How do I Choose the Best Portable Welder?

Lori Kilchermann

When parts break, they rarely break inside of a garage or workshop. This makes a portable welder a very valuable tool. When choosing the best portable welder, select a design that allows both a shielding gas as well as flux core wire welding. Also, pick a model with the highest amperage rating that fits within the proposed budget. This will allow for the greatest range in welding materials.

A person using a portable welder.
A person using a portable welder.

Portable welders are most common in the Metal Inert Gas (MIG) configuration. These are commonly referred to as "wire welders" due to their use of a roll of wire in place of traditional welding rods. The modern portable welder is light and compact, as well as easy to take into the field to perform repairs.

A closeup of welding.
A closeup of welding.

A portable welder using a shielding gas will leave a finished weld which requires no action to clean and dress it. The weld bead will have a very smooth appearance and will be void of any contaminates. A welder utilizing a flux core wire and no shielding gas will require the slag to be chipped from the weld. The flux core acts in the same manner as a shielding gas to remove contaminates from the weld.

Welding goggles.
Welding goggles.

Shielding gasses are comprised primarily of carbon dioxide and argon gasses. There are many different compositions, depending on the use the portable welder is intended for. The welding wire is also available in different diameters and compositions, depending on its intended usage.

Portable welders can often be operated on either 115 volt or 230 volt power supplies. The latter typically involves a generator to produce the needed operating current, while the 115 volt versions can often be run from a power inverter installed on a vehicle's charging system. This makes the 115 volt version a bit more versatile.

When choosing a portable welder, decide on what types of repairs it will be used for. While the MIG welders are very useful for repairing mild steel and sheet steel, some repairs such as aluminum and chromium-molybdenum (chrome-molly) steel require a tungsten inert gas (TIG) welder for proper repair. Fortunately, there are portable welders that come with TIG capabilities.

Portable welders are usually easy to operate, and most operators are able to achieve quality welds with a minimal amount of instruction and supervision. These welders can be used for repair as well as production of equipment and materials both in and outside of conventional repair locations. Portable welders can be a valuable and affordable option to the work place.

Torch welding rigs are small and easy to work with, making them perfect for work in the field.
Torch welding rigs are small and easy to work with, making them perfect for work in the field.

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Discussion Comments


@BigManCar - I do the same thing. Anytime it comes to tools, I believe in the "Buy once, cry once" school of thought. Cheap tools have their place, but for something like welding I am not a fan.

When you weld something, you are joining two pieces of metal together. Things are generally made of metal because they need to be strong. That means that whatever is holding them together needs to be strong too. I want the highest-quality weld I can get in a situation like that.

Also, the more expensive welding setups tend to have better warranties, and they last a lot longer. You can get really good deals on a used rig that will last longer and do a better job than a new, no-name rig.


There are two schools of thought about buying any kind of expensive tool. Some people say that you should buy a cheap set to learn on, and then get a better one if you decide you like it. The other school of thought is that you should just get a good one right away, even if it's used, and you can always sell it if you don't like it. Used portable welders go pretty quickly on eBay and Craigslist.

I like to buy good, usable equipment right off the bat. I don't get the most expensive, trendy thing, but good solid unit. This can be especially true with welding, because the cheap units may not be as capable of doing what you want to do.

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