Welcome to a multi-part series aimed at introducing the novice and intermediate garage fabricator to some cool new equipment and tips on how to use it. This month, we’re kicking it off with the most basic and fundamental of these processes: MIG welding steel.
While MIG welders aren’t as inexpensive as a simple buzz-box arc welder (or even a couple batteries and a pair of jumper cables), MIG welding is immeasurably easier. As a novice, you’ll be able to make cleaner, stronger, better welds with a MIG machine sooner than with other welding processes. But when selecting a MIG machine you really should weigh the most obvious factor (budget) against your intended use and skill level not only at present, but 10 or 20 years down the road. Because when you buy a good MIG machine, chances are it’ll be for life.
When you consider the current lineup from Miller Electric, the company has a machine for just about any budget and skill level. The Millermatic 180 with Auto-Set usually has a street price of under $900 and will be able to handle just about any mild-steel job you can throw at it and will accommodate a spool gun, but like Miller’s bigger machines, it runs off of 208/230V, single-phase current. That pretty much means it’ll run on 208- to 230-volt household current or anything in between. We’ll call it 220-volt for continuity through this series. If you need the flexibility of either 220- or 110-volt household current, the Millermatic 211 has both the Auto-Set feature and spool gun ability but includes Miller’s MVP (multi-volt plug) for about $200 more. On the plus side, machines like these are smaller and will fit under a garage cabinet or can be stowed on a shelf when not needed. However, their duty cycles (length of time of continuous welding before cool-down is required) are shorter than the larger machines.
Of the larger machines, we think the Millermatic 212 used in this story represents the best compromise between performance, value, flexibility, and price. At around $1,700 (street pricing), it’s about $500 less expensive and packs more features than its bigger Millermatic 252 brother and has a duty cycle more than double that of the smaller 211. Although it won’t weld 1⁄2-inch-thick steel in a single pass like the more-powerful 252, the 220-volt 212 features the company’s innovative Auto-Set feature for dummy-proof voltage and wire speed settings and is still rated to weld 3⁄8-inch-thick steel in a single pass. That’s about the max any garage enthusiast will need to weld, plus it will still do finer jobs like sheetmetal and can run a spool gun for welding aluminum. Which reminds us, tune in next time to learn more about MIG-welding aluminum.