When people think of welding on the farm, they reminisce about dad standing over an old Stick welder with an electrode in his hand. For some jobs, Stick welders remain a viable answer, but for the majority of welding repair and maintenance on the farm today, a wire-feed welder is the better option.

With materials in everything from fencing to livestock feeders to vehicles becoming thinner, stronger and more lightweight, a wire-feed welder provides ease of use and the potential option of using a solid or flux-cored wire. Wire-feed welding is more cost-effective and easier to use than TIG welding, and it's easier to use than Stick welding.

Flux-cored and solid wire

All wire-feed welders can use flux-cored wires; the flux is inside the wire and creates a shielding gas when the wire is consumed during the welding process. No compressed shielding gas is needed. This wire is deep penetrating (similar to a 6011 Stick electrode) and has considerable spatter and slag on the weld that must be removed. The weld area needs minimal preparation.

Flux-cored wire works well in windy conditions. It is most commonly used for hobbies and farm work.

Solid wires require a shielding gas, sometimes referred to as metal inert gas (MIG) that comes in a cylinder and is either CO2 or a mixed gas of Argon and CO2 (C25) for mild steel. Its advantages are a clean weld with no slag and minimal spatter and the ability to weld thinner (24-gauge) materials. The weld area needs to be clean. Solid wires are commonly used in light industrial and auto body work and in other applications where thin materials or the need for efficiency is required.

Simple to use

People like the wire-feed welder because it's easy to use: Just pull the trigger and you're welding. Some people compare it to using a caulking gun or a hot glue gun. With two-hand control and the ability to maintain the same distance from the work piece with the electrode at all times, you can produce quality welds with minimal practice.

The guidelines for wire-feed welding are simple and straightforward: Use smaller-diameter wire for thin metals, larger-diameter wire and a more powerful welder for thicker metal. And use the correct wire type for the base metal being welded. That means stainless steel wire for stainless steel, aluminum wire for aluminum, and steel wire for steel.

Shielding gas

CO2 is good for penetrating welds on steel, but it may be too hot for thin metal. That's where C25 comes in (75% Argon/25% CO2) for thinner steels. Use only Argon for aluminum. Stainless steel requires a special gas also.

For steel, the most common solid-wire type is AWS classification ER70S-6, and for flux-cored wire, it's E71TGS. Solid wires are about half the price of flux-cored wires, and for the serious welder, they can be more economical even when the price of gas is included.

In purchasing the right wire-feed welder for your needs, consider the nature of your welding projects and the size of most metal materials on your farm. Is your available voltage 115v or 230v? Is your welding area enclosed or exposed to the weather? Answer these questions and you should be able to find the MIG welder that fits your specific needs.

David Anderson is retail manager for Hobart Welders.