We Review the Best TIG Welders of 2017
As a welder I'm sure you would agree:
TIG is probably one of the most difficult types of welding there is.
It requires a high degree of dexterity. The finished weld needs to be clean and structurally sound. And in many cases welds must meet strict code and standards requirements.
Your equipment is only one part of the equation, but quality matters. After all, it's where the rubber meets the road.
In this post we'll highlight the top performing TIG welders in three popular power categories. By the time you're finished reading, you will know exactly what you need.
What We'll Be Covering:
- crucial features that any unit you're considering should have
- features that are optional for most users
- the top performing models below 200 Amps, between 200-250 Amps and 250 Amps and up
Our Best Tig Welders of 2017
Feel free to jump around. The menu below will take you directly to the section or category of your choice.
While price is ALWAYS a consideration, it’s important to look at all sides of the equation when investing in an expensive tool. A budget machine might be great if you’re a hobbyist looking to supplement a MIG machine, but it won’t have the flexibility and power needed for larger applications.
We’ve ranked all the machines in our comparison based on a variety of factors including features, price, performance, and durability. Some will have added benefits including portability.
You’ll have to decide on which is best for you based on your specific needs. With that in mind here are some important features you should consider in any TIG machine.
Important Features of a TIG Welder
In the past few years more and more TIG welders are appearing on the scene from overseas. Some of these are quality products, while others are straight up junk. Here are the most important features, capabilities, and functions you should look for as well as what to avoid.
One of the first specifications to look at on any TIG your considering is the amperage range. Ideally you'll want the widest possible range for the best possible price. A narrow range will limit the types of materials with which you'll be able to work.
A machine with an amperage range between 5A - 230A will allow you to weld anything from 1/4" aluminum all the way down to 24 gauge steel.
Knowing ahead of time the types and thicknesses of metals you'll be working with will allow you to get the most bang for your buck.
Performance at Low Amperage
In addition to a flexible amperage range, stability at low amperage is also very important. Low amperage would be considered anything below 10A. This provides 3 specific benefits:
- Better arc control and stability
- Easier starting
- Better crater fill ability
TIG welding is typically performed on thinner materials. If the starting amperage is too high you risk torching the material or burning clean through. The ability to start the arc without high frequency or hot starts is an especially important feature when working with these thin materials.
Stability is just as important during welding as it is during the start. When working with more delicate materials the last thing you want is to burn it right off the bat or have the arc dance around on you.
Finally, stability is also important at the finish of a weld. It's common practice in TIG welding to drop the output amperage as your finishing to fill in the weld crater. Stability during this gradual reduction in output is crucial. This is especially true when working with aluminum which can crack if the weld puddle is too thick (concave) or cools too quickly.
AC & DC Capability
Getting a machine that is capable of offering both AC and DC output gives you the most flexibility in the types of materials you can weld. To weld hard materials like steel or stainless you'll need DC (direct current).
For metals that are self-oxidizing such as magnesium or aluminum you'll need AC (alternating current) capability. As the name suggests, AC alternates between positive and negative. This is serves two different but crucial roles while welding self-oxidizing metals. The positive half cleans away oxidation as it appears. The negative half works it's way into the metal itself.
The simplest explanation is this: the negative half of the cycle performs the welding, while the positive half cleans the surface of the weld, exposing the base metal beneath.
Balance Control for AC Operation
An absolute must-have for any AC TIG welder is balance control. AC balance control allows you to set the duration of each cycle of the alternating current. This enables you to shorten or lengthen the "cleaning cycle" or the "welding cycle" to suit the metal (more oxidized) and application with which you're working. At a minimum you should look for a machine that offers manual balance control.
Some TIG welders will offer automatic balance control that adjusts with the output amperage. If your budget allows for it, this is the ideal. This will help improve both the look and the overall quality of your welds.
Another critical feature is to be able to accurately control the heat. When working with thinner or more delicate materials too much heat can warp the metal. Pulse welding is one way of minimizing warpage. When pulse welding the unit will alternate between a lower and higher peak current. This pulse effect allows the arc to remain stable while reducing the heat applied to the material.
If your budget will allow, this is a great feature to have.
Solid Duty Cycle
Duty cycle is a measurement of how long a machine can run at a given output in a ten minute window. So a 200A machine with a 40% duty cycle could run for 4 minutes at 200A before needing to be cooled.
Less expensive models will have lower duty cycles (20% or lower) as they have smaller power supplies. Higher quality TIGs will have duty cycles upwards of 60%.
Price plays a large role in this feature. Bigger power supplies or more efficient units generally cost more. If you're going to need a machine that can reliably run at 60%, don't skimp or cut it close. You'll ultimately be disappointed.
Simple Operation & Ergonomic Design
TIG welding in general requires a high degree of skill. But that doesn't mean that your machine needs to be complicated. In fact it should be as user friendly as possible with controls that are well laid out and easy to learn.
Accessories such as a foot pedal that allows for amperage control is a most definitely a plus. This allows you to increase or decrease the amperage output without looking up from your work.
If you're planning on welding aluminum a amperage control foot pedal is a must-have. At the start of the weld the metal can be quite cool and require more power. By the time you reach the end of the weld the aluminum will have heated and your amperage will need to be lowered.
Hand controls are fine, but imagine trying to drive your car without the use of your foot accelerator. It would unnecissarily complicate things. If you're serious about welding, invest in a unit that comes with a foot pedal, or buy one separately.
Our Top Picks Below 200 Amps
We'll start by looking at some units at the lower end of the power spectrum.
Winner: Miller Maxstar 150 Review
The Miller Maxstar 150 is a DC only unit that comes in at a featherweight 13.5 lbs (compared to 50 on the Hobart!). It’s capable of operating at 110v or 220v with an amperage range of 5A to 150A. It works on steel ranging from 0.020 in (0.5 mm) to 3/16 in (4.8 mm). The duty cycle is 30% at 150A but jumps to 100% at 100A meaning this little beast can go all day long. Switching from 110 to 220 is as simple as switching out a plug.
Miller has been making quality welding equipment and plasma cutters for decades. If you’re looking for a TIG machine to form the backbone of your operation you can’t go wrong with the Maxstar 150. In fact, if you need a portable unit, there’s nothing out there better, period. Check out our full review.
Second Place: Hobart EZ TIG 165i Review
The EZ TIG 165i from Hobart is their entry level TIG welder. It offers both AC & DC functionality and operates at 230V. Compared to the Miller this guy is a boat anchor as it comes in at 50lbs.
As far as controls go it doesn't get any more simple than the EZ Tig. There is one dial for adjusting your amperage. This is adjustable between 10 and 165 Amps. And there is a single switch for AC or DC operation.
The EZ TIG 165i comes with a foot pedal for easy control during operation. It also offers a high frequency start allowing for a non-contact arc start. It also incorporates a couple nice features for extending the longevity of the unit. The first is a fan on demand function that helps to reduce the amount of potential debris that gets pulled into the unit for cooling. The second is an automatic high temperature shutdown feature.
The duty cycle on the 165i is 20% at 150A. This jumps up to 100% at just above 50A output. Compared to the Miller, the Hobart doesn't offer the same level of performance, but it's still a solid machine and comes with several accessories that are extra with the Miller (such as the foot pedal).
Budget Pick: Everlast PowerTIG 185
The Everlast PowerTIG 185 is the budget pick of this group. At 30lbs it is more portable than the Hobart but still fairly heavy. It is both AC and DC capable. It utilizes a IGBT inverter which provides for a stable arc down to 5A DC and 20A AC. It incorporates a post flow time control as well as both AC frequency control and balance control. It operates only at 220V.
The PowerTIG has a 35% duty cycle at 185A and jumps to 100% at 110A. Another nice feature is that this unit can also be used as a stick welder. See our full review.
Our Top Picks 200 Amps Category
#1. AHP AlphaTIG 200DX Review
First place in the 200 amp category goes to the AlphaTIG 200DX This a legitimately powerful machine. It comes in at 38 lbs. It’s AC/DC so it can handle steel and aluminum. It will handle up to 1/4″ aluminum and 3/8″ mild steel. It also uses a IGBT inverter and features a high frequency start. The 200DX also offers both 110v and 220v operation so it’s got a good bit of flexibility.
The price tag is surprisingly low given the amount of power you get with this machine. That said the unit also offers incredibly good performance. Arc stability is fantastic. Heck it even offers 60% cycle duty at 200A. Pretty much blows away everything in it’s price class. If you’re looking for a budget machine, you can go wrong with the AHP.
#2. Miller Dynasty 210
Second place goes to the Dynasty 210 from Miller. There is a significant price jump between this and the AlphaTIG, but Miller has long been considered one of the absolute best manufacturers out there. This is the type of machine you can build a business around.
It offers amazing flexibility with an amperage range from 1A-210A. It can handle steel from 0.002 in. (0.05 mm) – 1/4 in. (6.4 mm) and aluminum from 0.012 in. (0.3 mm) – 1/4 in. (6.4 mm). The duty cycle is 60% at 210A and it can handle single or three phase power. At 47lbs it’s no lightweight but it offers unparalleled performance and durability. It is a SERIOUS investment, but should serve you for years to come.
#3. Eastwood ProTig 200 Review
The unit operates on both 110v and 220v and has a duty cycle of 20% at 200A. Pre and post gas are adjustable. And so is the AC balance for welding aluminum. It offers both remote foot pedal and control.
If you’re looking for a budget unit that’s got some power, this is a good unit. But it’s duty cycle is considerably lower than the AHP so that’s the route we would go.
Our Top Picks 250 Amps Category
#1. Everlast PowerTIG 250EX Review
First place in the 250A category goes to the Everlast PowerTIG 250EX. It offers plenty of power and versatility when it comes to adjusting your welding settings. To take full advantage of all this power you will need a TIG cooler to go along with this unit. On aluminum especially it offers a stable and smooth arc that starts very easily. The 250EX also works with both single and three phase power.
It offers both HF and lift start capability and has an impressive 40% duty cycle at 250A. At 200A that jumps to 100%. The pre and post flows offer a wide range of adjustment. All in all it’s a very solid machine when you need a great deal of power.
#2. Everlast PowerPro 256S
It utilizes an Infineon IGBT inverter and offers AC and DC capability. Duty cycle is 35% at 250A and jumps to 100% at 160A. It offers both pre and post flow adjustments as well as AC balance adjustments. It offers only a HF start and operates on single phase power only.
Used as a plasma cutter is it capable of clean cuts on up to 3/4″ steel. It has a duty cycle of 60% at 60A and 100% at 50A which is pretty impressive for any plasma cutter. If you’re looking for a highly flexible TIG/cutter this is a great choice at a great price.
#3. Miller Syncrowave 250DX Review
Coming in at number three is the Miller Syncrowave 250DX. To be fair this is probably the most robust and reliable unit in the 250A group, but it is considerably more expensive than both Everlast models and doesn’t offer some of the flexibility of the first two. That being said, if you’re going to buy a TIG welder to build a business around, this guy will offer you performance and reliability that is unmatched.
It’s a single phase AC/DC with an amperage range from 3A all the way up to 310A. It can handle steel from 0.012 in. (0.3 mm) – 1/2 in. (12.7 mm) and aluminum from 0.015 in. (0.4 mm) – 3/8 in. (9.5 mm). It offers a 40% duty cycle at 250A and 60% at 200A. The 250 has AC balance control and several nice memory features to recall your most recent settings, even when switching back and forth between AC and DC. It also has a digital readout for amperage and voltage that shows the presets as well as the actual outputs allowing greater accuracy and repeatability.
Miller builds a quality product. And while the 250DX doesn’t offer some of the performance (duty cycle etc) it is designed to last forever. If you’re looking for a production/commercial TIG welder this guy is built to handle all you can throw at it.
Common Mistakes When Purchasing TIG Welders
Here are a few of the more common mistakes people make when buying a TIG machine;
- Improper input voltage: Make sure you understand what your power capabilities are. Some welders operate on both 110v and 220v. The power output at 110v will be significantly less than at 220v. Some machines also operate on single or 3 phase power. Make sure to check the input voltage of the unit you want to ensure it matches up with what’s available where you’ll be using the unit.
- Unnecessary functions: If you’re not going to be welding aluminum or magnesium, you don’t need a unit with AC capabilities. This can add significantly to the cost.
- Cooling Units: Larger welders like the Everlast 256S will require separate cooling equipment to get the full power out of the machine. This adds significantly to the cost. Make sure you know if the unit you pick needs a cooling unit to maximize it’s duty cycle and output.
- Understand Power Demands: If you think you might require more power from your unit at some point in the future make sure to build this into your decision. Spending a little bit more now is better than having to invest in a bigger machine down the road.
- Overkill: While there are worse problems than buying more machine than you need, it’s easy to get carried away when buying heavy equipment. If you’re a hobbyist, going with a unit with plenty of power and a lower duty cycle can help you save some money.
Finding the best TIG welder for your needs should be a balance of features and price. We hope you have found our reviews helpful.