What You Need To Know When Buying A MIG Welder
When somebody is looking to do their own auto body work, MIG welders are one of the first tools they should look at owning. MIG welding is very easy to learn and a MIG welder is a must-have for auto restoration or any type of metal fab, which is probably why you're considering purchasing a MIG. If you're not sure what exactly you need, we're going to help you select the right machine for your job. Our MIG welders buying guide primarily looks at the MIG 135, MIG 175 and MIG 250, which are designed specifically for this type of welding. If you're looking for a multi-process machine that will allow you to not only MIG weld, but also give you the option of stick and TIG welding, those units are also available at Eastwood.
When it comes to selecting a welder, your first two concerns are most likely "What thickness of metal can it weld?" and "What voltage do I need to run the machine?" You may also want to know the duty cycle and whether it has the ability to connect a spool gun to weld aluminum. You'll also want to make sure it uses common consumables that you can get at a welding supply store, not just from the manufacturer, which is an advantage of these Eastwood machines. And make sure the welder has a good warranty. If the manufacturer doesn't have confidence in the unit, why should you? Eastwood offers a 3-year warranty on all these units; in fact, you can even test them for 60 days with the Eastwood money back guarantee. So you know we have confidence in these machines, which means you can, too.
Now let's tackle each of the questions we laid out above:
Metal Thickness for Eastwood Welders
Let's start with the thickness of steel each welder will weld. The MIG 135 will weld 24 gauge to 3/16-inch steel, making it ideal for sheet metal work. This is perfect for patch panels, floor pans and other bodywork on a car. The MIG 175 will weld 24 gauge to ¼-inch metal, making it a great all-around unit for auto restoration. If you're buying one machine, and especially if you're working on cars, this is a great one to own because it covers nearly all the work you'll be doing, from thin metal to working on frames.
The MIG 250 will weld 20 gauge to ½-inch thick steel. It can still do thin metal, but this machine really excels in its ability to weld thick steel, which is important for professional mechanics who do a lot of work on frames or roll cages. To summarize, if you're basing your decision on the thickness of metal it can weld, the MIG 135 is great for sheet metal. The MIG 175 is the unit you want for doing just about everything up to ¼-inch. The MIG 250 is the unit you need if you want a more industrial machine that can weld thick steel.
Powering MIG Welders
Next, let's see what voltage you need to power them. The MIG 135 operates on standard 120-volt household power. The MIG 175 requires 240 volts while the MIG 250 can operate on either 120 or 240 with the supplied adapter cord. This could mean needing to install new outlets or rewiring your shop if your metalworking needs demand these welders. On 120 volts, the MIG 250 will weld up to 1/8-inch, which is nice because you can still use the machine if you're in a location where only 120 volts is available. In fact, because the MIG 250 is an inverter style unit, it can also be run by a generator. This makes it a mobile unit that's great if you need to take it out on the road or to the track. If you're looking for a unit to haul with you and connect to a generator, the MIG 250 is for you.
What if You Need to Weld Other Metals?
You may also want the ability to weld aluminum. All three welders have the option to connect a spool gun. The MIG 175 actually comes with a spool gun to weld aluminum up to ¼-inch. The MIG 135 and 250 have the option to connect a spool gun which will allow you to weld aluminum up to 1/8-inch of an inch on the MIG 135 and ¼-inch on the MIG 250. These spool guns are sold separately; you can learn more about other add-ons in our MIG Welder Accessories Buyer's Guide.
Consumables & Shielding Gas
Now, let's discuss consumables, which you'll need a steady supply of over time. All three units use common consumables, which means you can get them at Eastwood or at most welding supply stores. The MIG 135 and MIG 175 both use Tweco™ style consumables and the MIG 250 uses Trafimet™ style consumables.
All three machines have flux-core capabilities, which is nice if you're welding outside or in a location where you don't have a gas bottle. But for cleanest, nicest welds, you will want to use shielding gas when you can. A CO2/argon blend gas cylinder must be purchased separately, but a regulator and hose are included with each welder.
MIG Welding Duty Cycle
Let's check out duty cycle next. This is the length of time the machine can actually operate in a given timespan. As an example, if a unit has a 30 percent duty cycle like the MIG 175, it can operate for three minutes and then needs to cool for seven. If 30 percent doesn't seem like much, hold a pen and move it like you're welding for three minutes. It will probably seem like a very long time (and your arm might be a little tired at the end). The duty cycle is 20 percent at 90 amps for the MIG 135 and 30 percent at 130 amps for the 175. Both are typically plenty to get the job done on your projects, especially auto restoration. The big MIG 250 has an impressive 60 percent duty cycle at the full 250 amps, which is great for more industrial welding where you will be using the machine for long periods of time welding thick steel.
Made for Precise Welds
Another great feature on all three units is the infinite adjustability of voltage, amperage and wire speed that really allows you to dial in the unit for the best welds, which is really useful for thin metal. Many machines only have a few settings that you click through, but Eastwood welders have a smooth dial that lets you select an exact spot between those settings. This allows you to do precision welding even in a home garage.
We hope this helped you select the best MIG welder for your jobs. If you're just starting to weld or you're looking for one unit that's going to cover most things on a restoration, we recommend the MIG 175. If nearly all of your work will be thin steel and sheet metal, we suggest the MIG 135. If you want the ability to weld thick steel for long periods of time or to connect to a generator, the MIG 250 is the unit for you.
And remember, if you're just learning how to MIG weld, Eastwood has a lot of videos in the Eastwood Garage that show how to setup your welder and begin welding, plus videos on troubleshooting as well as tips and tricks to improve your skills. We've been a DIY leader since 1978 and are here to assist you with your needs.