If you’re looking for a reliable machine whether it be professional use or for home, we’ve compared the best models on the market. MIG is perfect for small to medium sized projects, and will cope with whatever you throw at it! Best of all they’re an affordable unit, perfect for casual use.
What is MIG Welding?
A process that uses an inert gas (non-reactive to metal) to produce an electrical arc. The arc produces enough heat to melt the two separate pieces of metal, and once they cool the metal forms a weld which joins the separate pieces together.
Depending on the metals and thicknesses involved, more or less voltage may be needed to bring the metal to a molten state – also known as the weld pool. If the voltage is too high it will blow a hole in the metal, if the voltage is set too low there isn’t enough heat produced to melt the pieces together – resulting in a failed weld.
The welder itself is used to control the voltage, wire feed speed and the flow rate of the inert gas in order to produce the perfect weld. Some models have features to make starting the arc smooth as well as reducing splatter, and help you fine tune settings to suit the material you’re working with.
The Best MIG Welder for the Money
Although everyone’s needs are different when it comes to specialized equipment, our all round choice has to be the Millermatic 211. It’s the best value for money, and the best 220v MIG Welder on the market. You have the option of using 120V (at reduced output amperage) or 220V to take advantage of this models full capability. Perfect for commercial or Residential tasks, ensuring you’re not held back by your machines capability.
This model uses a feature called “Advanced Auto-set” allowing you to set the perfect parameters every time. All you need is the Wire size, Material thickness and you can start welding. Smooth Start is another useful feature which provides a smooth splatter free start keeping your work material clean.
As it’s an inverter based unit it only weighs 38 lbs (17.23 KG) ensuring it’s easy to carry. It’s also got an impressive range of 30 – 230A on 220V voltage, which is enough output amperage to weld the following in a single pass:
120 V: 24 ga.–3/16 in. Steel
18 ga.–1/8 in. Aluminum
240 V: 24 ga.–3/8 in. Steel
18 ga.–3/8 in. Aluminium
There is a lot of good about this welder, but to get the full picture we have our in depth Millermatic 211 Review.
Best MIG Welder for Home Use
The Hobart Handler 140 is a perfect fit if you weld at home. Being light enough for easy portability and small to store out of the way. It also comes with a 3 year parts and labour guarantee from Hobart, who share parts with Miller welders (as they’re owned by the same parent company).
The 140 is cheap enough for you to get your hands on a decent auto darkening helmet, gas and any safety equipment you’re missing.
Its output ranges from 25-140A, with a duty cycle of 20% @ 90A. Not the highest duty cycle, however if you’re only performing fabrication at home it’s not time sensitive like a production environment. Best of all it will run on a household socket! I have heard you need a 20A Breaker to support this machine, but this isn’t blanket advice – I suggest you contact Hobart to be 100% sure.
Best MIG Welder for Auto Body Work
Our machine of choice for automotive work is the Forney Easy Weld 299. An affordable unit that can deliver up to 125A and weld up to ¼” in one pass. This unit comes with a 6 month comprehensive warranty, and weighs just 42.85 lbs (14.8 KG).
This model doesn’t use gas, and therefore is a FCAW only machine. You can still lay great beads with this machine, however if you prefer using a shielding gas this may not be a good machine to use for multiple purposes. It accepts 2lb and 10lb spools of Flux-Cored wire, keeping you welding for a long time.
Best 110V MIG Welder
Finding the perfect machine for a range of tasks can be difficult, however from testing ourselves the Lincoln Electric K2697-1 is a reliable and well spec’d machine for everyday and casual use. Can perform FCAW (gasless) and MGAW (gas) welds, with an output amperage range from 30-140A.
It’s portable weighing just 50 lbs (22.7 kg) and has a respectable duty cycle at 90A of 20%. Great for a wide range of tasks, and if you’re entering into the world of welding will keep up as your skills and projects grow.
It can weld:
24 gauge up to 3/16 in. (4.8 mm) sheet metal in a single pass.
Weld up to 5/16 in. (7.9 mm) steel using self-shielded wires.
It comes with everything you need minus safety gear and gas, and is forgiving when trying to dial in your settings making welding a breeze. For a 110v unit this is a great piece of kit, and is backed my Lincolns 3 year warranty covering parts and labour.
Input Power: When researching your perfect machine, you need to base your selection off of the available input power you have available (or can have installed by an electrician). This will determine the amperage output, which will dictate what metals and thicknesses you can weld. Generally welders can accept a range of input voltages, but this will limit the output amperage produced. Your input power is measured in volts, with a typical US socket providing 110V, compared to the UK where a socket will supply 220V.
It is possible to get a higher output socket installed by an electrician, which can be paired with a larger breaker (50A+) to accommodate for higher power draws from higher range models, such as 200 Amp output machines.
Output Amperage: The output of a welder is measured in Amps, the higher the output amperage is the thicker the metals you can weld with. If you were welding with mild steel at ¼”, you would need around 200 Amps output to successfully join the two pieces of metal, which would require a high end model to produce your desired output.
It’s also important to keep an eye out for the minimum amperage. You can use the controls on your welder to change the output amperage, but there is an upper and lower limit to the output amperage which may still be too high depending on the thickess of your material.
Duty Cycle: This is a standard specification across all welders which defines the minutes of operation, within a 10 minute period at a certain output. For example, 150 amp output with a 20% duty cycle needs 8 minutes of rest after 2 minutes of continuous welding. Depending on the type of work you wish to carry out, it may be worth spending more for a higher duty cycle. Some machines claim to be a certain output, but cannot maintain their maximum output for long periods of time.
Welding Type: There are different types of processes including MIG, TIG and Stick. Depending on your requirements you could opt for a separate MIG, TIG and Stick machine or purchase a unit that can do all three, called a “Combo Welder”.
Weight: Depending on the use case for your welder, you may want to transport it to different jobs or move it around your garage when not in use. Some welders can be considerably heavier than others, so this may be an issue for you. I’ve included this information in the product table above just in case this is important to you.
Manufacturer Warranty: Having a long warranty on your shiny new welder is a no brainer. It’s also a good idea to check what is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and how your complaint will be dealt with (replacement unit or spare parts issued).
Things to Avoid
Live Wire Feed: This is where the welding torch is always live, due to the manufacturer cutting corners by leaving out the contactor switch in the welders handle. The contactor allows the electrical flow when the trigger is depressed, without this you have an always live torch. If you accidently touch something with a live torch you’ll create an arc, which gets old quickly. Not to mention it’s a potential safety hazard, which is why I avoid welders that are always live and I suggest you do too.
It’s possible to get arc eye when positioning if you aren’t careful and aren’t using an auto-dimming helmet, for the small extra expense to get a triggered gun it can make welding much more enjoyable. I haven’t come across anything on the market that is live wire feed in a long time, but it’s always worth to double check to be sure.
Cheap welders: As a general rule you get what you pay for, it rings especially true with welders. Your own skill and the machine you use will determine the quality of your welds, and therefore how long your work will last. Using the example above, many bottom range units use to have a live wire feed (not very common anymore from my own experience) which is dangerous in my opinion and a pain to use.
They use cheaper parts which won’t last as long, and warranties on these units are non-existent or very specific on what they cover. In my experience the units are also less forgiving when making mistakes – which we all do.
Things You’ll Need With Your New Machine
If you’re new to welding there are other accessories that aren’t included when purchasing a welder that have helped me a lot. Most of these will be safety orientated as safety is very important when welding.
Coveralls: There are many different types of body protection including jackets, coveralls, bibs, aprons and boots. Wearing inadequate clothing can lead to nasty skin burns, which is easily avoidable by choosing the correct equipment. Depending on the type of process and climate there are suitable pieces of clothing to suit. You can read our comparisons of protective clothing here.
Gauntlets: When sparks are flying you want to keep your skin out of harm’s way. A thick pair of gauntlets allow you to stay protected whilst still providing the comfort and dexterity needed to weld. Welding’s hot and dangerous work, so it makes sense to keep your body parts protected at all times!
Auto Darkening Mask: Welding arcs produce a large amount of Ultra Violet Radiation, as well as Infra-Red Radiation which over long periods of time will damage your eyesight. This is referred to as arc eye or welders flash, where the cornea has been damaged due to UV exposure.
In short bursts it can be temporary however prolonged exposure will cause partial or complete blindness. Wearing suitable eye protection is absolutely necessary, as it can cause irreversible damage to your eyes.
Shielding Gas: Different metals require different shielding gases when MIG welding. With such a wide range of different gases and different mixtures, it’s important to choose the right mixture for your specific application. The most common shielding gases you will find are Argon, Carbon Dioxide, Helium and Oxygen with each of these gases provide benefits and drawbacks depending on the application.
If you’re comfortable/prefer self-shielding wire more power to you! Personally I’ve never got on with it, but feel free to try it out on some scraps lying around. You can read more about shielding gases as well as gasless MIG welding HERE.