How do I decide on a welder that I need without over or under buying?
Selecting a welder that is the right size for a welding job is important. A bowie knife isn’t the best scapel if you want to do precision surgery. Most shops have a combination of welder sizes. They have the large industrial welders for the heavy all day tasks, and smaller, more compact ones for jobs requiring mobility. But that is in shops with better equipped resources and money than most guys have at their disposal.
A lot of times it comes down to only having one welder in the arsenal to do everything with. Or at best, one welder for each process type if you are financially lucky enough to afford that luxury. So the question comes back to “How big of a welder do I need?” or “How do I know if I’m selecting a welder that is the right size?” They are hard question for sure, and one many people struggle with. Buying too small will make for a miserable welding experience. Buying too large will sometimes keep you from taking on the more fragile tasks. Over buying on features that you will never use and that are confusing to set up also makes for a less than satisfactory welding experience.
One criteria that one should weigh is, what type of work is expected from the unit? Will you be welding a lot or a little? How thick? What type material? Whether it’s stick, TIG or MIG, these questions should apply. You have to carefully look at the actual need and use of the welder and buy accordingly. Selecting a welder with all the bells and whistles doesn’t mean you will be any happier with it than a welder with a few less features that are just as capable. Buying all the amperage and features you can doesn’t mean you have the best machine that is matched for you or the typical use you will get out of it.
If you will be welding steel or stainless only, buying a more expensive AC/DC unit is a waste of money. Even if you for see an occasional need for welding Aluminum with TIG, someday, it’s likely that you will not ever really need it. And in those circumstances, you can farm the work out to a buddy or a shop down the road. Also, in the case of a MIG welder, a large roll around welder typically lacks the finesse and low amp capability of a smaller, table top MIG. But if you will never need to weld sheet metal, buying a small table top MIG will result in frustration, when truly heavy material presents itself.
Of course you face similar issues with Stick. You need to identify what the bulk of the welding you will be doing is going to be. If you are going to be welding bridges, well of course a 140 amp welder isn’t going to be your need. And, a 140 amp welder of course isn’t going to serve to do most daily fabrication chores unless it is light gauge material. But if your welding job needs regular, light duty use, a 140 or 160 amp stick welder is ALL you will ever need. If the day comes you need to weld something thicker, you can simply make more passes.
I’ve discussed these various aspects somewhat loosely on purpose. The idea is to get you to think about the product you are buying and your actual need for it in the long run for your welding job. Don’t stretch your budget on a unit you may need “someday”. IF that day ever comes, you would likely by then need several machines, and have the resources you need. Ask yourself questions and do the research on the machines capabilities. It’s amazing how many people start selecting a welder without doing research and begin to overbuy or underbuy a product, leading to buyer’s remorse in either case.