Gas tungsten arc welding or GTAW is what you should be comfortable with using if you’ve spent time working on space shuttles, satellites, navy destroyers, etc. But that doesn’t mean that this welding process is only limited to industrial applications.
This type of welding is done with TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding machines. The main reason they are used is that it’s the only welding method which doesn’t waste a lot of filler metal. This is why the best TIG welders are always preferred for repair jobs that involve magnesium and aluminum components.
TIG welders can also be used for various home improvement tasks, construction jobs, and even art projects that involve a variety of metal alloys and lots of piping. Depending on what you’re up to on a regular basis, you’ll likely need a TIG welder that has a “very particular set of skills”.
9 TIG Welders for Every Budget & Skill Level
- 9 TIG Welders for Every Budget & Skill Level
- Be Very Sure of What Kind of Welding You Will Do
- What Accessories or Features Should You Pay Extra For?
- AC/DC – Is It That Necessary?
- Should You Be Wary of the High Frequency Start?
This welder does its finest work when working with materials that are between 0.25” (aluminum) and 3/8” (mild steel) in thickness. It’s not just powerful but also quite versatile. Its maximum power output is 200A which is excellent for this price range.
The Alpha TIG is perhaps a middle-of-the-road welder, but I think that’s an understatement given its performance as both a TIG welder and a stick welder. With both AC and DC outputs and a smooth and stable arc, it’s no wonder why the Alpha TIG is not afraid to tackle most aluminum projects.
One minor drawback seems to be the regulator. The calibration is not as precise as I had hoped. This makes monitoring your argon levels difficult at times.
The adjustable pulse frequency is also impressive, especially when compared to previous AHP models. Now you can get the welder up as high as 200Hz which is a massive improvement. This might just make up for the high frequency start instead of the traditional light start function.
The Amico TIG 225 may not look like much on the outside. But this little unit hides some serious technology on the inside. This welder is an IGBT welding machine (inverter welding machine). This means that if you’re looking for something to handle high loads of arc, the Amico TIG 225 is a solid choice.
But great arc stability is not the only thing that stands out. The build quality is just as good as the automatic voltage fluctuation compensation. It also features automatic temperature control and works great in the field as it can be powered by almost any generator.
The Dual voltage input is also useful. The LCD amperage display is easy to read indoors and outdoors and the knobs on the control panel are highly intuitive.
All in all, the Amico TIG 225 is not a run-of-the-mill welder for your home workshop. It’s a unit that can serve you pretty well on professional projects too. But it does require some welding knowledge and skill to use.
Lincoln Electric makes some very fine welders. The Square Wave TIG 200 is a somewhat costly TIG machine designed to melt through aluminum in record time. Not only that but it is quite versatile as it offers both TIG and stick welding in one unit.
If you are considering a long-term investment, you’ll appreciate the consistent performance the Square Wave has to offer and the price tag becomes way reasonable.
The interface is as straightforward as they come, which makes this TIG welder a beginner-friendly machine. It’s quite sturdy though it only weighs around 46lbs. The fact that it works with a wide range of generators should help you take it from job to job.
The dual AC and DC output is great for various tasks. That’s because AC welding is ideal for aluminum work while steel and chrome require DC TIG welding.
One more thing of note – if you want to handle cleaning jobs on aged aluminum, the Square Ware TIG 200 will make an impression.
This model comes with a solid square wave inverter with a real-world power efficiency of around 80%. If you’re looking at TIG/Stick welder combos, Lotos delivers a quality machine in the TIG200.
It is advertised as a portable AC/DC TIG welder. That would depend on your definition of portability. Sure, the welder has a solid handle on top which makes the unit look like a lunch box. At nearly 60lbs though, it’s not as easy to carry around from one job site to another.
Though powerful and quite stable, the Lotos TIG200 is still best suited for hobbyists or people that don’t weld on a daily basis. It’s capable of welding both steel and aluminum of up to 0.25” thick, but what’s more impressive is the duty cycle on low amperage settings.
I found the Lotos TIG200 to be capable of 100% duty cycle uptime when working on small projects at less powerful arc settings. This is not something that you see every day, and since you also get all the accessories needed to start welding out of the box, including a handheld shield, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
If you’re looking for something lightweight and affordable, the 22lbs Sungoldpower TIG-200 might just fit the description. It’s an inverter welder which can accommodate very high DC TIG welding frequencies. Not only that but the IGBT inverter technology also guarantees a certain level of arc stability which is always nice, especially when it comes at a low cost.
One thing it lacks? – High performance aluminum welding. I found it to be more than competent when used on steel, copper, bronze, nickel alloys, and other materials. But make sure that aluminum work is not on your list if you have your eyes set on this portable machine.
Operating it shouldn’t be much of a problem. The user interface is as basic as they come and it also features a small but readable LED display. What’s even better is that the welder is a complete package with multiple built-in safety features, such as overload protection, under voltage protection, voltage fluctuation compensation, etc.
These are all features I expect to see on more expensive welders. At the end of the day, even though this one doesn’t offer both AC and DC output, I’m still convinced that it’s a solid choice for anyone that doesn’t have to work on aluminum professionally.
I always appreciate it when a manufacturer puts its money where the mouth is. Everlast offers a 5-year warranty on the PowerTIG 185 DV TIG welder.
The warranty isn’t the only thing that caught my eye. I found the compact and rather light design compelling. However, in terms of portability, the strap is not exactly the best choice in my opinion. I would’ve preferred a classic handle as found on most welders in this category.
Though this isn’t a very powerful welding machine, the IGBT technology manages to complement the lack of total output. Thanks to the IGBT inverter, the arc is always stable and allows you to go through 5/8” steel in a single pass. You can also work with steel as thick as 0.5” if you don’t mind doing a double pass at 240V.
You can also make quite a few adjustments on the control panel. You can set pulse time, switch between AC and DC output, etc. This is a compact TIG welder but it still comes with a wide range of features and customization options that rival more expensive welders.
The build quality of the 500551 EZ-TIG 165i is what you’d expect from Hobart’s reputation and then some. This is a serious TIG welder with a matching price tag.
For those that are interested, the 500551 EZ-TIG has plenty to offer. When it comes to learning the ropes, the Hobart EZ-TIG is pretty straightforward. For such a serious welder, it is beginner-friendly out of the box and has a near foolproof control panel. It comes equipped with not one but two carry handles which makes it easy to move from site to site.
The TIG torch, foot controller, clamp, gas regulator, and everything else you need is included. You won’t find a more detailed and well-written owner’s manual. What’s nice about the accessories is not their number but their quality. For one, the thick industrial-grade power cord and work cable are about 12ft long each and they stay cool even if the power-hungry Hobart is being used non-stop.
But let’s talk performance too. If you want to use both AC and DC, the EZ-TIG supports both outputs. It also comes with an auto-postflow function which allows the machine to make automatic shielding adjustments and save gas.
The internal overheating safety features work exceptionally. The auto fan shut-off when it’s not needed is great for minimizing dust contact.
No discussion about the best TIG welders would be complete without a Miller Electric welder. The Maxstar 150 STL is one of the most highly rated TIG welders on the market due to its very stable arc, ease of use, and flawless startup.
The Maxstar 150 STL doesn’t use a high frequency startup. Instead, it uses a patented Lite-arc technology which doesn’t cause interference with other electrical equipment. Another cool thing is the fan-on-demand function. It only activates when needed which keeps dust intake to a minimum.
The Maxstar is equipped with a multi-voltage plug (for 115 and 230V outlets). It also has a remote control that you can use to set the output amperage accordingly for each task. The lightweight frame and overall portable design add even more value for the money.
Although this welding machine is a bit pricier than others of equal power, very few offer the same build quality and arc stability as a Miller Electric welder.
Plasma welding or PAW is often a good alternative to TIG welding. The reason is simple. PAW is faster when used on stainless steel or expandable bellows. The CT520 is primarily a PAW welder even if it’s really a 3-in-1 unit – it’s compatible with PAW, TIG, and stick welding.
This makes the CT520D one of the most flexible welding machines I’ve ever reviewed. The ability to switch between a gas tungsten arc to a more constricted arc for PAW applications is very nice if you can’t afford to worry about arc length variation.
Because this unit tries to combine multiple features and welding techniques, it’s not the easiest to use for beginners. But it is affordable, so if you’re looking to practice different welding methods, the CT520D offers good value for the money.
The 3-year warranty also makes it a solid long-term investment. Now, keep in mind that when using this as a TIG or stick welder, you won’t get amazing fusing power. However, in the plasma welding mode, you can weld 0.5” metal in one quick pass.
Be Very Sure of What Kind of Welding You Will Do
Before buying a TIG welder, or any welder for that matter, you have to be precise with your requirements. Say you want to work on some 1/8” aluminum parts. Do you really need a high-end TIG welder? - Of course not. You can use a MIG welder and perhaps get the job done twice as fast. You can’t use a stick welder so that’s your only alternative.
But here lies the issue. Do you want to do it fast or do you want the finished product to look amazing? – If you’re leaning towards the latter, then a TIG welder is the better choice. They are more precise and have better arc and pulse control.
Let’s say you’re about to be asked to weld some ultra-thin bellows at 3 or 4 amps. That’s not a task for a MIG or a stick welder since they put too much heat into the metal. You’ll need a TIG welding machine for the job.
If you’re working on construction sites or doing a lot of home repairs, again you might have to rethink whether or not a TIG welding machine is for you. MIG welders can do a good job too. But whenever you’re looking for that perfect finishing touch, a TIG weld will often be superior.
What Accessories or Features Should You Pay Extra For?
When it comes to welders in general, saying features or accessories is often an understatement. These machines are very complex and have many components that come together. With that being said, it’s the stuff you see on the outside that’s often worth paying extra attention to.
Forget about the portable vs. fixed TIG welding machine debate for a moment. Think power and work cables. What good is a 30-40lbs portable TIG welder if your cables are just 5 feet long? – That won’t give you much freedom of movement.
You see some people’s eyes light up when they see a foot controller. Why? – Unless that foot controller also allows you to switch output modes and adjust the amperage without having to keep going back to the main unit, it’s hardly worth the extra money.
For me, the length of the power and work cords are the most important. Even if the welder is for home or for traveling between job sites, having enough range of motion and reach is important.
But don’t underestimate the many safety and quality of life features either. Many TIG welders today are so beginner-friendly that they come pre-calibrated and ready to go. Those aren’t necessarily the best of the best setups.
However, if you can exercise full control over your welding machine but also prompt it to make its own adjustments from time to time, you’ve probably hit the jackpot.
AC/DC – Is It That Necessary?
AC output is recommended for magnesium alloys and for aluminum. DC output is recommended for pretty much everything else except aluminum. Therefore, unless you’ll be working with aluminum, a unit with switchable AC/DC output is not something that you need to go out of your way to buy.
But, consider something else. TIG welders, or at least the high-quality units, are long-term investments. Maybe you’re really passionate about welding as a trade. What if one year from now you want to start adding some variety to your metal projects? If that’s the case, an AC/DC combo unit might make a better investment.
Should You Be Wary of the High Frequency Start?
What is a high frequency (HF) start anyway? – If you’re not exactly familiar with how TIG welders work, here’s the short version. In order for you to start welding, the machine’s current has to flow between the tungsten and the work piece.
So, what’s the problem? – Tungsten is resistant to current flow. In order for the flow to happen, the tungsten has to heat up enough before it becomes conducive for the arc to jump from the tungsten onto the work piece. Like all metals, tungsten gives up electrons better when heated.
Now for the HF start. This method is somewhat equivalent to jump-starting a heart. It’s all about using a high frequency current over the welding current. Instead of waiting for the tungsten to heat up and act as a proper electron emitter, the HF current acts as a conductor and lets the welding current follow it onto the work piece, which establishes the arc.
This method almost guarantees that you won’t encounter any start-up problems. At the same time, the high frequency current thus generated can mess with some electronic equipment in the vicinity or plugged into the same circuit.
Since the high frequency waves can essentially be broadcasted, it’s not uncommon for computers, laptops, CNC machines, and other sensitive machines to be affected.
However, as unappealing as that may sound, I can’t stress this enough. HF starts are done in a short burst. These days there’s no longer any need for a continuous HF boost to establish a stable arc. Unless you’re purposely overusing the HF start, there’s no need to worry about collateral damage.
Ready to Start Welding Yet?
TIG welders can be a lot of fun to use. The power, precision, smooth finish, and versatility are all amazing to wield and feel. But keep in mind that most of these machines tend to come with a steep learning curve. Some of them are very complex and difficult to adjust between welds.
Ideally, you should take a vocational class or learn from an expert welder. Welding is not exactly like swimming, which even a dog can learn if you just throw it into the water.
Beginner-friendly units are not always such a bad idea. Don’t dismiss them because they make things easy. When in doubt, look for something easier to use that has a limited control panel and more of an emphasis on auto-regulating features. An entry-level TIG welding unit will often get the job done just as well as mid-priced or even high-end units.
A hardcore woodworking and welding enthusiast, Russ is the editor-in-chief of TAH. In his spare time, Russ loves watching sports, and (binge) watching Netflix.