When selecting a welding unit for on-site equipment repair, several variables come into play. What type of welding will you perform? How much continuous power will you need? How much does the unit weigh? The right unit for the job depends on the answers to these and other questions that apply to your unique situation.
Simplicity vs. productivity
The simplicity of stick welding makes it a natural for equipment repairs. "It is simple to set up," says Eric Snyder, product manager for engine-driven welders at Lincoln Electric. "You don't have to worry about a wire feeder."
Instead, you just clamp the ground connection to the work, hook the electrode to the other cable and start welding. "The simplest equipment will handle a wide variety of repair applications," Snyder adds. "Most people in the field want the simplest setup possible. There is less to go wrong - less to maintain."
John Leisner, product manager, Miller Electric Mfg. Co., agrees, noting, "[Stick] is simple, inexpensive and easy to use, and is very common because of it. All you need are two leads and your electrode."
But stick welding has a reputation for being a little more sensitive to operator technique. "The welding technique is more difficult with stick than with GMAW or MIG welding," says Leisner. "It requires a little more hand/eye coordination. You have to be manually feeding the electrode, as well as progressing in travel."
Even so, the expertise required for stick welding has become less demanding than in the past. "Stick is so much easier to use today than it was even 10 years ago," says Leisner. "It is not like you have to be an expert."
The material costs also favor stick welding. "When you go to buy materials, generally you pay less on a cost per pound basis for stick electrode than for wire," says Snyder.
Larger repair jobs, however, may favor the use of self-shielded, flux-cored, wire welding. "You are definitely going to put down more weld metal in a given period of time with GMAW or flux-cored vs. stick," says Leisner.
When choosing between the two methods, factor in the quicker setup time of the stick welding process vs. the speed of the wire welding process. "You start up your machine, you weld with stick and you are done in an hour," says Snyder. "Now, if you are looking at an eight-hour job, you would probably like to switch to wire. For bigger jobs, you are going to have more productivity with wire."
When wire welding, you will generally need a higher-output machine. "This does depend on the diameter of the welding wire," notes Snyder. "People sometimes want to go to a bigger diameter welding wire because that also improves productivity."
A 200- or 250-amp machine is usually big enough for most stick welding applications, Snyder indicates. "A 200-amp machine is probably a little bit on the small end for wire welding," he adds. "A 300-amp machine is probably pretty good for handling a lot of different diameter wire."
Ultimately, the determining factor between wire and stick is the size of the typical repairs. "If half of your jobs are bigger ones, then you really should look at flux-cored," says Leisner. "But if most of them are smaller, stick is probably the easier way to go."
Contractors are moving toward smaller and lighter service trucks. "The costs of service trucks has really skyrocketed since 2007, when the new emissions went into effect," says Leisner. "So smaller and lighter really saves them a lot of money now vs. what it used to."
But smaller trucks also mean less available payload capacity. This has driven the popularity of gasoline-powered welder generators. "More of them actually use gas than diesel because of the size, cost and weight," says Leisner. "Diesel units usually have a longer engine life than their gas counterparts and can use less fuel, while gas engine drives are typically less expensive and are smaller and lighter. We do make some light diesels, but the gas machines are still 200 lbs. lighter."