If I want to start welding, which tools should I invest in?
Beginner welders should purchase a quality welder, first and foremost. In addition, you’ll also need to buy supplemental tools, accessories, safety gear, and shielding gas. Despite the initial investment, it’s important to privilege quality over a cheap price tag when welding. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and in welding, it pays to be prepared.
We’re glad you’ve decided to join the many welders who work and play with metal! Welding can be a rewarding experience, even though it requires hard work and persistence. No matter if you make it your new hobby or turn a profit, welding is a great skill to have.
If you’re looking to kit yourself out with the basics, you’ve come to the right post! We’re going to list for you the various materials you’ll want to invest in to set up your very own welding station. Once you’ve got all these tools assembled, you should be ready to begin your first welding project.
The list that follows should be regarded as a starting point. For both your welding setup and the adventures to come, that is. You might need to save up some extra money for these supplies or throw out hints to friends and family for birthdays and Christmas presents. We suggest you speak to local welders in your area to find out what tools they prefer—and while you’re there, tap into their knowledge. You might just learn something new and valuable.
Ready to get welding? Let’s begin.
Quick Guide to Welding Types
Before you purchase any kind of supplies, it’s important to understand the distinction between the different types of welding. Once you know what welding you’ll be doing, you can add corresponding items to your shopping list. If you’re not sure what types of welding you’ll want to do, that’s okay too! We’ll mention a few tips and hint at where you should start if you’re new to welding.
If you’re a beginner and not sure welding is right for you, start with stick welding. You might also hear it called “arc welding.” This type of welding is named for the electrode, or “stick,” used during the welding process. As the stick heats up, the metal coating surrounding the stick begins to melt, introducing slag, deoxidizers, and alloy to the welded metals via a gas shield. Like a hot glue gun, all the materials you need are within the stick itself. There’s no additional gas necessary for stick welding.
Because of this, there are very few supplies required to stick weld, which is why we recommend you begin with this type. This welder from Forney works great and is pretty cheap. It’s also a good place to start if you want to get your technique down as it removes most of the variables from the welding equation. As we list which welding tools you should buy, we’ll be sure to mention what types they’re required for; beginners, keep your eye on anything referencing stick if that’s where you’d like to start.
If you want to weld but don’t plan on making it part of your daily routine, MIG welding is the next step after you’ve mastered stick. There are actually two types of MIG welding: bare wire and flux core. As you might imagine, bare wire MIG joins two thin pieces of metal together with a simple wire. Flux core MIG welding doesn’t require a gas supply. Again, the difference between the two lies in the electrode. Bare wire requires use of a shielding gas to protect the arc, while flux core includes the components within the wire itself.
MIG welding is also another type you can get into relatively cheaply. With stick welding, you’re paying for the consumable sticks, while with MIG welding, you’re going to have to pay for things like welding rod and shielding gas. Depending on what types of metal you’re joining, you’ll need various types of gases, including mixtures with specific ratios. If this is the type of welding you’re considering, it’s a good idea to check out your local gas supply store and inquire what deals they have and any programs they run for frequent customers.
If you are looking for just a good basic rig that will join metal for you, this welder from Hobart is a great machine and will be a good work horse through out your welding work.
Considered to be the more difficult type of welding to master, TIG welding requires precision and attention to detail. For good-looking welds to appear, a specific set of characteristics must be achieved. The torch angle must be right. The welding pool must be maintained, and above all, the right type and amount of filler must be used. Knowing the right combinations is key to mastering TIG welding.
The benefits of TIG welding, however, include little to no toxic fumes, higher-quality welds that don’t have to be ground down afterwards, and zero slag, to name a few. You will be paying for shielding gas again (argon is the most popular), along with welding filler rod, but TIG welding offers operators a chance to weld quickly and accurately with little time and effort needed for beautifying.
I would argue that TIG welders are harder to order offline, however, this one from Amico should get you started. If you are really interested in TIG welding I would go down to your welding supply and ask around for their suggestions as well.
Now that you know a bit more about the different types of welding, let’s move on. Do you have your wish list ready? Good!
Beginner Welding Tools to Buy
Without further ado, here’s our list of beginner welding tools we think you should invest in. If you’re skimming the list, be sure to look under each product for the types of welding you’ll need that tool for. We’ll also include popular brands you should consider when shopping, either in-store or online; however, we’ll leave the buying decision up to you.
What’s welding without a welder? Here are a few things you’ll want to consider before you purchase:
- Application: Most welders are labeled for the types of welding they’re capable of doing. Before you start looking, however, consider what projects you’ll be tackling with your new machine. For example, MIG welders are a good option for beginners, while stick welding is a good place to start as well. TIG welding requires a bit more skill. The materials and thicknesses of those materials matters, too.
- Multi-functionality: Unless you limit yourself to one type of welding, having a multi-use welder can be a great investment. You’ll be able to learn the various disciplines without having to invest in separate welding machines. At the same time, these multi-function welders don’t exactly come cheap.
- Current type: The type of current required for each welding process differs depending on the metal you’re welding. Generally, most welders are direct-current, or DC. However, if you are welding aluminum, you’ll need an alternating-current-capable, or AC-capable, welder.
- Duty cycle: The duty cycle of a welder is defined as “what percentage of time a welder can weld in a 10-minute period.” Most often duty cycles are measured as a percentage at a set amperage, such as 40% at 120 amps. That means the machine can weld at 120 amps for 4 minutes before it needs a break to cool down.
- Frequency of use: The bottom line is, you get what you pay for with welders. Pay more up-front to invest in that solid platform if you plan on using it quite often and don’t want to keep replacing an inferior setup. A cheap MIG welder should suffice if you’re just dabbling, though.
Want to know more about which welders to invest in? Check out RateMyWelder.com’s reviews.
Both MIG and TIG welding require a shielding gas to protect the electrode during the welding process. In order to supply your new welder, you’ll need to start a relationship with your nearest gas-supply company. Depending on what you’re welding, you may need just one gas or a mix of gases.
Beyond knowing what mix you need for your application, you’ll also want to inquire about renting/leasing or buying a gas bottle. Some companies will charge you a one-time fee for buying a bottle and then charge you upon each fill-up. Really, you’ll be returning the empty bottle and exchanging it for a full bottle. Other companies may do things differently.
The best way to get an idea of the going rate for both gases and bottle programs is to shop around. It may be worth your time to simply lease or buy a bottle the company hydrostatic tests themselves than have to pay for the hydrostatic testing and fill-ups separately. Hydrostatic tests simply ensure the bottle won’t explode under the pressure of the compressed gases within.
Some of the most common types of welding gas include carbon dioxide (also known as C02) and argon. Using just carbon dioxide will allow you to penetrate thicker metals, but it does create more splatter during the welding process. Sometimes going with a combination of gases is better. For example, stainless steel is best welded with a mix of helium, argon, and carbon dioxide. Aluminum, on the other hand, welds best with a 100% argon shielding gas.
If you’re going to be welding a lot, buy your gas in bulk. You don’t want to have to stop welding in order to load up your tank, fill it/exchange it, and then drive all the way back home to pick up where you left off.
With each of the three types of welding we mentioned above (stick, MIG, and TIG), there’s always going to be a consumable filler material you’ll need to introduce to the equation in order to achieve the best results. After all, heating up the two metals inevitably results in burning up some amount of metal from both pieces, so in order to create a solid piece, you need to introduce more metal to make up for this loss. That’s where filler materials come into play.
In TIG welding, you’ll use what’s called “filler rod.” It’s important to understand that the tungsten electrode that houses the electric current is not considered consumable in this case; the secondary rod of alloy metal is. The three most common filler rod metals include carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Use of each filler rod depends on the metals you’re working with.
For MIG welders, the consumable is an electrode in the form of wire, which spools through the gun. The metals are the same as found in TIG filler rods (carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum) but vary in thickness. Because of this, MIG wire also has a corresponding amperage and shielding gas combination required for best results. Welding Direct offers a handy chart for reference.
Finally, stick welding consumes an electrode as well, which is known as the stick (hence the name). Again, like the other consumables we discussed for TIG and MIG welding, the type of stick required depends on a number of factors, from material size and type to coating and amperage. Miller lists factors to consider if you’re unsure what stick to purchase for your project.
We’ll talk about welding tables next, but welding carts are just as handy to have, especially if you’re going to be welding a lot. Welding carts are a mobile solution to moving your welder and miscellaneous parts around the shop or even from one location to the next. It’s a place where you can find all your supplies and store the odds and ends.
Welding carts usually have a boxed-in stand for the welder itself. You’ll want to check the dimensions of your welder before purchasing a cart. The carts typically locate the welder at the center and allow for a medium-sized gas bottle to sit directly behind it. Some welding carts may even include straps to keep the bottle in-place. The triangular frame may also include secondary shelves below the welder housing which can hold filler rod, various hand tools, and anything else you might need during the welding process.
Most online retailers will offer comparable prices on welding carts, and really, as long as you can get a sturdy frame and a good set of wheels, the rest doesn’t matter—or differ—too much between manufacturers. If you’re looking for a custom solution, however, consider making your own welding cart! Though it might be one of your first welding projects, it’s definitely a good way to get started and gain lots of experience.
The surface upon which you weld impacts your results more than you might think possible. For example, if your work surface isn’t level, your final product might not turn out to be completely straight and true. And because you’re manipulating electricity to precisely melt metals together, having a table that will hold up to any mistakes is key to proper safety as well.
Beyond providing a level, true, and stable work surface to weld upon, welding tables may also be drilled out to hold parts together during the welding process. Having an extra pair of hands to keep your parts in place can be a great way to make sure your final product meets required specifications.
Welding tables come in many shapes and sizes. In fact, if you’re feeling handy, you can even make your own welding table. If you’re searching for the perfect welding table, consider first the size you want. Your space may not allow for a large table, but oftentimes the more work space you have, the better. At the same time, you also want to pay attention to height. Having adjustability is good if you’re working on heavy parts. You’ll also want to consider how much welding you’ll actually be doing. If you aren’t that serious about it, a welding table might not make it on your list.
Welding tables are good for all kinds of welding, from TIG to MIG and everything in-between. Really, like any hand tool out there, it’s whatever fits your preferences and aids you best in the welding process.
Among other safety gear such as gloves and steel-toed boots, a welding helmet is an absolute must. When you’re grinding or sanding, you should wear ear and eye protection. There’s no arguing about welding helmets, though. You will go blind if you don’t wear one and you look directly at the arc.
Like motorcycle helmets, welding helmets have come a long way since the first models appeared on the market. Firstly, most helmets are adjustable to fit your head. Oftentimes there’s a dial on the back of the headband that will either tighten or loosen per your satisfaction. Secondly, most welding hoods flip up so you can see normally after you’ve stopped the arc, but also come down with a flick of the head. The no-hands-required design allows you to position yourself to weld when you can see normally so that when the arc appears, you’re not searching for your pieces.
Cheaper helmets simply have a tinted viewing panel but spend a bit more for the auto-darkening models. They will allow your eyes to adjust to the darkened view while still protecting them from harmful amounts of light. The top-of-the-line welding helmets include a grind mode, which un-dims to allow you to see normally as you grind, as well as a solar panel to provide power. After all, the light produced during welding is similar to the power of the sun’s rays.
This welding helmet is a great daily driver and has all the bells and whistles to save your eyes and last a long time.
Covering your hands during the welding process—be it MIG, TIG, or stick—is critical to personal safety. Not only are you protecting your skin from the heat put off by the arc, but also any slag that might jump away from your work space and onto your skin. Welding gloves are made of various materials.
As you peruse welding gloves, it’s best to make sure you know what size works best for you. You don’t want to go too big and risk poor gripping power. If you’re going to be welding a lot, find a brand you like and pick up a few pairs. Parts that need welding together aren’t typically the smoothest, so your gloves may sustain some rips as you work. Just like with welding helmets, you definitely don’t want to skimp when it comes to welding gloves. You can replace gloves but you can’t easily replace your own skin.
Whether you’re grinding or welding, you’ll likely want a welding jacket. Made of sturdy, flame-retardant materials meant to protect against any hot metal that happens to land on you as you weld, a welding jacket is your first line of defense against painful burns.
When looking for a welding jacket, it’s better to go bigger in size to cover any loose clothing you might be wearing. You’ll want to make sure the jacket covers the length of your arms, the base of your neck, and extends a few inches past your waist. We’ll leave color choice up to you. I’ve had mine(same as this one) for almost two decades now and its still one of the best investments I made for welding.
Welding Supports, Weights, Clamps, and Magnets
Paper weights on steroids, welding weights hold pieces in place so that you can weld them securely and thoroughly. Welding supports work in the opposite direction, holding up the materials so you can weld in and around the seams. While you can definitely invest in fancy supports and weights, oftentimes having a few heavy, supportive objects around the workshop will suffice.
Clamps, on the other hand, should be able to withstand the high temperatures created during the welding process. They can be made of metal themselves, but make sure you use your welding gloves to remove them as they can soak up the residual heat. You’ll likely want to invest in a variety of clamp sizes and shapes if you’re serious about welding.
Welding magnets can also be a great way to hold your parts together. There are a variety of types of welding magnets. Arrow-shaped models allow you to weld at precise 45-degree and 90-degree angles. Movable magnets position well for both square and round parts. If you can’t get a good ground connection on your pieces as well, some magnets will provide that—along with clamping power, of course.
Welding a perfect seam is hard to do, unless you’ve been practicing for quite some time. Even then, most welds require a bit of clean-up. Not all welds turn out great, but that’s okay! This is where a grinder comes in handy and the polishing work begins.
Most grinders, like your average hammer, are going to do the same thing. Really, it’s personal preference as to which brand you prefer. Smaller grinders are best for tight spaces while larger-diameter grinders can mow down lots of material quickly. We suggest investing in a small grinder to begin with, as the different types of wheels should be cheaper for smaller discs. WCWelding.com recommends a die grinder for “finer work.”
Believe it or not, there’s an art to grinding unwanted metal. RateMyWelder.com reports that orange sparks are good and show “you are pressing the right-angle grinder with the correct amount of force.” Blue sparks mean you’re putting just a bit too much muscle into it, while white sparks actually signify the pieces are reaching high temperatures.
Fire Extinguisher + First Aid Kit
This is just one component of the “welder-friendly first aid kit” you should stock near your welding area. A fire extinguisher is handy to have, so make sure you have a working unit on-hand.
Other first aid kit supplies you’ll want to have nearby include, well, anything you’d find in a first aid kit. Burns are obviously the more likely injury with welding. A hand-washing station is essential, especially in case something gets in your eyes as well.
Really, the best way to prepare your emergency first aid station is to think of all the things that could possibly go wrong and prepare for them. Don’t think of it as a negative act, but rather a precaution in case of emergency. Because accidents do happen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.
A regular claw hammer is always good to have on-hand. However, chipping hammers are specially made to remove slag and spatter. Shaped like a chisel on one end and a center punch on the other, these chipping hammers can direct force where you need it for the best results. In fact, it may be easier to use a chipping hammer than a grinder, depending on the weld and where it’s located.
Measuring and Marking Tools
Metal fabrication requires a lot of measuring, marking, and measuring again. Be sure you’re prepared with a variety of marking tools and measuring devices. Sharpies are a great inexpensive tool to have on-hand. They come in a variety of colors and tip sizes. A pen and paper are best for marking down dimensions.
As far as measuring goes, we recommend numerous devices, including such things as tape measurers and calipers. It all depends on what size your materials are but having the ability to measure both big and small parts will cut down on trips to the hardware store. The more precise you need to be when it comes to specifications, the higher-quality equipment you should invest in.
Welding Tool Wish List
Beginner welders do face a large start-up cost when compared to other hobbies, but there are a great many things you can do once you know how to weld. Whether you stay a hobby welder or earn a living with your welding skills, it’s a versatile skill set to learn.
Start your welding journey with these tools and the sky’s the limit!