The ability to fabricate is essential in building as much of your own car as possible. It will also save money and will add a great deal of satisfaction to a finished project. However, fabrication generally involves having knowledge of welding.

The Eastwood Company offers any number of MIG and TIG welders. While all of us would like to be proficient at TIG the fact is MIG is easier to learn, more affordable, and a spool of wire for your MIG will last a great deal longer than all those TIG rods you will need. We’ve also found a MIG works well on thicker metals, especially the thickness found on frames and the fabrication of brackets. MIG will require more effort when working on sheetmetal (here’s where TIG would be better).

While this isn’t a welding class, a few basics should be understood before running out and purchasing your MIG or TIG welder as either is a sizable investment and each has a learning curve. However, the amount of work and satisfaction that each will achieve makes this one of the most rewarding aspects of car building. Overall, both MIG and TIG are gas shielded arc welding processes. The primary difference lies in the way the filler metal is added to produce the weld.

There are some basic differences: MIG is faster than TIG typically because TIG requires a great deal more skill than MIG. A MIG user can achieve very good results yet still a novice welder. It should be noted from a budget standpoint TIG rod typically is sold in 1-pound packages of 1/16x36-inch long rods up to 3/32-inch rods and sells for $10.99 to $19.99. On the other hand MIG wire is sold in spools, for our MIG 135 or 175 welders it uses a 4-inch (2 pounds) spool of either 0.030- or 0.023-inch wire that sells for $12.99. There are other consumables, such as tips, drive rollers, and so on, and these costs need be factored as well.

For our purposes we looked at the MIG welders offered by The Eastwood Company. They offer two: the MIG 135 and MIG 175. The MIG 135 provides 25- to 135-amp welding range and is user-friendly in that it requires 120V household current, making this choice much more portable and affordable. It’s ideally suited for 20- and 18-gauge sheetmetal. The MIG 175 provides 30- to 175-amp welding range, however, it does require that you have your garage (or portable location) set up for 220 V, make sure the site has 220 V. The benefit is the MIG 175 can handle some heavy-duty work, such as mild and stainless steel, measuring 24-gauge to 5/16-inch metal, making it ideal for fabrication work on your frame (brackets, crossmembers, boxing plates). It will also handle aluminum from 14-gauge to 1/4 inch. (At the time of this writing there is a $200 difference between the two units. The MIG 135 is in the $300 range while the MIG 175 is in the $500 range.)

Given most hot rodders will be making brackets and working on frames we opted for the MIG 175, figuring if your house doesn’t have 220 V it’s something that can be easily corrected. (Hot rodders have friends and somewhere in the mix is a buddy who is an electrician and he can help get your garage squared away. It’s also more affordable to weld at 220 V than 120 V; this helps offset the garage conversion costs.)

As an added bonus we opted for the MIG 175 (PN 12012) that came with a spool gun ($199) and to this combination we added a welding cart (PN 12236) and an auto darkening welding helmet (PN 13203) without the flame paintjob!). A highlight of the Eastwood MIG welders is its drive roll mechanism, which according to Eastwood “… is the heart of any MIG welder.” It’s designed to their specifications and delivers a wire feed without skipping or slipping on the wire. Again according to Eastwood, “The amperage and output voltage can be controlled precisely to get the proper penetration required. Wire speed can be infinitely adjusted to gain proper wire fill in the weld pool.”

The cart (PN 12236) we selected will house either the MIG 135, 175, or plasma cutter along with a single bottle, hoses, helmet, and other accessories. It does come unassembled so you will have to open your toolbox, grab some hand tools, and get after it. The cart weighs 30 pounds and measures approximately 28 inches tall by 29 inches long with a top shelf at 10-1/2x17-1/2 inches.

The last accessory we added was an auto darkening welding helmet. There are three models offered by Eastwood with the viewing area and darkening speed and darkness density as the primary differences between models. We opted for a helmet (PN 13203) but we had a special offer flame paintjob added. Our helmet can be adjusted for sensitivity, delay, and shade adjustment from No. 9 to No. 13 and has replaceable lens protectors, adjustable head band, and durable nylon constructed shell.

Welding is most definitely an acquired skill and an expensive purchase, requiring that you make the time commitment to learn and provide the budget to obtain the necessary equipment and accessories. However, next to painting, the ability to fabricate and weld will provide you with the most satisfaction during the build process. It will also save you a great deal of money and provide hours of quality garage time. Besides, once your buddies find out that you can weld, they will be over all the time in the hopes that they can further your skills by having you weld up their latest bracket!

Eastwood Tech Tip

Need a mini sanding block for small, tight areas? Try a popsicle stick with your sandpaper of choice.

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The Eastwood Company
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The Eastwood Company