What You Will Get Here
- Understanding TIG welding
- When Do You Need a TIG Welder and When a MIG Welder?
- Things to Consider When Buying the Best TIG Welder
- How Did We Pick the Best?
- Our Top 10 List
- Best Overall: 2018 AHP AlphaTIG 200X 200 Amp IGBT AC DC TIG/Stick Welder
- Best Budget Choice: 2017 EVERLAST PowerARC 160STH 160amp HF TIG Stick IGBT Welder
- Best for Home Use: TIG Welder, DC, Maxstar 150 STL, 115/230V AC
- Best Lift Start TIG Welder: EVERLAST PowerARC 140 140amp Lift Start TIG / Stick IGBT Welder Dual Voltage
- A List of 6 Other TIG Welders We Reviewed
- List of Other Products We Tested
- Useful Terms You Should Know
Understanding 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 weld area are shielded from oxidation and other contaminants in the atmosphere by using a 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. The TIG welder is 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 using the best TIG welder is that you will have absolute control over the weld than 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 weld. However, it takes much time and effort to master TIG welding techniques and the welding speed is slower than other welding techniques . There are two common welding technologies available in the industry: TIG and MIG welding.
When Do You Need a TIG Welder and When a MIG Welder?
Tungsten inert gas welding (TIG) performs the weld through a long rod that links with the metal. Metal inert gas welding (MIG) welds when a wire touches the metals consistently. I will be considering the differences between these two welders to help you to understand the one you may need at any time.
- Method of Operation: MIG welding can be operated with one hand. The hot flame will introduce a gap which will be filled by the wire immediately to create a join. You can only use two hands to weld 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 welders are much easier to use. Inexperienced welders can master the art within a short time. Whereas, TIG welders require much training and experience before you can get a perfect weld.
- Welding time: You can cover a series of welding projects within a short time with MIG weld. TIG welders are rather slow. In fact, it is ten times slower than MIG welders if you’re using the equal time for the two techniques.
- Beauty and precision: In terms of neatness, beauty, and accuracy of the joints, TIG welders is the best. MIG joints do not look as good as TIG’s and require many finishing touches like scraping and grinding to make it clean.
- Aluminum welding: It is easier to weld aluminum with TIG than with MIG welders. You will require a spool gun or push-pull torch which can be expensive before welding aluminum with MIG welders.
- Tacking: It is easier to tack weld metals with MIG welders than with TIG. This because TIG welders can only be operated with two hands.
If you want to achieve a polished weld on your steel or aluminum metals, then you should opt for a TIG welder. However, if you have a bulk delivery to make on steel only, then you should use MIG welders.
Things to Consider When Buying the Best TIG Welder
If you are interested in obtaining a beautiful and neat finishing for your aluminum welds, you should consider buying the best TIG welder. However, shopping for these products can be difficult if you’re unaware of most of its quality features. These are the factors that you must keep in mind if you want to buy and use a TIG welder.
1. Input Power
Many of the TIG welders on sale can work with both 240V and 110V input power. Such a welder is highly versatile since it can be used with either of the two power levels interchangeably. Moreover, low power welders are more suitable for smaller projects while bigger and heavy-duty projects require high-powered welders.
2. Amperage Range
The wider the amperage range of the welder the better the model. A good TIG welder 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 with aluminum weld than steel.
3. Performance at Low Amperage
The ability of the machine to perform at low amperage is another important factor to consider. Low amperage in this case is any value that is less than 10A. At this level of current, the machine will have better stability and arc control, ease of starting, and improved finishing.
Since it is more suitable to perform TIG welding on lightweight metals, you could burn the work piece if the amperage is too high. Starting the arc at low frequency is the best method for working with thinner metals.
The level of stability will determine the finishing and beauty of the weld. TIG welders 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 useful in an aluminum weld.
4. AC/DC Compatibility
A good TIG welder should have AC and DC outputs to allow you weld different materials successfully. DC current is needed in welding steel or stainless materials.
AC current is used for welding 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 weld.
5. Heat Control
Thin metals can become warped when you don’t have the proper control of 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. Type of Arc Start
A TIG welder will use specific methods to start an arc. It is your duty to choose a machine that suits your arc start preference. A TIG welder 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 TIG welder 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 cheap TIG welder 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 budget TIG welder models come with lower duty cycles because of their low input and output power. The expensive TIG welders 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
This is a must have for a top-rated TIG welder. A good ergonomics design will not only simplify your ability to work with the machine but will guarantee your safety as well. The best aluminum TIG welder for the money should be designed with a foot pedal for the control of the amperage while your eyes are fixed at the work. Such features allow you to increase or reduce the amperage easily.
11. Torch Changes
Torches are exclusive to the type of metal. You can get TIG welder 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 low budget TIG welders 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.
How Did We Pick the Best?
The Drillly team consists of a group 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 welders, and we were already kind of sure of the products that might top the list when we had decided to prepare tig welder 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 welders 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.
Afterwards, we had collected all the info on these welders 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 the best TIG welder.
Our Top 10 List
TIG welders come with a variety of options which determines its level of application and price. While some can handle home projects, others are suitable for industrial and heavy-duty tasks. We have categorized our top TIG welders based on their types, power, ease of use, balance control and much more to assist you in buying the model that suits your preference.