Choosing Your First Welding Machine

Choosing your first welding machine might seem like a daunting task. Not to worry though, there are a lot of great options for beginners out on the market.
Before taking the plunge and purchasing a machine, it is important you identify your own welding needs in addition to understanding general information about welders. There is no one machine that will perform every single job or process.
That is why you must weigh different options and factors to buy the best fit possible. This article will help you learn how to get started welding (if you haven’t already) and find the right match for you!


The Best Way To Get Started in Welding

The most popular type of welding for beginners is MIG weldingalso known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW). It offers more control for cleaner, better welds on a variety of metal materials. The process is quite simple; a solid wire electrode is automatically fed through the welder at a speed that you pre-set before starting. The wire then enters the weld pool to weld the two pieces of metal together. The shielding gas is emitted from the gun and serves to protect the weld from any contamination.
Another great benefit of learning MIG welding is that it can be used on steel, stainless steel, chrome-moly, or aluminum greater than 1/16” inch. If you are only learning to weld as a hobby or to perform repairs around the house, MIG is definitely the way to go.
Many MIG machines are “plug and play”, which allows you to start welding immediately. Some popular uses for MIG are fabrication, auto repairs, farm work, metal art, general maintenance, home improvement, and other DIY projects. The versatility and straightforward nature of MIG welders make it a good place for amateurs to start.
Getting Off On The Right Foot
Going to a vocational or trade school to learn how to weld is the most obvious choice for those looking to start a career in welding. There are also local apprenticeship programs you can participate in as well if you want more hands-on experience.
If you are looking to weld for personal projects or as an auxiliary skill to your already established trade, there are a variety of ways to learn. You can watch videos online and purchase a starter MIG machine to practice on. If you know someone in your community who is knowledgeable about the subject, try to arrange a time you can practice on a machine with their supervision and guidance.
There is no “right” way to learn how to weld. Use the resources available to you and make sure you are following basic safety practices to prevent accidents while you learn.
Making The Investment In Your First Welding Machine
Price
You will need to find a machine that falls within your budget. This is something that is pretty easy to determine. There are quality machines available that are affordable, even for beginners. Keep in mind what you will be using it for and how often you will be using it when deciding how much money you are willing to spend on a machine.
Ease of Use
A machine that is easy to use is important, especially for welders that are just starting out. You should look for a machine that has a user-friendly interface. The knobs, dials, and displays should be straightforward and easy to understand.
Portability
You might think “bigger is better”, but not when it comes to welding machines. Having a welding machine that is portable is a great benefit. Portable doesn’t only mean lightweight in this case though. Will the machine work on a generator or run on gas? Or will you always need to be near an outlet to operate it?
Reliability
Read user reviews to see what real people said about the lasting power of the machine. A welder might work great out of the box and then within the first couple of months wear down with frequent use. You want a machine you can count on.
Voltage
Most welding machines are 110V or 220V. Some even have a switch so that you can go back and forth between these two voltages. Higher voltage = more power. If you are looking to only work on smaller projects with thinner-gauged materials, then a 110 V will be just fine. If you know you will be working on projects that require you to weld thicker materials, you should purchase a more powerful machine.
Heat Overload Protection
Check to see if the machine has Thermal Overload Protection, this will make for a safer welding experience. The unit will shut down automatically if it detects the temperature is getting too high. A light will come on to indicate that the machine is overheated or the airflow is blocked. Once the machine has cooled down it will restart. This is a great safety feature that everyone’s first machine should have.
Duty Cycle
Every machine has a duty cycle measured in ten-minute intervals. The amount of time out of that ten minutes that you can run your machine is the “duty cycle”. The higher the duty cycle, the longer you will be able to keep welding during that period of time. If you want a machine to run for 7 out of 10 minutes, then you will need a machine with a 70% duty cycle.
Material Capacity
On top of all of these factors, you should consider what type of material you will be working with and the thickness of the material. It is important that you purchase a machine that can handle the types of material you will be welding with. The minimum and maximum requirements for thickness of metal and the types the machine can work with will be listed in the specs.
Safety First
Before welding up a storm with your new machine, make sure you take all the necessary safety precautions. We’ve already discussed purchasing a machine with heat overload protection. This is just one way of preventing accidents or injury. Here are some more.
Inspect Cords
Regularly inspect your machine’s cords for damage. It isn’t enough to just check after the initial unboxing of your machine.
Keep Your Work Area Tidy
Workshops and garages can get messy, fast. Make sure there are no flammable materials near your workspace before getting started. Make sure if there are any other workers around you that your sparks are not dropping or splattering onto them. Fine dust particles can cause explosions or fires, so keep a fire extinguisher near your work area and clean the area regularly.
Wear Safety Gear
Sometimes the masks and other safety materials that come as accessories with your welding machine just won’t cut it. It is up to you to separately invest in quality safety gear to ensure your personal protection.
Here are some must-have safety materials:
  • Mask/ Face Shield
  • Gloves
  • Safety Glasses
  • Hearing Protection
  • Welding jacket or apron
You can find out more about safety gear in this article.
Conclusion
Learning how to weld takes practice, dedication, and good safety practices. Now that you are familiar with where to begin, you will want to consider buying your own machine to practice on and use for your personal welding pursuits. Make sure to factor in all of the basics discussed above before purchasing a machine. Invest in a quality welder to meet your individual welding needs. It isn’t about having the “best” or “fanciest” welder - your welding machine should be the best for the welding projects you will be working on most frequently.

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