Expand your ability to build and repair with the right welding and soldering tools
The right welding and soldering equipment can open up a new range of applications for you to tackle, including everything from repairing or enhancing your car or motorcycle to soldering circuit boards or audio connectors. Choosing between the different tools available for each activity requires a thorough examination of the types of jobs you plan to undertake and the kinds of materials you will work with most frequently. With such a vast array of available options, keeping the following questions in mind as you shop will help you hone in on the right tool:
Welders, Soldering Irons and Safety
Welders are available in either stick or wire configurations. Each type offers similar results but features different benefits for both novice and experienced users. You'll need to determine which welding processes you require for the applications and materials you work with most. Make sure the welder you choose is designed to perform the needed functions and provides as much versatility as possible. Soldering irons do not require you to sift through as many different types, but you'll need to understand what an iron's wattage level indicates as well as whether a gas or electric unit is right for you. Finally, whether you weld or solder, you'll need to adhere to some important safety guidelines to ensure proper use.
Welder Specifications: When selecting a welder, it is important to understand a little bit about its specifications. Be sure to look at the input voltage as you compare various units. Many welders use either AC or DC, though some use both. Bear in mind that DC welders use a wider range of electrodes but require their own generator, while AC units generally operate on a 220V household current. Output amperage is another important specification. It lets you know the maximum electrical current the welder can deliver. Duty cycle is a rating that indicates how many minutes out of ten a welder can produce its maximum output without overheating. For example, welders with a duty cycle rating of 60% can be operated for 6 minutes and then require 4 minutes to cool down before being used again.
Welder Types and Processes: First-time users will most likely want to use a wire welder. These tools are fairly simple to operate and offer increased portability. They feature a flux-core wire that provides a good, general-purpose welding medium. Moderate to experienced users may want to look at stick welders, which are more economical, while advanced users will appreciate the power of GTAW (also called TIG) welders, which use a tungsten electrode for high-quality, precision work. A variety of welding sticks are available, allowing you to find the perfect match for different metal types and welds. Welders may be either gas or electric, so consider which power source is most convenient when making your selection. Use the chart below to assess which welding processes might meet your needs:
|Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)||
|Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)||
|Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)||
|Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)||
|Submerged Arc Welding (SAW)||
Soldering Irons: Soldering irons are ideal for more delicate tasks. When deciding which one is best suited to your needs, keep in mind that units with higher wattages don't always provide more heat. They will, however, be more effective when working on bigger joints, since lower-wattage soldering irons lose heat more quickly. Soldering irons with temperature control give you the ability to increase the temperature to heat joints more quickly. They may be powered with gas or electricity. Gas- and battery-powered units provide portability, letting you easily move from job to job. For bench use you'll probably want an iron that plugs in, since they often provide the highest-quality performance. Chisel, bevel and conical tips each offer different benefits for different tasks.
Safety: Because they get very hot and generate sparks, welders should be operated with great care. Some units keep the wire electronically cold until the trigger is pulled, preventing flying sparks in the event of accidental contact with any surfaces prior to beginning your work. When you're working with heavy-gauge material, welders with thermostatic overload protection prevent overheating that can cause damage. Using a helmet and eye protection is vital to safe operation. Helmets with an auto-darkening lens protect you from bright flares while simultaneously providing excellent visibility. Make sure a helmet fully covers your head and neck and doesn't leave room for sparks to get in between the bottom of the helmet and the top of your shirt or apron.
Gas Tank: Welders with gas tanks provide a protective shield of gas, often a mixed gas or carbon dioxide, around the welding area to keep away debris and materials that might contaminate and weaken your weld.
Circuit Breakers: Look for welders with input circuit breakers and other protections that keep the wiring and motor safe if something prevents the wire from feeding through smoothly.
Helmets: Welding helmets may be solar or battery powered. Many automatically adjust the tint of the lens to offset sudden increases in brightness on the welding surface, and some do so in as little as 1/25,000 of a second to minimize discomfort.
Thermostatic Control: Soldering irons with this feature give you the ability to adjust the heat up for tougher jobs and down for more delicate tasks.
Continuous Control: Welders with continuous control enable you to make infinite minute adjustments for working with thinner materials.
Conversion Kits: Purchase a special conversion kit for your welder and expand its functionality, allowing you to handle more diverse materials and accomplish a wider range of tasks.
Make sure you have plenty of solder and flux on hand for all your welding and soldering tasks.
Ensure safe operation of your welder with the purchase of a good welding helmet and gloves.