5 Things to Look for When Buying a Portable Welding Machine

by Steve Darnell
portable welding machine

Portable welding machines make it possible to complete both major and minor welding projects from virtually anywhere. Whether you’re welding in the backyard, the scrapyard, a rail yard, or the next big skyscraper, a portable welding machine will be needed.

With so many options out there today, you might be wondering what the best portable welding machine for you is. This buyer’s guide will help you better understand the benefits of a portable welder, 5 key things to look for, and some questions you may want to consider before you make a decision.

5 Benefits of a Portable Welder

Amateur hobbyists and professional welders will agree that portable welders offer many unique benefits over conventional machines. Whether it’s the compact size, energy efficiency, or one of the many other benefits, buying a portable welding machine is a great choice. 

Here are five of the biggest benefits these machines have to offer.

Small Size and Lightweight

One of the biggest advantages of a portable welding machine is its compact size and lightness. Whether you’re a hobbyist working on projects around the house or an ironworker on a construction site, portable welding machines let you work from anywhere. 

Today’s machines are small and powerful. You can easily carry them with one hand like you’re walking with a briefcase, but they still have enough power to weld thicker pieces of metal. 

When working at home or on a job site, you might find yourself in some tight spots, especially if you need to repair part of a structure or frame. Due to its compact size, a portable welder can fit into those tight spaces with you making repairs so much easier. 

Best of all, a portable welder is a real space saver. When you’re not using it, it doesn’t take up too much room on the shelf in your garage or at the shop. That leaves you with some extra room to store other tools.

Better Energy Efficiency

Portable welders have smaller transformers and reactors than conventional machines, but they’re still plenty powerful. In fact, portable welding machines are often more energy-efficient than conventional welders. 

A portable machine’s output can range from 82% to 93%, whereas a conventional one has a power output range of 40% to 60%. A conventional welding machine requires more power to operate and ultimately takes longer to complete a job. As you can see, using a portable welder can help you waste less energy and save on costs.

Improved Productivity

With a portable welding machine, you can make the bead profile as wide as you like. This is something that isn’t possible with conventional machines. 

Portable welders apply electric drive semiconductor power devices to help give you precise control of the current. With more conventional machines, these adjustments need to be made manually and can impact arc stability and, ultimately, the quality of the weld. 

You can get more consistent welds each time, and you won’t need to deal with overheating or reworking the weld due to a poor or inconsistent arc.

Work From Anywhere

As the name implies, a portable welding machine makes it possible for you to work from anywhere. These machines are easy to transport between job sites and only need 110-volt outlets to operate. It’s easy to set up a generator outside and work from your truck’s tailgate if you have to.

If you’re going to be flux-cored arc welding, you won’t need to bring a bottle of shielding gas with you. A lot of welders on commercial and industrial job sites like working with portable welders because they can be used outdoors. Even with the wind swirling around, you can still get your work done without needing a bottle of shielding gas to protect the weld pool. 

Since you won’t need to keep any shielding gas nearby, portable welding machines make it easy to load up the truck at a moment’s notice if you ever get called to make an emergency repair.

Perfect for Hobbyists

A portable welder is a perfect machine for hobbyists and DIYers. You’ll be able to work on a variety of different projects without breaking the bank or needing a bunch of extra space around your home. 

A standard welding machine can be bulky, difficult to move around, and may require you to upgrade the electrical outlets around your home or shop to 220 volts. On the other hand, a portable welding machine often weighs less than 50 pounds and can run off your home’s standard outlets and wiring.

5 Things to Look for When Buying a Portable Welder

  1. Multiprocess Welding Capabilities

There are several different kinds of welding machines to buy. Machines can be built only to perform a specific type of welding like MIG, TIG, or stick. In most cases, a single process welding machine gives you more control to dial in the settings for that process. 

However, if you’re going to buy a single-process welder, you better be sure that’s the only type of welding you do. If not, you’ll need to have extra space around your shop to accommodate additional welding machines. 

In most cases, you should look for a multiprocess welding machine instead. As the name implies, these types of welders can be used to complete multiple processes like MIG or TIG, for instance. This type of welding machine can switch between different welding processes as needed without changing the external power source. 

Older multiprocess machines may only be able to accommodate two different processes. Many new machines, however, can perform all four primary methods of arc welding—stick, flux-cored, MIG, and TIG.

  1. Size and Weight

You should really consider where and how often you plan on using your machine. For the avid hobbyist or part-time user, a 29 pound, 110-volt welding machine can easily be stored on a shelf or transported in the back of your car. A bigger machine that weighs more than 100 pounds might not be as easy to load or unload and require a second set of hands. 

Ultimately, the main factor to consider is performance and making sure the machine can meet the demands of your projects. But even still, if you plan to regularly transport the machine and be on the go, making sure the machine is the right size, and weight for you can’t be overlooked. 

If you plan to buy a multiprocess machine that will need shielding gas for MIG and TIG welding, bottle portability is also something you need to consider. 

  1. Metal Thickness

Make sure to look at the specs sheet before you purchase a welding machine. Most manufacturers will highlight the different types of metals and thicknesses their machines are best suited for. 

If you’re an experienced welder or employed in the trade, you’ll likely have a good idea of what settings different materials require. If you aren’t sure, there are several resources online that will help you identify what level of amperage is needed for different types and thicknesses of metals.

  1. Power Input

One of the most critical considerations when buying a portable welding machine is the power input. Generally speaking, the more welding power your machine can create, the more electricity it needs to run. Before buying a machine, consider your current electrical setup and what type of work you’ll be doing.

Most entry-level portable welders will run off your home’s standard 110-volt outlet. These machines will have enough power to perform light fabrication and construction jobs, maintenance, and general repairs. If you want to complete autobody repairs or larger projects around a farm, you’ll need a machine with 220 volts.

But even that might not be enough. If you’re buying a portable welding machine for shipbuilding, heavy construction, or railway projects—you’ll need something that goes up to 460 volts or higher.

To make it simple for you, anything involving basic projects can get by with a 110-volt portable welding machine. Any medium to heavy industrial projects will need something with some serious power and at least 220 volts.

  1. Power Output

Power output is another important factor to consider when buying a portable welder. Generally speaking, this is measured by the amperage at which the machine can operate. The higher the amperage, the deeper the arc can penetrate the metal being welded. 

You’ll want to consider what types of materials you work with most often and make sure that the machine you plan to purchase is capable of handling them.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Portable Welder 

If you’re thinking of buying a portable welder, do your research first. Make sure to look at the different options available and select a machine that meets your needs. To help you make that decision a little bit easier, consider the following questions before you buy.

Where and when will I use this welding machine?

Where and how often do you expect to use the machine? Are you renovating a home and need to move floor to floor easily as you complete your work? Or are you a weekend hobbyist working out of a garage or workshop? Maybe you own a welding shop and need to go make repairs in the field from time to time. Whatever the case may be, start by thinking about where and how often you’ll be using the welder.

For most amateurs and DIYers, a portable welder should get the job done. If you’re a little more serious about your welding and need it for a side job or full-time business, you might want a more conventional machine. 

With that being said, a conventional machine will need to stay put at your shop. If you find yourself often traveling for work, a portable welding machine is the way to go.

What types of metal do I normally work with?

Another factor to consider is what types of metal you normally work with. Different metals require different welding processes. You’ll want to make sure the machine you go with is capable of working with those materials. If you purchase a multiprocess welder, that shouldn’t be much of an issue. 

Another thing to consider is the thickness of the materials you work with. Today’s portable welders are compact but powerful. In most cases, they should be able to get the job done for most residential projects. However, these machines do have their limitations. Before you purchase one, you’ll want to make sure that the amperage can be adjusted to give you enough power to get the job done. If you find that you’re typically working with thick pieces of steel, for instance, you may need a more conventional machine with greater input and output.

What positions will I be welding in?

A final question to ask yourself is what kind of positions you will be working in. Generally speaking, most welding operations will be done from a workbench. However, onsite work might require you to get into some tight and unique spaces. 

A portable welder is a space saver and should be able to fit into tight spaces with you. If you find that you’re working overhead or in less than desirable positions, the last thing you want is to try and fit a heavy and bulky machine in there to work. Portable welders are lightweight and make completing fieldwork much easier. 

How To Save On Welding Equipment Costs

If you’re looking to save on welding equipment costs and other merchandise, enroll in Welder101 today. Members get access to exclusive discounts from some of the industry’s most reputable equipment brands and manufacturers. These discounts can be applied to buying new tools to round out your shop or purchase extra consumables as needed. Discounts include 10% off Welder Up merchandise, 25% off Edge Welding Supplies, 10% off USAWeld.com, plus plenty of other discounts that are added all the time.

Equipment savings aren’t the only benefit of joining Welder101. You also get access to a growing library of 50+ tutorial videos and training resources. Members can also participate in a private Facebook community to ask questions, showcase their work, and connect with other welders.

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