Tool Review: HF 170 amp MIG welder

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Feb 24, 2011
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California
I am a novice welder, but I have a product that I've designed that I want to build and sell. I need to make quite a few short welds in relatively thin (1/8") steel. I need them to look good, so that I don't have to grind too much before powder coating. I tried stick welding them, and that would probably work OK if I had a little more skill, but I've settled on MIG welding as the way to go. I tried flux-core welding, but I like MIG a lot better for this. I'm finally beginning to understand MIG welding, which has been harder for me than stick. The hardest thing for me to understand has been the relationship between voltage, amperage, and wire speed. I've gotten lots of good info from the weldingtipsandtricks channel on youtube. Jody seems to run a primarily MIG shop, although he does some stick and TIG, too. So now, I'm finally running beads that seem strong, and are fairly flat, instead of weak, tall, and ropy. I bought this machine because it was cheap, and seemed to have enough power. It has 4 voltage settings, and variable wire speed. Right now, you can get it for $199, and I think I paid even less. I've had it for about a year, and it has mostly sat outdoors, and it's been rained on a couple of times. It comes with one drive wheel, which has a smooth .023 groove, and a knurled .030 groove. There are no other rollers available, so I have to use the knurled side for .030 solid wire. As far as I can tell, this is a "disposable" machine, i.e., not much available in the way of repair parts. Maximum amperage is 170 amps, and duty cycle is 20% @ 110 amps. Nothing too spectacular there. For a cheap machine, it's been great. I thought it wasn't any good at first, as I was having stubbing issues, getting lousy beads, etc. I tried it with flux-core wire, but since I didn't intend to do very much flux core welding, I didn't try to develop my skills with that very much. It's not hard to switch polarity using the thumb screws inside the case. I'm also using a Harbor Freight regulator for the gas, which is 75/25 Argon/CO2. I didn't buy the teensy little 20-cu. ft. tank that HF sells, since I could get a 50 cu. ft. tank from my local welding supply for a few bucks less. Since I was getting ugly, weak welds, I turned to youtube for answers. Once again, Jody at weldingtipsandtricks came through, explaining voltage, amperage, wire speed, etc., in an easily understandable way, and showing how to make a decent bead. He also points out the importance of having a really good ground connection. I think getting the ground right was just as important for me as getting the wire speed right. I'm finally getting that "sizzling bacon" sound. Bottom line: This is probably not the machine for a production shop, but for what I'm doing, it's adequate. If and when it quits, I'll most likely get something better, but this will definitely make decent welds. For instance, here's a bead I feel OK about. This was the third pass on a "practice" tee joint.
 
Joined
Jan 21, 2005
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Charlotte, NC
That's not bad. Keep at it, you'll get even better. I used to make stick welds that looked like that, after 3 years in a welding shop. I was better at tig with stainless & aluminum. Wayne
 
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Sep 20, 2011
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Kansas City
Although I'm not a professional welder, I've done a lot of stick and MIG over the years. I used a HF MIG machine in a production environment for at least five years. Not all day every day, but I used it enough to know that it did the job. Same as you - .030 through the knurled rollers. Have a good ground and keep the nozzle clean.
 

Stelth

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Feb 24, 2011
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California
Originally Posted By: chestand
Although I'm not a professional welder, I've done a lot of stick and MIG over the years. I used a HF MIG machine in a production environment for at least five years. Not all day every day, but I used it enough to know that it did the job. Same as you - .030 through the knurled rollers. Have a good ground and keep the nozzle clean.
Thanks for that. Maybe they're more durable than I thought.
 
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