Getting into welding requires one to know the type of welding to master prior to purchasing any welder or equipment. Several types of welders are available for making most metal joints but they excel only in a few specific tasks. In case you are looking for a user-friendly, more affordable, universal, and easier to setup unit, a Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welder is perhaps the ideal choice.

Also known Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), the process of MIG welding was introduced at the time of World War II as a portable and quick process to build durable joints. Today, the process is useful in several shop and factory projects and for welding professionals as well as hobbyists.

A MIG welder is usually preferred for welding thin gauge metallic sheet and even a heavy steel tube. If in use by a professional, the tool can deliver smooth, profound, and beautiful welds although even a novice can gain such a welding output with some quick practice. As per most MIG welder reviews for different models, MIG welders are easier to setup and use than TIG models. This means you can quickly plug in, crank up the shield of gas, and kick start welding.

Overview of MIG Welders: How They Work

mig weding
Via Jason Gessner

MIG welding works by using a continuously fed electrode, power to melt the electrode forming molten material that is deposited in the weld joint, and shielding gas available from an external source. The equipment automatically controls the electrical properties of the arc. However, even a semi-automatic operation is possible wherein you need manual controls for regulating travel speed and its direction, and torch positioning.

With all adequate equipment settings in place, the power provides the required amount of amperage for melting the electrode at the pace at which the pre-selected arc length (voltage) is to be maintained. For instance, a raised stick-out due to withdrawal of torch from the piece leads to alleviated current. This retains the electrode’s heating level as well as resets the arc length to its original condition. In short, the process involves feeding a wire electrode incessantly, which melts in the arc for creating a bead.

MIG joints are more ductile, sturdier, and feature less distortion than other process of welding. The process is perfect for jobs involving thin metals, carbon steel, aluminium, stainless, and alloys. In reality, MIG welding is used on a wide range of metals as well as on a range of several base metal thicknesses.

However, the process is more lenient on thin metals than stick process. It is suitable for anything ranging from small fabrications or repairs to hobby projects, big structures, brazing, robotic welding, and to shipbuilding.

Due to the use of a filler wire, MIG welding can use a wire of a dissimilar composition, for applications such as replacing the worn track of train. Similarly, the sensible combination of filler wire and weld parameters can also enable MIG to join dissimilar metals. It is essential to select the filler metal that closely matches to the base piece being welded. This is perhaps because the filler metal conducts current for melting both the electrode and base metal as well as reinforces the finished weld joint.

According to several MIG welder reviews, the benefits of MIG welding are also tremendous for maintaining and repairing farm, ranch, and auto equipment. This is perhaps because the welding process is easy to learn and provides flexibility in joining or repairing light-gauge to thick materials. Owners can successfully deal with most types of welds on materials or metals that ranges from 24-gauge to 1/2-inch thick.

Moreover, higher speeds are achievable than stick welding, which makes MIG welding relatively more efficient. Further, the continuous wire feed reduces stops and starts for ensuring more efficiency and consistency.

 

MIG Welders: Types

Because the weld needs protection from oxidation, MIG welder uses a shielding gas. Usually, a mixture of gases forms a part of the process, including argon. Contrastingly, tubular flux-cored wires that are ‘self-shielding’ are also used, which eliminates the need of gas from an external source. Such MIG welders are more affordable than the ones using gas.

In case of a gasless MIG welder, you are ensured of more portability, hassle-free transportation due to no gas, flux core-based DC (negative polarity) shielding with deeper penetration, and easier move on positional welds (vertical and overhead). However, the wire in use is more expensive, slag and spatter are caused, smoke is also generated, and the tool is a bit tough to use on thin metal. This means that good ventilation is required to remove the slag and fumes from between the passes.

All the four cons of gasless models are overcome by gas models offering very clean welds using shielding gas such as carbon dioxide or argon/CO2 or CO2 as a shielding gas and DC positive polarity. However, these models are more complex than flux core and less portable.

MIG welders featuring sturdy wire are more common in use when it is the matter of heavy thicker work or robotic projects, due to continuous feed wire and automatic maintenance of arc length.

Moreover, the development of MIG welders has evolved from globular transfer (now not in use due to the spatter) to spray transfer (for horizontal and down hand welding only; featuring high currents and voltages for quick deposition). Another technology is pulse transfer that offers the benefits of spray transfer but at the rate of lower currents, which is ideal for thin metals and positional welding.

The latest development is SuperPulse technology, offering the benefits of pulse welding and TIG welding finish. It allows for the desired level of control over the welding parameters to employ the mixed modes of transfer as per the material, speed, and quality.

You can even choose semi-automate or automate welders in straight arcs to prevent any kind of inconsistency with respect to operative skills or fatigue level.

MIG Welders: TIG versus MIG

The primary difference between TIG and MIG welding is in terms of process. While MIG uses a continuously feeding wire, TIG uses long welding rods that are gradually fed into the weld puddle. Although both processes use an electric arc for creating the weld, MIG is simpler and easier to learn. Further, MIG can weld a diverse range of materials as well as thicknesses including thin and thick plates, TIG is more commonly utilized for materials of thinner gauge. Moreover, MIG is faster, while TIG is finer and more delicate, making it preferable for tasks where joints are critical with more stable arc.

MIG Welders: How to Choose the Best MIG Welder

Mig welder
Via David MW

The market is full of several types of MIG welders such as small MIG welder, portable MIG welder, aluminium MIG welder, and so on. Nevertheless, when it comes to choosing the right model, it is essential to know that what suits your colleague or friend may or may not be suitable for you due to distinct requirements. Therefore, it is essential to select the best MIG welder as per the requirements and budget.

Importantly, it is wise to read some genuine and reliable MIG welder reviews at famous portals or forums to get familiar with the strengths and weakness of various MIG models from diverse manufacturers. However, prior to that, it is essential to know what to consider before buying the most suitable model.

Power

For home-based tasks or small-scale jobs involving thin metals, you can choose a MIG welder operating at 115v. However, this power supply is inadequate for thick metals, which would need more power. In case you need to work on a wide range of products, a welder running at either 230 or 120v is ideal as well as affordable.

Duty Cycle

This refers to a welder’s output in terms of voltage and amperage that you need to determine before choosing a type of MIG welder. Duty cycle denotes time measurement for which a welder runs at a certain output without surpassing the limits of the temperature of component parts.

Usually, it is measured by utilizing 10-minute cycles. For example, a 20% duty cycle while welding at 180A/240V indicates that the tool can weld for two minutes at the specified output after which eight minutes are required to cool down. It is essential to note that duty cycle is inversely related to the output of welding.

Duty cycle of MIG welders is evaluated at a certain ambient temperature. While industry experts prefer the standard temperature of 1040 F, others use 860 F in hotter conditions.

Overheating Protection

Overheating can make a MIG welder futile in no time. While such welders can be put to use for a short while, their overheating can cause you to wait for long for them to cool down. Therefore, your choice of best MIG welder must have thermal overload protection acting as insurance for long term use.

Metal Thickness

This factor might not be vital to help you select a suitable MIG welder, as you will never have a welder that cannot adjust the current and voltage. The amount of voltage to adjust depends on factors such as metal type, metal thickness, joint settings, shielding gas, welding position, and wire’s diameter speed.

While buying a model, it is wise to know the precise voltage for a specified thickness through a proper reference chart. In case you choose a digitalized welder, know that it will automatically adjust the current and voltage as per the work piece ad its thickness.

Wire Size and Type

There are two types of wires commonly in use namely, ER70S-6 in case more deoxidizers are needed such as on dirty and rusty surfaces and ER70S-3 for all purposes. Note that the welder you choose shall determine the wire type and size you will use, but not vice-versa.

Portability

This factor is completely dependent upon the job or function you wish to utilize the welder for! Do you need for stationery or mobile welding shop? For a completely mobile shop, weight need not be much as you will need a permanent transport arrangement. According to the experts, it is best to select the lightest model as far as possible, because you would certainly not prefer moving everywhere with a bulky MIG welder. Consider choosing an inverter welder, as it is efficient, lighter, and portable, and comes with high-duty cycle.

Ease of Use

For beginners or experts, this factor is perhaps an important one. Therefore, a MIG welder should be user-friendly, especially with the wand having the consumable electrode that is simple to use. A bulky wand is certainly ineffective as compared to the one that can be shifted easily.

Top 5 MIG Welders

Keeping in mind the above buying factors, we have picked the ideal MIG welders. Here are the top 5:

Hobart 500559 Handler Wire Welder

Hobart 500559 Handler Wire Welder

This one is easy to use, portable, affordable, and extremely versatile for auto body tasks, heavier farm projects, and household repairs requiring additional welding power.

  • Offers: 24 gauge to 1/4 inch mild steel welding, industrial cast aluminum wire system, dual-groove, quick change drive roll, 5-position voltage control settings for fine-tuning the arc on all thickness, 200 amp work clamp of heavy duty, durable feed head, built-in gas valve, sample .030 flux-cored wire
  • Weighs: 57 lbs
  • Power Input: 115v
  • Output: 25-140 A
  • Duty Cycle: 90A @ 20%
  • Material Thickness: 1/4 in

 

Millermatic 140 MIG Welder

Millermatic 140 MIG Welder

This one is a light industrial welder that is small, portable and effective enough to be utilized almost anywhere in the world. It is highly user-friendly, making itself ideal for tasks related to home, farms, garage, and in technical polytechnics.

  • Offers: Auto-set for quick and easy setup, smooth startup without spatter but with tip saver to protect from short-circuit, standard contractor circuit for making the wire electrically cold, overload protection, welding very thin sheets
  • Weighs: 51 lbs
  • Power Input: 115v
  • Output: 30-140 A
  • Duty Cycle: 90A @ 20%
  • Material Thickness: 3/16 in

 

Lincoln Power MIG 180C Wire Feed Welder K2473-2

300x300

This one is a professional, portable MIG welder to get all tasks done of a farmer, garage owner, fabricator, or a backyard mechanic.

  • Offers: Toughest pc board protection, Diamond Core Technology for a lenient arc along with superb out-of-position arc action, wide voltage, and low spatter, industrial cast aluminum drive, split wire guides for great wire alignment, closed-design drive motor for better torque, hassle-free tool-less design for polarity changes and input power changes, spool gun ready for better aluminum wire feeding performance.
  • Weighs: 66 lbs
  • Power Input: 230v
  • Output: 30-180A
  • Duty Cycle: 130A @ 30%
  • Material Thickness: 3/16 in for thicker and ½ in with gasless welding

 

Forney 308 180FI MIG Welder

Forney 308 180FI MIG Welder

This portable gas/no gas unit is affordable and ideal for larger tasks involving mild steel, stainless, and aluminum with correct wire and enough gas.

  • Offers: Welding readiness out of box, volt flux cored/MIG wire, multiple voltage settings for precise heat control, Tweco (r) type torch, face shield, automatic thermal overload protection, internal cooling fan essential for cooling in extreme heat conditions, variable speed
  • Weighs: 59 lbs
  • Power Input: 230v
  • Output: 35-180 A
  • Duty Cycle: 120A @ 25%
  • Material Thickness: 3/8 in

 

Millermatic 211 230V MIG Welder

Millermatic 211 230V MIG Welder

This one is a reliable and affordable tool that welds thickest item at the highest output in its category.

  • Offers: Auto setup, wire feeder, thermal overload protection, parameter settings, infinite voltage, smooth-start technology that is spatter-free, ,tip saver, trigger reset
  • Weighs: 74 lbs
  • Power Input: 120/230v
  • Output: 30-210 A
  • Duty Cycle: 150A @ 30%
  • Material Thickness: Up to 3/8 in

 

Conclusion

Here, we have listed and reviewed the most famous and reliable MIG welders. However, it is vital to bear in mind that this list is not universally applicable because not each of us tend to have similar requirements. Therefore, we strongly recommend getting familiar with all models that seem to be promising to you and find out their pros, cons, and features in detail. Once this is done, you can then easily map the three aspects with your unique requirements, budgets, and preferences to select the best MIG welder.

While choosing, do first determine the type of MIG welder you need: Gas or gasless, or automatic or semi-automatic. After this is done, you can go ahead and do the comparisons of the aforementioned three aspects through MIG welder reviews.

Remember, there is no best MIG model that has the capability to deal with all types of jobs, at any place, and in any condition. In most cases, the type of job and your welding surrounding are the major influencers in making the right selection.