Yet again it’s been a while since the last update because I’ve been debating what the best way forward is (read being indecisive for debating). As I mentioned in the last entry the bolting together plan was working, mostly, but it was very time consuming and didn’t offer the advantages I’d hoped for. If I had been able to get the flexibility of positioning I had expected then I’d probably have continued but it would have required a level of precision I couldn’t achieve with the limited equipment and experience I have.
The obvious other choice, therefore, is to weld the frame together. I would like to weld the whole frame but because of where it’s going I can only weld up the sides for now but that felt like enough to make getting a welder worth while. Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t do things by half and this is purchase is no exception. I’m sure I could have gone for a cheap little buzz box arc welder and stuck the frame together after a fashion or perhaps even a cheap and nasty little MIG welder running gasless wire – assuming enough preparation of the joint but instead I went for an absolute beast of a welder.
I started off my search for a welder over at http://mig-welding.co.uk/ which is a great site for anyone new to welding. The tutorials are well written and have videos showing what the weld should look, and importantly, sound like as it’s progressing. I’ve only done a tiny bit of welding so far but it really helped to know what to look and listen for. There are also forums which some really helpful people around. It’s worth noting though that both the site and the forums are sponsored (I think owned actually) by http://www.weldequip.com/ so you’ll notice that discussions tend to stick around what they sell. I’ve not seen any mention of other unsportsman like behaviour (e.g. removing posts mentioning other manufacturers equipment) but keep that in mind while looking for a welder – you might not be getting the full picture.
I was all set to go for the GYS SmartMIG 162 which at £334 was within my budget but I had nagging doubts about it. It’s certainly a nice machine with some great beginners features but I found mention of reliability issues and serious difficulty getting spare parts. The other option was the Clarke 160TM which is about the same price but a bit more basic and has a poor high amps duty cycle it also doesn’t use a Euro torch which could be a problem in the future.
Both of these machines would also be pushed pretty close to their limit with the first welding job I have to do which is 4mm to 4mm. Everything I’ve read says that 150A is the minimum you can get away with for 4mm steel with gas and maybe 5mm if using gasless wire with good preparation. My brackets are 5mm and I’m seriously considering welding some or all of them into place to add a little strength.
The machine that everyone on the forum rates is the Portamig which is a UK built machine that apparently is built like a tank. The cheapest model at 185A is £588 which was starting to stretch the budget and everyone recommended going with a higher power model so I was looking at atleast £649. I then noticed that it doesn’t come ready to run gasless so that was another £45. Even the lowest power model is good to weld 6mm steel though so it should be able to cope with whatever I throw at it. As for it being built in the UK I don’t doubt for a moment it’s assembled here but I struggle to believe all of the components are made in the UK – almost certainly most come from the far east and mainly China.
One real downside of the Portamig, for me, was the weight. At 48kg (before wire is added) I would struggle to find somewhere to store the machine. My workshop is on the first floor of the house and it’s probably already got too much stuff in it so an extra 50kg just wasn’t going to fly, in fact it might come crashing through the kitchen ceiling. On top of that I wasn’t about to start carrying 50kg up and down the stairs anytime soon. The GYS weighed in at a much more reasonable 25kg which was another tick in the box but I still wasn’t happy with it (despite the fact it is mostly yellow).
Unhappy with the selection on offer I cast my net wider and I’m really glad I did. I actually started by looking for welding gas suppliers because everyone said gasless welding was a mess. Gas was actually the main thing holding me back because I didn’t want to be on a rental contract, I won’t be using the welder that much probably so I’d much rather just have a bottle sitting around not costing me money even if that means paying a larger deposit. While searching I turned up R-Tech who happen to be based in Gloucester.
MIG TIG ARC Welder – Multi-Process Machine (MIG-MTS-210D)
Not only did R-Tech appear to do the perfect gas solution for me (deposit only) they also did a range of their own badged welders which all appeared to have decent specifications. The prices are up at the professional end of the welding world but I did some checking around and almost everyone seemed to be very happy with their purchase. What caught my eye was the MIG TIG ARC Welder – Multi-Process Machine (MIG-MTS-210D) – this little beauty can do MIG, TIG and Stick welding all from the same box.
The TIG welding is DC only, so no aluminium welding (with TIG at least), and it doesn’t have a HF start (it’s lift start) but I probably won’t be doing that much TIG welding anyway. I like having it available mainly because I want to have a play with it. The stick welding could come in useful if ever I need to weld bigger stuff or lay down metal for a repair but the main reason I went with the machine was for the excellent MIG welding capabilities. It manages a whopping 200A which should handle 7mm and maybe even 8mm steel at a push.
All settings are controlled through wipe clean buttons on the front and three knobs. Unlike cheaper MIG welders the voltage doesn’t just have 4 or 8 settings it ramps up in increments as small as 0.2V as you turn the knob on the front. This gives excellent control over the power output of the machine so it can be fine tuned for exactly the job at hand. Additionally you can store several (ten I think) sets of settings so you can get up and running quickly if you commonly weld the same size steel.
Being new to welding I gave R-Tech a ring and asked if I could have a chat about and maybe a demo of the machine which they were happy to do later that afternoon. R-Tech are based on a technology park at the edge of Gloucester which is only a couple of minutes drive from me so this was very convenient. I was met by a well spoken lad who took me round to the demo area where I was fitted out with visor and gloves. He gave me a quick run down of the machine and then knocked out a couple of demo welds.
I was pretty pleased with the service so far but then he handed me the torch and let me have a crack at some MIG welding. I ran off a couple of short welds and then he gave me some advice about how to improve the result. Now I’m not saying what I produced was a work of art but I was chuffed with the end result which was strong and in about the right place. I also took along some scraps of my own steel which he quickly tacked for me and then let me loose on. The machine easily got full penetration on the 4mm stock I’d taken along.
Shortly after I arrived another guy turned up and started watching the demonstration. As luck would have it he teaches at the local college and so after the MIG demonstration we switched the machine over to arc welding and I got a quick one to one tutorial on arc welding (which is much more difficult than MIG).
After the demonstration I got a quick run down on gas, when to use various types of welding and answers to a million other (no doubt silly) questions I had. My second piece of luck that day was finding out there was a shop soiled welder in stock which was about £120 off. This brought the price down to something that wasn’t making my eyes water quite so much so I decided to go with it as it still came with the full 2 year warranty. Apparently the “soiling” is a small scratch on the case but I can’t find it, the box has certainly been opened and the machine taken out but that’s all as far as I can tell.
I also picked up wire, a helmet, gloves, some new tips and a bottle of gas while I was there. It cost a packet but I’m pleased with the purchase as I think it’ll last me for many years to come. The staff there were all very pleasant and helpful. Even the other walk-in customers were friendly and all seemed to know each other, I’m guessing it’s the go to place for welding in Gloucestershire. So far I would certainly give R-Tech a big 10/10 for service. I’ve not done any welding on my own yet but I’m confident they’ll get a 10/10 for the machine as well.