Millermatic 190 Is the Ideal First Welder You Should BuyPosted in How To: Tech Qa on January 3, 2018
If you have been messing around with building and modifying 4x4s long enough, you have invariably reached a point when drilling and bolting, riveting, zip-tying, chemically bonding, or any other means of mechanical or booger-bonded fastening simply is not going to unite “A” with “B” in a sufficiently solid marriage. I have come up with some pretty ingenious ways of circumventing the need of a welder myself (some of which I wish I had documented due to their mechanical-engineer level of strength and complexity), but it usually takes four times as long, and in the end you’re left with something you knew you really should have welded up in the first place.
Now, admittedly I am no expert on the subject of welding, but I am surrounded by a few seasoned welders in the automotive trade that happen to burn metal together on a daily basis. Gus Johnson, owner of Lucky Gunner Garage, builds hot rods for a living, welds up frames from scratch, bends rollcages, and does everything in between. As one of my go-to sources for guidance on all things metalworking, Gus swears by the Miller Electric brand, so naturally, when I asked for his recommendation on a MIG welder that would do everything I needed, it was a blue-colored one. This sentiment was echoed by Editor Hazel, who—again, based on my needs—nudged me towards giving Miller’s versatile and highly user-friendly Millermatic 190 a try. So I did.
A decade ago, when I had finally decided I needed a MIG welder, I picked up a haggard, hand-me-down 110-volt flux-core-wire unit that, while operational, struggled to lay down clean, single-pass welds on 3/16-inch mild steel, the stuff I found myself welding more often than not. Fast-forward to today. I knew I needed a welder that was: (A) easy to use for the nonprofessional working out of his home garage; (B) could grow with me from the beginner “booger-weld stage” all the way to seasoned fabricator; and (C) came in at under a grand in a ready-to-go form. The 240-volt Millermatic 190 seemed to check all boxes—all of which I’d wager are of importance to anyone in a similar situation with similar needs.
The 190 is Miller’s smallest 240-volt MIG in the Millermatic line and will weld from 24-gauge up to 5/16-inch mild steel on a single pass, with a 40 percent duty cycle at 140 amps. With Miller’s newer inverter technology, the company has crammed everything needed into a case that weighs only 35 pounds, making this unit highly portable. Smooth-Start technology makes for a clean, spatter-free start every time. Miller claims it is the “smoothest starting machine in its class,” and although we didn’t have a competing MIG on hand to verify this, we can attest that starting is pretty damn smooth. The angled drive assembly allows longer, 15-foot MIG gun cables (the unit ships with a 10-foot) to be used without wire-drive binding. The detent-adjustable quick-select drive roll system lets you quickly and easily align the proper guide groove for the diameter/type of wire you happen to be using. What’s more, if you need to weld aluminum, the auto-detect system on the Millermatic 190 allows you to install an optional Miller spool gun without the need to wire in an addition switch.
Controlling everything is Miller’s Auto-Set control, which is a huge asset to those just getting their welding feet wet. Dialing in the right voltage and wire-speed parameters to produce a clean weld bead with good penetration can be tricky if you’re not familiar with the telltale signs of a good or bad weld. With the Auto-Set feature on the Millermatic 190, simply set the wire diameter on one knob, and using the provided material-thickness gauge to verify the thickness of the material you’re welding, set the corresponding voltage with the other knob and you’re off and running. To the seasoned veteran who wants 100 percent control over the settings, you’re also able to revert to full-manual mode and dial in your own parameters.
Those making the jump from an inexpensive flux-core welder might be concerned that switching over to a solid-wire, gas-shielded welder is cost-prohibitive, but it’s not. If you don’t have your own bottle, here locally the yearly bottle rental fee for a honkin’ big cylinder is around $50, with another $50 or so to get it filled with the 75/25 mix of argon and carbon dioxide gas for welding mild steel. If you’re not home-electrical savvy, you will also incur the expense of having a 240-volt power source wired in (if you don’t already have one) to power the Millermatic 190, but it’s a one-time cost and now you’ll be left with the capability of running other, future 240-volt equipment, like a TIG welder, plasma cutter, and so on.
In the end, I am pretty stoked to finally have real welding capabilities and the self-sufficient metalworking possibilities that come along with it. The Millermatic 190 has proven a super-easy machine to get used to, and the meager cash I am now spending on welding consumables (gas, wire, nozzle tips) is way less than I was spending on drill bits and Grade 8 hardware to previously cobble stuff together. What does fabrication freedom smell like? Burning metal!