MIG Wedling is typically thought of as the easiest type of welding to perform. It's much more forgiving than TIG welding and is much easier to master than stick welding.
There are quite a few high quality MIG welding machines on the market and they come in a wide range of prices. Finding the best MIG welder for YOU depends on a number of factors. We'll dig into these factors and a lot more below.
In this article we'll be reviewing the top MIG capable welders for a variety of jobs. We'll break them down into a few categories to help make your decision a bit easier.
For the purposes of this guide we're going to divide the welders into a few categories based on their intended use and capabilities. Someone getting into hobby welding or taking care of little things around the house might have a different set of needs (and budget) than someone looking for a production/industrial capable unit.
The best place to start when determining your needs is the type of material you'll most commonly be working with. This will give you a good idea of the capabilities your MIG welder will need. Here are a few of the more common materials DIYer work with when welding.
Type of Work
Typical Metal Thickness
3/16" - 1/4"
Cars, motorcycles, boats
1/16" - 1/8"
3/16" or less
Ranch/Farm or landscaping
5/16" - 3/8"
Fencing, trailers frames
1/4" - 5/16"
Thick structural components
3/8" and greater
You most likely already have a budget in mind, but you should consider several important factors before settling on the best unit for your needs. Keep in mind the welder itself is only part of the overall investment. You'll also need safety equipment like gloves and helmet as well as consumables and gas (for MIG welding)
The thicker the material you're planning to weld the more power you'll require. Someone who will be working exclusively with auto bodies won't need nearly as much power as someone working on heavy structural components.
Typically the more power a unit offers the higher it's price. You'll want to give careful consideration to how much power you currently need and whether or not this might change in the future. If you can afford to buy a machine with power beyond your current requirements you can save yourself from purchasing a larger machine at a later date.
Duty cycle is measured as the amount of time a welding machine can operate a specific load within 10 minutes. So a machines with a 60% duty cycle at 150A can run for 6 minutes before it will need to cool down.
Larger transformers and power supplies increase the overall cost of a welder but also increase the duty cycle allowing you to work longer and more efficiently.
Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding, also known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) has been around since World War II. It was devised as a way to help speed up production of war materials such as weaponry, ships, and aircraft.
Another term you'll seen thrown around is Flex-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW). Many of the machines we'll be reviewing in this guide are capable of both types of welds.
Before we jump into the machines let's take a quick look at how MIG welders work and how they differ from stick and TIG welders.
Of all the types of welding MIG is generally considered to be the easiest to learn.
MIG welders operate by using a wire welding electrode on a spool. This wire is automatically fed at through the gun at a preset speed determined by the user. Electrical current is created between the metal to be welded and the wire. The weld is created when the arc melts this wire, joining it with metal.
This produces a weld that is both visually very clean and extremely strong. By closely controlling the voltage and amperage you can work on a wide range of metal thicknesses. MIG welds will work on anything from 26 gauge auto body sheet metal to much thicker metals and work with steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
So where does the gas come into play? Great question.
Inert gases such as helium and argon are fed through the gun and are used to protect the weld from contaminants in the atmosphere. The need for uncontaminated air around the weld generally necessitates that MIG welds are performed indoors (or at the very least in calm conditions).
Here's a quick video demonstrating a basic MIG Weld.
Flux-core arc welding is similar to MIG but doesn't require any shielding gas. This type of welding is ideal for outdoor or windy conditions where the gas from a MIG welder would become too dissipated to properly protect the metal. It's also very effective when working with dirty materials. This coupled with it's speed and portability makes flux-core popular in construction projects.
Both MIG and Flux-Cored are very easy to learn and can create extremely clean welds on steel, aluminum and stainless. Both types have the capability to weld materials as thin as 26-gauge.
MIG welders in this category are capable of working with material up to 1/4" (and some even more). They're ideal for light shop work, general repairs, auto body work, and ranch work like fencing.
For many users in this category portability is as important as duty cycle as they need a machine they can haul around with them for a wide variety of welding tasks.
As this is also the most popular range for beginners it's important to find a unit that offers flexible controls that are easy to operate. Many of the units in this category are priced under $500 and offer great value.
In this category and price range you'll find MIG welders that utilize both inverter and transformer technology. Most of the cheaper Chinese models out there utilize inverters. And while they can be more efficient, they offer suffer from quality control issues. That's not to say all inverters are bad, just that they're not all made the same.
We recently did a write-up on the Handler 140 MIG welder from Hobart. This is a machine we've been using for the last six months. While it's only rated to work with 1/4" metals with a little grinding and a few passes we were able to reliably weld 5/16" materials.
Here are some highlights of the Handler 140:
Setup and use are simple even for those that are new to MIG welding. Hobart includes a handy chart that helps you match the wire type to the material thickness you'll be welding.
All connections are quick, easy, and sturdy. You can literally go from un-boxing the unit to welding in minutes.
While it's rated for up to 1/4" steel the Handler will reliably weld in a single pass. It takes a bit of practice and those new to welding can still achieve great results by making multiple passes or hitting both sides of the joint.
We were able to weld 5/16" material with a bit of grinding and joint prep. This will DEFINITELY require multiple passes.
While the Handler 140 is undeniably very versatile, it's not intended for heavy fabrication work. If this is what you need take a look at our Hobart Handler 190 review. It's better suited to materials above 1/4".
If you’re looking for a reliable and portable welder for fences, auto body work, thinner structural materials and a variety of other tasks, the 140 is the ideal machine for you. The transformer-based power source may not be as advanced or as efficient as the newer inverter-based models, but transformers are solid, powerful, and reliable. The Handler 140 is a solid investment.
As you move up into the higher power units it's typical to also see a corresponding price jump. Razorweld is bucking this trend. The ViperMIG is a dual-voltage machine (115v & 220v) that utilizes a highly-efficient inverter to create lots of power, a clean weld, and has an impressive 30% duty cycle at 180 amps.
Here are a few highlights of the ViperMIG:
It's capable of working with any of the following wire sizes. 0.025 / 0.03 / 0.035 / 0.039(in.)
Setting up the ViperMIG takes just a few minutes. Simply turn on the power source by selecting either the MIG or ARC function. Then connect the output cables. You'll find two different sockets. When using the ARC welding function you'll typically connect the electrode holder to the negative socket, while the ground is connected to the positive (DC polarity). Just keep in mind that different electrodes call for different polarities.
Next set the output voltage based on the electrode type and size. This is typically specified by the electrode manufacturer. After that you're ready to weld.
The performance of the unit is very much dependent upon the voltage available. If 220V is available you'll get more power, and more efficient operation. That said, it performs remarkably well using 115V.
Here is a link to the manual.
There are certainly more powerful machines out there in this category, but many of them are 50% more expensive (or more).