Maximizing Your Return on Your Welding Equipment Investment

Maximizing Your Return on Your Welding Equipment Investment

Contributing writer Mike DuBois discusses the important points to consider prior to buying welding equipment.

“Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. This is often done by melting the work pieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material (the weld pool) that cools to become a strong joint, with pressure sometimes used in conjunction with heat, or by itself, to produce the weld.”
— Wikipedia

That explains what welding is, so now I hope to share some details with you about various types of welding equipment and technologies. There are many types of welding and just as many applications. The following will hopefully help you to think about features and benefits that are important when choosing welding tools and equipment.

There are some important things to think about prior to buying welding equipment. The first, and probably the most important, is application. Simply stated, what do you want to do/fix/make? This question can be further broken down into other questions: What material(s) do you need or want to work with? Steel, aluminum, sheet metal? How thick are the materials you want to work with? Up to 1/8 inch? 1/4 inch? 1 inch? Finally, what do you want to do with/to the metal? Cut it? Join (weld) it? Braze it? Bend it? Temper it? All of these actions and choices of materials will have a large impact on which welding tools and equipment you choose.

There are many technologies and methods to achieve a relatively few welding processes. When it gets right down to it, you can cut metal, you can join multiple pieces of metal together, you can shape metal, and you can change a metal’s properties through heating and cooling processes. Almost all activities that you want to do should fall into one of these broad categories.

I am going to talk specifically about some various categories of welding equipment and some features and benefits you should look for when making buying decisions.

Gas (Oxy-Acetylene) Welding
One of the oldest forms of welding, gas welding is still widely used today for many applications. Using an open flame and combining oxygen and acetylene, this is a flexible and relatively forgiving welding process. While still used by many for welding, this technology is used more and more for either cutting or brazing operations. Because of its portability and adaptability via regulating or adjusting gas mixtures, the welder can perform many different operations with this type of welding equipment.

When shopping for gas welding equipment, you need to consider portability. Do you anticipate wanting to carry or move the equipment frequently? If so, you should look for one of the small “tote” kits. These self-contained kits include a holder for small twin gas cylinders, as well as gauges/regulators and hoses. Everything is included in a single package making them great for tradesman, mobile technicians, farm and ag repairs, off-road repairs, custom designers, artists and craftsmen.

A definite disadvantage of the small tote kits is the smaller volume of the tanks. If you anticipate doing a large amount of gas welding or cutting, these kits may not be your best choice. If you know you will be doing a large volume of work for extended periods of time, you will want to consider a manifold and gauge set that you can connect to full-size gas cylinders.

Also consider if you’re going to keep the cylinders in a fixed location, or if you still want some mobility for the equipment. There are some really well-designed hand trucks that accommodate full-size cylinders and will organize your hoses, striker, gloves, eye wear, etc., neatly in one place.

Gas (Butane) Soldering/Brazing
Butane torches — while clearly not true welding equipment — have a place in automotive repairs and do share some characteristics of welding (gas welding). The main differences between true welding equipment and butane-powered torches are: operating temperatures, uses and size of the equipment and the scope of the jobs.

These miniature torches are capable of producing flame temperatures in excess of 2,000° F. These small dynamos can be used for brazing and soldering applications. Some meaningful features are the design — will the unit sit upright on a work surface?; safety — the unit should have a safety interlock that requires the user to perform two or more distinct movements to get the torch to light, thus eliminating the possibility of ­accidental ignition; storage — the better kits will include a storage case with room for accessories, fuel, solder, eye wear, etc.; and adjustability — the torch should have variable flame control and operate well at very low settings. These features are  good indicators of a quality device.

MIG Welders
MIG welders, or Metal Inert Gas welders, get their name from the process of introducing gas around the welding arc. This gas, usually carbon dioxide or argon or a combination of both, ensures a clean environment for the arc with less chance of oxidation.

When considering purchasing a MIG welder, as I mentioned above, it is important to decide for what kinds of materials and what volume you plan to use the welder. One decision you need to think about in the beginning is where you will use the machine and what are your options for power supply. Most automotive shops have 220-volt current available, while it is less available in residential garages. There are some good 110V MIG welders available, but you will definitely be limited to the kinds of materials that you will be able to work with. If you are planning on working with thinner gauge steels or aluminum, you may be happy with a 110V machine. One advantage of these smaller machines is portability. Not only are these machines lighter and smaller, they also can use smaller gas tanks, which is nice for storage and movement.

If you do decide to choose a 220V machine, you will want to verify the amp and phase of the machine to make sure you have the appropriate power in your shop.

One of the most important parts of a MIG welder is the wire feed mechanism or transport system. Take time to examine the internal components of any machine you are considering. This is especially important when considering 110V machines. There are some great quality 110V machines and there are also some low-cost/low-quality products out there. The wire feed and the MIG gun are two areas that the low-quality manufacturers will try to save money. Saving a few dollars on a welder can result in constant frustration and irritation later on. So it’s important to do your homework before making a purchase.

Some other things to look for when shopping for a MIG welder would include warranty and parts availability. The better manufacturers will offer warranties from one year up to five years on the power supply and feed mechanism. Find out from your supplier the availability of consumables. This would ­include contact tips as well as repair items such as liners, guns, wire, etc. No matter how well built the machine is, you will eventually need parts for it.

The next thing to think about is configuration or bundling. What does the welder come with? Make sure that the kit comes with the regulator(s) and lines for gas welding. Does the welder include a cart? How about wire, striker, welding pliers or gloves? There are some very complete bundles available. If the welder does not include these items in the kit, work with your distributor to see if they are willing to include these accessory items in order to win your business

As you can see, there are various things to consider when purchasing welding equipment. The most important things to contemplate are: What do you want to weld? How often do you want to weld it? What kind of power do you have available? Where do you need to work? And, finally, How much are you able to spend? You notice, I have listed cost last. If you choose a welder based only on cost, you will more than likely quickly find the machine you purchase won’t do the things you need it to do, or it won’t stay working for long periods of time.  

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