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Choosing a Mig Welder for your project
Sooner or later, unless you can invest in a top notch restored classic, the object of your desires will probably need some bodywork attention, and more often than not this involves welding. This may be as minor (no pun intended) as attending to a slightly crusty valance, or as major as replacing significant areas of the car's underside simply to get a fresh MOT.
Assuming your classic does need some welding attention, how do you go about getting it fixed? One option, the easy option, is to drag it around to your local friendly garage, who will attend to the corroded metalwork and relieve you of several hundreds of pounds in the process. The brave approach is to have a go yourself of course. Choosing and buying a welder to practice with requires a certain amount of prior knowledge, before diving in with welding mask and torch.
The Mig welder is often the machine of choice for the amateur user, being easier to pick up than traditional gas welding although arguably is not quite as versatile in experienced hands. Arc welding was common practice in garages up and down the land when cars were made of sterner metal than is the case nowadays, but its propensity to blow holes in sheet steel usually means it's best left to repairing old iron gates and heavy chassis members on separate chassis'd motorcars.
Mig welders are available from under a hundred pounds for a low powered (90-100amp) version, which will be suitable for basic repairs although is unlikely to offer the flexibility in terms of wire speed and power setting that pricier welders offer. I'd suggest buying something with a minimum of 150amp rating, which should cost somewhere over £200 to buy. The greater the flexibility of the welder, in terms of settings, the more types of metalwork you will be able to successfully tackle. If restoring say a car from the 1930s, then you'll need a decent whack of power to remetal rusty outriggers on a heavy gauge chassis, but you'll also need to be able to tackle thinner gauge bodywork so the ease of adjusting the various settings will make this much easier, especially if you're anything like me and a novice in this art.
Power aside, there are two main types of Mig - gas, and gas-less. Gas Mig welders require you to use either disposable (pricey in the long run) or refillable (more cost-effective for large projects) gas bottles. However wire is cheaper for these types. Gas-less, or no-gas as they can be called, are easier to use outside as are less affected by wind, and there is no chance of running out of gas in the middle of welding up your Morris. No-gas welders are often cheaper to purchase, however the downside is that welding wire for no-gas Migs is dearer and the welds produced are not as clean as those produced using traditional gas Migs. It really comes down to personal preference, but most people I've spoken to vote for the gas Mig welders, and put up with having to manoeuvre gas bottles around whilst working on their car or truck.
Once you've bought the welder, you've not finished yet with your flexible (plastic) friend. Most gas Migs come with a tiny adapter so that you can run with disposable gas canisters, but if your car needs significant welding, and hiring a large gas bottle is more cost-effective, you'll also need to stump up for a regulator. Don't forget too that it is essential with all forms of welding that the correct face mask is used for the type of welding you are doing - do not risk using a face mask for one type of welding with another. One of the latest fads in Mig welding is the full face helmets that offer a clear view of the work area right up to the millisecond that the welding commences, the arc of light instantly triggering the lens you look through to darken safely. I've not used one but I do plan to give it a go soon, as prices are coming down all the time.
Anti spatter spray is something else to think about, spray a shot of this over the area to be welded and it reduces 'slag', ie the surplus lumpy bits of weld that can accumulate around the main blob of weld. This is especially common when welding pieces of metal that aren't very very clean, the merest hint of corrosion makes Mig welding new metal to old a lot more fiddly.
Before diving in and badly welding curiously shaped chunks of metal to your car, it is essential to practice on offcuts of clean steel to get the hang of things. There are some excellent books available on the subject (eg here at Amazon) and it really is worth investing in one before wasting materials unnecessarily.
Safety is paramount when wielding a Mig welder torch around the garage of course, so anything of a combustible nature, such as fuel lines, fuel tank, pets, skin and so on, need to be well out of the way, as sparks fly everywhere during welding and molten blobs of metal dropping down will soon cause you problems if you don't take care. At the very least have a bucket of water with soaking rags in it close by in case things get exciting, and it is highly recommended that a suitable fire extinguisher be close to hand in case you set light to yourself or something around you. One thing that is easy to overlook when welding a car is what lies behind the area being worked on. Underseal can ignite quite easily, as can items of interior trim so have a good look around and remove anything to the sides, above or behind the work area that looks susceptible to fire or melting. For these reasons alone it is essential to read up on workshop safety when welding, before firing up your torch in anger.
Mig welders are available in many large machine supply stores around the country, and there are a number of specialist online suppliers now that can provide all the welding equipment and material you require online, usually at very competitive prices when compared to traditional shops. One such supplier is Tooled Up for example.
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