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Thread: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

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    Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi All,
    I bought a 170 amp MIG-capable welder at Harbor Freight to do some repairs on a trailer frame (it seems to be all 1/8” steel, except where there is rot. I finally have started learning on the machine, and and have a basic question or two…

    Several friends that weld have advised that I get rid of the machine immediately and get a Lincoln or Miller, because “Harbor Freight welders are junk”.

    I understand that the other brands are good quality, but I don’t quite actually understand specifically why the Harbor Freight welder is bad — does it produce inconsistent amperage, plastic parts instead of metal ones, etc.

    I am also just learning, so I do not have any perspective at all… would my attempts at learning produce better beads if I am using a better machine, or is it more likely that ANY beads produced by me on ANY machine will be awful as I learn…?

    Any specific info will be greatly appreciated

    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    I have one and do a lot of welding with it and it's a good welder for the money. If you want a better one the Vulcan's they make are also good from what I have heard
    about them. Lincoln, Miller are a lot more expensive but are ok from what I have heard. But for learning the HF are good and after you have some practice you
    can decide if you want something better. I am just a hobby welder so if you are too you will be satisfied with your welder.

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi Podman,
    Thanks so much for your response! I have been learning on the go (and struggling a bit), so it was easy to believe that a Lincoln or Miller will make learning easier. Now, I will put in more practice knowing that (at least for you, if not many others) it is a good use of time.

    Thanks!
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Weld, weld, and weld some more to get practice. As far as fixing a trailer for the road, let a reputable welding shop do the work. To much liability for someone new to welding. Might even try asking the guy doing it to let you watch and learn bring a case of beer or something as a thanks.

    Sent from my SM-N950U using Tapatalk

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    I don't think the problem is that it is made by Harbor Freight, as much as those 170's only have 4 voltage settings you can choose from. I think you will have an easier time learning with one of the Titanium or Vulcan welders that offer a much wider rage of settings.
    Miller Multimatic 255

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    As Louie mentioned, it's most likely the limitation in voltage settings if it's the Chicago Electric model. The wider apart the voltage settings, the harder it is to dial in the heat needed. With so few settings you're rarely going to really have the ideal volt/wire feed combination and that means you have to vary your technique to (somewhat) make up the difference, which isn't easy for a new welder to do properly.

    The flip side is a machine with more adjustability where you can usually get really close with nothing more than looking at the chart and then maybe a little up/down tweaking to be dialed in quickly. Infinitely variable voltage is nice, but even some older machines with around 10 voltage settings can do a beautiful job on almost anything you can think of.

    Lincoln and Miller aren't really the only game in town, but are largely the most popular. Hobart makes some solid machines that won't totally break the bank.
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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    I have a HF 170 works great.
    just use the setting list on machine and the stick out and welding great.

    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by 2002sheds View Post
    Hi All,
    I bought a 170 amp MIG-capable welder at Harbor Freight to do some repairs on a trailer frame (it seems to be all 1/8” steel, except where there is rot. I finally have started learning on the machine, and and have a basic question or two…

    Several friends that weld have advised that I get rid of the machine immediately and get a Lincoln or Miller, because “Harbor Freight welders are junk”.

    I understand that the other brands are good quality, but I don’t quite actually understand specifically why the Harbor Freight welder is bad — does it produce inconsistent amperage, plastic parts instead of metal ones, etc.

    I am also just learning, so I do not have any perspective at all… would my attempts at learning produce better beads if I am using a better machine, or is it more likely that ANY beads produced by me on ANY machine will be awful as I learn…?

    Any specific info will be greatly appreciated

    Thanks,
    David
    HF 170 welder
    HF 4x6 band saw
    South Bend 9N
    Mill
    B&D mag drill
    Victor torch

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Well, it sounds like your friends need an education in welding or they should be told to Prove It. A lot of people have this welder and are very proud of there welds. BTY,I have a Lincoln Pro Mig 140 and it has only 5 setting. And I surprise myself with the results . Yes that good. So tell your friends to find evidence regarding the Harbor Freight welder. Put up. or shut up. Have them join the forum and tell us about there welding skills and there projects that they have completed. I like reading fiction.

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    I've been using a Harbor Freight Titanium 200 multi welder for some time, I've had a 140 and, a 170, good all around welders. Ultimate 200 is very good for me, I'm not a pro but, put quite a few hours with it. No problems with any wire mentioned, they all feed fine, I would think that if you practice you will succeed.

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi G-Man Bart, Arnl, All,
    Thanks for the great advice -- all of it !!!


    To answer your question, I have the Chicago Electric MIG 170. The 4 settings have been something that I wondered about, but didn't understand before the answers posted here and the other site (Tips and Tricks).


    And one of the other complaints that I have heard about the HF welders is that they produce inconsistent amperage, making it difficult to produce consistent beads. Perhaps that is true of a welder that is pushed to its service limit, but probably not a risk for someone like me that is doing very small stretches at a time.


    From the advice I have gotten on forums and from watching tons of YouTube videos it sounds as though my technique has a lot to be desired. I go too fast, and do not do a good job with wire stick out or even the basic technique of "writing cursive e's". I am thrilled with the fact that MIG welding seems to not involve as much spatter -- at least not so far -- and I also love the idea of fixing stuff myself, so I will go back to practice, practice, practice, as has been suggested here, but with the knowledge that I can achieve improvement with this machine, and if not, that the HF inverter welder is another option.




    Thanks!
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Quote Originally Posted by 2002sheds View Post
    Hi G-Man Bart, Arnl, All,
    Thanks for the great advice -- all of it !!!


    To answer your question, I have the Chicago Electric MIG 170. The 4 settings have been something that I wondered about, but didn't understand before the answers posted here and the other site (Tips and Tricks).


    And one of the other complaints that I have heard about the HF welders is that they produce inconsistent amperage, making it difficult to produce consistent beads. Perhaps that is true of a welder that is pushed to its service limit, but probably not a risk for someone like me that is doing very small stretches at a time.


    From the advice I have gotten on forums and from watching tons of YouTube videos it sounds as though my technique has a lot to be desired. I go too fast, and do not do a good job with wire stick out or even the basic technique of "writing cursive e's". I am thrilled with the fact that MIG welding seems to not involve as much spatter -- at least not so far -- and I also love the idea of fixing stuff myself, so I will go back to practice, practice, practice, as has been suggested here, but with the knowledge that I can achieve improvement with this machine, and if not, that the HF inverter welder is another option.




    Thanks!
    David
    No worries. Are you running it with flux core wire or hard wire and shielding gas? Both will produce acceptable results, but the advice for practice will be a bit different for each process. As an example, if you're running hard wire with a shielding gas we'll want to know if you are pushing or pulling the gun...makes a difference. With flux core you have to pull to get good results. That kind of stuff all adds up and does make a difference so the more we know the more we can help!
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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi G-Man Bart,
    Thanks for the reply! I am running solid wire and 75/25 Co2/Argon shielding gas (if I got that wrong it is "Gold Gas"). I definitely am not using the torch correctly... I think I am always pulling and I have since watched videos that suggest that when possible, it is better to push -- that, and watch the puddle from out front. That, and SLOW DOWN ( I plan on using a 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, etc. count :-) That, and try to make cursive "e"'s, which I also have not been consistently doing. In other words, a lot to learn !
    I am doing small repairs on an Airstream trailer frame (1/8" thick mild steel, with only a few small areas of rot -- all in non-critical areas). No one will be inside when it is being towed, the subfloor will be attached to the frame and there is an aluminum belly pan that would catch any of my work that somehow fell off, but I would still like to at least attach the repair work effectively, if not beautifully...


    Thanks,
    David

    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi All,
    I have tried again on the part I was welding, and am starting to see improvement, along with lingering concerns... below are before and after pics. The before shows my ham-fisted attempts with no training and less than 10 minutes of experience. The after was taken this morning. I tried to slow down (but could not go slow enough at times), and I also tried to push the puddle.

    One issue I ran into is that the settings on my auto-darkening helmet may or may not be wrong. Currently (a little welding humor :-) they are set at the darkest and most sensitive that the helmet offers. In my case, that means that I can see the arc, and most of the time almost nothing else... I will consult the instructions that came with the helmet. obviously, protecting my eyes is the most important thing, even if it means I can't see what I'm welding.

    The other thing I was fighting was my own anxiety... I set the welder to the recommended (for 1/8" steel) Max 1, 8.5 wire speed, and I started each bead with 1/2" stick out and ended with a little over an inch. I have no sense of what this means, but, as hard as I was trying to slow down, I was very aware that wire was pushing out, and that caused me to want to speed up...

    Now, for the pics:
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    Name:  78 Sovereign cross member 7 16 21 2.jpg
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    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    The darkness level of the shield actually has nothing to do with preventing eye injury...the harmful rays will be blocked at any setting. You set the shade level to a comfort level that works for you. Most AD shields go up to something like 12 or 13 as a darkest setting. Try something like 10 or 11 and then you can go darker if your eyes feel strained/tired after some welding.

    What sort of gas flow (in cubic feet per hour/CFH) are you using? For what you're doing now, I'd set it at 25CFH (that's with the trigger depressed and gas flowing) and leave it there.

    Are you welding on the ground or on a table? If you aren't comfortable and stable you won't get decent results, and that means welding on some sort of table/support structure. You'll want your arms or elbows resting on the table and the work set at a comfortable height...that way you can just slide your arms along as you run the bead. Draw a line on the metal with chalk and then push the gun to follow that line. Being a bit too close is better than being too far, so I wouldn't let it get much farther away than 1/2" at this point.

    If you can find some thicker metal it might make things easier. Don't worry that you're using settings for a thickness different than the metal you're using. At this point you simply need to develop the ability to lay down a straight, even bead rather than matching parameters to a particular thickness of metal. You'll simply run a bead....say 6-8" long, take a look, then run one right next to it, and partially overlapping the first. They call it "padding beads" and it's how most people learn, and something many folks go back to if they haven't touched a welder in a while. I actually find it kind of fun and will pad beads just to test myself and see if I can make them really nice time after time, or to practice making slight changes in setting and techniques to get a different looking bead.
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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    I really hate to ask you this but do you have your polarity correct? I made this mistake with my Lincoln 140 MIG welder.

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    You find it takes practice to good with any welder.
    The HF 170 is a good 👍

    Dave

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi G-Man, Ken, Dave,
    Thanks very much for the posts! Ken, I am happy to tell you that the polarity is correct :-) Dave, I appreciate the vote of confidence! And G-Man, tons of great tips about the helmet that I will use.
    To answer your question, I am doing repairs on an old Airstream frame (1/8" mild steel). Most of the belly pan (skin under the frame) is attached, so I am crouching down on the frame to do the repairs, which are on the top side of the frame. I will also take your advice about the gas (I think mine is currently set to 20) and also on technique for laying a steady bead.
    Thanks to the help I am receiving, I feel as if I am steadily improving!

    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi G-Man,
    I went back and re-read your post and realized that I did not answer your question about the gas pressure. I am glad I checked it, because it was WAY too high... as seen in the attached pic. I have now adjusted it to the 25 CFH that you recommended, which is also what is on the chart on the machine as the recommended flow. Thanks again for asking me that question!!!!!

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    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    As said, lighten up the hood settings.
    Don't look at the arc, look at the molten puddle

    Practice more, before you do the trailer.
    As said, let a pro do the trailer.

    The trailer photos look like you're trying to weld dirt scale and rust.
    Get an angle grinder. You can only weld clean shiny bright metal.

    "burning through" rust, paint and grease is lazy and does not work.

    You need to see the puddle and how it "wets"

    I'd grind that all off, practice for 25 hours or so padding practice welds on scrap for a start

    Look at the Wall Mountain Videos

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Quote Originally Posted by 2002sheds View Post
    To answer your question, I am doing repairs on an old Airstream frame (1/8" mild steel). Most of the belly pan (skin under the frame) is attached, so I am crouching down on the frame to do the repairs, which are on the top side of the frame. I will also take your advice about the gas (I think mine is currently set to 20) and also on technique for laying a steady bead.
    Thanks to the help I am receiving, I feel as if I am steadily improving!

    Thanks,
    David
    This is going to sound mean, but I promise it's not. There is no way for you to do what you're doing and get acceptable results until you practice welding something other than the trailer, and in a position where you can be comfortable and move smoothly.

    Look at it this way...you're trying to learn how to juggle while riding a bike before you learn how to juggle just standing. If you can't just stand at a table and lay down a nice bead you have no chance of doing that crouching down under a trailer with poor light, awkward angles, etc. That's a job for a pro.

    This is a trailer that's going on the road with other people around. It needs to be properly repaired and you aren't capable of doing that at this point. If it breaks in half and kills someone they will find out and you will be in a very bad situation.

    Unfortunately, this sort of thing comes up regularly and almost everybody does it anyway...
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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi #1,
    Great advice. I'd not heard of Wall Mountain, so I will check them out today. I'll also do tons of practice -- I have time, because the soonest a pro can come out is 3 weeks. The advice that I received from G-Man about helmet settings will help me see the puddle better. I could see it, but almost nothing around it...
    The area in my photos was ground back a ways before I attempted to weld in that patch. I didn't know how thin the remaining material was until the torch burned through it (which I couldn't see at the time I). And I will definitely do a better job in cleaning a wider area going forward.


    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi G-Man,
    Thanks for your response, and especially your patience! I have learned more from your and others' answers than any other source, and I truly appreciate it. Your comment about being mean is really okay. I understand that I am a complete novice and that my best approach is to accept ANY feedback, including questions about why I am attempting this :-) -- especially when I am putting my efforts out there for all to cringe at. In my opinion, it is the best way short of a training course at the local junior college (which I am inclined to take) to at least get started.

    Regarding the work that I am attempting on this trailer, I am happy to say that the frame is nearly rust free. It has spent its life in California (not by the coast, where there is plenty of rust), and none of the areas that I am reinforcing are any more stout than angle iron -- in other words, if what I attempt to repair completely falls off the frame, it will have no effect other than the floor will feel a bit soft there. And it won't be a hazard to other vehicles on the road because there is a sheet of aluminum below it (the belly pan) that is definitely thick enough to catch these members (if they did actually fall). The only reason that any repairs are needed at all is because the coach sat for 35 years with a rear vent that was wide open to the sky, letting rain fall in every winter, rusting out a small frame member in the rear bathroom, and a forward vent whose plastic lid eventually gave way in the sun, exposing the front carpeted area to many years as well. The area in the photo is the largest so far. Most of my time spent on the frame is cleaning it off enough to apply POR-15 and installing new plywood as the subfloor.

    I have scheduled the pro welder for 3 weeks from now, so that should give me some time to pad some welds :-) ...


    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi All,
    So it looks as if I had everything set up correctly EXCEPT for:

    Amperage for material
    Cleanliness of material before welding
    Wire speed
    Wire stick out amount
    My technique, in terms of how fast I was moving
    Gas pressure
    Helmet lens setting (way too dark)

    Other than that, it was perfect 😃! I have since corrected all of these things and can say with great authority that the ability to see what I am working on (plus the advice to clean the metal better and slow down while laying the bead) has helped tremendously!!!!

    Given that the issues above were not at all the fault of the welding machine (so having a Millermatic 211 would have probably made zero difference in my unskilled hands) , but rather the person operating it, I still have the question of what exaxtly people don’t like about the Harbor Freight 170 MIG machine… the most specific info I can find is that the amperage is inconsistent, and that was from one person. One other similar complaint I read is that is that the machine starts to heat up as soon as it is plugged in. This seems to be highly unlikely in my case, as the machine has been plugged in for weeks, without incident.

    As I eliminate my rookie mistakes, my results are improving. I ask the above because some have said that I won’t be able to do ANYTHING with this welder. If that means I am putting obstacles in front of me in addition to learning the skill, I’d like to know that, and why.


    Thanks,
    David

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    Re: Newbie question about Harbor Freight 170 MIG

    Hi All,
    Sorry if I taxed the patience of some of you... what I learned has been invaluable, though! I kept hearing from friends of mine that weld that I needed to get a higher quality welder, so, despite making the modifications (which were easy and really cool) outlined in the Harbor Freight section of this website, I searched around and was able to buy a Lincoln MIG 180 WeldPak for $375 and sold the Harbor Freight welder.

    I do a lot of woodworking, and can definitely tell the difference between a Harbor Freight Table saw and my 1940 Delta Unisaw (cabinet saw), but I did not understand how that translated to welders until I started using the Lincoln. From the very first moment of pulling the trigger, the machine felt more precise and "put together"...

    It could just be me wanting it to be that way, but I proceeded with confidence and successfully did the other minor repairs on the Airstream frame I mentioned in an earlier post.

    This forum is fantastic, and I want to express my thanks once more to G Man Bart and the others that took time to answer my questions. Much appreciated!


    David

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