It had to happen eventually; my trusty welding machine has kicked the bucket, and it’s time to replace it. There are two things I hate about getting a new welding machine; having to pay for it, and going through all the research to find a good one.
And wouldn’t you know — here it is! After many hours of research, and many dodgy finds, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 best welding machines I’ve found in my searches.
Table of Contents
- 1 My Welding Machine & Story
- 2 A List of 7 Best Welding Machines
- 2.1 2018 AHP AlphaTIG 200x – Best Value Pick
- 2.2 Goplus MIG 130 Welder – Best Mig Welder
- 2.3 Forney Easy Weld 299 – A Welder For Everyone
- 2.4 Lotos LTPDC2000D – Most-in-One Welder
- 2.5 Hobart 500559 – Industrial performance on a household current
- 2.6 C.M.T Pitbull Ultra-Portable – A Perfect Choice for Smaller Projects
- 2.7 Lincoln Electric K2185-1 – A Handy Mig Welder
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
- 3.1 Why must a welding machine periodically be blown out with compressed air?
- 3.2 Why must a welding machine duty cycle never be exceeded?
- 3.3 So what happens if you exceed the duty cycle?
- 3.4 Why earthing is required in a welding machine?
- 3.5 Why should a welding machine never be overloaded?
- 3.6 Why is welding output in DC voltage?
- 3.7 Why calibration certificate is required for welding machine?
- 4 Final Thoughts
My Welding Machine & Story
This bad boy has been with me through the last ten or so years. I’ve built some great projects with it (and, frankly, some not so great ones — through no fault of the machine!). It’s been well-used, well-maintained, and given me some excellent results.
But now it’s time to say goodbye.
Such is life.
That’s why I decided to research this properly this time.
Having done the research, I’m really glad I did. There is so much junk out there. Cheap, unreliable, poorly made, low-quality — and in some cases, frankly dangerous. My shortlist of the seven below makes up all of about 15-20% of the total number of welding machines I examined.
Now I’m passing the list on to you, so you can avoid all of the terrible products out there and just compare the best.
Before we get to my shortlist, I’d like to briefly explain my selection criteria.
How Did I Pick These Products?
I decided on five selection criteria for these welding machines. Some of these criteria I apply to everything I purchase — brand, reliability, and price — while some are specific to welding machines.
BRAND: Don’t you just pay extra for the name recognition when looking at brands? A little, but that’s also really only half the story. Known, “name” brands are pricier for a reason. One of those reasons is they typically have higher quality assurance tests than off-brand counterparts. They’re made of better materials, with better construction.
As most of you know, most “brand” items can be bought for cheaper without the badge. These are even from the same factory in many cases. But they won’t have passed all the QC checks needed to ensure they meet the high standards of their branded brothers.
That’s why I stick to reputable brands with good reviews.
RELIABILITY: My last model lasted 5 years, and didn’t give me any grief until the day it died. This is what I expect from any welding machine I get. If it’s not reliable, it’s not worth it. Too much hangs on the machine being able to do its job to settle for less.
PRICE: You get what you pay for. I normally try to save at least a few dollars through smart purchases when looking at things like welding rod ovens or welding tables, but for the machine itself? It’s an investment.
Any pro already knows it’s going to cost a penny. Any hobbyist seriously interested will still do themselves a favor buying a good machine.
DIFFICULTY: The last thing you want is a machine that takes forever to set up. Time is money, after all! At the same time, I wanted to look for machines a beginner might be able to quickly get a handle of. There’s no real benefit to a welding machine being unnecessarily complicated to operate.
EXTRA FEATURES: Last, but not least — extra features! Who doesn’t like a little something extra thrown in? I put this reasonably low on the list of priorities, as a solid welding machine is always the main consideration. But when I was stuck between two machines, I’d always go for the one that threw in a neat feature. Anything to make life easier!
All together, I was looking for a trusted brand, a reliable machine, and something that would be appropriate for any type of welder. Whether you’re just starting out, or a pro looking for your next piece of kit, the 7 options below will suit you just fine.
A List of 7 Best Welding Machines
2018 AHP AlphaTIG 200x – Best Value Pick
The AlphaTIG 200x is an excellent choice for welders at any skill level. It’s a powerful, 200 amp AC/DC tig welder with stick functionality and an impressive, reliable power output.
The welder can be run on 220V and 120V, so you can take it pretty much anywhere without worrying about the power supply. Even at 120V it’s strong and reliable, and you can run it off any decent extension cord.
Those who like stick welding will love this machine. It’s as smooth as you could ever hope. It doesn’t run 6010s, according to the manual, but it will run about everything else.
I really couldn’t find much to fault about this unit. The digital amperage display reads differently to the analogue display in 120V mode, but the analogue is the “accurate” version. Also be careful in 120V mode that you don’t run up to full amperage and blow a fuse — unfortunately, the machine won’t limit you while in 120V mode so it’s up to you.
Perhaps best of all — it’s not ridiculously expensive. I’ve seen much more expensive models with less reliability, so it’s excellent value for money.
Goplus MIG 130 Welder – Best Mig Welder
The Goplus MIG 130 Welder is a pretty damn cool flux core wire welding machine, and a good starter option for many.
It ticks all of my boxes — the brand, the reliability, the simplicity, the price, and the extra features. Not only does it come with the usual suspects like ground wire and clamps, it even comes with a free welding helmet (not the best — but better than nothing). That’s why I think it’s a pretty damn good beginner model.
I guess part of that is down to how simple it is. The wire is always live (be careful). It only has four levels of adjustment. It’s not the strongest welder on this list, let alone the world.
But it’s small, it’s portable, and if you prep your surfaces properly, it’ll get the job done. For the price, it would almost be worth grabbing one just to have a run-and-go kit for small jobs.
Forney Easy Weld 299 – A Welder For Everyone
Last, and certainly not least, is the Forney Easy Weld 299.
There are two models of the Forney 299; the 100 ST Stick/TIG machine, and the 125 FC flux core machine. I didn’t have the opportunity to test out the stick/TIG variation, so I’m here to talk about the flux core machine.
Like the last few entries, the Forney is an entry level machine aimed as a do-it-yourself basic kit to keep around if you’re a pro. It’s relatively small and easily portable. You probably wouldn’t want to be welding a frame for a pickup truck, but fixing small things or making art pieces will be fine. It’ll do 1/4”; just don’t expect it to do 1/4” steel.
Lotos LTPDC2000D – Most-in-One Welder
If you’re looking for a neat most-in-one welder, the Lotos LTPDC2000D should be a strong consideration. You can DC TIG/Stick weld and plasma cut all from the same machine — and at a price that’s not going to break the bank, either.
Perhaps surprisingly for the price, it actually balances all three tasks fairly well. The arc cutter seems to be the big selling point — no scratch start, pilot arc, all those sorts of cool features. The welding functions work just fine, but don’t expect a lot of power options.
Set-up takes all of about a minute, so it definitely earns full marks in the “ease of use” category.
Two things I did find particularly frustrating:
Firstly, there’s no foot pedal included. I know they’re not essential, but they’re nice to have. It just made the unit feel light on pretty standard extras.
Secondly, all the parts needed to maintain the machine are specific to this model. You can’t buy generic parts for many features, which can be particularly frustrating. As expected, this results in some pretty pricey replacement pieces.
So while your initial outlay is not so high, the running costs will add up.
Hobart 500559 – Industrial performance on a household current
The Hobart Handler 500559 is another tick-all-the-boxes sort of deal (well, most of the boxes). Good brand, reliable, easy to use, reasonably priced — but it does lack extras.
It doesn’t get much easier to use than this. It’s MIG ready right out of the box. Everything you need is already there. The quick-start guide is incredibly useful and I imagine a first-time welder will have no trouble with it. There are no bells and whistles, like I said, but you don’t eally need them.
You can fine tune your arc with a 5-position tapped voltage control for smooth, stable arcs on any surface.
C.M.T Pitbull Ultra-Portable – A Perfect Choice for Smaller Projects
I didn’t put “portability” down as a selection criteria, but it certainly doesn’t hurt!
This is a cheap, simple, easy to carry stick welding unit. It comes with the basics — cables, clamps, etc. and not much else. It’s a 100 amp 110 VAC arc welder and that’s about it.
So why do I like it?
Because like with the Goplus, it’s it’s a neat little second welder to have for small jobs. If you’re a beginner, this would be a perfect place to start. For seasoned pros, it’s something small and low power you can pull out at a moment’s notice to do a spot weld.
I’d be lying if I said I’d pick this up as my main replacement machine — but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t considering getting it anyway!
Lincoln Electric K2185-1 – A Handy Mig Welder
I have a soft spot for Lincoln Electric when it comes to welding (they make some great rod ovens). The K2185-1 is dubbed the “handy MIG”, and for good reason; it’s a lightweight, portable MIG welder that comes with everything you need to get started.
Unlike the Pitbull Ultra-Portable, the Lincoln Electric is a bit more robust. At twice the price, it offers comparably better power and more utility. It’s mainly designed for home repairs, spot welds, and hobby work. Like the Pitbull, it’s an excellent beginner model or “second” model for a pro who needs something small.
There’s no shielding gas required and the welding wire is kept electronically cold until the trigger is pressed. There are four voltage settings and continuous wire feed adjustment.
Frequently Asked Questions
As always, I’m going to round out my product reviews for some frequently asked questions about the products I’ve looked at. These questions are specific to the above products, but are rather FAQs regarding welding machines in general. Feel like I left something out below? Let me know!
Why must a welding machine periodically be blown out with compressed air?
The reason I was able to keep my old welder alive so long was proper maintenance. A big part of that is giving the machine a once-over with compressed air every now and then.
Why is this so important?
Think about where you normally weld — in a workshop, a garage, outdoors, etc. There’s dirt, there’s dust, and on top of all that, there’s weld splatter and grinder dust. Over time this will get into the welding machine and build up.
Depending on how much you use the machine, this can be very quick.
When the buildup gets too much, the machine stops working. It stops grounding properly, it overheats — it’s not pretty. You’ll be left either hoping your warranty is still good, paying for a repair, or worst of all, paying for a replacement.
To give you an idea of savings, consider this. A new welding machine is going to cost at least $100. A good, robust one, starting at around $500.
A can of compressed air? About $15.
Why must a welding machine duty cycle never be exceeded?
The short answer is “Because you’ll overheat your machine and ruin it.”
But that’s a bit too basic.
Firstly, what is a “duty cycle”?
A “duty recycle” is how long the machine can run continuously before it needs to shut down. This is given as a percentage of 10 minutes. For example, a machine that has a 50% Duty Cycle can run continuously for 5 minutes. A machine with a 60% Duty Cycle can run for 6 minutes, etc.
When you reach the end of your duty cycle, you may start to notice your welds are starting to look a bit worse than when you started. There are times when I’ve noticed that a weld is starting to look awful, and realised I had to let the machine take a break.
So what happens if you exceed the duty cycle?
This will depend on the machine.
Keep in mind, having a cutoff doesn’t mean you’re free to just run the machine as long as you like and rely on the safety breaker.
Repeatedly exceeding the duty cycle limit will wear down components and, ultimately, destroy your machine. At the least, you’ll drastically reduce its life expectancy.
If you’re new to welding, don’t think this means that you have to shut down your machine and sit on your hands until it cools down. A good welding process should include checking the weld as you go, slag off chipping, etc. These tasks will naturally give your weld a decent amount of time to recover while you work.
Why earthing is required in a welding machine?
Every electrical circuit needs to be grounded in some way to prevent shock. Arc welders are no different; they contain several electrical circuits, encased in a metal frame, with power flowing through a cable into a piece of metal.
Basically, it’s a good recipe to get shocked somewhere along the way.
Connecting the equipment enclosure to ground ensures that the metal case of the welding machine and ground are at the same potential. When the enclosure and ground are at different potential, current is free to jump to something that touches the case.
When the metal enclosure and ground are at the same potential, a person will not experience an electrical shock when touching the two points.
Grounding also limits the voltage on the enclosure in the (hopefully unlikely) event that insulation should fail within the equipment.
Why should a welding machine never be overloaded?
Overloading anything is never a good idea.
If you ignore your machine’s duty cycle, or put too much load through it while working, you’re going to wreck the machine. Welding machines are complex pieces of machinery, and they’re designed to work within specific parameters. Ignoring these parameters and overloading will cause the machinery to fail.
This will most frequently present itself as the machine shutting off during operation. Since overloading doesn’t necessarily make the machine overheat (at least, not immediately), safety shutoffs for exceeding duty cycle times won’t necessarily come into play.
Good machines will have regulators to prevent overloads, but no system is foolproof. The safest thing to do is know the machine’s operational settings inside and out, and work within them accordingly.
Why is welding output in DC voltage?
DC is perhaps the most common current you’ll see in association with welding machines. That’s because DC current is typically best suited for producing arcs for welding.
Let’s go a bit more in-depth.
As you may know (especially if you’re a fan of 80s Australian rock bands), there are two types of power supply: AC and DC, or alternating current and direct current, respectively.
With direct current, electricity flows in one direction, and/or with a voltage of a constant polarity (positive or negative). Low voltage devices and batteries typically use DC. For welding, this provides faster deposition rates. The electrode melts off faster under DC current, and provides deeper penetration.
So, most of the time, you’ll see DC voltage.
However, as I said, there is a time and a place for AC welding.
Alternating current is electricity that switches back and forth rapidly (120 times a second on a 60-hertz current). Because it’s constantly switching, there is no net deflection of the arc.
Unfortunately it’s not quite as smooth a weld as DC welding, and it’s messier — expect more splatter.
Why calibration certificate is required for welding machine?
This goes back to the first question regarding air compressor blasts; it’s all about maintenance. Like a car needing a wheel alignment, over time your welding machine should be calibrated to ensure consistent results.
For a hobbyist, it’s not necessarily a requirement to have a calibration certificate. For professionals, however, it is — just like any major equipment needs regular service and upkeep.
There is always a range of acceptable readings when calibrating. The machine doesn’t need to be precisely on a certain result. But if it falls too far one side or the other of the specified range, it will need to be worked on.
Failure to get the machine calibrated, and keep the certificate up to date, can have repercussions for professionals using welding equipment. It can make them liable for damages should their equipment cause problems due to improper maintenance and upkeep. While running costs can add up and be painful, they’re nothing compared to getting sued, or at least, needing to replace an entire machine much too early.
There are a lot of great welding machines out there — and some dodgy ones. Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or just looking to dip your toes into the wonderful waters of welding, I hope I’ve given you something on this list to think about.