Buying Guides

Best Welder for the Money? Try a 3 in 1 Welder

Best Welder for the Money? Try a 3 in 1 Welder

The Thermal Arc Fabricator 181i 3 in 1 MIG/TIG/STICK Welder is a multi-process welding machine that offers three welding processes for a lower price than many MIG and TIG welders that only offer a single process. With a retail price set at $999, the 181i is on sale for $830 at Baker’s Gas and Welding during the month of August. This is a versatile machine that can operate on high or low power, making it ideal for light fabrication of steel, stainless steel, and aluminum (MIG) across a wide range of user applications.

Some of the most important specs on a multi-process welder are weight and power. If you’re combining a lot of features in a welder, you could run the risk of making it too heavy or losing features along the way. Something has to give, right?

With the 181i, Thermal Arc has managed to balance a lot of power, it can deliver from 10 to 180 Amps of welding output power from 230 Volts input, with a convenient weight of 33 pounds. This ensures that welding shops or home welders will have plenty of power and options for their projects, while farmers and maintenance workers can take it with them wherever they need to weld.

The duty cycle runs between 20-30% depending on the power output, placing it right in the middle of the pack for similar single process welders.

In addition, the 181i offers all of the other features you’ll find on a top notch welder such as overload shut off so that it never overheats and intelligent fan control that turns off the fan when it isn’t needed. A trigger control latch makes it possible to weld for longer stretches of time.

MIG Welding with the Thermal Arc 181i

The infinite voltage control option makes MIG welding starts simple, and once the machine starts running, the weld bead is easy to control. In a review provided on the Thermal Arc Website, one hot rod welder commented that he simply chose his settings and the welding machine was ready to go. The welds were smooth with no adjusting, and he had plenty of control over the welder to the point that he was even able to build up welds for special fabrication projects.

The spool gun option is another MIG welding must for any home welder or welding shop, as spool guns make it quite simple to work with aluminum. You need to pick up the gun separately, but it will be well worth the investment when you can weld aluminum without the wire feeder jamming with the lighter aluminum wire.

Arc Force Control for Stick Welding

When you’ve got a lot of heat burning for a stick weld, you’re going to need a stable arc, and the Thermal Arc 181i provides that with arc force control. Once you start stick welding with Thermal Arc’s hot start option, you’ll burn right into the weld joint without the electrode jumping around. One of the most common notes in the reviews of this machine is how smooth it runs, and when it comes to stick welding, the arc force control is a big part of that.

TIG Weld with Lift Start

Lift start provides a simple way to start the TIG weld. You simply position the tungsten where you want to start welding and pull back slowly, this starts the arc.  While this is not as ideal as a high-frequency start it is a proven discipline.

Reviewers mentioned that it only took a few seconds to get used to the lift start feature. Once they started using it, they commented that it made life much easier, especially when it comes to the high quality welds you need to make when TIG welding.

Is This the Best Welder for the Money?

There are some other multi-process machines on the market that offer a few more features and more power, but then again, machines like the Multimatic from Miller will also cost more. Therefore, the best welder for the money boils down to the features and power you need within your price range. For example, the durable case and gas solenoid for TIG welding on the Multimatic 200 may mean more to some welders than Thermal Arc’s low price tag.

Maybe one of the best things you can do is to list the projects you plan on doing and then choosing your welder accordingly. However, don’t take too long… this August promotion for Thermal Arc is a limited time deal.



The Thermal Arc Fabricator 181i has been discontinued. The newer more updated version of this machine is the ESAB EMP 210. For more information on this machine watch the Bakers video below.


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