Welding has a reputation for demanding expensive equipment and a high level of skill and training. While historically this may have been true, many modern MIG welders are quite affordable and easier to use than ever. Beginners might not form perfect welds their first time out, but experienced welders can help novices learn surprisingly quickly.
It’s easier than one might think to put a welding shop together. Effective work lights are inexpensive, as is storage for tools and consumables. With the right welder and tools, hobby welders can begin to tackle projects like repairing auto bodies or trailers, or they might channel their creativity to make ornamental gates or sculptured pieces. And with practice, welding could even become a lucrative side hustle.
This guide focuses on the best welders for beginners as well as TIG and stick welders for those seeking to improve their skills or considering a career in welding.
- BEST OVERALL: Weldpro 200 Amp Inverter Multi Process Welder
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Forney Easy Weld 261, 140 FC-i Welder, 120V
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Lincoln Electric K2185-1 Handy MIG Welder
- BEST FOR PROS: 2018 AHP AlphaTIG 200X 200 Amp IGBT AC DC Tig/Stick
- BEST PORTABLE: DEKOPRO 110/220V MMA Welder, 160A ARC Welder Machine
- BEST PLASMA COMBO: LOTOS – 04-ZVGR-0O8D LTPDC2000D Plasma Cutter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Welder
The three main types of welder are MIG, TIG, and stick. Within those categories there are vast, and sometimes bewildering, choices in terms of specifications, performance, and price. When considering which is the best welder for your needs, you’ll want to take a careful look at the following key features.
MIG (metal inert gas), TIG (tungsten inert gas), and stick (also called arc) welders all use an electrical current to create enough heat to melt metal, and thus create a weld. The current runs along an electrode that is made of either flexible wire or a rigid stick (hence the common name). In MIG and stick welding, the electrode melts into the weld. In TIG welding it does not; a separate filler wire produces the weld. It’s a little slower, but in skilled hands TIG welding produces neater, more precise welds that require little or no cleaning up.
To prevent impurities entering the weld and weakening its hold, the welder creates a gas bubble called a shield. MIG and TIG welders supply the gas from a separate bottle. Unfortunately, this makes them impractical outdoors, as any breeze disrupts the shield.
There are two ways to overcome this. The first is to use a MIG welder with a “flux core” electrode. This core produces its own shield when the electrode melts, so the welder requires no gas. Stick welding creates a protective shield in much the same way. However, flux-core and stick welding produce more “slag”—splashes of molten metal—that require additional work to clean up.
Mild steel is perhaps the most popular metal used in welding, and many workshop tasks involve this material. Stainless steel, which contains chromium to prevent rust, can work in welding, though it requires more care because of how stainless steel retains heat. Both of these metals work fine using MIG, TIG, or stick types.
Aluminum is another popular workshop material. It is seldom pure, usually an alloy of zinc or copper. Its melting point is lower than steel, so although many MIG welders can work with aluminum, TIG welding is recommended because it allows greater control.
Special aluminum electrodes are available for stick welding, though it’s not common practice to use this type with aluminum. TIG is also recommended as the best welder for copper and copper alloys, and for more exotic materials like titanium.
Welders have varying power requirements. The thicker the material, the more current the tool needs. However, the demands of welders often are misunderstood.
Voltage is usually the headline figure. Many run off 110 to 120 volts, which means they can be plugged in at home. High-performance machines might need 220 to 240 volts. Some are switchable, which gives greater versatility, though full performance is not usually available on the 110V setting.
Though voltage affects the shape of the weld, amps control how deeply the weld penetrates, and thus the thickness of material that a machine can handle. A 110V machine might run off a standard 15- or 20-amp household breaker, but others might need 50 or 60 amps. It’s not difficult to have a circuit upgraded, but it’s important to know before buying a welder in order to get the workshop ready. Be sure to check input amps rather than output amps. The latter refers to what the welder can generate, not what it requires to operate.
Not surprisingly, welders get pretty hot. In practical terms this frequently limits how long a machine can run continuously. They need regular breaks to allow them to cool down. The length of time they can run without a break is called the duty cycle, which varies depending on output demands. When welding thin metal, the machine requires less power, so the duty cycle is longer than when welding thick metal.
This can be confusing. To give a standard reference point: the duty cycle generally is given for a 10-minute period (occasionally in five-minute periods, so it’s good to check). The figure represents a percentage of the output at a given amperage. So, for example, a hobby welder might have a duty cycle of 30 percent at 90 amps. A heavy-duty welder might quote 60 percent at 200 amps. The latter not only runs longer but generates considerably more power.
Compressed Gas Requirements
Creating the shield needed during MIG and TIG welding requires a gas supply. Bottles range from 20 cubic feet (CF) to 300 CF and can be either bought or rented. Larger bottles typically are more economical for those who weld frequently.
The actual gases welders use can vary considerably. Carbon dioxide is popular for MIG welding and often best for beginners. TIG welders frequently use argon. Oxygen, helium, and nitrogen also can be added. The chemical composition may affect the weld formed. Carbon dioxide, for example, is relatively low cost and allows for good penetration. Argon can improve weld appearance and often is mixed with carbon dioxide. Welding enthusiasts might want to experiment with several different mixes to understand their properties better.
As mentioned above, flux-core and stick welding create their shield from the filler material as it melts and therefore don’t require a gas supply.
Ease of Use
The use of a consumable wire electrode that is fed automatically at a preset speed helps make MIG welding the easiest to learn. The operator needs only one hand and can better focus attention on the weld.
TIG welding requires both hands, manually feeding wire with one while controlling the torch with the other. Stick welding, like MIG, requires only one hand, but the rigid stick means the hand grip is farther from the weld. It’s not easy to position it precisely, and this can result in messy welds when learning.
For various projects, it’s helpful to be able to move a welder around the workshop, and most come fitted with a carry handle of some kind. However, weight can be an issue when using a welder at different locations or on job sites. Welders designed to be portable might weigh only 20 pounds, but other workshop welders can weigh 60 or 70 pounds.
With MIG and TIG, there’s also a gas bottle to carry. Standard high-pressure cylinders vary from 11 pounds to almost 139 pounds. Portable stick welders can weigh less than 20 pounds and, of course, require no gas. They also are the easiest type for welding outdoors.
Our Top Picks
With an understanding of the primary features now complete, it’s time to concentrate on the best welder by category. These picks give due consideration to the important elements covered so far while also factoring in reliability, cost, and manufacturer reputation.
This multiprocess 200-amp welder from Weldpro offers MIG (including flux core), TIG, and stick welding in one machine, thus providing excellent versatility. For beginners, it offers the ability to learn almost all forms of welding with a single purchase. It also enables contractors to offer solutions for a variety of client demands. Given the comparatively modest investment required, it is a strong value.
With a maximum 200A output, the Weldpro has plenty of power and will weld from 24-gauge to ¼-inch mild steel. It can run off a 110- or 220-volt supply. Both MIG and TIG torches are included, as is a MIG gas regulator (although the TIG version is extra). The durable unit also has a dual digital display for easy reference.
The challenge with low-budget welders is finding one that doesn’t limit the variety of jobs it can do. That’s not a problem with the Forney Easy Weld 261 model. It can weld up to ¼-inch mild steel, so it’s a match for many larger and more expensive models. Easy-to-use voltage and wire-speed dials provide good control over weld depth.
This is a physically compact welder that weighs just 19 pounds. The welder can run only flux core—not gas MIG—but that puts few limits on general repair and fabrication tasks. It also means it can work indoors or outdoors with access to an ordinary household outlet.
Lincoln Electric offers several models in the Handy range, including this K2185-1 MIG welder. Although it’s an entry-level welder, it nevertheless offers the choice to weld with either MIG or flux core. Power is modest, with an output range of 35 to 88 amps. However, that’s enough to tackle up to a ⅛-inch steel sheet, which is sufficient for many hobby welding projects.
This competitively priced package really scores in its comprehensive content. Purchase includes a gas regulator, basic handheld welding mask, spools of both MIG and flux-core wire, consumable welding nozzles, and even a chipping hammer and brush for weld cleanups. Add a gas bottle, plug it into a standard power outlet, and it’s ready to go.
TIG is often the choice of professional welders because of its clean, precise welds. This versatile 200-amp machine from AHP also offers a stick-welding function for outdoor use. The ability to weld up to ⅜-inch-thick mild steel suggests high power demands, but switchable voltage—from 110 to 220 volts—enables usage of a standard outlet. Impressive control reduces the risk of burning through thinner material.
This model weighs in at 69 pounds, so it’s not the most portable welder. But a maximum output of 200 amps and a duty cycle of 100 percent at 150A provide the performance required for commercial use. It also has a foot pedal for amperage control, a valuable pro-level feature that’s rare on machines in this price range.
With a surprisingly low ticket price and a weight of just 12 pounds, at first glance the DEKOPRO 110/120V MMA Welder might appear to offer little to the serious welder. However, the output range of 10 to 160 amps will handle up to ¼-inch mild steel. With the right welding rod, it’s possible to work on aluminum and cast iron, too. The unit will run off 110- or 220-volt power and, as with all stick welders, it operates indoors or outside.
An included fan cools the welder and helps keep dirt and debris away, a useful feature when transporting the unit or welding outdoors. With its straightforward function, there is no gas to set, just a single dial to adjust current. It might not be the welder for delicate or precision work, but it’s tough to beat for portability and for basic home, agricultural, or job site use.
Most of the time, a welder joins metals. But sometimes operators want to slice them apart, or perhaps cut out a hole or design. A plasma cutter is arguably the most efficient way to do this. Usually that means buying a separate machine, but with this unusual LOTOS welder, it’s included. So, in addition to TIG and stick welding of up to ¼-inch-thick material, the welder can cut through mild steel up to an impressive ¾-inch thick.
The welding function offers good flexibility, with current running from 15 to 200 amps. Although switchable from 110 to 220 volts, this welder requires 50 amps of power, so it won’t run off a standard household outlet without an upgrade. Purchasing an optional foot pedal (not included) can help provide greater control.
FAQs About Welders
The tips and picks in this guide likely have increased your knowledge of how various welders function. It should also have provided valuable insight into choosing the best welder for the tasks you need to perform. That said, you might still have some questions. The following section addresses those that crop up most often.
Q. What’s the difference between welding, brazing, and soldering?
Welding uses high temperatures to actually melt the metal of the pieces to be joined, creating the strongest possible bond. Brazing uses lower temperatures and a soft metal—typically bronze or brass—as a molten filler, almost like a glue. It is often used on materials like titanium, which are challenging to weld. Soldering uses low-melting-point alloys, normally as a permanent attachment for electrical connections.
Q. What type of welder do I need?
MIG welding is the easiest to learn and will accomplish a wide variety of tasks. It’s where most people start. TIG welding provides more precision and control. Stick is best for outdoors. A few multiprocess welders offer all three.
Q. What size welder should I buy?
As discussed above, type of task and duty cycle will be the main considerations in determining power requirements. Be careful not to underestimate. Operators can turn down a more powerful welder, but an underpowered model will result in inferior welds.
Q. Can I plug a welder into a regular outlet?
Welders designed for hobby and light industrial welding can run on regular household outlets. High-voltage welders (220 to 240 volts) will need an upgraded breaker and perhaps larger diameter cable. If in doubt, consult a qualified electrical contractor.
Q. Is it legal to weld at home?
Absolutely, as long as what you’re working on is for your own use. Don’t forget general workshop safety. If you start to charge for your welding, it might still be possible to work from home, but you’ll need to check zoning regulations.
Q. What other equipment will I need for welding?
A welding helmet is vital to protect the eyes and face. Never weld without one. Safety glasses are great for many workshop tasks but aren’t sufficient for welding. You’ll also want a welding apron and proper welding gloves.