Most welding shop owners will need the following equipment and materials to get started:
You should plan to budget anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for initial purchasing costs. Not included in this list are the metals that you will actually be welding.
Sample List of Purchases
A typical person looking to purchase equipment for a welding shop might make the following purchases:
Grand Total: $3,010
Picking the right welding machine(s) is arguably the most important buying decision you’ll make when starting a welding shop. We outline the key considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when making this purchase and provide some popular options.
MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding is one of the easiest and most versatile welding processes that you can learn. MIG welding involves feeding a solid wire of the base material you are welding through a weld gun and passing a high current through the wire. The spark between the wire tip and the metal produces the heat that does the actual welding. The “Inert Gas” part of the name refers to a shielding gas (composed of 75% argon and 25% CO2) that is blasted at the weld site during welding, protecting the weld puddle from corrosive effects of atmospheric oxygen and water vapor. This shielding gas can be blown away from the weld site by strong drafts, making this process best-suited for indoor applications.
A typical MIG welding setup is composed of:
- A DCRP (Direct Current Reverse Polarity) power supply that generates the electrical current that melts the metal
- Cables to transmit that power
- A MIG welding gun with a wire feeder inside of it
- An external inert gas canister
Key Points of MIG welding
- Works with both thin and thick gauge metals
- Does not produce slag around the weld
- Easy to learn
- Fast welds
- You can weld from any angle or position
- Generally cheaper than other welding alternatives, such as TIG
Flux Cored Welding
Flux cored welding is very similar to MIG welding, indeed in many cases they can even use the same power supply. The essential difference is that instead of an external shielding gas being used to protect the weld site, a flux core inside of the wire reacts to the heat of a weld to vaporize into a shielding gas at the weld site. Both processes use a shielding gas, the difference is how the gas is conveyed to the weld site.
Key Points of flux cored welding
- Typically used for metals thicker than 4 mm
- Better-suited for outdoor work
- Deposits much more material than stick welding
- No gas canister so they’re generally more portable
Gas tungsten welding (referred to as TIG welding) uses a nonconsumable tungsten tip to transfer the electrical current to the surface to be welded. An external shielding gas similar to the MIG welding process is used to protect the weld site. The key difference with TIG welding is that it produces high-quality welds that are both structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing.
The power supply used in TIG welding is more specialized than the one used in MIG welding. For magnesium or aluminum you’ll need a standard AC power supply. However, for steels you’ll need a Direct Current Single Polarity (DCSP) power supply. Some TIG welding systems can switch between both, if you plan on welding both types of metals this may be worth the investment.
The equipment required for a TIG welding setup is similar to an MIG setup. You’ll need a power supply suitable for TIG welding, the required cables, and a TIG torch. Unless your system is air-cooled, you’ll also need a water supply with inlet and outlet hoses to provide cooling. Lastly, you’ll need an inert gas supply (typically pure argon for TIG welding).
Key Points of TIG welding
- Slower welds
- Can weld material as thin as 0.01 inches
- Highest quality, both structurally and cosmetically
- Requires greater skill to operate
- Can weld a larger variety of metals than MIG welding
Power Supplies and Duty Cycle
When choosing a power supply for your welding setup, you’ll notice that they’re rated at a certain amperage and duty cycle. A 140 amp machine at 30% duty cycle means that the machine can provide 140 amps of power for 3 minutes, after which it will need around 7 minutes to cool down. Running the machine at fewer amps can increase your duty cycle and running at more amps can lower your duty cycle. Generally, thicker gauge metals will require higher-amperage currents to weld together. Higher-capacity machines cost more but can weld thicker metals at faster rates.
If most of the work your business will be doing is welding steel or aluminum less than 1/4” thick, a 140 amp machine with 30% duty cycle should be sufficient for most jobs. For jobs on larger metals, or general fabrication work, consider a machine with 240 amps or more, and a 40% duty cycle.
Welding equipment can inspire brand loyalty as fiercely as your favorite type of pickup truck, and that’s not by accident. Your business will be heavily influenced by the capabilities and performance of your welding system, and if it breaks, then your shop is closed until you can get it fixed. All things considered, it’s generally worth paying the extra money for a highly rated brand. Below, we’ve listed some of the most well-known welding brands in the United States.
Lincoln Electric is one of the most widely recognized welding brands out there and have been producing welders for well over a century. In addition to selling equipment, they also offer certification and classes on a variety of welding-related topics.
Hobart has produced quality welding systems since 1917.
As a European company, ESAB doesn’t have quite the presence in the United States as Lincoln or Miller, however they boast well over a century of welding innovation and consistently high-quality products.