In metal fabrication welding, having the right tool is necessary, for better weld quality. Sadly, a single tool is not capable of doing everything you want it to, and that is why there are many types of welders.
Let’s briefly outline and overview the various welding processes, highlighting the pros and cons of each, so that we can decide the most suitable process and welder type for a specific job.
Types of Welding
The most common methods for metal fabrication are MIG welding, Flux-Cored Arc Welding, TIG Welding, and STICK welding.
Plasma cutting is also considered a vital part of metal fabrication.
Each of the welding types has their own distinctive set of pros and cons, making each one ideal for some applications but not applicable for all jobs.
This video will help to explain the differences between the types of welding.
In MIG welding, the welder uses a wire electrode that feeds the spool automatically at a constant preselected speed. Here the metals are joined by creating an electrical arc between the two metal pieces and a gas shield is used. This process is best for a high-quality indoor weld.
Benefits of MIG Welding
Easiest to learn— ideal for beginners
Good for all metals such as stainless steel, steel, and aluminum alloys; also applicable to a variety of materials
You can weld metals as thin as 26-gauge and also thick metal plates on multiple phases
You can weld in any position, even over your head
Shielding is provided by gas, so no slag removal is necessary— produces clean weld every time
Offers more welding speed in comparison to other processes
MIG is better than flux-cored if cosmetic appearance is considered
Limitations of MIG Welding
Several phases are required for thick metals
You can’t access much control over the weld when working on thicker materials
Not ideal for outdoor sites like farm or fields due to usage of gas and porosity risk
The equipment required is more complex and initially more expensive
Flux cored arc welding is a similar process as MIG welding. The only aspect that differentiates flux cored from MIG is that it doesn’t use gas for shielding.
Advantages of Flux Cored Arc Welding
Ideal for outdoor sites as it is less affected by drafts, so it is better than MIG for outdoor applications.
Lesser risk of puddle or porosity when compared to MIG
Can be done even on rusty and dirty materials
More portable as additional gas bottle is not necessary
Cons of Flux Cored Arc Welding
Slag removal is necessary
Flux cored arc is not very good for aluminum
Not recommended for applications related to auto-body
As MIG and Flux-cored are somewhat similar, almost all the MIG welders come with the Flux-cored feature, as the requirements are unpredictable in most cases. It’s best to have a wire feed welder that has both features.
A good quality MIG/flux-cored welder is usually available from $500.
Some of the best MIG/flux-cored welder: Hobart Handler 140, Lincoln PowerMIG 180, Miller Millermatic 211, …
Plasma cutting is a process in which metals of various thicknesses is cut using a plasma torch. During the process, a gas is blown at high speeds out of a nozzle, when at the same time an electrical arc is formed turning some of the gas into plasma. This plasma will be hot enough to melt the metals being cut.
Pros of Plasma Cutting
Allows you to cut any metal sheet or plate fast and accurately
Useful tool to use along with a welder
Only applied for cutting metals
Cons Of Plasma Cutting
Only higher-end, expensive tools are applicable for cutting thicker materials
Top-rated plasma cutters are usually available from $300.
MIG welders are used for applications related to general maintenance and repair, home, farm and ranch application, and auto-body workshops. In MIG welders you can look for features like thermal overload protection and auto-set function. You should also consider the duty cycle of the system. For example, a MIG welder with a duty cycle of 20% at 180 Amps will operate 2 minutes in 8 minutes of cool down time, whereas the same tool offers 60% duty cycle at around 113 Amps. The lesser is the power output the more is the duty cycle.
If you need a MIG welder for home based work then you can go for a welder with an output power of 140A. For industrial applications, a welder with 230A or more is good. But if you need a welding machine for both fields then a welder that can run on multiple voltages is ideal for you.
Flux-cored welders are a good substitute for MIG if weld appearance is not important. Also for outdoor metal fabrication for maintenance and repair, flux-cored welders are ideal. However, Flux-cored is not very much recommended for Auto-body workshops. Just like in MIG, a duty cycle of at least 40% to 60% is necessary for flux-cored welders, for thicker metal penetration. 115V flux-cored welder can weld metals up to 1/4 inch and 230V welder can weld up to 1/2 inch thick metals.
For more Flux-cored welders you can check the top Flux-cored welder reviews.
TIG welders are good for materials related to aluminum. For those who have the urge to get high-quality weld every time, a TIG welder is the ultimate choice. TIG welders are mostly used for home repair, garage jobs, auto-body workshops, chassis or frame fabrication, preparing aluminum oil pans or stainless exhaust, metal art and sheet metal applications.
20% duty cycle is ideal for a typical hobbyist-type TIG welder, whereas an automatic setup for TIG may require a 100% duty cycle due to the possible longer welding times. 40% to 60% of duty cycles are ideal for many handheld TIG applications in construction and industrial sites. For small welding purposes based on home, a welder with 150A to 180A power output is suitable, and for heavier tasks you can go for 200A and for most complicated and industrial applications, a welder with 250A or more power output is best.
Stick welders are most useful and best appliances for all general construction applications related to various sites including maintenance and repair shops, shipboard installation or repairs, plant fabrication and repair, home, farm and ranch applications. You can choose between stick welders with only AC compatibility or both AC/DC. For better weld quality I personally recommend buying a stick welder with AC/DC feature.
In stick welders, you would also like to consider ‘Hot Start Function’. In stick welding, when the rod touches the work piece during arc initiation, the rod becomes prone to sticking as the voltage drops to zero. Hot start function helps to free the rod by boosting the current automatically.
Plasma cutters are used in small workshops as well as large industrial sites that daily deal with metal cutting tasks. Keeping in mind the duty cycle and power output, the most important thing you ought to consider is the type of cut you need. For example, if you usually cut ½-inch thick metal, and only occasionally cut a little thicker metal, say 3/4 of an inch, then a ½-inch system will do for you. There are also a few high-end plasma cutters that have the same abilities of TIG and stick welders.