Best MIG welder for the house

The following guide can be used to select a wire-feed welder for home use (light duty). All of the units on the page are below $500.

The first question which should be answered is the price of these units. If the reader goes to professional welding equipment companies like Lincoln Electric or Miller, you will see units costing $700 and more. However, a local retail store or an online outlet will have units costing $100-300. What is the difference, besides quality?

One of the main differences is the fact that cheap units are actually modular. As shown, they are only configured for flux-core wire operation. Additional equipment is required to convert the unit to MIG operation. That additional equipment consists of a gas cylinder, pressure regulator, hose, and possibly additional accessories.

While MIG operation (with a shielding gas) is not a requirement, the unit must be MIG-ready. This means that the unit can accept those accessories should you choose to upgrade it to MIG operation for an additional cost. Note that MIG welding is costlier (the price of shielding gas), and cannot be used outdoors (because wind will blow away the shielding gas). Therefore, for "around the house" repairs a flux core wire will be sufficient.

The second limitation of cheap retail units is their low output current capability. In order to be able to handle thick metal, the unit must be able to supply more than 100A.

Many very small and cheap wire-feed welders can be operated from a regular 15A 120V outlet. However, these units can only weld thin sheets of metal. I recommend 120V / 240V universal units, or just a 240V one. These units are not truly portable -- you cannot operate them over long extension cord anyways. You will be constrained to the house or the garage with its outlets. If you are, you might as well have 240V service wired to the location you need for the extra welding capability.

Another important consideration when buying very cheap units is the availability of accessories and support. You must at least be able to buy that MIG conversion kit, spare tips, a spare gun, etc. Some no-name units do not have any accessories available.

 

With all of these cheap units, buy an extended warranty if it is offered, because hunting for spare parts will probably be a problem. Also, buy an auto-darkening (liquid crystal) welding helmet, along with leather gloves and an apron. DO NOT breathe the fumes which welding gives off, as these are very bad for your health. Do not work in an enclosed area, or in your basement. DO NOT EVER weld galvanized metal such as pipe and fence posts, because zinc will immediately poison you. And always clean the joint to be welded with a power tool (such as a wire disc in a cordless drill) for a cleaner and stronger weld.

Note: units which specify an input requirement of 20A (at 120V) require a special electrical outlet, as shown below:

20 A Amp socket outlet

Note the neutral (longer) blade special design.

As far as the difference between 110V, 115V, and 120V goes, these all refer to the common outlet voltage. Therefore, the two hot line voltage may also be specified as either 240V, 230V, or 220V.

 

Two required features to look for in the gun are a "cold contractor", and a Tweco-compatible design, so that you can substitute another gun if yours breaks.

Also, many wire-feed units say they cannot weld Aluminum, or that a special accessory is needed. This is due to the fact that the flux-core aluminum wire would have to be fed thru the hose. The soft metal would get stuck in the long hose. Most units require a special gun, with a spooler on the back of the hand-held assembly to weld aluminum. Expect to have to buy this accessory even for units which list Aluminum as a metal they can weld.

MIG spool gun

 

Now, on to the ratings.

Some brands were rejected from review due to those units not meeting one of the criteria on this page. In particular, brands such as Maxus (new division of Campbell Hausfeld), XPUSA, Steele Products, Metal Man, Troy, ATD (Advanced Tool Design), and TD Industrial were immediately rejected because it is not possible to buy upgrades, accessories, and replacement parts from the manufacturer.

 

Chicago Electric Welding Systems 180 Amp MIG/Flux Wire Feed Welder. Item # 68886. Sold at Harbor Freight Tools for $300.

Input: 240 volts AC, 24A. Welding current: 30 to 180 amps DC. Rated duty cycle: 20% @ 140 amps.

Capability: Mild or low carbon steel and stainless steel (does not weld aluminum). Thickness: 18 gauge up to 1/4".

Review: This affordable 240V unit is very capable, and can exceed 140A welding current. The manufacturer also sells a full line of welding equipment, gear, and accessories, meaning that you would not have to make replacement parts from scratch. Watch the Harbor Freight Tools website and its flyers for discount coupons.

Chicago Electric 180 Amp MIG Flux Wire Feed Welder 68886

 

Hobart 500500 Handler 140 Gas/Metal/Arc Wire Welding Package

Capability: 115V input, 25-to-140 Amp output. $550.

Note: this model number comes with the regulator.

Hobart 500500 Handler 140 115Volt 140Amp Gas Metal Arc Wire Welding Package review

 

Hobart Handler 125A 115V Flux Cored/MIG-Ready Welder, Model# 500495. Sold at Northern Tool for $350.

Note: this model number comes without the regulator.

Input: 115V, 20A. Amperage output 30–125 Amps. Rated duty cycle: 20% duty cycle @ 90 Amps.

Capability: Steel, stainless steel, aluminum. Thickness: 18 ga. - 3/16 in. steel.

Review: Select this unit only if 120V, 20A outlet is available. This unit can only weld 3/16" plate, however.

 

Northern Industrial Welders MIG 135A 115V Flux Cored/MIG Welder. Item # 164611. Sold at Northern Tools for $300.

Input: 115V, 20A. Amperage output 22–135 Amps. Rated duty cycle: 20% at 88 Amps.

Capability: Steel, stainless steel, aluminum. Thickness: 22 gauge to 3/16".

Review: Select this unit only if 120V, 20A outlet is available. This unit can only weld 3/16" plate, however.

Northern Industrial Welders MIG 135 115V Welder review

 

Forney Industries Inc MIG / Flux Core Wire Feed Welder

Two models are available:

The 306 model with 120A output capability, and requiring a 120V outlet,

The 308 model with 180A output capability, and requiring a 240V outlet.

Review: Although the manufacturer has a full line of accessories, these units are rather expensive at about $500.

Forney Industries Inc MIG Flux Core Wire Feed Welder review

 

Lincoln Electric Flux Cored/MIG Welder series: Weld-Pak, Pro-Core, EasyMIG, PRO-MIG.

This company, one of the two on the top, mainly manufactures professional welding equipment. However, tucked away on their website under "Retail Products" Equipment, there is a line of more affordable units than their professional relatives. These units are above the $500 line, however, any local welding outlet will have parts and accessories available. With any other units on this page, folks at the welding store might laugh at you if you ask for repair, spare parts, and some accessories. You decide how to pay -- either up-front with a solid Lincoln Electric (or a Miller) welder, or later if you buy a cheap Chinese unit, when you need service, parts, or accessories.

Also, the units are not sold under a "modular model" in the sense that you would need to buy things such as a gas regulator and hose afterwards, when the need arises. These units usually come with the needed accessories to run in MIG mode right out of the box.

If you can afford it, here are some available models:

Weld Pak 180 HD Model # K2515-1. Requires 208/230 Volt input, 180A output. Can weld up to 1/2" steel. $670.

Weld Pak 140 HD Model # K2514-1. Requires 120 Volt input, 140A output. Can weld up to 3/16" steel. $524.

EasyMIG 140, Model# K2697-1. Requires 120V input, 140 Amp output. $570. 

Pro-Core 125 Model# K2479-1. Requires 120V input, 125 Amp output.

PRO-MIG 180 Model# K2481-1. Requires 208/230 Volt input, 180A output. $600.

PRO-MIG 140 Model# K2480-1. Requires 120V input, 140 Amp output.

Lincoln Electric Easy MIG Flux Cored MIG Welder review

 

Miller (another professional welding equipment manufacturer) does not sell any affordable MIG welders for $500 or less.

 

Campbell Hausfeld has several MIG welder models available, and can be found in retail outlets such as HomeDepot. When purchasing a unit, spend a little more money to get a unit which includes the gas regulator and the hose, and which is MIG-ready out of the box.

Model# WG3090 requires a 120 Volt input and has 140 Amp output for $400.

Model# WG2160 requires a 115 Volt input and has 100 Amp output for $240.

Model# WG4130 requires 230 Volt input and has 180 Amp output for $550.

Campbell Hausfeld WG4130 review

Campbell Hausfeld 115V Wire Feed Welder review

 

Clarke has some cheap welders, and an interesting model with a spool at the gun handle. Although this will allow welding some distance away from the welder, as well as a native capability for aluminum wire spools, this design will make the gun heavy, hard to control, and not acceptable for tight spaces.

Clarke WE6441 135SG Spool Gun Welder review

Additionally, the use of "peak amps" for the output ratings sets my "marketing BS" alerts. I will expect much lower continuous (or light-duty) ratings than the ones claimed.

Clarke WE6523 130EN 120-Volt. $315.

Clarke WE6527 160EN 240-Volt. $300.

Clarke WE6484 190EN 220-Volt. $345.

Clarke WE6441 135SG Spool Gun Welder. $300.

Clarke WE6523 130EN 120-Volt Welder review

 



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