Welding can be used to fix auto bodywork, repair a gate, make an Art Deco chair, or create a garden sculpture. It can be a fascinating hobby or a full-time career. Skilled welders are always in demand, and earnings can be considerable.
However, while getting started isn’t difficult, there are several different processes to consider. Welding equipment tends to be quite focused, so even the best welder for beginners isn’t capable of doing everything.
Trying to make the right decision without some prior knowledge could result in an expensive mistake. The following information will help you avoid that, and it provides both technical and practical advice as well as specific equipment recommendations.
- BEST OVERALL: Hobart Handler 140 MIG Wire Welder, 500559
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: SUPER DEAL PRO Commercial MIG 130 AC Flux Core Wire
- BEST TIG: S7 Tig Welder, HF TIG/Stick/Arc TIG Welder, 200 Amp
- BEST FLUX CORE: Forney Easy Weld 261, 140 FC-i Welder, 120V
- BEST STICK: Hobart 500570 Stickmate 160i
- BEST MULTI-PROCESS: YESWELDER Digital MIG-205DS MIG Welder, 200Amp
- ALSO CONSIDER: LOTOS MIG175 175AMP Mig Welder with Free Spool Gun
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Welders for Beginners
We will start by explaining each of the four main welding processes. We’ll look at the way they work, and what each is capable of achieving. We’ll then move on to the various features that will define how the welder performs and how practical it is for a particular range of tasks.
Type of Welding Process
Let’s start by clearing up a common point of confusion. People often use the term “arc welding” as if it is a specific process. It’s not unusual, for example, to see questions such as “Is arc welding better than MIG welding?”
All the welding processes we are looking at fall under the broad description of “arc welding.” They all create an arc of electrical current between the tool and the metal to be welded. This arc provides tremendous heat, melts the metal, and forms a weld. The following explains how each arc welding process differs and the typical uses for each.
MIG stands for “metal inert gas.” It is also called gas metal arc welding (GMAW). It is generally regarded as the easiest form of welding for beginners to learn. The machines that perform MIG are usually simple to set up, and the process is quite forgiving. A welding wire feeds automatically through a handheld welding gun. The welding wire and the metal melt together to form a weld. Wire speed can be varied to suit the metal being joined and the skill of the welder.
During any welding process, the molten metal could be contaminated by dust, dirt, or chemicals in the air. This can cause weaknesses in the weld. To avoid contamination, a protective shield is formed. MIG welding achieves this using gas (usually a mix of argon and carbon dioxide) from a separate bottle. Because the shield is easily disrupted, MIG welding is done indoors to reduce the chance of contamination.
MIG is great for welding mild steel, and it’s also good with stainless steel or cast iron. Some machines can also weld aluminum. With practice it can make fairly neat welds, though some cleanup may be required if the weld is going to be visible.
Strictly speaking, flux core arc welding (FCAW) is another MIG process. The term “gasless MIG” is often used. The equipment is very similar, and in fact many MIG welders offer both MIG and flux core capability.
The big difference is that flux core welding doesn’t need a separate gas supply. Instead, the gas shield is formed by chemicals contained within the welding wire. These are released as the wire melts. The shield is less easily disturbed, so flux core can be used outside. Without the need for gas bottles, flux core welding is also more portable than standard MIG welding.
The drawbacks are increased spatter (droplets of molten metal that get spat off) and less tidy welds. When done correctly, flux core arc welds are as strong as gas metal arc welding, but they may require grinding after. Flux core welding is good for steels and cast iron, but it cannot weld aluminum because aluminum wire is not available with flux included.
Tungsten inert gas is also known as gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). The main difference between MIG and TIG is that the latter creates an arc using a non-consumable electrode that melts the two metals while a filler rod is fed in manually. This requires two hands and may also involve a foot control to adjust power.
The result is a complicated process that takes time to master, so TIG welding is not generally recommended for absolute beginners. When compared to MIG, it is also quite slow.
The upsides are that TIG welds can be very strong and very neat. Professional welders usually choose TIG when precision is required because they have greater control. It can also weld just about any metal and is the preferred option for titanium and magnesium.
Stick welding is also called shielded metal arc welding (SMAW). It uses the same basic principle as flux core welding, except the chemicals required to create the shield are contained within a solid stick. The stick is held in a clamp, rather than a gun, so it takes a little while to get accustomed to the technique.
Stick welding is usually used on steel, but it can work with a variety of metals. The big advantage is that the shield is strong and very stable, so stick welding can be used outdoors in almost all conditions. In fact one type of stick welding can be done underwater.
Stick welding offers excellent penetration, great strength, and can weld substantial thicknesses. However, it is messy. It can create a lot of spatter, and as the stick burns it leaves a layer of slag (shield waste). It looks untidy, so it often needs to be chipped away with a hammer or ground off, which means extra work.
Overheating is a potential problem with all welding equipment. To prevent this from happening, each machine requires rest periods. The length of time the welder can run before a welding machine needs to rest is called the “duty cycle.” It is usually given as a percentage of 10 minutes. So for example, a duty cycle of 40 percent means that after 4 minutes of welding, the machine needs a 6-minute break.
Even the best welder for beginners can’t run without a break. Some duty cycles are as low as 20 percent; shorter-duty cycles are often associated with powerful welders simply because they generate more heat, but there are no hard and fast rules, so each model needs to be considered separately.
For many people who are learning to weld, a modest-duty cycle will not be a problem. Concentrating on the process for more than a couple of minutes is quite tiring at first. However, as skills improve, short-duty cycles can become frustrating.
Power and Metal Thickness
Most welders for beginners can run off a standard 110-volt household supply. Some of the more powerful models are dual voltage and can also run off a 220-volt supply. The latter comes from either a dedicated outlet or a generator.
The amperage or amps rating (A) is an indication of the thickness of metal the machine is capable of welding. Higher amps generate more heat. However, two machines of the same amperage might have different maximums, so each welder needs to be looked at individually.
Minimum amps are often overlooked, but this is another important figure because it helps to define the thinnest metal a machine can weld. Sometimes a machine can’t be turned down low enough for thin sheets. Excess heat will melt the metal too quickly so the weld can’t form.
Many beginners will learn to weld at home, or in an organized class, so the portability of the welding equipment may not be a significant issue. However, even moving gear around a garage or a small workshop can be awkward if the machine is heavy. With both MIG and TIG, there is a gas bottle to consider (they weigh around 28 pounds when full). Carts are available to mount everything on, but there can still be significant weight to move around.
As already noted, flux core and stick welding are the two welding processes most likely to be used outdoors, so in these cases portability is more likely to be important. Fortunately, neither of these require gas, so it’s only the weight of the machine itself that needs to be considered.
- As mentioned above, MIG welders often offer flux core as well. There are other types of multi-process welders, too. It’s not unusual to find MIG/TIG welders or even MIG/TIG/stick combinations. These give the beginner the opportunity to try different welding techniques, though they are often more expensive than single-process models.
- A welding mask is an absolute necessity, and some of the best welders for beginners include one in the kit. However, these are generally handheld, and while adequate from a safety perspective, a proper welding helmet not only offers better protection but also keeps both hands free.
- Gas bottles need a regulator to control flow. Often these are included with MIG or TIG equipment, but they may need to be purchased separately.
- A chipping hammer (for removing slag) and a wire brush are useful extras.
Our Top Picks
Now that we’ve covered important technical aspects, it’s now time to look at some practical examples. The following are what we believe to be the best welders for beginners in a number of different categories. Whichever process is chosen, they offer competitive, value-for-money solutions.
With so much variety available, selecting a single model as the overall best welder for beginners is something of a challenge. However, the Hobart Handler 140 MIG welder comes from one of the industry’s leading brands. It combines ease of use with a quality build and the potential to deliver professional results. It consistently tops independent reviews as the best MIG welder for beginners.
It runs off an ordinary 110-volt supply and offers both gas MIG and flux core processes. It will weld a maximum of ¼ inch in mild steel, and it can also be used for stainless, cast iron, and aluminum. The wire feed speed range is impressive, allowing beginners to start slowly but get faster as their skill improves.
At 20 percent, the duty cycle is shorter than many, though learners may welcome the breaks. It is also a significant investment. However, the Hobart Handler 140 has excellent durability, and with its competitive performance will be the only welder some users ever need.
- Amps: 25 to 140
- Duty cycle: 20 percent at 90 amps
- Weight: 57 pounds
- Professional quality throughout
- Excellent versatility
- Good wire speed control
- Modest duty cycle
- Will exceed some beginner budgets
Get the Hobart Handler welder at Tractor Supply Co. or at Northern Tool + Equipment.
The Super Deal Pro is a budget-friendly flux core welder with the inherent simplicity that the process offers. It includes absolutely everything the beginner needs to start welding, including welding wire. It plugs into a standard outlet and can weld to a maximum of 3/16 inch in mild steel.
Controls are basic. There are four voltage settings, and while the wire feed has 10 positions, speed is a question of trial and error. While that could be viewed as a useful way to learn, the lack of specifics might be frustrating for some.
A weight of 38 pounds offers reasonable portability. However, with a minimum 50-amp output, it isn’t a tool for delicate welding. Also, somewhat confusingly, although “130” is in the name, the maximum output is 120 amps. In real performance terms it doesn’t compete with the Hobart, but it is a practical way to start welding for those who have very little to invest.
- Amps: 50 to 120
- Duty cycle: 10 percent at 105 amps, 35 percent at 60 amps
- Weight: 38 pounds
- Good value for money
- Weld indoors or out
- Includes mask, chipping hammer, brush, and wire
- Main body is plastic
- Basic handheld mask
Get the Super Deal Pro welder on Amazon.
Beginners who want to try TIG welding will probably want to do so with minimum outlay, and the S7 TIG/Stick welder is a very affordable approach. It will run off a standard household supply or from a generator for those who want to use the stick process outdoors. It is light and very easy to carry around.
At 85 percent, the duty cycle is the highest we have seen on any welder for beginners. Part of that is due to relatively low heat generation, and the maximum thickness in steel is 3/16 of an inch. It will also weld stainless but not aluminum.
Considering the low price, there might be some concerns over durability. However, this is a very popular entry-level TIG welder, and feedback is largely positive. That said, the instructions provided aren’t very clear. In general we would recommend the help of a pro or a local class to get started with TIG welding anyway.
- Amps: 20 to 200
- Duty cycle: 85 percent at 180 amps
- Weight: 18 pounds
- TIG and stick processes
- Very lightweight
- Budget price
- Modest thickness capability
- Instructions could be improved
Get the S7 welder on Amazon.
Our pick as the best flux core welder for beginners is a tool for those who want to invest in quality and durability from the start. The Forney Easy Weld 261 is a well-made machine that is easy to get to grips with; it offers the performance and portability that makes it attractive to those who weld on a regular basis.
This welder plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet. Setup is simply a case of choosing voltage from the variable dial and setting feed speed, and it is ready to weld. While the speed has 10 settings, none of them are particularly fast. This is ideal for those learning to weld, but it can be a little frustrating for pros.
The Forney Easy Weld can weld steel up to ¼ inch thick, indoors or out. Like all flux core welders, it cannot weld aluminum.
- Amps: 30 to 140
- Duty cycle: 30 percent at 90 amps
- Weight: 19 pounds
- High-quality manufacture
- Easily transportable
- Competitive price
- Cannot weld aluminum
- Wire feed a little slow
Get the Forney welder on Amazon, at The Home Depot, or at Tractor Supply Co.
While the stick welding technique is a little different than other arc welding processes, it is nevertheless easy to learn. The Hobart Stickmate makes an excellent choice as the best welding machine for beginners who need to weld outdoors or who need high-strength welds with minimal fuss.
The Hobart Stickmate can run from 110 volt or 220 volt, making it easy to partner with a generator. It is among the more powerful of our selection and is capable of welding steel to a maximum of ⅜ inch thick. Although stick welding is often seen as a fast but relatively untidy process, the Hobart offers voltage adjustability in 1-degree increments, giving good control. It is lightweight and even comes with a carry strap.
This is not a low-cost machine, yet it’s competitive for its type and built for long-term productivity.
- Amps: 20 to 160
- Duty cycle: 30 percent at 160 amps
- Weight: 15 pounds
- Robust build quality
- Dual voltage
- Includes a shoulder strap
- Modest duty cycle
- Significant investment for a beginner
Get the Hobart Stickmate welder on Amazon, at Northern Tool + Equipment, or at Tractor Supply Co.
With the ability to weld using MIG, TIG, or stick processes, the Yeswelder MIG-205DS might seem a little intimidating for the beginner. In fact, it is surprisingly user-friendly. The required process is selected from a single button, and many setup functions are semi-automated.
The Yeswelder MIG-205DS will run off 110 volt or 220 volt, making it a go-anywhere machine that can take full advantage of the flexibility offered by multi-process capability. It has a longer duty cycle than many similar welders, and it can weld up to ¼-inch steel.
The price is competitive, and the Yeswelder MIG-205DS has proven reliability. The only real drawback is that while it is TIG capable, the required TIG torch is not included in the price.
- Amps: 30 to 205
- Duty cycle: 60 percent at 200 amps
- Weight: 34 pounds
- Can be used for MIG, TIG, and stick welding
- Good duty cycle
- Aluminum capability
- TIG torch not included
- Relatively bulky
Get the Yeswelder welder on Amazon.
Lotos is another of the top welding machine manufacturers. While its MIG175 is designed for light- to medium-duty professional use, it is suitable for beginners thanks to its ease of use.
It also comes with everything needed to get started, including a gas regulator, a basic mask, a chipping hammer, a wire brush, and a spool gun specifically for welding aluminum. Maximum weld thicknesses are ¼ inch in mild steel and 3/16 inch in aluminum.
At 85 pounds, it is surprisingly heavy by comparison with similar tools, but MIG can’t be used outdoors so reduced portability is unlikely to be a problem. However, the Lotos MIG175 does require a 220-volt supply, which prevents us from recommending it as the best welder for home use. A generator would need to be used, or a dedicated socket would need to be installed.
- Amps: 30 to 175
- Duty cycle: 30 percent at 175 amps
- Weight: 85 pounds
- High-quality machine
- Full kit of accessories
- Aluminum spool gun included
- 220-volt power supply required
Get the Lotos welder on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
The Hobart Handler welder is not just an excellent tool for learning to weld, but it’s also one that’s capable of commercial productivity, too. The Super Deal Pro Flux Core welder is an easy way to get started, though enthusiasts will likely outgrow it eventually.
How We Chose the Best Welders for Beginners
I am an engineer by trade. While I now have considerable experience of welding processes, I still remember what it was like starting out and the challenges beginners face. To support my own knowledge, the Bob Vila team researched dozens of welders to ensure we had full information on any recent developments.
While often our articles compare quite similar tools, in this case the challenge was to find a variety of models to suit beginner welders who want to try TIG or stick welding, in addition to the traditional MIG and flux core processes.
Ease of use is key, but the best welders for beginners still need to provide sufficient performance to achieve professional welding standards. While some budget welders have been included, most come from well-known brands that offer durability and long-term value.
The information above provides a wealth of information to help beginner welders choose the right equipment, and it will have answered many of the questions that arise. However, during our research, we did find some queries of a more general nature that might benefit from further explanation. These are dealt with below.
Q. What is the easiest welding job?
The easiest type of welding for beginners to learn is MIG, and the easiest type of metal to weld is mild steel.
Q. Can I get shocked by a welder?
There is always some risk of electric shock, so it’s important to understand proper safety precautions when welding. Some welders have a “cold start,” where current doesn’t flow until the trigger is pulled; this reduces the risk considerably.
Q. What is the strongest type of weld?
TIG provides good penetration and weld consistency, so it’s arguably the strongest in terms of pure weld structure. Stick would be the better choice for welding outdoors. However, any welding process done well provides excellent strength.
Q. What size welder should I buy?
A lot depends on the thickness of metal you will weld most often, although more powerful welders will weld thicker metal. The comprehensive information above should help with your choice.
Q. Is arc welding stronger than MIG welding?
Arc welding is a general term covering all four processes discussed above. Weld strength depends on both the process and the material being welded. For example, stick welding is often considered stronger than MIG when welding very thick metal, but it could easily burn through thin metal; in that case, MIG would be stronger.
Q. Can I plug a welder into a regular outlet?
It depends on the model. Many of the best welders for beginners that we selected can plug into a regular outlet. Some welders can run off a 110-volt or a 220-volt supply, and some professional models will only run off 220 volt.