TIG welders range from portable $1,700 units that can weld thin metal to heavy duty, industrial machines that can handle just about everything you throw at them. The only catch is that one of these units will run over $5,000. If you're looking for a cheap and simple way to join metal, check out a stick welding buzz box. If you want to TIG weld and occasionally stick weld, there are TIG welders with stick welding capabilities tacked on.
TIG welding is a fairly specialized process when compared to the point and shoot capability of MIG welders, but a good TIG machine will produce beautiful welds. The middle of the road machines made by top brands such as Lincoln Electric and Miller Electric are routinely praised for offering a simple and accessible user interface that anyone can figure out in no time. Of course the machines with more features will also have plenty of buttons that present options you'll want to figure out before trying them on a project for your top client!
Features to Consider for TIG Welder
TIG welding is all about controlling the amount of heat applied to the metal. The latest TIG inverters can create a significantly higher number of pulses per second, offering as many as 5,000 pulses per second--an increase from 20 per second on older TIG machines. TIG pulsing is used for difficult joints or thin metal where there is a chance of burning through or stainless steel where too much heat can cause rust.
The higher your pulsing rate, the stronger your weld will be because of the control you have over the weld puddle. A higher degree of pulsing focuses and constricts the arc, limiting the amount of heat applied to the weld. Welders will be able to travel faster along the metal and will have less extra material to remove, leading to a cleaner weld. When appearance is important for a weld or you're welding lots of thin metal, the best pulsing technology will save on time and material as well as helping you create excellent welds.
Smaller TIG welders weigh around 40-50 pounds and are relatively easy to move around. However, the larger units weigh 100 pounds and up. The only way to move those units around will be with a cart in your shop. Smaller TIG welders still offer a lot of versatility and enough power to complete smaller jobs that don't require a longer duty cycle. Portability is often one of the biggest factors that welders have to think about after considering the duty cycle and power output.
A reliable foot pedal is critically important for TIG welding. TIG projects are sometimes performed in awkward positions and the TIG process itself requires two hands--one for the torch and the other for the filler rod. Pedals allow welders to manage the amount of heat used so that the weld puddle doesn't become too large.
The best foot peddle doesn't slope at too high an angle, which would cause foot fatigue. In addition, a foot pedal should be extremely responsive as you adjust the heat input with your foot. There were some welders who mentioned in reviews of the Miller 165 TIG welder (listed below) that the foot pedal sometimes stuck, but Miller reps commented on the review that the foot pedal was a known issue with a simple fix. All the same, the welder gave the Miller a glowing review and simply replaced the foot pedal. Some welders prefer to pick up the best machine and then add a top of the line foot pedal to it.
High Frequency Settings
A TIG welder that operates at higher frequency settings will make it easier to control the arc, which is critically important for TIG welding.
If you're moving around your shop while welding and you're concerned about accidentally bumping into the controls on your welder while in the middle of a project and wrecking a project, then inspect the controls of your welder to make sure they snap securely into position. This is a matter of personal preference. However, sometimes the small things about a welder can make it easier to choose between top name brands that are otherwise similar units.
Plasma Cutter and Stick Welding Options
If you want some extra features and greater versatility in your shop, consider picking up a TIG welder with both stick welding and plasma cutting capabilities. You'll save time on metal cutting projects and your range of potential projects will be expanded significantly since TIG and stick capabilities ensure you can do just about anything that comes your way.
Air-Cooled Torch vs. Water-Cooled Torch
You can usually get by with an air-cooled torch, but there may be times when you may wish you had a water cooled one. At a higher power output the torch gets warmer, but most welders are fine with that. A water-cooled torch has a smaller head and can do finer work in tight spots. Many welders who use water-cooled torches mention in reviews that they appreciate being spared the extreme heat on certain jobs when an air-cooled torch wouldn't cut it.
High Quality Arc
The cheaper models of TIG welders have been reported to have arc stability issues. An unsteady arc will cause problems with the look of your weld, and this is a huge problem since most welders choose TIG welders when they need to make a high quality weld that must be neat.