An Introduction to Auto Body Welding and Equipment

Welding in a car factory

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If you've been working on cars very long, at some point you've looked up and realized that you could make a repair look really good, or last really long if you used a welder. If you don't know how to weld, you probably paid somebody to have it done, or you might have made the repair some other way to avoid having to dive into the mysterious world of welds. I don't blame you if you did. Welding is one of those skills that can be done poorly by almost anyone.

On the other side of the coin, it takes years of practice to master the tool and become a skilled welder. The good news is with enough determination and hours, you can become at least a decent welder and get your own work done. It may take you twice as long to get it right, but you'll save money and get the satisfaction of learning a new auto repair skill in the process.

Before you start learning to weld, you're going to need some equipment. You can get a cheap welder for $100, or spend thousands on a fancy setup. I suggest you enter welding at the lower end of the price spectrum, but certainly not at the bottom. Below you'll find information on the three most common of the available welding systems, starting with the cheapest and going to the fanciest and most pricey.

Stick Welders 

A stick welder is the most basic available. It is an arc welder, meaning it uses electrical current to create the welding heat. It's called a "stick" welder because both the welding material and the flux (the stuff that creates the gas shield) come in the form of a stick that is attached to your welder via a metal clamp similar to a standard jumper cable. When electricity is passed through this clamp to the stick, it makes a weld along with a lot of spitting and sputtering from the flux goop that is all over the stick. This is fine and expected. It's a cruder way to arc weld, but is tried and true, and can even be performed underwater (don't try this without training, please!). The upside is the machine and the sticks are cheap. You can learn how to use it quickly because there are only a few heat settings to play with on the control box (also called a "buzz box" for the sound it makes while you are welding). The downside is that you are limited in how precise you can be with the stick welder, and it works much better for thick metal like automotive frames or major suspension repairs than it does for thin sheet metal.

MIG Welders

The acronym MIG stands for metal inert gas, which basically describes the cloud of gas that your welding torch puts out so that you can keep impurities from invading the weld and compromising it, leading to shortened life or immediate failure. MIG welders use a wire feed to supply the well material. There is a spool of wire that is fed through a long cable and out of the welding "torch," basically a wand with a trigger on it to control the feed of the wire. When the wire hits the metal you're working on, the arc is created and you're welding.

Entry-level MIG welders can be purchased for very reasonable amounts of money. The more you spend, the better the equipment gets, but entry-level setups can even be run off common 110V household electrics, making these great deals for learning or part-time welders. The MIG is the go-to setup for doing sheet metal work, ranging from repairing a fender to replacing an O2 sensor. Some welders don't like MIG for thicker metal, but it can certainly be used if you're not in a big hurry.

TIG Welders

A TIG welder is a high-end machine that shouldn't be purchased unless you are already skilled at gas welding and need to do very high end, and very clean, work. TIG also works well on aluminum, unlike the other welding setups. TIG stands for tungsten inert gas, and the arc is very tightly controlled heat-wise. I don't recommend buying a TIG welding rig until you're good and ready.