Recommendations for a total newbie
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  1. #1

    Recommendations for a total newbie

    Homeowner hobbyist type here who thinks it'd be useful to know how to fabricate with metal the way I can fabricate with wood. A couple neighbors are also interested, including one whose son might be interested in it from a vocational standpoint. Looking for some advice about process and equipment.

    I have an unused 240V/30A circuit to my garage. It's my understanding that this would be perfectly adequate for a MIG or flux-core wire welder (in fact, probably overkill; I might want to convert it to 120V) but probably not for an AC stick welder (50A or 60A seems more to their liking from what I've read). Running a higher-amp service from my electrical box to the garage would probably consist of a new breaker and thicker cable (I can handle most of the labor myself) in addition to the required outlet.

    Used stick welders are super cheap on Craigslist, like $50-100, but I suspect I'd put another $200-400 into hooking one up and refurbishing it to the point where it was easily usable. Let's say $500 all-in for a beginning budget. I know there are a bunch of decent MIG or flux-core wire welders that could be had brand-new for that price and probably a number of stick welders, too.

    For learning how to weld and general repairs/basic fabrication type of stuff, given the situation described, is one process significantly preferable to the other? Are there specific models you'd recommend for this situation or specific models to stay away from? Is the Harbor Freight stuff actually worthwhile or will I spend more money making it functional and durable than I would buying a better welder in the first place?

    I know I should find a community college welding class but with the travel I do for work it's almost impossible to keep to a schedule like that. Definitely going to recommend this for my neighbor's son, though.

  2. #2
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    Recommendations for a total newbie

    I’d recommend mig or flux over stick for hobby stuff, it can be more expensive to get into depending on what brand of welder you go with but the welders are generally easier to run (flip a switch and turn on the gas and go, no stopping for a new rod, continuous welding). Harbor freight’s welders are usually real finicky, and only run somewhat well on certain settings. I’d look into esab or everlast welders, both brands are pretty decent and good for beginner welders. Depending on the cash you wanna drop on a machine, I’d recommend Miller welders over pretty much anything for in the garage/shop. Lincoln’s are really nice, but from what I’ve experienced, their more expensive models are pretty hard to set up and get going (lots of menu options).

    As for the kid neighbor, definitely talk to him about vocational school. Most schools are fairly cheap, and certified welders are making real good money. There are a ton of jobs open for welders. Also look into apprenticeships through unions, they’ll teach him everything he’ll need to know and can get him a job as soon as he’s done with the apprenticeship but it usually takes 3-5 years compared to 2 years at a community college.


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  3. #3
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    I would recommend getting a good inverter stick welder that can run 6010. IMHO

  4. #4
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    For general getting your feet wet welding get a simple mig machine, to the question about the kid wanting to do it for a living it all depends on what type of work he wants,most union apprenticeships are 4 to 5 years but you get payed from the first day you start school and go to work, in other words if he gets accepted they will get him a job that pays apprentice scale and teach him at night or one full day a week, we worked 4 days and schooled 1 day a week all payed by employer not bad pay either in comparison, all depends on location, I think are first 6 months apprentices are starting around 17 bucks and a lot don't even know what a job site looks like let alone a welder, hammer, dirty fingernails ect.

  5. #5
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    I am self taught, and kind of in the same description as you (hobby/homeowner guy) but perhaps farther along in the process. I firmly believe that if you want to learn to weld well, you need to start with stick welding. It is (IMHO) THE fundamental welding skill/process, that you should learn before moving on to MIG or TIG. That being said, if you came to my shop today I mostly weld with the MIG welder, despite being set up for Stick, MIG, TIG and Oxy Acetylene. MIG is the most useful and productive process for the projects I do. I think you could get a MIG welder and be quite happy with it.

    With regard to your welding circuit, you may need to rethink a bit. Sizing a circuit for a dedicated welder is not the same as sizing a circuit for say a dryer or an oven. Different rules apply under the electric code. And a 240 volt circuit is NEVER overkill when it comes to welding. PLEASE do not convert it to a 120 volt circuit. Your 240 volt/30 amp circuit is probably wired with 10 gauge conductors. That is perfect for most MIG welders and homeowner sized stick welders. You may need a larger breaker, but you will not need to change the wire, most likely. Take a look at some owners manuals: A Miller thunderbolt 225 amp welder requires 12 gauge conductor and a 50 amp breaker. This is because the electric code takes into account the welder duty cycle. You can over rate the breaker relative to the wire size as a result. I run my syncrowave (which draws 92 amps at peak output) on 6 gauge wire and a 110 amp breaker, and this is all within code.

    I am all in favor of used welders, but I would pass on anything that you need to sink that much money into. A decent AC/DC stick welder that should need no refurbishing can easily be had for $100-$300 depending on where you live. That is always a good start. The Harbor Freight Migmax 215 is also a decent option for not a lot of money and you get a 1 year trial period, where you can return it for a full refund for any reason, up to a year.

    Post your location and people here are really good about putting up recommendations from Craigs List, etc.
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  6. #6

    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Louie1961 View Post
    With regard to your welding circuit, you may need to rethink a bit. Sizing a circuit for a dedicated welder is not the same as sizing a circuit for say a dryer or an oven. Different rules apply under the electric code. And a 240 volt circuit is NEVER overkill when it comes to welding. PLEASE do not convert it to a 120 volt circuit. Your 240 volt/30 amp circuit is probably wired with 10 gauge conductors. That is perfect for most MIG welders and homeowner sized stick welders. You may need a larger breaker, but you will not need to change the wire, most likely. Take a look at some owners manuals: A Miller thunderbolt 225 amp welder requires 12 gauge conductor and a 50 amp breaker. This is because the electric code takes into account the welder duty cycle.
    Good to know. The stick welders I've looked into all mostly like 50-60A service but I had neglected to consider the duty cycle effects on heating.

    The neighbor who'd possibly be looking to share the welder with me is a little more flexible in his installation plans so we might lean toward a 240V setup. I can certainly swap out the breaker for a 50A and keep it at 240V assuming the wiring will support it, and even 6-gauge isn't terribly pricey for the length he might need to do his installation.

    Southwestern Michigan, in case anyone happens to see a raging good deal on a used one of any type.

    Thanks for the responses so far!

  7. #7
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by clawson View Post
    Good to know. The stick welders I've looked into all mostly like 50-60A service
    your probably looking at 120v machines hence the high amps. double the voltage, half the amps.
    240 volt/30 amp circuit is ample for decent sized welders. my entire garage is on a 240 volt 30 amp circuit.
    plenty of dual voltage machines around which is handy if you take it to another place to weld.

    i prefer stick welder to learn with. mig is ok but its really easy to make good looking welds that are bad.
    plus stick is useful outside and if your buying cheaper welders you will get a far better stick machine than a mig machine for a given price.

  8. #8
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Welcome!

    Stay with 240V, upgrade breaker size if needed and conductors allow. More voltage means more available amps, and a better duty cycle, a lot of welders struggle to breathe on 110V.

    First decide what process you want, Wire fed, stick, or Tig. You can get combo units as well. For just home owner hobbyiest work a wire feed unit will be the easiest to operate and get desired results. Stick, and Tig on the other hand require a bit more from the machine operator than just pulling a trigger.

    If your neighbor is looking at becoming a career welder, he should begin with stick(also known as SMAW). It’s a widely used and very versatile process, and it’s a process that requires a good degree of practice. Purchase your welder based on who will use it more in your scenario, is it more for you, or more for him? Who is going to be burning metal the most?

    In terms of Brand: The Vulcan Series welders(at Harbor Freight) are hard to beat for people in our situation, you get a good amount of welder per price, and the 1 year risk free trial is the main selling feature. These machines are modeled after the big two Lincoln and Miller, and have gained a fairly good reputation. I really like mine. If it breaks take it back for a new one, or refund. “Prosumer” grade

    Chicago Electric: Also sold by Harbor Freight I personally wouldn’t spend money on them, really, really homeowner chinsy cheap, and underperforming compared to the Vulcan series.”Use it a few times” grade

    Hobart:Newer stuff is mostly medium grade homeowner hobbyist quality. Older stuff can be industrial “mostly homeowner”

    Lincoln and Miller both make high quality products, but they also have some lesser quality items too. They have a good reputation and have many service centers should you have a problem. Biggest downside- Hefty upfront cost.”prosumer” and professional grade equipment.

    Mail Order: Some brands are good others are a shot in the dark: Makes in this category would be Everlast, AHP, ESAB, Eastwood, Lotos, Amico.

    The first 3 make “prosumer” quality welders, the later 2 are cheapies. Biggest problem here is lack of local support. If you have a problem, it costs money and time to ship, in addition to lead time to repair. I learned this lesson the hard way- If you go with a mail order welder BUY IT NEW, if it’s out of warranty/you don’t have original proof of purchase and you need a repair it will be cost prohibitive, in my case with Everlast it was more than the machine was worth.
    Last edited by Mmock4; 09-15-2018 at 07:05 AM.
    -Mark Smith

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  9. #9
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    For a $200-$300 investment, I'd get an old transformer stick welder, shield, gloves and chipping hammer and have at it. As others have said, I also think this is the best way to learn to weld (either that, or use oxy-acetylene, which is a lot like TIG welding). Your 220V/30A circuit is probably adequate for most stick welding. If not, your wiring may allow you to bump it up to a 50A breaker (check with electrician if you don't know about wire ampacity, etc.).

    If you later decide you want a MIG or TIG/stick machine, you can easily recoup your investment by selling the stick welder. But I doubt you'll want to give up stick welding entirely, once you learn to do it.
    Last edited by Kelvin; 09-15-2018 at 08:16 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    As Kelvin said your 220/30amp circuit is fine for and Red or Blue box stick welder.... you won't welding track loaders ect. Don't spend $300.00 on a used stick welder....... go to Loews, HD, TS, ect. and you can get a New Red buss Box for under $315.00 with a 3 year warranty..... as for mig. I started on Hobart 140 and then moved up to the MM 211 (2009) and then picked up my MM 252 (2013)... once you buy your first welder try to keep it, as you move up in size.... keep them all.... it's like underwear .... you can never have enough.
    Miller 252 Lincoln AC/DC 225 Bzzz Box Power Max 30
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  11. #11
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Thats Hot View Post
    it's like underwear .... you can never have enough.
    I must respectfully disagree, underwear is an inconvenience in many scenarios, and in many cases any underwear is too much!

    Living down here in Fl you should know that!
    -Mark Smith

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    Vulcan MigMax 215

  12. #12
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    One can never have to many Shop Rags.....
    Miller 252 Lincoln AC/DC 225 Bzzz Box Power Max 30
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  13. #13
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    New Red buss Box
    WTF is a buss box?
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  14. #14
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    BZZZZZZZ box sorry.... it's the meds.
    Miller 252 Lincoln AC/DC 225 Bzzz Box Power Max 30
    Lincoln Square Wave Tig 200

  15. #15
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    I had a buzz box for a long time. Not a fan. sometimes the jump in amps is too big for my liking. If the OP is going to buy a stick welder new, I would rather see him get the Harbor Freight Vulcan Commander for $400. Around here a new Lincoln AC/DC unit will set you back $550. Also not a fan of straight AC only welders.
    Millermatic 252
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  16. #16
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Lots of practice using scrap pieces.My dad whom passed away 3 years ago taught me when I was 10 years old.Said lots of practice until I got it right

  17. #17
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Speaking not from a position of a professional but as having done a lot of research,these are my thoughts. A 220volt/180 to 210 amp Mig-flux core machine is the ideal choice for hobbiests. It will handle 1/4" single pass and 1/2"multi-pass running flux core and sheet metal running solid wire with gas. Over the years,I've tried various tools from Harbor Freight and never found one worth what it cost. The day I see professionals with HF tools in their shop is the day I will try them again. If it's cost savings you are after,buy a used Lincoln,Hobart or Miller stick because you can always get your investment back when and if you want to. You can run the stick machine at about half it's rated capacity on your 30 amp service. Before you change breaker without changing wire,ask an electrician(not a welder). I believe he will tell you duty cycle of machine has little effect on what amp circuit is required. If you run a stick that call's for 50 amp input at max amps,you need 50 amp service. Duty cycle simply tell's you how long the machine will weld at a certain amp before turning it self off on overload. You can run an entry level pro Mig at 100% on 30 amps or the hobby models mentioned above on 20 amps.

  18. #18
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    The day I see professionals with HF tools in their shop is the day I will try them again.
    Talk to Shovelon. He uses them. He was a beta tester for them.
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  19. #19
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Quote Originally Posted by Jax View Post
    Speaking not from a position of a professional but as having done a lot of research,these are my thoughts. A 220volt/180 to 210 amp Mig-flux core machine is the ideal choice for hobbiests. It will handle 1/4" single pass and 1/2"multi-pass running flux core and sheet metal running solid wire with gas. Over the years,I've tried various tools from Harbor Freight and never found one worth what it cost. The day I see professionals with HF tools in their shop is the day I will try them again. If it's cost savings you are after,buy a used Lincoln,Hobart or Miller stick because you can always get your investment back when and if you want to. You can run the stick machine at about half it's rated capacity on your 30 amp service. Before you change breaker without changing wire,ask an electrician(not a welder). I believe he will tell you duty cycle of machine has little effect on what amp circuit is required. If you run a stick that call's for 50 amp input at max amps,you need 50 amp service. Duty cycle simply tell's you how long the machine will weld at a certain amp before turning it self off on overload. You can run an entry level pro Mig at 100% on 30 amps or the hobby models mentioned above on 20 amps.
    I think today's harbor freight machines are a little better than the chicago electric of days of old and a good buy for a hobby mechanic/Welder with a warranty and easy policy for returns if you get a turd, not everyone has a relationship with a welding supply store and they make sense, I totally agree with your 180 to 210 amp mig/flux welder for a guy that wants to glue together some parts it's a lot easier/rewarding and less frustrating than stick welding, hobart makes some nice capable tapped machines that are easy to use also and available at a lot of local retailers

  20. #20
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Electrical wire has a given amp capacity (ampacity) for each gauge. The following link will tell you the max breaker for the current wire gauge on your circuit.

    https://www.cerrowire.com/products/r...pacity-charts/

  21. #21
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    Electrical wire has a given amp capacity (ampacity) for each gauge. The following link will tell you the max breaker for the current wire gauge on your circuit.
    That chart does not apply for dedicated welder circuits. The National Electric Code (NEC) treats welders differently because of duty cycle.
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  22. #22
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    Re: Recommendations for a total newbie

    HF Vulcan Migmax 215.

    1 year No Hassle return if you don't like it.


    $679.00 A little over your 500.00 but the No Hassle return policy is pretty sweet as it is a No Risk purchase.
    Ed Conley
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