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Welding aluminum presents challenges as the metal has a low melting point that is more likely to burn through during the welding process. It also dissipates heat quickly and can warp from the welding process.
In some ways, aluminum welding is no more difficult than other metals, it just presents its own set of challenges that must be mastered — and that starts by having the proper welder.
Tig Welders and Mig Welders are the top two welding processes for working with aluminum. I’m going to suggest a few different welding machines so you can grab one and get started.
However, if you have more questions on the differences, there is a buying guide below the tool suggestions.
The Best Mig and Tig Welders For Aluminum
Hobart Handler 210 MVP Aluminum Mig Welder With Spool Gun
Hobart makes some of the most high-quality welders in the industry. The all-metal wire feeder delivers a wire at a consistent rate, and it is easy for even the newest guy in your shop to get that bacon sizzle weld bead on his first try.
However, they are also attractively priced, when durability is your biggest concern.
When you are MIG welding aluminum, you are going to need a spool gun to feed the thin, flexible aluminum wire. These spool guns prevent jams and deliver a consistent weld puddle.
This is the cheapest Hobart model that is compatible with their spool gun (sold separately).
The Hobart Handler 210 MVP can weld with either a 110v input power or a 220v power supply. On 110 volts, it can produce up to 140 amps of output and on 220 volts that increase to 210 amps. It automatically adjusts based on what power supply it is plugged into.
This allows you to easily weld 1/4 inch metal on regular household circuits, on up to 3/8 inch steel if you have a 220-volt power supply.
When paired with the spool gun, welding aluminum is a breeze. You can lay down weld after weld in a fraction of the time it would take you to TIG weld.
At 75 pounds, this isn’t the most portable tool, but it’s that weight that helps it produce a 30% duty cycle at 150 amps on 220v power. This welder is ready to go at it all day on big projects and is designed to save time.
There are a lot of auto body and exhaust shops that keep a few Hobarts around since they are so easy to use and durable.
Plus, it is backed by Hobart’s reputation and a 3-year warranty. There’s going to be very few things that you can’t weld with this setup.
Lotos MIG 175 175amp MIG Welder (With Included Spool Gun)
If the Hobart is overkill for your needs, and you still want the speed that comes with using a MIG welder, the Lotos MIG 175 is a strong contender.
The MIG 175 requires a 220-volt power supply, but can then output up to 175 amps of power for creating welds 1/4-inch steel and 3/16-inch aluminum.
Many of the welders on the market use the new IGBT inverter technology. The Lotos uses the tried and true transformer technology that is proven to last for years. It’s one of those rare tools that is still built with durability in mind.
This welder comes with everything you need except the safety gloves and welding mask. You have the regulator and hose for attaching it to an inert gas supply, the grounding clamp, a regular MIG torch, and the Spool gun for aluminum work.
Based out of Sunnyvale, California, Lotos doesn’t have as long of a warranty on their tools as Hobart, but they do have a decent customer support team.
For the hobbyist and light-duty craftsman, the Lotos MIG 175 offers a no-frills way to weld aluminum.
Eastwood 175 AMP MIG Welder With Spool Gun For Aluminum
Eastwood makes some of the most revered automotive tools. We don’t see them in the welding industry as much, but it makes sense that they would have a good MIG welder to offer their mechanics.
This is a solid, easy-to-use welder that comes with a spool gun. It can handle thin aluminum down to 14 gauge, on up to 1/4-inches thick. On stainless steel and mild steel, it will go all the way up to 5/16-inches thick.
It comes to you as a full-service MIG welder. You get the regulator and hose for connecting it to inert gas, and it has both the standard torch and a spool gun. Plus, as with the other MIG welders on this list, you can replace the standard wire with flux core wire and use it for steel welding without inert gas.
This is a strong contender against the Lotos 175 reviewed above. It requires a 220-volt power supply and offers amperage adjustability from 30 amps on up to 170 amps. The wire feed speed is an easy-to-reach knob on the front of the machine, and the ARC volts adjustment lets you customize the weld shape to get the penetration you need.
The 30% duty cycle is more than enough for most of our readers will need. An overheat lamp lets you know when the thermal protection has been tripped, and the tool needs some time to cool down.
Eastwood has been making tools since 1978 and is one of those brands that mechanics love, and trust. This tool is looking to be a strong contender for the imported Lotos.
Forney 324 MIG/STICK/TIG Multi-Process Welder
With this welder, we’ll begin the transition over to begin discussing TIG welders.
Forney is based out of Fort Collins Colorado and makes some of the easiest-to-use machines. They make some of my favorite 110-volt welders.
You tend to get a lot of value out of their tools. This multi-process welder is an excellent example of that value. In one machine, you get a MIG welder, a DC TIG welder, and a stick welder. This little tool will do it all. For the hobbyist who never knows what they are going to be welding, this little machine is the perfect answer.
It comes to you ready for MIG and flux core welding. You get the MIG torch with a 10-foot lead and the grounding cable. It also includes a stick electrode holder for doing the stick welding. So when you first get the machine, you can weld stainless steel, mild steel, and even cast iron.
So, as you can tell, with all of the pieces, the price on this one is a little higher. But you also get a lot more welder. The welding machine itself can handle either 230v or 120v input power. The output amperage is up to 190 amps, making this a more powerful, more welder than most folks will ever get to use. When the welder is turned up all the way, you can weld material that is 1/3-inch thick on a single pass. With multiple passes, 3/8 inch steel is perfectly do-able.
This one runs at a 20% duty cycle and is well-protected against overheating. Even when running it on a 20 amp power circuit, it seems to work well without tripping the breaker.
Forney has been in the industry for over 80 years. They continue to make excellent welders and welding consumables. Similar to how Miller Electric does its True Blue warranty, Forney uses a 5/3/1 warranty where the big parts like the internal transformer are warrantied for five years, and the smaller components like the cables and clamps are warrantied for one year. The other internal parts are protected for up to 3 years.
When it comes to a tool that does both MIG and TIG, this Forney is a strong contender.
AHP AlphaTIG AC TIG Welder
I’ll talk more about the differences between AC-TIG and DC-TIG below, but the key thing is that AC-TIG is the only one that is able to weld partially oxidized aluminum and rare alloys such as magnesium. It’s a very powerful tool to have, and is less common, which makes the shop that owns one in higher demand for those one-off jobs working with rare aluminum alloys.
This TIG welder is going to switch seamlessly between AC and DC modes, making it perfect for aluminum, stainless steel, and rare alloys. The level of control that this machine offers is overwhelming at first glance but makes sense very quickly. Because it offers the user so much control, you are able to quickly dial in the arc for working on the thinnest material or cranking the heat up to work on 1/4-inch aluminum or 3/8-inch mild steel.
A neat feature is the HF start on the TIG. This high-frequency current activates the TIG torch without requiring you to scratch it on the surface. This makes it a little easier for new guys to get it started on the first try.
It comes to you with everything you need to get started. You have a foot pedal for controlling amperage. Normally you have to take the pedal to 100% to get the weld bead started on aluminum, and then you can back off to about 80% once a good puddle is going. The control the pedal offers works out well for even more experienced welders.
The other nice thing is that replacement parts are extremely affordable. If you need a new TIG torch or a replacement hose, you can get those.
Lotos TIG200ACDC Cheapest Tig Welder For Aluminum
While the AlphaTig has all of the bells and whistles, some of my readers are going to have sticker shock.
This Lotos comes in and creates an excellent, light-duty welder for a fraction of the cost.
With the Lotos, you get the AC/DC Tig welding system. This makes it ideal for the DIY hobbyist who wants to weld both steel and aluminum. There are some AC shape controls included that let you control the shape of the oscillation for better welding control when working with alternating current.
This one is also is a dual voltage model that can use either a 110v or 220v power source.
The big difference between this model and the AlphaTig model is that The Alpha Tig also offers pulse modulation. Pulse modulation is handy for maintaining the weld pool when welding upside down, and when trying to work on extremely thin metals without burning through.
This Lotos is consistent enough to deliver that stacked dimes look we all want. It also comes with a one year warranty.
What Welding Processes Can Be Used To Weld Aluminum
TIG and MIG are the two welding processes commonly used to weld aluminum. Both processes require you to use a compatible filler metal that will facilitate the bond.
I am keenly aware that most of the other tool blogs are going to be stacked heavily with TIG machines. Many people assume that you need to use a TIG welder for doing aluminum work. TIG is an excellent process for working with weird alloys such as magnesium.
When doing TIG work, you will want to choose a filler wire that is closest to the base metals that you are joining.
Tig welding is a better choice when working with thin metals.
MIG welding is much easier to do and is faster, but the finished weld is not as appealing. When working with MIG, you will want to use aluminum wire and a spool gun. Depending on the thickness of the metal, you may need to use a higher wire speed and play with a slightly lower voltage so you can move quickly without burning through the metal.
I would prefer a MIG welder unless I need to do work that is going to be showcased (such as welding a gas tank for a motorcycle).
You will want a clean, oil-free surface for welding. AC TIG machines can be more forgiving thanks to its inherent cleaning action and will sometimes weld through slight oxidization, but for all other systems, you want the surface to be as clean and shiny as possible.
The best way to prep the surfaces is with a wire brush. Sometimes a mildly alkaline cleaning agent is used to help remove grease from the surface. Other times, a wire wheel is going to work the best for getting the oxidization off and prepping the surface.
Makes sure that you have a dry surface before you attach the grounding clamp and get to work.
Can You Weld Aluminum With DC Tig?
There are both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) Tig welding processes. Both can be used for working with aluminum.
AC systems have the advantage that half of the current is cleaning the weld while the other half is performing the weld. This means that you can use it on welds that have bigger gaps, and in scenarios where the material is not perfectly cleaned.
The DC weld process is less forgiving and requires a clean surface to work with. You’ll probably want to pair it with helium to capture that higher heat that you can get out of helium. This lets you generate a puddle quickly and move down the bead without hesitation — protecting the surrounding metal.
A common process is to lay down a DC TIG weld bead since it tends to penetrate more deeply. Then you can come back over the top with the wider AC tig bead for an extremely secure bond.
What Inert Gas Is Best For Aluminum?
Argon is the best universal shielding gas for welding aluminum. You will most frequently see Argon and Helium — or a mixture of the two gasses — suggested.
You are going to get excellent welds with pure argon. It produces a weld bead with a shinier surface.
However, helium has higher heat characteristics and creates a wider bead, which is great for working with thin metal. When mixed with argon, it increases the arc voltage by a couple of volts and helps prevent incomplete fusion.
Pure helium is generally only used for DC Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW-DCEN) for seam welds.
For most of our readers, a 75% Argon / 25% Helium mixture is going to deliver an excellent weld with the best characteristics of both gasses.