The MIG / GMAW gun you choose will go a long way towards the performance you achieve as well as the ease with which you get work done. Think about it: the gun delivers all the dynamics that make for a good weld – or a failed weld. It provides the consistent current, the electrode and the shielding gas to the work zone, all critical factors. Therefore, it must be tailored to the kind of work that is being done. Guns are also an important factor in being as efficient as possible with the amount of consumables you go through. In this guide we’ll offer tips for selecting the right gun for the way you typically weld.
Tip #1: Choose the Right Sized Gun
Many welders think that the more gun they have the better, but this isn’t always the case. The larger the gun the heavier it usually is and that will make a difference during an 8-10 hour shift or even over the course of a single 20-30 minute job. Plus, larger guns tend to go through more wire, often producing more weld than you need. In many cases, it’s overkill and a waste of material.
For example, if a job requires 380 amps, is it essential that you use a gun rated to 380 or 400 amps? The answer is no! If you’re going to weld constantly for hours on end, then you’d need the higher rated gun. But in reality, a 260-300 amp, 100% duty cycle gun would most likely meet your needs because you’re probably only welding for 15-20 minutes tops per hour, in starts and stops while you move the piece or your position and make adjustments. You’ll pay less for that gun and use your consumables with less waste. Plus, the slightly lighter weight will ease hand and wrist fatigue and reduce repetitive task stress.
Tip #2: Choose the Right Length Cable
It’s true that where versatility is essential, the longer the reach the better – for getting under equipment or up a ladder for example. But if your welding station is pretty fixed and you work on smaller parts that can be lifted onto your station, it actually makes more sense to choose shorter cables. They cost less, for starters. Secondly, having 6-10 feet of cable on the ground beneath you can lead to problems or be a general nuisance. There are fewer wire-feeding problems with shorter cables. Again, knowing what types of welding and the typical circumstances you’ll encounter is the key to choosing the right gun/cable setting for best performance and economy.
Tip #3: Choose a Gun with Top Performance Features
Not all guns are created equal. It’s best to choose the highest quality gun you can afford (at the right size and cable length as mentioned). It begins with a rigid strain relief connection where the wire feeder and the cable connect. This will ensure better wire feeding, non-kinking operation, and overall better welds that will maximize your welding output.
In addition, if you typically use more than one brand or style of feeder, it is essential to choose a gun with a variety of plug options. One gun to fit them all will increase productivity and reduce the need and cost for additional guns.
Tip #4: Choose a Gun with a Reliable Trigger
Since the trigger is the only moving part of the gun, it needs to be reliable. A cheap trigger or one that cannot be easily serviced will lead to unexpected down-time and cost. Look for a gun with a firm, strong and reliable trigger that has the feel of quality.
Tip #5: Choose Versatility in the Neck
If every weld you do is exactly the same, a fixed-neck gun might be okay. But a rotatable, adjustable neck will maximize your ability to weld with comfort and success.
Tip #6: Choose a Light but Well-Made Handle
For the handle, first make sure it is rated for the duty cycle/amperage you’ll be working with. Beyond that, lightweight metal in an ergonomically-designed handle is a great choice. A smaller handle will generally be more comfortable and a vented handle will reduce heat.
Tip #7: Consider a Water-Cooled Gun
Welding professionals often choose a water-cooled gun because they are lighter, smaller and can operate longer without uncomfortable or unsafe heat build-up. They do cost more, but if welding is your profession, they may be a very worthwhile investment that will lower your fatigue, increase your comfort, and contribute to greater performance on the job.
Making an informed choice about the gun you use will pay dividends going forward. Don’t overdo the power capability of the gun, but buy the highest quality you can afford. You’ll get more work done, become a better welder, and do it all for less in terms of reduced power used and consumables wasted.