Best TIG Welder Reviews 2017 – Buying Guide
TIG welding (or GTAW) is a process that uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld. Typically a shielding gas like argon or helium is used to protect the area. It generates heat when an arc passes through the electrode to the metal, fusing them together. A filler metal is often used to strengthen the weld, but not always.
What separates TIG from the other processes is the need for both hands and a foot. One hand holds the gun while the other feeds the filler material to the puddle. You use a foot pedal to control the temperature of the tungsten. This gives you greater control of the weld. It’s easily the most difficult process to master but once you do, the quality is far superior to any other.
If you want to produce dazzling high-quality welds then keep scrolling. We’ve compiled a list and reviewed 10 of the best TIG welders for the money.
Best TIG Welder: Top 3
AHP AlphaTIG 200X
Everlast PowerARC 140
Hobart EZ TIG 165i
AHP AlphaTIG 200X
Introducing the latest addition to the AHP lineup: the all new 2017 AHP AlphaTIG 200X welder. If you need just one machine, this is it.
This machine is as versatile as it gets. With an amp range of 10 – 200 the AlphaTIG 200X can handle just about any project you throw at it. Furthermore, it doubles as a powerful stick welder for when strength is more important than appearance, giving you a much wider range of abilities. You’ll be able to weld anything from thick 3/8″ steel or wafer-thin aluminum foil. The duty cycle of the AlphaTIG is way better than most in its price range. 60% at 150 A means you’ll be able to focus more and weld longer.
Complete with all the goodies you could ask for this welder is in a class of its own. Boasting pulse width modulation (PWM) and IGBT technologies, the AlphaTIG has the most reliable and longest lasting power source in its class.
The AHP AlphaTIG 200X is the best TIG welder for the money. It’s a great choice for both beginners who can’t spend a fortune on a machine and professionals who’ve been welding for years.
Everlast PowerARC 140
The Everlast PowerARC 140 combines reliability, versatility and affordability into one convenient package making it the best TIG welder for beginners or weekend warriors.
Don’t be fooled by its size, weighing just 25 pounds, the PowerARC can hold its own. With 120/240 dual input voltage this machine can put out a steady 140 amps of power which is more than enough for most hobbyists. The duty cycle is average for the price at 35% at 140. In addition, the PowerARC doubles as a stick welder to make it one of the most versatile welders on the market today.
Best of all is the simplicity of this machine. From its easy to use interface to its handy carrying case the PowerARC was designed with the beginner in mind.
If you’re looking for the best TIG welder and don’t want to spend a fortune on something complex and unnecessary check out the Everlast PowerARC 140.
Hobart EZ TIG 165i
Hobart is a legend among the welding community. Year after year they continue to produce high-quality welding equipment and the Hobart EZ TIG 165i is no different. Yes you will be paying a lot more but Hobarts dedication to quality and service put them in a class of their own.
Despite the price tag the EZ TIG is one of the easiest TIG welders to use. The interface has two settings to change – a max output knob and AC/DC option switch. To get set up all you need to do is plug it in, connect the shielding gas, select the material thickness and you’re good to go. Even if its your first welder you’ll be up and running within minutes.
The features on this unit are plenty. The infinite amperage control allows you to be ultra-precise and the inverter-based power source provides a consistently stable welding arc while consuming less power. High-frequency start capable, you are able to start the arc without contact to reduce contamination for much nicer welds.
Best of all? The Hobart EZ TIG 165i is designed AND manufactured right here in the USA. If price wasn’t a consideration then it would be the best TIG welder for the money but because of the cost it loses a few points.
Overall the Hobart EZ TIG 165i is an incredible piece of equipment if you can afford it.
How to Choose the Best TIG Welder?
High Quality Welds
Because of its superior arc and puddle control TIG is the preferred method of welding when you need a good-looking high quality weld. The heat input is controlled by either a foot pedal or finger button, allowing you to control the heat in the weld pool with precision control. The result is a beautiful weld with the strength to match. This makes it the ideal process for cosmetic jobs like welded art, food grade equipment or car repair.
In addition to producing high quality welds, the best TIG welder will make no mess at all and is actually the least toxic form of welding.
No sparks or spatter – With TIG welding you only use the amount of filler that’s absolutely necessary. As long as the metal being welded is properly cleaned there should be no sparks or spatter to worry about.
No flux or slag – TIG welding typically uses only argon gas to protect the welding puddle from contamination. Small amounts of deoxidizer in the filler metal will help to control contamination in the base metal. No flux is used so there is no slag to block your view of the solidifying weld metal. You see the full weld as it’s supposed to be seen without having to brush and scrape afterward.
No fumes – To clarify, TIG welding itself produces no smoke or fumes but the metal being welded might – or external elements such as oil, grease or paint. That’s why it’s important to properly clean the metal before starting the weld. If everything is clean TIG welding is the safest type of welding.
Although TIG welding requires extreme dexterity it also offers a greater degree of control. You need to use both hands and potentially a foot depending on your setup. One hand holds the gun while the other carefully adds filler as you slowly work your way up the piece. Heat control can be controlled by either a foot pedal or a hand button. So while you’re holding steady the gun and filler you also need to apply the right amount of pressure to the pedal or button to change the intensity of heat in the welding arc.
While it can be tough to learn at the start, the more you practice the better control you’ll have of the weld and you’ll start to appreciate the dynamics involved.
Not only does TIG produce exceptional weld quality, it’s also the most versatile of the three main process’.
Weld more metals – The best TIG welder allows you to weld a much wider variety of metals than any other method. They can be used to weld steel, stainless steel, chromoly, nickel alloys, aluminum, magnesium, copper, brass, bronze and even gold.
Weld thin metals – TIG is the ideal welding method for working with thin metals like car bodies or sheet metal. Unlike MIG you can turn the amperage down very low, down to around 5 amps, to achieve the desired weld.
Weld from more positions – Because there is no spark or spatter TIG welding excels when doing overhead work. A wide selection of TIG guns utilize flexible heads and offer a wide range of sizes and configurations. This makes its the go-to process when welding complex projects like roll cages where you need to work from awkward angles to access difficult joints.
I covered this a little bit above under quality but it deserves to be mentioned again. When you need your welds to be not only strong but aesthetically pleasing, TIG is the way to go. It has a ton of applications from food grade kitchen equipment to fancy art sculptures to auto body repair. If you ever see a picture of a nice looking bead, it’s usually the result of some crafty TIG welding.
One shielding gas
You’ll never have to worry if you have the right combination and ratios of shielding gas again. With TIG the only gas you need is argon. Whether the metal is super thick or ultra thin you only ever need argon.
Having said that, while argon can handle all TIG applications it is occasionally substituted with helium.
Hard to learn
GTAW requires multi-tasking and precision hand-eye coordination which makes learning a challenge. Both hands are used for the process – one to hold the gun and the other to hold the filler. You slowly stitch your way through the weld, trying not to shake or go too fast. And if that weren’t enough, you need to control the exact temperature by way of foot control or a button on the gun itself. It’s tough to learn, even harder to master but once you do the opportunities are endless for the best TIG welder.
If you count all the supplies and time needed to perform the task, the cost of TIG welding is relatively expensive. From the machine itself to the tungsten rods to the argon gas, the costs can add up quick. Not to mention you need something to sharpen the rods, a cart to store it and special TIG gloves.
So yea it can add up, but on the bright side a good TIG welder can charge a pretty penny for his skill.
Because of the care and dexterity required, TIG is a slow going process. GTAW is a method meant for quality not speed.
Unless you’re working on a manufacturing line or somewhere that’s time critical this is a non-issue. Just a heads up.
Greater Safety Risk
If the metal is properly cleaned you wont be breathing is toxic fumes like you would with MIG or stick but TIG does have it’s own safety concerns. The ultra-violet (UV) rays that emit from the TIG process are much more intense than MIG or stick. Often welders will remember to protect their face and eyes but neglect to cover exposed skin giving them severe burns.
As long as you remember to cover up and follow proper procedures you’ll be just fine.
What you need to consider:
The most important thing to consider when buying the best TIG welder are your power requirements. Choose something to weak and you’re stuck with an expensive doorstop. Choose something too powerful and you’ve just wasted a bunch of money on something you really didn’t need. It’s critical to know what kind of welding you’re going to be doing and then choose one with slightly more power, just in case.
Output – Measured in amps, look for a welder with the widest range possible within your budget. A TIG welder with too narrow an output range can severely limit the variety and type of materials that you can weld. If you plan on welding wafer thin metals look for a rig that goes down to at least 5 amps. Aluminum tends to require much more power, so if you regularly weld with aluminum look for something with at least 200 amps.
Input – It’s important to know if that expensive piece of equipment you just bought will work with your home power supply. The standard American home runs on around 115V which is perfect for mid-level TIG. However, the best TIG welder will have the option between 115V and 230V so if you need to crank up the power (and your power supply is set up for it) you have the option.
Low amperage stability
Next to power, if you’re regularly welding thin materials, low amperage stability is critical. Look for a welder that has good arc stability below 10 amps. This allows for easier starting, better control and improved crater fill capacity.
You need to choose a welder that wont spike amperage at the beginning. When welding thin metals, if this happens, you’ll likely burn a hole through the metal and ruin whatever you’re working on. The best TIG welder will be stable from start to finish.
Arc stability is not only important at the beginning but throughout the entire weld. The last thing you want is a sudden spike in amperage to completely ruin your project. It’s especially important at the end of the bead when you typically ramp down the output to fill in the weld.
Just to refresh your memory, the duty cycle is the amount of time you can weld at a certain power output without having to worry about overheating. It’s typically based on a 10 minute time limit. So if a TIG welder is rated at 200 amps/ 40% duty cycle, that means you can weld at 200 amps for 4 minutes before having to rest for 6. The lower amperage you use the longer the duty cycle.
For a household hobbyist type welder the duty cycle is around 20% which is more than enough for most people. The more expensive machines will have a duty cycle of around 40% – 60% while industrial welders often boast 100%.
If you want your welder to last for years to come you need to remember the duty cycle and take breaks when required.
Current Type – AC/DC
Different metals require different current types to be effective. If you are going to be welding more than just steel the best TIG welder will offer both AC (alternating) and DC (direct) currents. For self-oxidizing metals like aluminum or magnesium you should use AC. For most everything else like steel, stainless or copper DC is the way to go.
AC – Alternating current switches between positive and negative currents to produce the weld. This means the positive current cleans away oxides while the negative current penetrates the base metal to form a beautiful looking, strong weld.
DC – Direct current is more straightforward. It heats up the metal and fuses it together.
AC Balance Control
The best TIG welder will have simple AC balance controls. This allows you to set the amount of time during the alternating current cycle. Instead of 50/50 positive and negative you can set it otherwise as you see fit. Essentially, this lets you set the level of cleaning vs penetration so you can fine-tune it to the exact specifications.
However, not all TIGs offer AC balance, so if you weld with aluminum or magnesium on a regular basis make sure to check.
Because TIG welding requires such a high degree of dexterity and focus, it’s important that the controls are easy to access and use. Using the controls should be effortless so it becomes second nature.
Heat – Proper heat control is critical with TIG welding, especially on thin metals where controlling the heat reduces warping. Typically you use a foot pedal to control the temperature which many welders prefer over the button on the torch. The foot pedal allows you to free up your hands so you can focus completely on the perfect bead without having to move your fingers around to the button.
Controls for pulsed TIG welding is also an option. A built-in pulser allows the machine to switch between higher and lower current to maintain an arc while allowing the welding joint to cool.
Gas – The best TIG welder will have a built-in gas solenoid to control the flow of gas. But some don’t. For this you need a torch with push button controls. With the torch you can actually weld TIG anywhere there is a DC welding power supply making it extremely versatile.
Arc Starting Method
There are several way to start an arc when welding with TIG. Each method has its pros and cons and some methods don’t work with some metals. It’s important to use the right starting method or you might ruin your project.
Scratch – Probably the most common starting method, think of scratch start like lighting a match. You drag the tungsten along the metal until an arc starts. Because the tungsten is heated up almost instantly, scratch starting is ideal for thicker metals that can withstand the higher amp initial spike. If you are just beginning to TIG weld you’ll likely be using this method.
Lift – Similar to scratch, lift starting involves touching the metal with the tungsten but only for a moment. After quickly lifting it up the arc is drawn back to the tungsten and you’re ready to weld.
It works like this: the welder cuts back to a very low voltage until it senses contact with the metal. Once lifted it shifts into higher output as the tungsten leaves the surface. While this method is still not 100% clean, it’s much better than scratch starting.
High Frequency – The most common and overall best option is high frequency starting. It generates a high frequency arc that ionizes the air to bridge the gap between tungsten and metal. This method is touchless and produces almost no contamination.
High frequency starting is the only choice when welding with aluminum. It works with other metals too but isn’t necessary.
Ease of Use
Because TIG is such a complex process its vital that the best TIG welder is easy to use. The last thing you want is to struggle to figure out settings and fancy features that you really don’t need. For most hobbyists a machine that user-friendly with easy to understand controls and a durable metal foot pedal are all you really need. Throw in some AC balance control and you’re set.
If you’re going to be welding a variety of different metals then consider a multi-process unit. There are a bunch of different configurations when it comes to multi-process welders – TIG/stick or MIG/TIG/stick or TIG/stick/plasma cutter and on and on. Decide what kind of welding you’ll be doing and plan accordingly.
The best TIG welder will have at least TIG and stick capabilities.
Everyone loves extra features that make their lives just a bit easier. But the more features they add the more expensive the welder. If you’re a hobbyist, a basic TIG welder will be enough. If you’re more advanced or weld for a living you might appreciate the extras, they’ll often save you time and money.
Quick Release Torch – Different torches have different benefits. Say you’re doing overhead welding but the torch you regularly use is too heavy. You can switch it out for a lighter one and be welding away in no time.
Another example is if you use a foot pedal normally but need to weld in some awkward positions where you can’t reach the pedal. In this case you can switch out the torch for one that has a heat control button on the gun.
Water Cooling – Inexpensive TIG welders rely on airflow to cool down which is why they have such a low duty cycle. The premium unit will be water cooled and have a much higher duty cycle so you don’t have to wait around staring at the clock.
Arc Start Technology – Each brand has their own patented technologies on their higher end units but they all do the same thing – stabilize the arc at low amperage. If you regularly weld with thin materials consider one of these technologies.
Buying the best TIG welder is a pretty hefty investment which is why it’s so important to be aware of the warranty. If you buy from any of the major brands they will have a solid warranty policy so there’s no problem there.
If, however, you buy from a lesser known company read the warranty thoroughly. While the machines are (usually) good quality, they are no Miller or Lincoln so beware.
Tips for Choosing the Best TIG Welder
Know What you’ll be Welding
Before doing anything you should have a solid idea of what you will be welding on a regular basis. The last thing you want is to buy the best TIG welder only to find out that it isn’t powerful enough or wont go down to the amperage you need.
Set a budget and stick to it. Things add up quickly if you want all the latest features and gadgets so you should know how much you’re willing to spend and get the absolute best. That seems pretty obvious but I’ve seen beginners get carried away and suddenly they have a $2000+ welder that they wont get to fully utilize. If you have the money then go ahead, but otherwise figure out your budget and stay within it.
If you’re going to spend several hundred dollars on a machine don’t take risks and buy from some unknown company. That doesn’t mean you only have to look at the big 3. There are several smaller brands that work just as well and are much cheaper. Here are some trusted brands that offer quality products:
Other Trusted Brands:
Read Reviews (but be careful)
Search tig welder reviews on Google and you’ll get a ton of results for reviews of TIG welders. Some of them are a great source of information but most of them aren’t. Be careful here because often the information is wrong which can be dangerous.
It’s best to look on Amazon for reviews. That way you know you are reading a review from a person who’s actually used the machine. If the best TIG welder has 4+ stars and around 10-20 reviews it is likely a good product. Do your research.
Consider Buying Used
Coming from a guy who makes a living selling welders this seems counter-intuitive but you’ll find the best deals on craigslist or kijiji if you look long enough. People often outgrown their welders or lose interest after a few months so they put their machine up for sale at a severely discounted rate. If you can get a nice, lightly used welder for half the price then go for it. If it’s still under manufacturers warranty, all the better.
This probably isn’t the best choice if you’re buying your first welder because you don’t know what to look for yet and unfortunately scammers are everywhere. But if you know what to look for and don’t mind used then this is a great option.