What’s the best welder? We review several welding machines we feel are worth your money, as well as discuss some important things that you should know when choosing the best welder for your particular needs.
Metal arc welding, also called arc welding is a popular process for joining metals. Choosing the best welder depends on a variety of factors, depending on which is the most effective process for the job at hand. The thickness of the material is usually the deciding factor that determines the welding method.
Overview | Best Welder
Ten types of arc welding are widely used in industry. Of these, three types can be considered the best welder for a small workshop and general maintenance use. For the workshop, MIG is the best choice. Flux core arc and stick welding are the best portable welders for outdoor use. We will review the best welders for a small workshop, farm, and DIY use. To begin with, let’s first introduce the three welding processes involved.
MIG (Metal Inert Gas), known technically as GMAW, it can also be called wire welding. It can be a semi-automatic or automatic arc welding process. MIG welding is a popular choice for manufacturing, workshops, and maintenance. Depending on the material being welded, higher welding speeds are possible than with any other welding method. The welds are clean and neatly formed, there is no slag to remove. MIG welders offer better control on thinner metals than Stick welders (SMAW). It’s typically suitable for steel from 3/16 in. to 3/8 in. It’s the best welder for a small production line due to the production cost savings.
MIG is the easiest process to learn. Setting up the welder can be complicated, but lots of guidelines are provided in the manuals for good welders. Starting and controlling a weld is easy and consistent.
MIG Welder Example | Forney 309 140-Amp MIG Welder
When welding aluminum, some MIG welders will experience wire feed problems. This is because the wire is so soft, it tends to get stuck and bundle-up at the feeder. Spool guns were developed to eliminate this problem. A spool gun uses a small 1 lb. spool and a wire feed mechanism at the gun instead of the conventional method of placing the spool at the welder unit. This is the best solution for all wire feed problems. The small wire spools also reduce the cost of doing infrequent aluminum welding because you’re using a smaller spool which costs less.
Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW or FCA) is another semi-automatic or automatic wire welding process. FCAW is a wire feeding process that uses a Flux-Cored wire. Because the flux is contained within the wire, no shielding gas is required – so there’s no need for gas cylinders, pipes and regulators. This makes it the best welder for outdoor use. The flux shields the weld pool and coats the entire weld. This coating allows the weld to cool more slowly, which creates a more stable weld. It does mean that you have to clean the weld afterward, unlike MIG welds. It’s best for out-of-position welding, like when working overhead, so it’s great for working on a motor vehicle. It produces more smoke than MIG welding and it must, therefore, be used in well-ventilated areas. Because the flux is inside the wire, water absorption is not a concern.
Stick welding is technically called Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) or Covered Electrode welding. Stick welding uses flux coated welding rods. The flux coating protects and seals the weld but the flux must be chipped off by hand. During storage, the rods absorb water from the atmosphere, so special storage methods are used. Stick welding is simple, versatile, and low cost. It’s a fully portable welder and still the most widely used. Stick is more forgiving when welding on dirty or rusty metal than MIG. The equipment is inexpensive, and the choices of welding rods give you a wide variety of welding applications.
Stick welding produces a lot of poisonous smoke and is better suited for windy, outdoor conditions. When used indoors, good ventilation is a must. It may be harder to learn than MIG welding, but in this line-up of welders, it’s the best welder for thicker materials.
We’ve selected four welders for this review, two of the best MIG welders for a small shop or hobby enthusiast and the best low-cost Flux Core Arc Welder. We’ve also included a Stick welder for those who prefer it.
- Hobart Handler 210 MVP MIG : Best welder from a leading manufacturer.
- Millermatic 211 MIG : An incredibly easy to use MIG welder.
- Goplus MIG 130 Flux Core Welder : Best welder for beginners and DIY enthusiasts.
- Amico Power DC-160A : Best high volume stick welder.
Best Welder for the money.
- Welds 24 gauge up to 3/8 inch mild steel
- Operates on 115 volt or 230 volt input power
- 7 voltage settings which help fine tune for precision welding (7 voltage settings at 230V; 4 voltage settings at 115V)
- 115V 25 to 140 output amperage; 230V 25 to 210 output amperage
- Cast aluminum drive system
- Duty cycle – 115V 20% at 90 amps; 230V 30% at 150 amps
- Quick change drive roll system – no tools required
- Dual groove, quick change drive roll
- Weighs 87 lbs.
- Manufacturers Limited Warranty
- Designed and assembled in Troy, Ohio USA
The Hobart Handler 210 MVP is a great MIG welder. Being an ISO 9001:2000 company, this is evident in their documentation and quality control. The Handler models are Hobart’s entry-level MIG welders. The 210 MVP is the second strongest MIG in this line-up. It’s perfect for maintenance, a small workshop, and small production facility. It’s also ideal for use on farms and boatyards.
The Hobart Handler 210 MVP MIG welder operates on 115V as well as 230V. Basically, the letters MVP means that a multi-voltage plug is supplied with the power cord. This makes it a versatile welder that can operate on a standard household power outlet. The welder will automatically adjust to the input power, which is very convenient and leaves no chance for error. Using 115V, the output of the Hobart is limited to 140A and you only have the option of 4 voltage settings. When using 230V, you get 7 power taps and a maximum output of 210 amps. Obviously, any welder will perform better at 230V.
The Handler 210 can also be used as a Flux-Cored Arc Welder. As an FCAW machine, it’s light and fully portable – there’s no need to transport gas cylinders. You can carry it around and use whatever power source is available; you just choose the plug that fits the receptacle that you’re using.
VIDEO | Hobart Handler 210 MVP MIG Welder
The wire tip isn’t live until the trigger is pulled. This is really great because you won’t get accidental sparks while positioning the gun or placing it down. The control panel has two dials for setting the welder – a wire speed control and a voltage switch with seven power settings. There’s a fantastic easy to follow weld parameter chart for selecting the correct settings and this is conveniently placed inside the side cover of the welder. A pressure indicator scale on the wire-pressure assembly makes setting the wire-pressure really simple.
The Hobart Handler 210 can accommodate an 8″ spool or a cheaper 4″ wire spool. It means that you won’t be spending extra money on large spools for the wire types that you don’t use all that often, like stainless steel. You need no tools to change the wire diameter on the Hobart Handler 210MVP. The feed roll has dual grooves for solid wire sizes and one knurled groove for the flux-cored wire, so changing wire types is as easy as it gets.
Spool guns are becoming very popular for welding aluminum. With this welder, the spool gun circuitry is already built into the Handler 210MVP, so you just unplug the standard welding gun, plug the spool gun into the welder and it’s ready to go. This means buying the optional SpoolRunner 100 direct plug-in spool gun from Hobart.
The rated output of the Hobart 210 at 30% duty cycle is 150A at 230VAC. I’ll explain duty cycles in detail later in the article for those who are interested. In short, most welders cannot work continuously, you have to stop and allow the welder to cool down. In this case, the 30% duty cycle means that you can weld for 3 minutes continuously at 150 Amps from a 230V supply. Then you have to stop and wait for 7 minutes to allow the welder to cool down. Should you overheat the welder it will cut out and an overload indicator will light up. It will then reset automatically after 15 minutes.
The manual provides clear guidelines for changing the polarity of the welding nozzle, when changing between MIG and FCAW. It’s easy, quick and very accessible. An Argon/Mixed gas regulator/flowmeter is supplied with the gas hose. If you plan to use CO2 you’ll have to buy a CO2 regulator. Hobart lists a CO2 regulator on their site and some of these are available from Amazon, like the LOTOS Argon CO2 flow meter regulator.
The Hobart 210 MPV is easily one of the best welders in its class. It offers excellent quality and is sure to deliver great service. Hobart offers a five-year warranty on transformers, three years on electronics and one year on guns.
Best welder if you value quality and you have the budget for it. Excellent quality.
- Advanced Auto-Set now includes five different wire/gas combinations and .024, .030 and .035-inch wires. The easiest welder to use just became more versatile.
- Fan-On-Demand power source cooling system operates only when needed, reducing noise, energy use and the amount of contaminants pulled though the machine.
- Inverter technology combines best-in-class arc characteristics with the portability of a 38-pound machine. The arc is extremely forgiving to variations in arc length and travel speeds.
- Multi-voltage plug (MVP) allows connection to common 120 or 240 V power receptacles without the use of any tools— simply choose the plug that fits the receptacle and connect to the power cord.
- Quick Select drive roll makes setup quicker by offering three grooves—two for different size solid wire and a third for flux-cored wire.
- Smooth-Start provides a smooth, spatter-free start. It’s the best-starting machine in the small MIG machine category.
✓ View or download the SPEC SHEET to learn more.
The Millermatic 211 MIG is another great welder of an extremely high quality standard. The Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is an ISO 9001 company and highly respected for its quality products and this one is no exception. In comparison to the Hobart Handler 210, the Millermatic 211 has a better duty cycle. The Millermatic can weld at 150A for 4 minutes at a time compared to 3 minutes with the Hobart.
Like the Hobart, the Millermatic can be used as a portable FCAW welder. The Millermatic 211 uses a Multi-voltage plug (MVP) like the Hobart to switch from 120V or 240V input. A set of two plugs and an adapter on the cord are provided. You simply select the correct plug, fit it to the power cord and plug it in – what could be easier?
To change the polarity of the working end, you need a 7/16 in. wrench. The two poles are mounted to the terminal block and are simply swapped around, so wire changes are quick and easy. Though the Hobart is a little better in this regard because there’s no need to use any tools. The drive roll has three grooves, two smooth ones for .024 and .030 wires. The third is a grooved roll for flux core wire.
The Millermatic 211 controls are excellent for beginners. It offers automatic control for most welder settings to make things much simpler. This makes it quite unique, not many MIG welders offer automated controls. The Auto-set function has five wire and gas combinations to choose from. Turn the wire speed control fully clockwise and set the wire diameter to what you’re using. It’s really simple, you select the wire diameter that you’re using with one dial and the material thickness with another.
The wire speed will be calculated electronically. When using the Spoolmate 100 spool gun, .030” and .035” 4043 aluminum wires can be selected. If you prefer to use the manual settings then you simply set the wire speed and voltage to your liking. An easy-to-use parameter chart on the inside of the access door provides a great guide for manual settings.
The Inverter technology used in the welder is extremely forgiving to variations in arc length and travel speeds and the Millermatic 211 Smooth-Start technology provides a smooth, spatter-free start. Miller claims it’s the best-starting welder in the small MIG machine category. I can’t say if this is true or not, but it’s a really smooth welder to use.
Millermatic 211 | Watch this Informative VIDEO REVIEW
The drive system is manufactured from cast-aluminum and its robust structure ensures consistent feeding and easy setup for up to 15-foot MIG guns. The wire tension is super easy to set using the calibrated tension knob. The Millermatic 211 is a fantastic entry level MIG welder that can do flux cored arc welding as well. The features of the welder make it very easy to learn and you will be welding in the first half hour of setting up the machine. I rate it as the best welder in our line-up of best welders.
Best welder if you’re on a budget. Great welder for beginners.
- Stainless steel body
- Perfect for welding steel
- 4 adjustable heating
- Two air-vent on the machine to make the temperature lower
- Torch With Full On / Off Safety Control
- Automatic Thermal Safety Protection
- Comes with welding wire and mask
The Goplus MIG 130 flux core welder really should not be called a MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welder but rather an FCA Welder. It doesn’t have MIG capabilities, though it’s a great FCA welder at a fantastic price. This welder is a best seller and very popular with first-time welders.
The GoPlus 130 is a budget welder, so there are going to be some compromises. The welding gun cord is very short, only 65”. The drawback is that the welder must be close to the work piece and it makes reaching the work taxing. On the plus side, a short cord makes wire feeding much easier. It can handle .030” and .035” flux core wires but the best results are obtained with .030” wires. It can weld steel from 18 gauge to 3/16”, which is an excellent range for DIY and maintenance tasks. It’s not a heavy welder, it weighs 35 lbs. and has a strong carry handle. If you’re looking for a small portable welder, this one is the best in this department.
The GoPlus 130 only operates at 115V. This limits the rated maximum output current to a 15% duty cycle at 105A. Basically, this means that you can weld continuously for 1.5 minutes at 105A and rest the welder for 8.5 minutes. Considering that DIY welding seldom involves long bead welds and materials are relatively thin, this welder is the best low-cost alternative for this type of work. Keep the welds short (1” to 2”) and it will be just fine.
Using two double throw switches, the welder has four power settings. You can select MIN 1 and 2 and MAX 1 and 2. There is no information in the manual or a welding chart that shows how to set the machine. Logically it seems to be; the lowest voltage is MIN/1, then MIN/2, then MAX/1, and MAX/2. But who knows?
This welder does not isolate the wire or contact tip. Both are always live when the power switch is on. For safety, turn off and unplug the welder when installing a new wire spool, adjusting the wire tension roller or replacing the contact tip. It has a contact tip cover that must always be used to isolate the contact tip. Without it, the contact tip could make contact with the grounded workpiece and damage both the tip and the workpiece. The GoPlus 130 requires a dedicated 120 VAC power input with a 20A breaker. Many users complain about it tripping 15A breakers. Always use the correct gauge extension cord, I recommend a maximum 10 AWG 100 ft. extension cord.
The welder uses a 4-inch wire spool only. For a budget welder, this is fine. The 4” spool is cheaper and still lasts a long time. The supplied workpiece clamp is by no means the best. I would certainly replace it with one that makes better contact. This is easy, won’t cost much, but will make a big difference.
The GoPlus 130 is very affordable, and it’s the best bargain welder for beginners and occasional users.
160 Amp Dual Voltage IGBT Inverter. Best welder.
- DC Welder
- Electrode holder and 10ft cable
- Work clamp and 10ft cable
- Input power adapter cable & plug
- Process: Stick (SMAW)
- Light Metal Fabrication
- Maintenance and Repair
- Farm and Home
- Light Industrial
- Input Power:
- 115V/230V/60Hz, Input current at rated output 20Amp
- Output Range:
- DC: 5-160A 115V/230V
- Rated Output Current/Voltage/Duty Cycle:
- 160Amp/23V/60% Duty Cycle / ETL Listed
- 18 lbs. 12.5 x 9 x 22 inch
This powerful DC Stick welder gives you all the advantages of an inverter welder. Inverter welders strike easily and deliver a very neat weld bead. These machines are a good choice for farmers, hobbyists and for home maintenance chores.
It’s a dual voltage welder, you can connect it to 115V or 230V. An adapter plug/cord is supplied with the machine so you can plug it into the receptacle that’s available. The duty cycle of this little welder is impressive at this price; it’s listed at 160 Amp 60%. This means that you can weld for 6 minutes continuously at full power before the welder needs a rest. The rod won’t last that long, so in practice, you’ll be welding continuously.
I noticed that lots of users found that the electrode holder does not hold the electrode well. Though with the slight additional cost of a quality holder, this is a very good buy. The stinger lead and the work-lead are both 10 feet long, which is a decent length for most situations.
You elect welding Amps using a dial and it has an LED display to indicate the setting. Though the indicated Amps on the LED display are only a guideline setting. The real Amps used will depend on the input power and welding conditions. It does mean that returning to your regular settioutstandingng is really easy.
One of the best welders for the money. Great value.
This is not like the old heavy Stick welders, it weighs only 16 pounds. It’s the lightest welder in this review with the best duty cycle. You can use this welder anywhere. Because this is a stick welder, it’s less sensitive to wind and draft compared to the MIG welders. This welder is suitable for most of the commonly used metals and alloys.
The Amico produces good, strong and well-formed beads. A skilled welder can use this welder for anything, even down to some thin sheets. To get the full 160 Amps out of the welder, you’ll need to use 230 VAC and it can connect to a NEMA 6-50 outlet. When using it at 120V, use a 20A circuit breaker, otherwise, the circuit breaker will trip.
I think this is the best stick welder at this price. I would love to have one. It’s an excellent machine with outstanding power specs.
What is duty cycle?
Duty cycle is a welding equipment specification. It defines the number of minutes, within a 10 minute period, during which a welder can be used at a particular welding current. For example, a welder with a 40% duty cycle at 180A will be able to weld for 40% of the 10-minute cycle and will have to rest for the remaining 60% (6-minutes). So, after 4 minutes of continuous welding, it must be allowed to cool for at least 6 minutes. That’s holding the trigger for 4 minutes non-stop, no stopping to re-position etc.
To make sense of this we must first understand the reason for the duty cycle specification. When welding, the transformer of the welder heats up. If you do not allow time for it to cool, it may be damaged or burnt. The time it takes to heat up, depends on the welding current and the length of time it’s applied. At 100A, 230V, the Hobart 210 will weld for 6.5 minutes and then you’ll need to stop for 3.5 minutes (65% duty cycle at 100A). The Millermatic can run continuously at the same setting. Higher up the scale, things change. The Hobart 210 at 200A, 230V, can only weld for about 1.7 minutes before you need to stop (17% duty cycle at 200A). The Millermatic 211 will weld for 2.2 minutes at 200A before it needs a rest.
These settings are not given in the specifications, so where did I find them? Good quality welders like the Hobart and Miller, will come with full specifications. You will normally find a graph of the duty cycle in the user manual. When using this graph, it is easy to find a matching amperage for comparison. Without it, the specifications as given by the manufacturers are often somewhat confusing:
- Hobart 210 @230V, 150 A at 23 Volts DC, 30% Duty Cycle and @ 115V 90 A at 19 Volts DC, 20% Duty Cycle
- Millermatic 211= @240 V: 150 A at 21.5 VDC, 40% duty cycle and 120 V: 115 A at 19.8 VDC, 20% duty cycle
- GoPlus MIG 130 = 115V, 105A, 15%
You can’t control the DC volts whilst welding so you can safely ignore the DC voltage. The input is important because it affects the output. From the above example, we can see that at 230V 150A, it’s easy to compare two of the welders. One welder has a 30% duty cycle and the other 40%. To compare them to the GoPro, we have to use the graphs provided in the manuals of the bigger machines. Here we’ll find the duty cycle at 105A in order to compare apples to apples. From this, we can determine that the Handler has a 15% duty cycle and the Millermatic ±65%. Clearly, the Millermatic is the stronger welder.
I find that I normally weld for less than a two minutes at a time. You’ll always have to stop to check the weld quality periodically and usually reposition the weld. Whilst doing this, the welder cools down. So the duty cycle won’t always affect us too much.
The heat generated in the workpiece is another concern. Consider for instance, welding for 10 minutes non-stop on a plate that’s ½” thick at 200A. From my experience, the material will become so hot that it will distort and will create stress cracks when cooling. Not a wise thing to do. Here, your welder’s duty cycle is of no concern. It’s the heat properties of the material that you’re welding that limits your continuous working time.
In a small workshop or at home when doing repairs, the duty cycle will seldom be a limiting factor, you’ll probably be welding for only a minute or two at a time. That’s enough to do a reasonably long weld, which is not what you normally do. On a lighter note, a friend of mine used to say the welder always exceeds his own personal duty cycle.
Using your welder
For beginners, striking an arc with a stick welder can be a hard skill to learn. It’s especially difficult with some welders. Variations in welding rods and materials play a role as well. I find that most beginners will struggle to strike an arc and then hold it. I recommend that you first practice the skill on scrap metal by welding beads. The best way to learn this, is to rest your palm on the workbench while aiming the stinger. Keep your pulse down, strike an arc like that and start the weld. Keep your palm on the bench and weld all the way to the end of the rod. While you are doing this, concentrate on keeping the arc in the weld pool. If the arc becomes too long, you’ll notice that it becomes noisy and this is when it will burn the work. This method will quickly make you a confident stick welder. It teaches you the correct stick angle that allows the weld pool to flow out of the arc. Watch the pool and keep the arc short. Practice it until you are confident to do freehand welding.
The best tip I can give a stick welder is to keep the welding rods clean and dry. Rods that lie around and pick up oil will give bad results. Electrodes that have absorbed moisture may lead to cracking or porosity and deteriorates the weld. Welding rods must remain as clean as the day you bought them. I keep my rods sealed in a vacuum pack inside a steel container.
The wire feed on MIG welders can often be problematic. This can be as a result of several factors. To zoom in on the problem area, straighten the weld cord and feed the wire onto a block of wood or the shop floor. While holding the trigger, observe the wire. If it’s still feeding in bursts, the feeder must be at fault. Always make sure the feeder is clean and that the correct groove is selected for the wire used. Too much pressure on the wire will force it into the groove and create binds. If this happens, back-off on the pressure until the feed stops and then adjust it to the point where it works fine.
If the problem is in the weld cord, make sure that the gun is clean and in good condition. Make sure your contact tube, gun liner, and drive rolls match the wire size you are using. Clean the gun liner and drive rolls occasionally, and keep the gun nozzle clean of spatter. Replace the contact tip if it’s blocked or feeding poorly.
When welding aluminum, you must use Argon shielding gas with the correct regulator. To avoid wire feed problems it’s best to use a spool gun. MIG welders don’t easily feed the soft aluminum wire and the spool gun works much better.
Welding Safety Tips
Don’t breathe in the fumes. Even though it’s not always possible to avoid the fumes, you have to make some kind of a plan. Use a well-ventilated area and consider using an extraction fan near the work. But avoid creating a draft that is strong enough to dissipate the shielding gas.
Do not weld near flammable material. Move flammables at least 35 feet away or protect them with flameproof covers. Do not weld on drums, tanks, or any closed containers that could catch flame or explode. Always be sure the tank is force ventilated, a vacuum cleaner works great.
Use a welding helmet with the correct shade depth (10 to 14). For Stick and MIG welding, I will always recommend an auto-darkening helmet with light sensitivity settings in the range 9 to 14. A helmet that covers the top of the head protects you against spatters. Otherwise, you can consider a welders cap. Wear complete body protection when welding. Wear oil-free protective clothing that will keep harmful rays out and won’t catch fire from the spatter.
Do not touch hot welded parts with the bare hand. Allow an ample cooling period before handling welding parts or working on the gun or torch. When welding, always remember that you have limited vision with the helmet on; be careful of tripping over leads or other tools. Keep your welding area neat and tidy.