Flame and steel.

Welders are not tools that are found in the average homeowner's garage, but for those who use them, they're integral parts of their workshops. For tasks ranging from making large metal sculptures and repairing broken metal objects to automobile restoration and part fabrication, welders offer versatility and professional results for those who know how to use them.

If you're considering adding a welder to your workshop, it's important to know what kind will serve you best, as they are not all manufactured for the same purpose. While some welders are suited for joining metals like aluminum, steel or brass, others are designed for use with polymers or plastic. Understanding your choices and purchasing options will greatly improve your chance of making the best buying decision for your individual goals.

When one thinks of a welder, they typically think of the guy in a large welder's helmet bending over a piece of metal with sparks flying all over the place. In reality, there are a range of welders available, some of which are drastically different from the type used in that particular scene.

MIG Welders-MIG stands for metal inert gas. This type of welder features a spool of solid steel wire that is fed through the machine. The contact tip of the welder is electrically charged, or "hot," and when the trigger is pulled, the solid steel wire is melted into what's called a weld puddle. While this is happening, inert gas is expelled from the tip to prevent the atmosphere from contaminating the weld, as things like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and other gases can cause defects in the weld puddle. The inert gases typically used in MIG welding are helium and argon, but more recently, carbon dioxide has been included in some capacity.

MIG welders are easy to understand and operate, making them a perfect fit in any garage workshop. Some smaller units can even be plugged into a conventional 120-volt outlet; however, always check the amperage rating to ensure the circuit can handle the unit's draw.

Electric Welders-An electric welder is basically any welder that incorporates an electrical arc as part of the welding process. This is an umbrella category under which arc welders, MIG welders, TIG welders and others fall. When someone says he or she is interested in or using an electric welder, he or she can be talking about any of these welders.

Arc Welders-Arc welding is a process by which two metals are fused together to form a metallurgical bond that includes the same strength properties of both source metals. The weld is caused by a strong electrical arc between the work and an electrode. Depending on the type of electrode used, it can melt to add filler to the joint or simply melt the two metals together to create the bond.

Arc welders are available in either AC or DC voltage formats. In both cases, one electrical cable is connected to the work piece, and another cable is connected to the electrode holder. When the electrode comes into contact with the work piece, it forms the required electrical arc.

140 Welders-A 140 welder is a small portable unit that runs on a traditional 120-volt circuit and delivers gas-less flux-cored welding. The 140 in its name indicates that it produces an output range of between 30 and 140 amps. This welder is best used for home projects, basic auto repairs or minor welding requirements.

Wire Welders-Wire welders, like electric welders, is more of an umbrella term used to categorize welders that use wire drive feeds. This includes any welder that uses wire, such as MIG welders, 140 welders and arc welders. For example, a 140 welder can be classified as both an electric welder and a wire welder.

TIG Welders-TIG welders are similar to MIG welders with the exception that TIG (tungsten inert gas) welders utilize a noncombustible tungsten electrode to bond the metals being welded together. Like MIG, TIG uses an inert gas (most commonly argon) to prevent contamination of the weld puddle. The primary advantage of using TIG welding is that it is capable of welding more metals and alloys than any other process.

TIG welders are capable of welding aluminum, steel, stainless steel, nickel alloys, magnesium, brass, bronze, copper, chromoly and even gold. This process also requires only one shielding gas, unlike MIG welding, which requires two.

Welding Guns-Welding guns are lightweight, air-cooled units for making spot welds on mild, stainless or galvanized metals. They are a perfect solution for lower amperage welding and for locations where welding space is limited. There are two types of welding guns that are most commonly used-C guns and X guns. The C-type gun has the operating cylinder connected directly to the electrode, while the X-type keeps the operating cylinder away from the electrode. Of these two types, the C-type is the less expensive welding gun.

Shopping Considerations

When shopping for welders, it's important to take the time to consider your options and needs before choosing one. You don't want to waste money on a welder that you're going to use once. Here are a number of considerations you should keep in mind when purchasing a welder:

  • How much space do you have in your garage or workshop to accommodate a welder?
  • Do you have the necessary electrical requirements for a certain welder?
  • Do you need a welder that's portable?
  • What types of jobs will you be performing the most?
  • What types of metals will you most commonly be using?
  • What is your experience with using a welder?
  • What is your budget?
  • The bottom line is that a welder is one tool that exists by the old standard "you get what you pay for." You can find smaller welders available on the market for between $100 and $200, but you will find that their performance is severely lacking. Most quality at-home welders cost $500 and higher.