The TIG welder, also known as GTAW (Gas tungsten arc welding), has always been an excellent companion for my metal works. I have been enjoying clean, beautiful and strong metal joints ever since I started using this tool. It will help you obtain neat and precise joints in metal fabrication projects in the shortest possible time.
However, choosing the best TIG welder from so many choices can be a difficult nut to crack, especially if you've limited information on their qualities and features. No worries, we've simplified your task by developing this buying guide. Here, we'll be reviewing the top 10 bang for the buck models on the market. This review contains every information you might need to make the right choice.
Why you should trust us
The Drillly team consists of a group of experienced wood and metalworkers. We launched this website 5 years back in a bid to spread real-life user information through reviews and how-to blogs on power tools. We want to get connected with both professional and amateur users and help them derive up-to-date information on their tools. The Drillly team also conducts researches on work-friendly power tool designs that will elevate the skills of the worker while simultaneously reducing work time.
For that matter, we've developed a research protocol that scrutinizes products from different perspectives in terms of the range of their applications, ergonomics, performance and technical excellence. Our research results are easily accessible (you will find that below) and always made public. Hence, our reviews are objective, unbiased and reliable.
Besides, we are not connected with any power tool brand for product promotion. However, we receive a small amount when anyone buys a product from our platform, that is barely enough to support this website. So, buckle up, let's see what we have here for you.
How We picked these products
The Drillly team consists of a group of Americans that have been doing all kinds of woodwork and metalwork for years. Some of our team members are also expert TIG welders who have a patient hand needed for this type of welding. Over the years, we got accustomed to different makes and models of TIG system, and we were already kind of sure of the products that might top the list when we had decided to prepare the reviews.
But in an effort to make it reliable and bias-free, we had to follow the standard testing procedure that we adhered to for all other product reviews on this site, whether that was a magnetic drill press or a concrete saw or any other tool used in carpentry and metalworking. First, with the help of online research, we identified 24 top quality TIG machines that people were regularly using all over the USA. After that, we spent almost 3 months vigorously testing each of these welders in our machine shop.
If you are already familiar with our review process, you can guess that we had involved a volunteer team to get their valuable feedback as well. Our volunteers were welding professionals and home-based DIY enthusiasts who had also considered our main criteria for the selection of these products, including their input power, amperage range, performance per amperage, heat control, AC/DC compatibility, balance control, solid duty cycle, torch changes, ergonomic design, costs, and ease of operation. We ran a comparison analysis with all these data.
Afterwards, we had collected all the info on these models from our team members as well as our community-based volunteers, eventually preparing this top 10 list. As you can see, to come up with our list of the top 10 TIG welders, we had collated and analyzed the various data we gathered from web research, experts, and reports from community-based volunteers. So, we are very confident that you can rely on this list while shopping for a TIG metal joiner.
Our Top 10 Best TIG Welder List
TIG welders come with a variety of options that determines its level of application and price. While some can handle home projects, others are suitable for industrial and heavy-duty tasks. We categorized our top models based on their types, power, ease of use, balance control, and many more factors to help you find the best TIG welder in the world as per your own requirements!
What is TIG welding?
TIG is an acronym for Tungsten Inert Gas. It uses a tungsten electrode in the production of the weld. The electrodes and the metal joining area are shielded from oxidation and other contaminants in the atmosphere by using filler metal and helium or argon gas. However, this shielding is not required in autogenous welds.
The electrical energy is supplied to the arc through a rod known as plasma which is saturated by metal vapors and ionized gases. TIG joiners are mostly used when you are carrying out fabrication work on metals like magnesium, copper, aluminum, and lightweight stainless steel.
One of the greatest advantages of this machine is that you will have absolute control over the process than what you would have had while using other methods like shielded metal arc welding or gas metal arc welding. In addition, you will enjoy a much stronger, beautiful, and high-quality finish. However, it takes much time and effort to master.
There are two common metal joining technologies available in the industry: TIG and MIG welding.
When do you need TIG and MIG welders?
Tungsten inert gas welding (TIG) functions through a long rod that links with the metal. Metal inert gas welding (MIG) joins metal when a wire touches the metals consistently. I will be considering the differences between these two types to help you to understand the one you may need at any time.
- Method of Operation: MIG machines can be operated with one hand. The hot flame will introduce a gap that will be filled by the wire immediately to create a join. You have to use two hands to work with TIG. While you will hold the torch in one hand, the other hand will be for the filler element. The metal is melted at the joint, while the filler seals the gap and the join is created.
- Ease of Use: MIG welding kits are much easier to use. Inexperienced workers can master the art within a short time. Whereas, TIG machines require much training and experience before you can get a perfect result.
- Welding time: You can cover a series of welding projects within a short time with MIG machines. TIG models are ten times slower if you’re using the equal time for the two techniques.
- Aesthetics and precision: In terms of neatness, aesthetics, and accuracy of the joints, TIGs are simply amazing. MIG joints do not look as good and require many finishing touches like scraping and grinding to make it clean.
- Aluminum welding: It is easier to melt aluminum with TIG than with MIG models. You will require a spool gun or push-pull torch which can be expensive before melting aluminum with MIG models.
- Tacking: It is easier to tack weld metals with MIGs than with TIGs. This because TIGs can only be operated with two hands.
If you want to achieve a polished finishing on your steel or aluminum metals, then you should opt for a TIGs. However, if you have a bulk delivery to make on steel only, then you should use MIGs.
Things to consider when buying a TIG system
If you are interested in obtaining a beautiful and neat finishing for your aluminum joints, you should consider TIG system. However, shopping for these products can be difficult if you’re unaware of most of its quality features. These are the factors you must keep in mind if you want to buy and use a TIG welder.
1. Input power
Many of the TIG welders can work with both 240V and 110V input power. They are highly versatile and can be used with either of the two power levels interchangeably. Moreover, low power units are more suitable for smaller projects while bigger and heavy-duty projects require high-powered models.
2. Amperage range
The wider the amperage range of the welder the better the model. A good model should have an amperage range from 5 to 230 amps. You should understand that each metal requires its own levels of current. So, the wider the amperage, the more the type of metals that the machine can handle. Note that more amperage is needed for aluminum joining than that for steel.
3. Performance at low amperage
The machine's ability to perform at a low amperage is another crucial factor to consider. Low amperage is any value less than 10A. At this level of current, the machine will have better stability and arc control, ease of starting, and improved finishing.
Since TIG welding is suitable for lightweight metals, you could burn the workpiece if the amperage is too high. Starting the arc at a low frequency is the right method for working with thinner metals.
The level of stability will determine the finishing and beauty of the joint. TIG machines allow you to fill the weld crater as you are about to finish by dropping the output amperage. This stability in the gradual reduction of the output power is very suitable for joining aluminum.
4. AC/DC compatibility
A regular TIG welder should have both AC DC outputs to allow you to join different materials successfully. DC current is needed in welding steel or stainless materials.
AC current is used for melting high-reactive metals like aluminum or magnesium. The two negative and positive cycles of the AC work by ionizing the metal and negating the effects of oxidation respectively.
In explaining this, it is the negative cycle of the AC that welds the metal while the positive cycle protects and cleans the joint.
5. Heat control
Thin metals can become warped when you don’t have the proper control of the heat. To minimize this effect, you should use pulse welding. This is a process were the machine alternates between a high and low current. Thus, by using pulse effect, the arc is stabilized while the metal receives a lower heat.
6. Types of Arc start
A TIG system uses specific methods to start an arc. It is your duty to choose a machine that suits your arc start preference. It could use the high frequency technique to start the arc. This occurs at the point of contact between the metal and the tungsten electrode.
Another method is the scratch start technique in which you scratch the electrode on the metal to start the arc. This method is easy to learn but has a disadvantage of contaminating the weld with its residue.
The last but not the least is the lift start technique which only differs from the scratch start because of its tendency to prolong the lifespan of the machine by preventing the scratching of the electrode.
7. Balance control for AC operation
A good model should have a setting for balancing the AC operation. This control is done by setting the duration for each of the AC cycles. By this, you can prolong or shorten any of the cycles to obtain your target results.
Many of the TIG welders on sale are designed to balance the AC operation automatically by adjusting the output power. If you can afford the types with auto balance control, then you have gotten for yourself a worthy product; since it will help improve the quality and look of your weld. However, most of the inexpensive TIG models on the market are equipped with manual control buttons or foot pedal controls.
8. Solid duty cycle
The output and duration at which a machine can operate over a 10-minute window are known as the solid duty cycle. This factor is used to determine how long a machine can run before it can rest or be cool. For example, a 40% duty cycle machine with 200A will operate for 4 minutes before it can be cooled.
Most of the low priced TIG welder models come with lower duty cycles because of their low input and output power. The expensive TIG models have duty cycles of 60% and above. In most cases, solid duty cycles are determined by the price of the product. You should spend some money to get a model with a high solid duty cycle.
9. Ease of operation
It takes much skill and time before you can master TIG welding. However, your machine can be made in a manner that you can use with ease. The control knobs should be easily accessible and easy to understand.
10. Ergonomic design
An ergonomic design will not only simplify your ability to work with the machine but will guarantee your safety as well. Such machines should be designed with a foot pedal for the amperage control while your eyes are fixed at the work.
11. Torch changes
Torches are exclusive to the type of metal. You can get a TIG system with the option for an interchangeable torch which is an enhancement on its flexibility.
Generally, TIG welders are expensive because of their unique features. However, there are inexpensive models that are suitable for some home projects. The ones with complete features are relatively expensive. The good thing is, you will always find one that suits your budget and specification.
1. HF Start vs Lift Start
You will notice that while some models have HF start, others have Lift start. However, we will help you to understand why it is so. The first stage of TIG welding is the initiation of the arc. The arc that exists between the metal and the tungsten electrode is what melts the metal. This arc can be started either by touching the metal or not.
Lift start TIG welders require you to contact the metals before the arc is initiated. Those TIG welders that allow you to start the arc without touching the metal are those with HF start. However, there is one that requires you to scratch the metal like when scratching the matches with the match stick to start the arc. This method is called the scratch start. You should know that this method often contaminates the metal with debris and gives a poor finishing. HF start is mostly preferred since it produces the expected results.
2. Pulse width
This is the duration of TIG welder’s negative or positive cycles. The pulse width control knob helps you to control your weld’s quality by regulating how long the output can remain in a negative or positive cycle.
3. Pre-flow time
The pre-flow control knob allows you to determine the period between arc initiation and the flowing of the shielding gas.
4. Post-flow time
The post-flow control knob allows you to determine the time it takes for the shield gas to stop flowing after the termination of the arc.
5. Pulse amperage
This is the highest value of the pulse per time. The pulse amperage control knob is often used to setting the AC output current based on the type of metal to weld.
The introduction of TIG welders as against the predominantly industrial welders has been a major relief. There are various types of this system on the market, but the major problem lies in your ability to choose the best TIG welder that suits your needs and budget.
In most cases, the price does not match with quality. So, if you believe that you will get a good model by just spending money to buy the expensive type, you may be heading the wrong track. You should understand that cheap may not mean poor quality and neither does expensive mean the highest in quality. In comparing the Lotos TIG200 with Hobart 500551, you will observe that while the latter is more expensive, the former is better in terms of performance and quality features. Aside from the price, you should always look at the quality features of the product.
Moreover, our top aluminum TIG welder for the money went to the AHP AlphaTIG 200DX. This is because it produces both AC and DC output voltages. The AC output is needed in the aluminum weld. Also, it has a wide amperage range which can be controlled to suit each metal.
We are confident that by now you have the answer to your query: what is the best tig welder for you. Happy shopping!