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Survivalism & Self Sufficiency Topics => Homesteading and Self Reliant Living => Do It Yourself - Projects, Ideas and How To => Topic started by: fritz_monroe on August 27, 2019, 07:23:01 PM

Title: Beginning welding
Post by: fritz_monroe on August 27, 2019, 07:23:01 PM
So I've been interested in learning to weld for several years.  So I'm to the point where it's time to start learning some additional skills.  I have a need to learn welding, so that's where I'm starting.

But now comes the confusion.  Mig, tig, oxy-acetelene.  What type of welding should I start with?  I will likely start at the local community college, but they have "beginners mig", "beginners Tig" and "Beginners oxy-acetelene" classes available.

I'm not going to do welding as a career.  So what type of welding is most versatile and useful for the homesteader that just has the occasional need to fix a tool, or build something?
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: FreeLancer on August 27, 2019, 10:40:11 PM
I think most agree that stick has the lowest cost of entry in terms of equipment and is the most versatile, but it's more difficult to learn than MIG.  TIG is the hardest to master and the most expensive.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: atl on August 28, 2019, 07:45:20 AM
Welding is definitely a very useful skill to have. It is one of those skills you need to practice to get good at but once you have it you have it forever. Equipment can get expensive but often times you can pick up a decent welder at a pawn shop or any of the usual suspects online. ( I bought a nice Miller suit case welder on ebay for a significant discount a few years ago).

Mig (wire welding) is the easiest to master and very versatile. The Bobcat is entirely built with wire welders, both robotic and by people. Your instructor will be able to point you in the right direction for equipment. One of the downsides is you will either have to run flux cored wire which in my opinion is not a very nice looking weld or you will need a tank of CO for regular wire.

Stick welding has the lowest cost to enter the field and you will have plenty of range to weld thick metal. Stick welding is the hardest of the disiplines to master but if you can stick weld the rest comes pretty easy. Welding thinner metals can be more difficult.

Oxy-acetelene is good for light metals such as sheet metal or brazing but I have found little practical use for it as it is not a very strong weld. (disclaimer: used in the right applications brazing can be useful) It does teach you about puddle control and heat. It is not a very far leap from this to Tig.

Tig welding is good for many things. Especially thin metals. It is used heavily in the food and beverage industry for sanitary welds on thin wall tubing. It can also weld aluminum but that is a whole other skill set and not all Tig welders can weld aluminum.

With all that said I would research welders first to see how much the cost will be for equipment to help making an informed decision. My opinion would be MIG. If you have any more questions I will try to help.

One more thing. How is your eyesight? Good vision (seeing up close) is critical. You can put cheater lenses in your hood, but I find bifocals hard to use. 
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: Stwood on August 28, 2019, 09:45:35 AM
I recommend getting a torch setup first. Learn to cut and braze.
Then move to a welder. I've always stick welded. Bought my Lincoln in 72 or so and still use it. And the trk shops I worked in, we always welded and fabricated a lot.

I've never went with wire welding here at home, always wanted to for thin metals, but hasn't been a necessity.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: fritz_monroe on August 28, 2019, 06:51:12 PM
So I've done a little research and the gist of things is that MIG is the easiest to learn.  It's a bit more expensive than some others.  It's also great for steel, stainless and aluminum, the main things that I'd want to weld.

So that's what I'm probably going to look at learning, MIG welding.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: FreeLancer on August 28, 2019, 08:31:44 PM
( I bought a nice Miller suit case welder on ebay for a significant discount a few years ago).

Is that the one that does MIG, TIG, and stick?
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: atl on August 29, 2019, 07:07:27 AM
The one I found was a Miller 185 that will do Stick and Tig DC. That means it will not do aluminum as you have to reverse the polarity to weld aluminum. It is also 110 or 220 capable just by plugging in an adapter. The 110 option is good up to about 90 amps beyond that the duty cycle starts getting shorter and it overheats. That being said we use the crap out of it in an industrial setting just because it is so easy to drag around the plant.

They do have a series out now that runs wire. It is considerably heavier that the 160 to 185 series Maxstar. We have one of them set up for wire only but it only gets used when we have a big project going on.   
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: FreeLancer on August 29, 2019, 08:14:33 AM
Yeah, that 13 lb Maxstar 161 is an intriguing little machine. 

I bought the Millermatic 211 a few years back to learn Mig with, it was a great machine for that, but I found I don't really have the room in my garage for the welding cart and cylinder and moving all that to the backyard to do flux core was a pain.  I just gave that whole setup to my dad to learn on, since he's got a huge shop space to work with.  Now I'm looking at my options for a smaller more portable setup, but I kind of hate to lose the Mig capability since I know I can produce halfway decent welds with that process.  Honestly, I wish now I'd bought the Multimatic 200 instead of the Mig only Millermatic 211 but it got crapped on on another thread by a guy flogging a machine that is now defunct.  Apparently lots of pros really love that little 200.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: CarbideAndIron on September 03, 2019, 09:49:19 AM
A flux/MIG is a great place to start, and super versatile. Either a Lincoln or Miller 140 (I think $580), or even the Titanium 140 ($400 Harbor Freight brand) are great welders for up to like 3/16" thick stuff. My buddy even did some 1/4" with his Lincoln 140. For the price those are hard to beat. You can find any of those used for a great price too.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: machinisttx on April 02, 2020, 05:22:50 PM
The one I found was a Miller 185 that will do Stick and Tig DC. That means it will not do aluminum as you have to reverse the polarity to weld aluminum. It is also 110 or 220 capable just by plugging in an adapter. The 110 option is good up to about 90 amps beyond that the duty cycle starts getting shorter and it overheats. That being said we use the crap out of it in an industrial setting just because it is so easy to drag around the plant.

They do have a series out now that runs wire. It is considerably heavier that the 160 to 185 series Maxstar. We have one of them set up for wire only but it only gets used when we have a big project going on.

I'm late to the party here, but I'm going to correct something anyway. Aluminum can be stick welded. Aluminum can be welded with a DC TIG unit and helium or a helium mix shield gas. The weld won't look as nice as one done on an AC machine with high frequency, but it can be done.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: scoob on April 03, 2020, 10:28:26 AM
My little Lincoln 120 mig that I got from a pawn shop and a bottle of CO2 has been doing everything I need them to do for decades.  I have stories about what that little machine has done, that people have said it can't!  ;-)  I've fixed things.  I've built things.  I've taught others.  All with that little machine.  I can pick it up like a suitcase and throw it in the truck to go weld up a neighbors' gate, and even do it off of a portable generator. 

I finally stepped up to an Eastwood AC/DC tig/stick machine a while back, so I've been learning all I can about tig. (I'm still keeping my mig, for sure!)
A couple of YT channels that I've found very helpful:

WELD.COM ( - If you've ever searched for welding tips, you'll have ended up here at some point.  Great channel!

The Fabrication Series ( - Justin is a great teacher, and he has a wealth of awesome videos from basic to uber-pro.

Little Aussie Rockets ( - This one isn't specifically about welding, but the guy is a great fabricator and he's fun to watch making various rocket stoves.  Watch him cut circles with a grinder - that alone is worth the price of admission!  I think I'm going to take a stab at a variation of his vortex design.

A few tibits:

Don't be afraid to pick up a little 120V mig unit to get started.  Just - get - welding.  "I'll have to wait until I can afford a machine that I can do aluminum-stainless-titanium-spacemetal with."  No.  Get started.  Now.  Don't let the toolbox fallacy keep you from getting started.  $400 will get you into a decent machine, and when you decide to upgrade, you'll either be able to get most of your money back out of it, or you'll want to keep it anyway.  Much of the skills you practice while building and fixing things made of carbon steel will transfer when you step up to aluminum and stainless.  I've had the itch to do aluminum for a loooooong time, but I do not regret getting and keeping that little mig machine.   

If you're going to weld, you're going to need to cut.  Have multiple ways to do it.  I went for years without an oxy-acetylene setup or plasma cutter, and just had a metal cut-off saw and 4-1/2" grinder.  Not ideal, but it did work.  You'd be surprised what a little grinder can do.  Keep your eyes open for a used oxy-acet rig, but don't don't get in a hurry and overpay.  Don't buy the teeny bottle portable setup unless you already have a larger setup.  You'll spend more time refilling bottles than cutting.  If it's a smokin' deal, go ahead, but you'll have sticker shock when you go to get bigger bottles!  I found a good-sized setup with full bottles, welding and cutting torches, several torch tips, and a cart for $80 at an estate sale.  One bottle would've been $250+. 

Speaking of bottles, I can do a lot of mig welding with a 20lb (beverage) CO2 bottle.  Don't go buy a fancy new aluminum bottle (unless it's a smokin' deal), as you'll be exchanging it when it comes time to fill.  Most welding gas outfits exchange bottles, not fill onsite.  I've found some great deals on 20lb-ers, and have a few now, which is cool because they are compatible with my homebrew keg system.  Function-stacking?  ;-)  Going right to tig?  You'll need straight argon.  Don't dik around with mixes yet. 100% argon.

Grinders - Have at least two.  They're cheap.  One 4 or 4-1/2" setup with a grinding disk or flapper, and one setup with a cut-off disk.  Buy cut-off disks by the 10-packs.  Keep your eyes open but don't be in a hurry for a 7" handheld for big jobs and cleaning up after oxy-acet cuts.

Metal cut-off saw (chop saw)- I'm torn about this one.  Mine was cheap, and it works fantastic.  I'd really like a metal bandsaw though, even a portable that I can make a jig for walk-away cutting.  Cheap, reliable, takes up less space=cut-off saw.  Convenience, narrower kerf, more expensive, higher space requirement=metal band saw.

Idea for your first project with your new welder:  Build yourself a welder cart!

So... how goes it Fritz?  Did you get a welder yet?  Are you still looking into classes?
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: fritz_monroe on April 03, 2020, 03:46:41 PM

So... how goes it Fritz?  Did you get a welder yet?  Are you still looking into classes?
Nope, haven't gotten around to it.
Title: Re: Beginning welding
Post by: machinisttx on April 04, 2020, 12:00:37 PM
I have no idea where you are fritz, but around here used stick welders are easy and often extremely cheap to buy used. I've bought them as cheap as $20 for a 220v AC only unit. The most I've paid for one is around $125, and that one is an industrial AC/DC machine that will put out over 300 amps. I also just bought a set of torch cylinders for $50...and they are the large ones. The oxygen cylinder is either a T or K size and the acetylene cylinder is a #4. I have seen complete sets with torch and cylinders sell for $300 or less. Often it will be the small plumbers size sets, but I have seen sets with large cylinders just as frequently for the same price.

There are two things to look for when buying cylinders from an individual. One is any ownership data on the cylinder itself. The second is the hydrotest date. This is a better explanation and illustration than I can offer. ( Another thing to keep in mind is that if you aren't going to weld with a torch, you do not need acetylene. Propane works just as well for cutting, and an acetylene regulator will screw right onto the propane tank you use for a propane grill(although there are specific regulators for use with propane). You will have to purchase different cutting tips for the torch itself. They're easy to find and no more expensive than a standard acetylene cutting tip. The last part of this equation is hoses. There are two grades, "R" and "T". Grade R is only for acetylene, while Grade T is for use with all fuel gases. Grade R will break down internally when exposed to the chemicals in propane or other alternative fuel gases. Lots of people use it anyway, but it isn't safe or recommended. Hose is cheap, so if you're buying it anyway, get Grade T.

Next is being aware of the withdraw rate limitations of your fuel cylinder size. This is especially important with acetylene since the gas is dissolved in acetone inside the cylinder. If you exceed the safe draw rate for the cylinder, you will end up pulling liquid acetone out of the cylinder and into the regulator/hose/torch. Best case, you wreck the regulator. Worst case, boom. There is a similar withdraw limit if you're using an alternative fuel gas like propane. (

Torches and regulators can be rebuilt if the diaphragms or valves are worn/ruptured. This applies to better known brands and not the chinese clone products though. It is far cheaper to rebuild a quality older regulator or torch than to buy new. I've had several rebuilt and it's usually around $40 to rebuild a regulator, roughly double that for a torch. Many of the regulators I have are no longer in production, but were $200-$600 new. I recently had a Victor 315 handle and 2460 cutting attachment rebuilt for around $80. It would have cost $200 to buy just the 315 handle.

I don't know what sort of welding projects you have in mind either. IMO, if you plan to weld anything thicker than 3/16", the 110v MIG/FCAW units are a waste of money and time, and even then many are insufficient. They might fuse two pieces of metal together, but the majority don't have enough output power for proper penetration into the base metal. In layman's terms, the base metal isn't melted into as much as it should be, so the welded joint doesn't have the strength it should. I'm not really a fan of wire feed welding anyway. It's far too easy to set one up in such a manner that the finished weld bead has the correct appearance, but lacks adequate fusion to the base metal. Failures of joints welded with this defect are commonly seen in commercially produced products. I have done it myself a few times. I'd guess that just about anyone who has ever welded with a MIG has done it a time or two. ( I would recommend purchasing a machine capable of 200 amps output. That puts you into an input power requirement of 220v, but it will be capable of welding pretty much anything you're going to do as a homeowner.

Different shield gases, or gas mixes, may be required depending on what you're welding. Most MIG welding on steel is done with either straight CO2, or a 75/25(Argon/CO2) mix. The arc will behave differently, and penetration will be more or less, depending on the gas/gas mix. I use 75/25 mix exclusively at work, though another choice would often be better. If you have a machine with limited output, choosing a different shield gas mix can extend it's capability slightly. (

TIG: Not what I would suggest for the average guy to start with. It's not an easy process to learn and requires significantly more coordination. Also the most costly if you want a full featured machine capable of welding anything, and the slowest method. For welding aluminum, AC output is preferred and continuous high frequency output is required to use AC current when TIG welding. DC output can be used, but has limitations. There are several arc initiation methods, scratch start(just like striking a match), lift arc, and high frequency, to name three. Scratch start is the cheapest, and can be done using a DC output stick welder with an add on TIG torch. The torch will have a manual gas valve, and there is very little arc control available to the user with this method. It works, and is how I learned to TIG. Lift arc is not a method I use. It is basically scratch start with the addition of a foot pedal(or other means) of amperage control. The tungsten electrode is touched to the workpiece, the foot pedal depressed, and the arc establishes as the tungsten is lifted away slightly. With high frequency start, you hold the tungsten close to the workpiece, then depress the foot pedal to establish an arc. Keep in mind that high frequency start on a machine does not necessarily mean it also has a continuous high frequency output option. The latter is typically a higher cost option on upper middle and high end consumer machines and pretty much standard on industrial machines.

I guess I should hit on duty cycle as well. Duty cycle is the amount of time in a ten minute period that a machine can be used, without overheating, at a stated power output level. Consumer grade machines typically have a 20% duty cycle at or near the maximum output of the machine, or two minutes out of ten can be spent welding with the other eight spent idle. The biggest downside to many of the consumer grade machines, especially the lesser output models, is that at any reasonable setting the duty cycle is still far less than what it needs to be for a large welding project. Commercial/industrial grade machines are 60%+ duty cycle at or near the maximum output. The average home shop guy is unlikely to ever approach hitting a duty cycle limitation with one of these machines. This is because at the output level you're most likely to use, the machine is capable of operating 100% of the time. As an example, that industrial stick machine I mentioned at the beginning has a 60% duty cycle at around 300 amps of output. Most stick welding is going to be done anywhere between 70 and 150 amps, so when welding with settings in that range, the machine is capable of running 90-100% of the time without overheating. By comparison, the ubiquitous Lincoln AC225(sold at home depot and lowes) is only rated at a 20% duty cycle, and Lincoln doesn't give any further information.

If you have anything specific, feel free to ask. I'm a machinist, but I also weld(mig/tig/stick) in a professional capacity.

Edit: I forgot to mention that you can build your own stick/tig welder from an automotive alternator and an electric motor or gas engine.