to refresh your memory and then you can decide which one would best suit your needs.
Let’s start from the top. If you’re looking for a small, portable unit that doesn’t require a gas bottle, go with the Lincoln K2278-1. This welder can be carried around with ease, and it’s especially useful if you need to weld outdoors because flux-core welding is not affected by wind like MIG or TIG welding.
The Hobart Handler 190 is one of the best MIG welding machines in that power range you can find. You can use this unit for MIG and flux-core welding. It works with AC and DC, so you can weld aluminum with it as well. It’s not the cheapest option on the list, but for the quality you’re getting, it’s worth it.
The best budget TIG/stick welder in my opinion is the LOTOS LTPDC2000D. This machine works so well that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s been one of Amazon’s top-selling welders for the past few years now. It can also be used as a plasma cutter, which most TIG welders don’t offer. The only issue with it is that there’s no AC so you can’t weld aluminum.
If aluminum is what you want to work with, then the AHP’s AlphaTIG could be the right machine for you. It’s a mid-range priced welder but can deliver high-end quality welds. The TIG hose doesn’t seem too reliable, but if it ever breaks, you can just replace it, and the machine will continue to serve you well.
As I mentioned before, if I were only now getting into welding, I would definitely go for a multi-purpose welder. When you’re new to some art form, you want to try all the possible options, and this type of welder allows you to do just that.
In case I didn’t make it clear enough in the review, I am amazed by how good TOOLIOM’s 200A 3 in 1 Welder actually is. It only costs around $300 but it has features that no other budget welders do, and it runs 200 amp so it’s not really a lightweight. The only issue it has is that it doesn’t run AC, so if you want to work with aluminum, you have to buy another one.
The best multi-purpose welder I found on Amazon is the Forney, 324, 3-in-one. Sure, it costs quite a bit more than the other ones, but Forney’s welders are known to last a few decades. Some old welders have used their Forney machines for 50 years. Seriously, look that up.
What is the best welder for the money?
The Tooliom, 200A 3 in 1 welder is by far the most impressive little welding machine I have ever seen. You won’t be able to find anything nearly as versatile and well made for that price. Also, it weighs only 10 pounds without a spooler inside, so it’s easily portable.
What is a good welder for the house?
All of the welders listed above are perfect for home use. As I mentioned in the introduction, none of these welding machines are of industrial strength.
What welding machine is best for beginners?
If I were just now getting into welding, I would without a doubt go for a more budget-friendly, multi-function type of welder. If I have the option to try all types of welding with a single purchase, I would get the room to decide which one suits me best, so that further on I can buy a specialized, high-end welder if I so desire.
Which is better, AC or DC welders?
For stick welding, AC is much easier to use and it offers greater arc stability which results in a smoother weld. But DC does have higher penetration. And then some metals, like aluminum, should only be welded in AC. So this question doesn’t really have a straight answer.