In this article, I will be discussing how to choose the best machine to suit your particular needs when welding aluminum.
Welding aluminum can be done using three different welding machines, and we are going to go through which machine to use depending on the job at hand.
Aluminum is the most complex metal for welding. It has physical and chemical properties that you need to be aware of in order to weld it in the most effective way.
To begin with, a few words about why you need to buy a special welder for aluminum:
The difficulty with welding aluminum lies in its aforementioned physical and chemical properties.
There is always an oxide film (Al2O3) on the surface of aluminum and its alloys, which has a melting point of 3762 °F, while the melting point of aluminum itself is approximately 1221 °F.
When trying to connect aluminum parts, the oxide film prohibits the parts from joining together as it covers the weld pool.
The high thermal conductivity of aluminum means that a higher welding current, one exceeding 1.2-1.5 times the current for steel, must be used. This is despite the melting point of steel is much higher than that of aluminum.
These issues can be solved in two ways:
First, the welding equipment must block the access of oxygen to the welding zone during operation.
Second, you need to destroy the oxide film when welding.
If you do not comply with these technological requirements, your weld will either be sub-standard or may not work at all.
These are the principles upon which we choose a welder for aluminum:
It must either use a protective atmosphere, which blocks the flow of oxygen to the molten aluminum (Argon-arc welding), or it must destroy the oxide film using a special setting (DC, reverse polarity).
The most widely used three methods of welding:
Let’s see how they differ and for which jobs they are best suited.
Tungsten Inert Gas Welding (TIG) – Alternating Current
This method of welding is used in the manufacturing of structures made of aluminum and its alloys, where strength and aesthetics are the main priorities.
How to Choose a TIG Welder for Welding Aluminum?
What to look for when choosing:
AC and DC operation
When welding aluminum, AC (alternating current) is favored by specialists. In order to understand why, we need to delve a little into the technical details.
When a DC (direct current) reverse polarity is connected, cathode cleaning of the oxide film occurs, and this significantly increases the welding temperature. As a result, even such a refractory metal as tungsten, from which the electrode is made, begins to gradually break down.
If you connect a DC straight polarity, then it cannot break through the oxide film, but it provides a more stable arc. Just switching the polarity of the current provides a qualitative difference to your work.
Output power in amperes
The more power, the thicker the parts you can weld.
Always look at amperes when choosing a welding machine. You need one that offers the largest range at the best price.
A welding machine with a very small ampere range can seriously limit the types of materials that you can weld.
A welder with a range of 5 to 230 amperes offers the flexibility to weld thin materials such as 24 AWG stainless steel, or aluminum with a thickness of more than 60mm.
Aluminum requires more amperes than steel and stainless materials.
Using a welding machine that cannot reach a minimum of 200 amperes limits the possible thickness of welding aluminum to a range of 31 to 47mm.
A large ampere range allows you to use a welding machine for a variety of jobs and ensures that you will never have to buy or use other welding machines. It’s worth the investment.
Welding with a low amperage
In addition to a large ampere range, you must select a welder that has good arc stability below 10 amperes.
Having such a welding machine means that it will be much easier for you to start welding, and you will have much better control over the heat released.
Often, TIG welding is used for thin materials and, therefore, it should be possible to start the welding machine without a hot start or high frequency.
Therefore, the best TIG welder should have a large ampere range (from lowest to highest).
Heat control is another important feature of a good welding machine.
When welding thin metals, heat control reduces metal deformation.
A good way to control the heat of a welder is pulse welding.
During pulse welding, the welding machine switches between full load current and low current. This holds the arc while the welding torch head can be cooled.
A good welder must be equipped with a pulse mode to maintain heat control.
This feature shows how long you can work continuously in a 10-minute window.
If you work longer than the recommended time, the welding machine heats up and the electrical circuits can melt.
For example, an inexpensive welding machine with a power output of 70 amperes has a duty cycle of 10%.
This means that you can weld for 1 minute in every 10 minutes.
TIG welding machines for small workshops or amateurs usually have a duty cycle of about 50-80%.
Today, manufacturers have found a way to manipulate this formula a little.
They set the percentage based on the setting of lower welding current parameters, that is why you can now have a longer duty cycle.
This means that, for example, when using a device with a maximum value of 140 amperes and a duty cycle of 10% you can weld with a duty cycle of 30% at 115 amperes.
It’s practical to buy a machine with a duty cycle that suits your specific needs.
The price of welding machines varies enormously, depending on the model.
Prices range anywhere from $600 to $4,000 depending on quality, accessories, features and brand.
A good TIG welder for professional use can range from $2,500-$4,000.
If you are wondering why some welding machines cost $3,000, it’s because they are commonly used for welding titanium.
I conducted a small survey of the TIG welder market, considering all of the above factors, and here is my advice.
Best TIG Welder for Aluminum
I have chosen the 3 best welders in 3 different price categories. I will not consider professional equipment for working in large factories, nor will I consider cheap Chinese counterfeits.
|Weight||Power||Duty cycle||Guarantee||Check Price|
|AHP AlphaTIG 200||69 pounds||10-200 Amp||60%||3 years|
|Square Wave TIG 200||73 pounds||20-200 Amp||25%||3 years|
|Everlast PowerTIG 200DV||60 pounds||20-200 Amp||60%||5 years|
AHP AlphaTIG 200 – Best Inexpensive TIG Welder for Aluminum
Its distinctive feature is easy arc control, which is especially useful for beginners and those with a large duty cycle.
It can be connected to 120-volt and 220-volt networks.
It also has a very high duty cycle rate of 60%. If you need to work at full power (200 amperes), then you can do so without interruption for 6 minutes out of 10.
Its disadvantages include an uncomfortable foot pedal and an inaccurate flow meter.
There are also some potential concerns about the brand. The company is very young and no one knows how it will be running in 3-5 years. At the moment, their support team works very quickly and receives minimal complaints. Their office is in California and you can contact them by mail and phone.
It has all the necessary features for high-quality welding aluminum:
- AC Frequency Control (to improve the welding of thick metal)
- Pulse (for better process control)
- Works in networks of 110 and 220 volts.
The main advantages of this device are the amount of control you have, and the build quality of the overall machine.
It is comfortable to manage, even while wearing gloves.
The fact that it operates from 110 to 220 volts makes it extremely versatile and you are not limited to using it in a certain area (although at 110 volts it will produce a lower amperage).
This is a well-known brand and you can easily get spare parts and warranty services, if necessary.
Unfortunately, the device has a small duty cycle, only 25%, which means that you will have to rest more than you work (when working at maximum power).
Good and reliable medium priced device with features found in more expensive models.
For example, it has a connector for water cooling; it is also possible to regulate the arc force (this helps to reduce splashing).
Works with different voltages (120V / 240V). It can also work from a generator.
The front panel features regulators of different colors for different welding modes, which greatly facilitates working with the device.
Comes standard with a SR-26 torch connected to a 12.5-foot Superflex cable – a much better one compared to standard cables.
The manufacturer is located in San Francisco, but there is an opinion that the devices are assembled from Chinese components. Some owners had difficulties in terms of warranty repair, but then you get 5 years’ warranty.
If you are making sculptures from aluminum, making aluminum frames for motorcycles and cars, creating exhaust systems for cars, or any other work where the aesthetics and strength of the construction are pertinent, then the choice of a TIG welding machine is justified.
Metal Inert Gas Welding (MIG) – Direct Current
What is the difference between metal inert gas welding aluminum and tungsten inert gas welding aluminum?
The main difference between these two methods is the type of electrode used.
For TIG welding, refractory tungsten electrodes are used, and for MIG welding, aluminum wire is used.
MIG welding is very simple and easy to learn, even for a beginner. Within 5-10 minutes after unpacking the device, you can already begin to make normal welds.
This is an irreplaceable device for a garage workshop. If you want to make a boat of aluminum, then a device such as this is the best choice.
It is commonly used for jobs such as repairing cars, boats, and other equipment, as well as when creating aluminum structures (fences, frames, stairs).
How to choose a MIG Welder for welding aluminum
The first thing you need to think about is where you want to use the welding machine.
Will you be using it at home, or in a garage? Will it be a small home garage or a large industrial garage?
You do not want to buy a welding machine that’s either more or less powerful than you require.
Factors you should pay attention to:
- Design Features
Aluminum wire used in welding aluminum is much softer than steel wire, and it can crumple easily when there is resistance at the moment of feeding. This can disrupt the welding process.
This problem can be solved in two ways.
Firstly, you can buy a U-shaped smooth roller for wire feeding and a short Teflon liner to reduce friction.
Secondly, a simpler option is to buy a special Spool Gun which will accommodate a coil with wire.
- Gas supply
Since you plan to work with aluminum, you need to protect the area of welding from oxygen. The protective medium of choice, in this case, is pure argon.
Gasless flux core welding devices are not going to work for you.
- Protection against overheating
Overheating is another problem that makes many MIG welding machines useless. Such welding machines can only be used for a short time, and when they overheat, you must wait a long time for them to cool down before you can continue using them.
In order to protect yourself from this problem, purchase a welding machine with thermal overload protection.
- Duty cycle
I’ve mentioned this already, but I want to add that the calibration of the welding machine is carried out at a certain ambient temperature.
Famous brands test at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but there are those that measure the duty cycle at a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you work in a hot environment, pay attention to this.
- Dimensions and weight
Where you plan to use the welding machine will influence whether mobility is an important factor for you.
Do you plan to work on the move, or in a fixed garage workshop?
For mobile work, you should pay attention to the weight of the device or purchase a special cart.
That being said, the first priority should be the quality of the device you want to buy.
First, select the best devices possible, and then choose the easiest of them to use under your circumstances.
Don’t forget about the dimensions, you do not want to be constantly carrying a large welding machine.
- Repair, warranty, and maintenance
This can be either more or less important, depending on your financial situation.
Welding machines need maintenance, and sometimes they need to be repaired.
You can cut costs and buy a cheap Chinese device, but then you risk receiving poor maintenance and repair services.
Alternatively, you can buy a famous brand for more money, but you won’t have to worry about spare parts and frequent breakdowns, because their maintenance and repair services are much better.
I researched the market and, based on these factors, I chose the 3 best MIG devices for welding aluminum in different price categories.
Best MIG welder for welding aluminum
I tried to find a balance between price, quality, available functionality, and bundling.
This is no easy task, due to all of the factors to consider, but I believe I have found the very best welding aluminum devices available.
|Weight||Power||Duty cycle||Guarantee||Check Price|
|Lincoln Electric POWER MIG 210||40 pounds||210 Amp||25%||3 years|
|LOTOS MIG175 175AMP Mig Welder||85 pounds||175 Amp||20%||1 year|
|Hobart 500554001 Handler 190 with SpoolRunner 100||68 pounds |
|190 Amp||30%||3 years|
This is an excellent device from the legendary brand.
It works with different voltages – 120 volts and 240 volts – and it’s relatively small and light, making it very mobile and not limited to one location or power source.
The device is easy to set up, and all relevant information is shown on a large color display.
For work with aluminum, this device includes a Magnum PRO 100SG Spool Gun.
The quality of the device is unquestionable, but the price reflects it.
A multifunction welding machine with a good bundle at a low price from our Chinese friends.
The machine comes with a Spool Gun for aluminum, which is very easy to use and makes for a good weld.
It operates with a single voltage of 220 volts and has standard functions, thermal overload protection and an adjustable wire-feed speed.
Unfortunately, this device may suffer in terms of build quality and component quality.
Additionally, the warranty only lasts for 1 year.
A reliable device from the famous American brand, Hobart.
Each unit is designed and manufactured in Troy, Ohio, and the build quality and quality of its components are very high.
It has seven output voltage selections and an aluminum-wire feed system.
For welding aluminum, it comes with a SpoolRunner 100 Spool Gun.
Spool Gun is easy to use and even a beginner can make a good weld.
Unfortunately, it only works with a voltage of 220/240 volts.
Manual Metal Arc Welding
This type of welding is very rarely used because it has significant drawbacks:
- Low-quality welds (porosity, low strength)
- Strong spattering of metal during welding
- Poor removability of frozen slag, which can cause metal corrosion
I cannot recommend this method for permanent work with aluminum.
It is sufficient to use if you need to perform a simple aluminum weld quickly and you do not have a specialized device at hand.
It is important to keep in mind that the minimum thickness of the metal should be over 4mm.
For such jobs, any TIG or MMA welder with a Stick welding function can be used and you’ll need to use special flux-coated electrodes (e.g., EAL 4043).
I hope that you have found my recommendations useful, and that I have helped you decide on the device that best suits you for your work with aluminum.