There are many welding types available today, but for the beginning welder, there are three kinds you should consider. They all have their place, their good points, and their downfalls. When choosing a welder, there are three components you should consider; the power supply, how it shields the weld and how it fills the weld. These three factors will largely dictate which welding types you decide to buy into.
You need to create heat to bond your metal surfaces together, otherwise, you’re just gluing. Heat in these welding types are supplied by electricity, so the first major component is the power supply. Things to consider are duty time (how long you can weld), the input voltage (110v or 220v), output amperage (will it go high or low enough) and cost.
Your welding arc needs to be protected from ambient air, otherwise, it will splatter. Some systems burn flux to shield the arc and others use a bottle of shielding gas. Both systems have pros and cons.
Filler metal fills the cavity you make when welding. Depending on the system it might be a consumable electrode or automatically fed wire.
How To Arc Weld
SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding) welders have been making sparks for generations, and they still work perfectly fine. A SMAW “stick” or “Arc” welder is a simple yet effective welding system.
The power supply of an arc welder is typically referred to as a “tombstone” due to its headstone shape. Stick welders have a selectable amperage adjustment and an on/off switch, so they’re not very confusing. Attached to the power supply there are two welding cables, one ground clamp and one electrode holder colored black and red respectively.
Filler metal and arc shielding are both taken care of by the welding electrode. An Arc welding electrode is a length of thick steel wire with a special coating on the outside, resembling a stick (hence the name). This electrode has a bare metal end which inserts or clamps into the electrode holder and conducts the electricity to the tip. When an arc is struck, the steel inner core melts to fill the weld and the outside coating burns to create a gas pocket and a layer of material called “slag” that shields the welding pool from the environment. This electrode is a consumable part and doesn’t last long.
The big plus of an Arc welder is cost. These are readily available and can be found for very little at yard sales and online. The downside is the cleanup. The protective slag must be chipped off to expose the actual weld beneath, adding a time-consuming step. Additionally, more technique and practice is required to become proficient with an Arc welder compared to its modern counterparts. That being said, it’s regarded as the best welding type for beginners.
How To MIG Weld
MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding is a very popular welding system. Its ease of use and the professional look of the resulting weld make this an attractive welding type for home, farm and professional users alike. Coincidentally, this is the system I used to weld chain hooks on my tractor last year.
MIG welder power supplies usually consist of a box cabinet, accompanied by at least one gas bottle. Controls on the front typically include an amperage adjustment, wire speed, an on/off switch and sometimes an AC (Alternating current) or DC (Direct Current) selector. Also, there is a valve on the bottle to control gas pressure.
Much like the Arc welder, a MIG unit will have two cables, one for ground and one that resembles a hose with a nozzle and trigger. This curious looking hose is actually four things in one; a welding cable, electrode, gas line and filler wire feed.
The filler material is stored as a spool of wire inside the cabinet and is fed through the nozzle. As you depress the trigger, the arc begins and the welder feeds wire into the arc to fill the weld. Gas is delivered from the bottle to the nozzle every time you hit the trigger. This gas pocket shields the weld and leaves you with a clean weld that shouldn’t require cleaning.
MIG welding is easy, but it’s not cheap. Good power supplies that offer enough amperage to weld thick metal are expensive and the inert gas (usually Argon) that is required adds expense and inconvenience. Gas bottles are expensive and unless you buy two, you’ll have to stop welding and run to the closest fill station to refill them.
How To Flux Core Weld
FCAW (Flux Cored Arc Welding) is the more common of the welding types because it combines the simplicity of Arc welding with MIG’s ease of use. It’s biggest selling point, however, is its low cost.
Flux core power supplies look like MIG welders, only minus the gas bottle. It still features the same clamp and hose that the MIG uses, as well as the same controls on the front.
The big difference between Flux core and MIG welding is the welding wire. Flux cored wire is actually a tube filled with flux. Much like the Arc welder, this flux material burns to create a gas and slag to protect the weld from the environment. In a pin, h you can turn a MIG into a flux core welder by shutting off the gas and changing to a flux cored wire.
This welding type can be smokey and dirty, requiring good ventilation. When you’re done, you’ll want to wire brush your work to clean off soot and slag. FCAW rarely makes good looking welds, but you can still build things like compact tractor implements using this welding type.
|Welding Type||Cost||Learning Curve||Convenience||Cleanup||Steel (Sheet)||Exhaust pipe||Steel (1/4”)||Steel (1/2”)||Steel (3/4”+)|
|Flux Core (FCAW)||$$||Low||***||Medium||**||**||***||**||*|
The Best Welding Types
It’s hard to say which is best, because it really depends on you. Do you want to weld sheet metal? Then you want a MIG or Flux Core. Are you welding a half-inch plate steel? Your best bet will be an Arc welder. Is money not an issue? Dive in with a top notch MIG welder because you can’t go wrong there.
Do you weld at home? If so, what welding types would you suggest for a beginner. Chime in below in the comments section and let us know!