Wayne Cook
February 4, 2010

The three types of welding that we are concerned with include stick welding, MIG welding and TIG welding. While all three types of welding are closely related in principle, each process offers advantages in certain applications. For general repairs, a stick welder can be a good way to go. One reason is lower cost. Stick welders start at about $400 and go up to around $2,000 for a home- or shop-sized unit. MIG welders are more popular in automotive applications and will weld aluminum as well as steel. You can do cleaner work with a gas welding set up because there is no slag or residual material creating a mess and requiring removal. MIG welding setups start at about $800 and can go past $2,500 in cost. With a TIG welder you can do even finer work on thinner metals because not only is residual slag absent but the temperature of the welding spark can be more accurately controlled and the welding material is added by hand. TIG welders cost a little more and start around $1,200 and go up past $3,000.

Choosing which of these three types of welders is best for work on your classic Ford project depends on what you're going to be doing. Before you go out and lay down your money you should ask a few important questions. One important consideration is input power requirements. You'll need to know what voltage is available in your shop or garage. Is it 110 or 220 volts? Some home-use or light- duty welders work off of 110-volt current. Most other types use 220-volt. What are the amperage draw limitations on your circuit breaker? Circuit breakers have both voltage and amperage ratings that limit the amount of current that can flow through them. The standard household 115V outlet in your home likely has a 15 or 20 amp rating, while your 230V dryer circuit has a 30 or 50 amp rating. Knowing the rating of your circuit breaker is important, because weld-ers have minimum power requirements. If you meet the minimum requirements, you'll be able to weld. However, an undersized circuit breaker will limit the welder's top output. Further, if your welding power demand exceeds available input power, you'll trip the circuit breaker. Don't forget to factor in the electric loads of other equipment you'll need to run at the same time as the welder. To determine circuit size required, examine the welder's spec sheet and look for the amps input at rated output figures.

Before you purchase a welder it's important to consider the thickness of the metal you'll be welding on because the amperage required to successfully accomplish the weld varies. The thicker the metal you intend to weld, the greater the amount of amperage required. The material thickness and the current carrying capacity of the electrode determine the amperage at which you weld. As a general rule of thumb, you need one amp of power for every 0.001-inch of mild steel. For example, to weld 1/8-inch (0.125-inch) mild steel in a single pass, you need approximately 125 amps.

The type of metal you'll be welding will also change your equipment needs. For example if you're going to be welding steel some of the time and aluminum at other times, you may wish to add a spool gun for the aluminum welding. More precise control is the result and it eliminates having to unload the wire used with steel welding from the machine when running a second type of wire. What upgrades and accessories are available for the machine you selected? Are the machine's size, weight, and portability important to you? These are all things you'll need to consider. Inverter-based welders are also available. They require much less primary power than conventional welders because they feature special circuitry. While an inverter welder will cost more, you could actually save money if you avoid the need to rewire your garage, barn, or shop.