If you’ve ever thought about learning how to weld but were scared off by stories about how difficult it is, I’m here to tell you that times have changed. The technology found in today’s welding machines makes it a lot simpler than one might expect, taking most of the guesswork out of the equation. I recently started on my second project truck and had yet to even pick up a welder. In the past, I always relied on someone else to do the welding for me, whether by beg, barter, or bribe. The deeper I got into my project, however, the more I wanted to do more and more of the work myself. So I began viewing some of the online welding videos, and almost every one of them made it look possible for an absolute beginner. I mulled it over for a few weeks and decided it was time to get a welding machine. I felt that the investment in learning to weld would benefit me in the long run. Also, in speaking with experienced welders, I learned that they all started out the same way and only through practice have they excelled at their craft.
I started doing research on the Internet, reading the online reviews, and I found a lot of great welding machines out there. But I kept coming back to Miller Electric’s Millermatic 211. I liked the fact that it has an automatic feature, called Auto-Set, that helps take some of the guesswork out of adjusting the settings, which I thought would be great for a beginner like me. In Auto-Set mode, you select the welding wire thickness and the thickness of the metal and the machine does the rest. The Millermatic 211 also has what the company calls the Multi-Voltage Plug, or MVP, that allows you to use either a standard household 120v plug or a 230v outlet for when you need to weld thicker material. Simply swap out the plug ends and you’re good to go. At 120v you can weld up to 3⁄16-inch metal, while 230v will handle up to 3⁄8-inch. This makes the unit versatile enough to handle every job a custom truck build throws at it; whether you’re repairing sheetmetal or welding up a chassis.
Another feature worth mentioning when it comes to comparing welding machines is duty cycle. Put simply, duty cycle is the number of minutes out of a 10-minute period where a welding machine can operate without overheating. For the Millermatic 211, the duty cycle is 150 amps for three minutes, or a 30 percent duty cycle in the 230v setting, and 90 amps at two minutes plugged into standard 120v. For those of us working at home, that’s more than enough to handle any light fabrication project.
I ordered the Millermatic 211 online and once it arrived I could not wait to get started. The instructions are simple and easy to read. Having no prior experience or welding knowledge, setting up the machine took about an hour and a half. For our first time out, we used 0.030-inch wire and a small 40cm tank of 75 percent argon and 25 percent CO2 mix. We found that this provided about 20 minutes of welding time, but was easy for us to transport. Thankfully, gas cylinders come in a large variety of sizes, so if you’re planning on welding often, there’s a gas bottle to suit your needs.
If you’ve been apprehensive about learning to weld, I can tell you that the Millermatic 211 will change your mind. This unit turned out impressive welds right out of the box and was very simple to use.
Follow along as we get our welder up and running.
1. Buying a Miller welder is as easy as driving down to your local welding supply store or you can do what we did, and order one on Miller’s website. A few days later and it’ll show up on your doorstep.
2. Once unpackaged, we laid out the essentials and read through the owner’s manual to get a grasp on what’s required to get it set up.
3. In addition to the welder, we also ordered a helmet and a set of welding gloves—the essentials, so to speak.
4. If you’ve ever used one of Miller’s 30FX Arc Stations, you probably realized how useful they are. They make clamping work pieces down and organizing your fab work easy and they’re portable as well so you can fold it up and stash it away. We picked up one of these locally after we found that prime welding space just did not exist in our garage.
5. The first step in getting up and running is to assemble the M-100 MIG gun in the welder. It slides in from the front…
6. … and is held in place internally by the gun securing knob next to the drive assembly.
7. The gun trigger plug attaches to a receptacle at the front of the machine and is held in place by a threaded collar.
8. We loaded a small roll of 0.030-inch welding wire into the welder and used a 1⁄2-inch socket to tighten down the roll until the proper tension was applied to the spool. The end of the wire was then fed into the drive assembly.
9. This is what happens if the tension is not set correctly. It is sometimes referred to as bird nesting and will definitely try your patience.
10. The drive roller needs to be set for the correct wire size. A simple push and twist motion will release the roller. There are indicators on each side to make it easy to match it to the correct sized wire. The Pressure Adjustment Knob is unlatched so that the wire can be fed freely into the wire guide.
11. Once the wire is fed into the gun liner, the Pressure Adjustment Knob is secured and the tension is set to number 3. The wire should feed easily through the gun once it is turned on. If not, you can tweak the adjustment by turning the knob.
12. The type of wire that you use will determine the polarity setting for the machine. We are using solid wire so we left it on the factory setting.
13. Turning our attention to the back of the machine, the Flowmeter/Regulator hose is inserted into the gas port on the top left side.
14. For our weekend project, we’re going to use a small gas bottle. This size tank yields a small amount of welding time, but is perfect for those jobs where portability is important.
15. For mild steel MIG welding, a mix of argon (75%) and carbon dioxide (25%) is used, which can be bought at any welding supply store.
16. We then secured the gauges to the cylinder.
17. The gauge on the left indicates the flow rate of the gas. The one on the right shows the volume of gas still in the tank. The handle in the center is used to adjust the flow rate. A turn clockwise or counterclockwise will increase or decrease the flow of gas to the welder. A flowrate of 25 cfh is typical for mild steel MIG welding.
18. And with that, we’re ready to rock. After powering on the machine, the first thing to check is that the gun selector is set to the MIG setting. The Millermatic 211 features plug-and-play compatibility with an aluminum spool gun, adding a huge benefit that entry-level MIG welders never had before.
19. With the machine powered up, we can now feed the wire up through the gun liner and out the tip. This is best accomplished with the contact tip and gun nozzle removed to avoid kinking the wire. Once the wire extends out past the tip, release the trigger to stop the wire from feeding and reinstall the contact tip and nozzle.
20-21. To remove the excess wire, use wire cutters to trim it so that it extends between 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 inch past the tip.
22. In the past, setting up a new or unfamiliar welding machine required a bit of trial and error before getting the wire feed and voltage settings just right. With Miller’s Auto-Set feature, it’s simply a matter of setting the Wire Speed knob to the correct wire diameter, in our case 0.030-inch …
23. …and then setting the voltage knob to the corresponding material thickness, 1⁄8-inch in this example.
24. We chose to use the Auto-Set feature for our first time out but if you feel more comfortable you can find the manual settings by lifting the side cover. This is necessary when using a smaller diameter MIG wire, such as 0.024-inch, as the Auto-Set feature only works with 0.030- and 0.035-inch wire sizes.
25. We grabbed a small piece of scrap metal and laid down our first weld, just a little over an hour after unpacking our machine. Not too bad for our very first weld ever, thanks to the user-friendly features of the Millermatic 211 with Auto-Set. A little more practice and we’ll be fabricating parts before you know it.