Updated: Apr 27
1. Fuel or Electric?
Pros: Mobile, Powerful, Last forever
Cons: Large, Heavy, Loud
Welding machines come in all sizes and models. Typically, a fuel powered machine, be it diesel or gas, will have a larger footprint. Will it fit in the back of your truck when you go pick it up? Who knows? What you must be aware of is of the recurring costs of keeping the machine running, and being aware that they are loud. A lot of new welders buy a fuel powered machine to practice without realizing how ear rattling they can really be especially if you plan on welding in your garage or less than 20 feet away from the machine as it is customary for practicing welders here in East Texas. Not to mention your neighbors start to hate you a little bit because you insist on burning metal until the deep hours of the night with your boys. The great thing about fuel powered welders though is that you can weld anything and anywhere as long as you can haul it with you. You should also aim at purchasing a gas or diesel welder if rig welding is in your future as you should practice on the machine that you plan on going out and taking your welding tests with. Another great thing about fuel powered machines is that most of their components (at least on most of them) are mechanical and easy to replace if something does go wrong.
If you go the fuel powered route I recommend the legendary gas powered Lincoln SA200, The diesel powered Lincoln Classic 2, or the newer PipePro400 by Miller.
Pros: Small, Versatile, Powerful
Cons: Require a constant power source, Limited mobility, Expensive to repair
Electric welding machines have been around almost as long as fuel powered machines, they are ideal for shop situations or to practice at home. They are quiet, and if you purchase an inverter machine, they are also very efficient and use so little electricity that you may not even notice it on your electric bill. With inverter technology, most electric machines are now very small and very light and are very easy to move around provided that you have a power source where you need your machine to be. Another great thing about electric welders is that most of them are now multi process welders and can weld the usual GTAW, SMAW, and some even do FCAW and GMAW.
Electric welders are typically very reliable and will last a long time with a few exceptions; running them over the top of their duty cycle will sometimes cause them to fail, some of them don't get maintained on time and easily fill up with grinding dust causing them to start overheating and this can be very costly. Parts for electric welding machines are usually readily available but cost a great fraction of the price of the machine especially if it's a board that caused the machine to fail. I would suggest getting an electric machine if you are going to be practicing and don't plan on doing jobs out of your garage, make sure you blow it down once a week and you should be last you a long time.
If you go the electric route, you cannot go wrong with the Miller CST280, a Miller XMT350 if you need it to weld flux, and the hardy Invertec 275 by Lincoln. Special mention to the 210MP by Lincoln as well if you can afford to spend a few hundred more on this super versatile and small but powerful multi process machine that can even do aluminum if you connect the special spool gun to it.
2. What process do you plan to use it for?
Buy with a plan. Tig? stick? flux? What are you really going to be doing with it? Consider what tests you are going to get ready for and if you are going to be doing jobs with it consider the productivity factor that is attached to each different type of welding process. A lot of individuals overspend at the beginning not realizing that the machine they just purchased was way overkill for the type of use they needed it for. If all you care about is tig and stick, then buy a simple machine that only comes with those two processes, they will be more robust and the machine arc capabilities are going to be crisper. If you plan on doing mostly mig, then avoid buying a multiprocess machine as adding processes to a single unit means one of them has to give and you will generally lack performance out of one of them. Do you need it to do aluminum? is high frequency necessary? Buy with a plan and know what kind of work you will be doing. It will save you from overspending and also sometimes from buying something that you need to offload quickly because you need to upgrade instead.
3. New or Used?
A lot of welders are often freaked out by the prices of new welding machines. Some fuel powered machines are now as expensive as truck and can really put a hole in your pocket if you aren't careful. Same thing with electric machines, they can easily run up to $10,000 or more depending on the welding technology they come equipped with. Fear not though, while buying a used welding machine can be sort of scary sometimes, it is the easiest way to save a bunch of money and still take a powerful unit home. There are a couple of things you must consider when deciding if you're going new or used and they are listed below.
New: Shiny, Warranty, Will work great out of the box, Manufacturer support.
A new welding machine will be pristine in its looks, it will have an untouched easily to activate warranty in case something goes wrong, should be able to be plug and play out of the box and if you have any questions regarding operation you can always call the manufacturer and get much needed feedback.
Used: May not look as good as it did ten years ago, may need some tuning or cleaning, no warranty so needs to be checked out thoroughly, no manufacturer support so any repairs may be hard to trouble shoot.
At first glance, a used welding machine may sound like a hassle and something to be scared of. If you aren't too concerned for a few scratches then all you need to worry about is the way the machine operates, Believe it or not, most people do not use their machines to their full potential so there's a high possibility that the used welding machine you are looking at, although scratched and dusty, has never actually been ran down to the ground like you may think. Most of the components should be good as long as it’s been blown down every once in a while or in the case of a fuel powered machine maintenances has been done on it periodically. Something you should check out though is making sure you weld with it prior to purchasing it and burn a few rods pushing the expected duty cycle of the machine in order for you to know that there are no overheating issues such as a broken fan or a failing board somewhere. Usually a faulty machine will show itself right away and that will be your sign to walk away to deal another day.
If this blog was informative to you please share it with your friends, if you have any questions regarding a machine purchase or you are still not sure what route you should take, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message here on the website. Thank you for reading!