Hobby Welding: The Expenses
If you've ever had the nerve to ask your wife or husband for a little discretionary spending money for your favorite project or activity, you understand that getting the go ahead to spend the money usually involves some really well rehearsed sales tactics. If you're not married or otherwise dependent upon getting the another person's approval, you still have to sell yourself on the money spent. Currently, one of the most popular hobbies that people find themselves considering is welding. Some see it as a way to supplement income. Others have a need to exercise their creative juices. Others may just simply be tired of throwing away broken items or tired of having them fixed at great expense. And still others may just want to expand their talents and abilities. Whatever the reason, there is a significant cost associated with starting to weld, and more cost as consumable items need to be replenished.
One of the major costs of course is the initial purchase of the welder. First you must decide which process you want to start with. Then you must look at other variable expenses that are associated with the welding process.
Of all processes, the Stick or Shielded Metal Arc Welder (SMAW) is the most versatile and cheapest to start. Maintenance is simple, and welding rods are the only additional purchase required. The SMAW process won't weld the thinnest materials, but it will weld steel and stainless materials quite easily. Aluminum can be welded as well, though the expense of Aluminum welding rods is currently quite high. Cast iron repair can be accomplished through this process. As a hobbyist, this is likely one of the best choices. Small inverter welders like the Everlast PowerArc series offer the best combination of price and performance. Other brands offer transformer welders at the entry level but usually offer AC output only, which limits some of the versatility.
MIG (Metal Inert Gas), also known as GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welder), is currently a very popular welding process. It's generally deemed to be the simplest to learn, although Stick welding can be quite easy in its own way. Typically, you'll pay about twice the cost of a Stick welder for a MIG of equal amperage. Although many choose small 140 amp class machines because of their ability to run on 120 volts, they are quite limited. Many of these cheapest units are not true MIG but are what is known as Flux Core welders. Flux core wire does not require gas and has its own shielding "flux" in the core of the wire, but it cannot be used on thin materials and weld appearance is not as neat, and much more clean-up after the weld is required . Flux core wire by the pound is quite expensive. Many want a Flux Core welder to save on the cost of shielding gas and shielding gas tank rental that is required to do true MIG welding. However, Flux Core ends up costing more in the long run. As mentioned the cost associated with MIG welding is the cost of the welding wire and shielding gas. Expect to pay 70 dollars or more per year for large cylinder tank rental and about that much to fill the tank. Smaller tanks cost less to rent, but refilling can cost nearly as much as the larger tanks. Although the 140 size is popular, to minimize your costs, a 200 amp minimum machine capable of holding a larger roll of wire should be considered. This lowers the cost of wire per pound significantly. Even though the purchase price is higher for a higher amperage welder, it won't take long for the savings to come back to you in wire cost. Additional costs, though usually minimal come in the form of electrode tips and gas nozzles. These can be ruined by misuse or abuse, but with care they do last for some time and are but range from a dollar or so for the tips to slightly more than ten dollars for the nozzles. Some may go higher. Again, Everlast offers an inverter MIG welder at or below the price of other transformer welders.
Although TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding is featured on about every DIY show out there, it is one of the most expensive welding processes as well as the most technically difficult to learn. From the standpoint of the machine purchase, the initial purchase price is higher than other welders. Compare it to a MIG welder and you'll see that the price is at least 20-50% higher for a MIG welder with equivalent amps. Also, you'll find that the cost of TIG shielding gases such as pure argon, or argon/ helium mixes are higher than the Argon/CO2 gas mixes typically used with MIG. A small bottle of Argon can cost 65.00 at current rates and last only a day or so with consistent use. Gas Tungsten Arc Welding or GTAW as it is now officially named, instead of TIG, also uses Tungsten, or a combination of Tungsten and some other metal to serve as the electrode. Though these do not consume at a rapid pace, they will and do eventually wear away, through re-sharpening, or from the welding process itself. For Tungsten a 10 pack (most economical size for the average user) of electrodes can cost from $20.00-75.00 depending upon the type and combination of added metals. A beginner could go through 3 or 4 tungsten electrodes a day. This can add up to significant expense. Add to that there are other consumables such as cups, collets, and collet bodies that will be needed to be replaced regularly, because of heat damage or breakage, you may have another $5.00-15.00 a day in operation costs if used extensively. Filler rod is a significant cost as there can be a steep cost associated with buying small quantities of filler. Aluminum filler wire can be the most expensive, with stainless being right up there, around 10.00/ lb.
Although any form of welding carries an expense associated with it, SMAW welding does seem to be a good fit for most beginners and intermediate welders. After all its still widely accepted, and used commercially throughout the world in many manufacturing and repair facilities. While it won't be ideal to weld the thinnest materials, it is generally considered to be the best and most economical choice if one welding process must be chosen over another. MIG and TIG are finding their ways into more and more home garages, though, and are certainly valid choices. But if expense is a concern, then take a look at a stick welder such as the PowerArc 200, an inverter stick welder from Everlast.