I have to learn to weld my teardrop frame together. On this page you can see all of my welder choices, and at the bottom you can see links to my learning progress.
My father is a professional welder, and for some stupid reason I did not ever learn. So after picking his brains a bit I bought a welder on craigslist, and now I have to practice and get good enough that I feel confident welding my trailer frame and axle attachments together.
I would probably consider this a daunting task if I had not watched my dad weld for most of my youth. So I figure I can do it. My goal is to get competent enough within two or three weeks of practice each day to weld up my frame. We will see. If I am not confident I will at least have the mounting brackets for the axle welded by a professional.
There are lots of good welders available on craigslist if you live in near a decent sized city. And I think that buying a good quality used welder is much better than buying a cheap Chinese new welder from someplace like Harbor Freight. But they will probably work fine also.
220v vs. 120v Welders
My father and every welder who has experience all said to get a 220v welder. It will make things easier to learn and it is a much more capable machine. So I did. But I think for the thickness of steel that a lightweight teardrop frame uses, a 120v welder would probably be fine, and definitely more portable.
MIG vs. Stick/Arc Welders
MIG is known to be very easy to learn and use. You stick the gun down where you want to weld and pull the trigger and just move your hand along. You can be welding within hours of getting your machine. Arc welding takes more practice and skill. You have to learn to strike an arc, and then hold a steady distance with your stick while moving in a direction, and keep that steady as the stick gets shorter.
So pretty much everyone uses MIG. The problem with MIG is this. People with lots of experience say it is very difficult to make a strong structural weld with a MIG machine. It appears easy to use, but it is very hard to get a strong weld. My father for example had years of experience as a welder. He then trained in MIG, but failed his MIG certification several times because when they x-rayed the welds they found structural flaws. I am not exactly sure why this is true. It may have something to do with the difficulty of seeing your welding line because the welding gun is very close, and there tends to be a bunch of smoke and splatter with MIG?
So upon my father's recommendation, and those I saw on the web, I decided to skip MIG and to learn how to use an Arc welder.
The other good reason I got an Arc welding machine is because I will almost always be welding outside. And Arc welding rods do better in windy conditions. The shielding gasses don't get blown away as easy because the shielding gas comes from the flux around the rod. Most MIG uses a gas bottle and it can have trouble if there is a breeze.
NOTE: I have since changed my mind after using this welder. For thinner metals MIG would have been the better choice. Learn more here at this updated post.
Lincoln Buzz Box
So I picked up an AC Lincoln Buzz Box, or Cracker Box as they are known. My father had one of these for years and they are known to be very durable. I have read from several professional welders online that if they only had this machine they could do pretty much anything with it. They are still sold new at Home Depot for about $265. I got one in great condition for $125 used.
Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet
Everyone said that the best tool a beginner can buy is an auto-darkening welding helmet. The old way of doing it was to position your rod, and then flip down your welding helmet, and then hope your rod had not moved and strike your arc. With the auto-darkening helmet you leave it down, you can see what you are doing, and the instant you strike your arc the face shield darkens so you can keep seeing what you are doing.
I considered getting the $50 one from Harbor Freight, but it got mixed reviews, but then I found this one on Northern Tool for $50. It was highly recommended on many web forums, and on the Northern Tools site it had 260 positive reviews out of 263 which is pretty amazing for any product.
Having now used the helmet I love it. For the price it works perfectly. For a part time hobby welder I can't see the need to spend more. The one draw back that I don't like about the helmet is that the knobs on the side that adjust the tension for when the helmet is pushed up always loosen, and so the helmet falls down when I don't want it to. Not really a big deal, I just have to adjust them regularly.
More Welding Tools
There are a few more basic tools I had to get. A chipper, which chips the slag off of the weld, and a wire brush for cleaning up the welds. Plus there is some safety equipment I will talk about later.
Learning to Weld Progress Journal - come back here to see my progress notes and pictures.