It's hard to rank the value of the all tools one accumulates in life. They each have their place. Some come out all the time, others less frequently. Many are used merely for convenience. A few of them are an absolute necessity. I've got hand-me-downs I'll probably never use but can't bring myself to get rid of. Occasionally, a new tool that I've never owned nor thought much about moves in and instantly becomes indispensable. The MIG welder is one of those.
I can no longer imagine my garage without an MIG. It has changed my life. Seriously. The MIG has taken me to a whole new level of do-it-yourself independence. It's raised the bar of my ability and craft. It's deepened my knowledge of materials. It's even got me thinking differently
I got it to work on the race car of course, but it didn't stop there. I soon discovered there's very little that can't be fixed with an MIG. I've repaired garden tools and modified industrial shelving. I built a 55-gallon barbecue drum smoker on wheels. When the cheap thumbscrew clamps on my 8-year-old's bed frame kept coming apart, I just ran a few beads to ensure it never would again. Ah, how sweet is the feeling of accomplishment and overkill when sparks and molten steel become part of bedroom furniture repair.
Just today I made tomato cages from 10-gauge concrete mesh. I know I know...you'd probably never make tomato cages with your MIG, but you could. And that's the real beauty of MIG ownership. Nobody would ever pay a fabricator to build tomato cages. You build welded tomato cages because it's fun, because they'll be a hell of a lot better than any of the ones you can buy. You build welded steel tomato cages because you can.
Scrap metals have become precious and horded since the MIG moved in. Derelict sofa bed innards lying next to the curb sometimes look like do-it-yourself pit carts. Discarded rebar begs to become yard art. Offcuts from every measured length of steel are kept. The construction crew building my neighbor's pool across the street have become used to me now. I'll yell from the pile near the street, "Hey, you guys gonna throw this away?" They wave it away without looking up knowing I will take it to do God knows what.
Chip Foose once described his MIG as a "metal caulking gun," and that's about right. It's not capable of the same level of craftsmanship and magic that the TIG is, but it will fill a joint with steel as soon as you squeeze the trigger. Few household or race weekend welding jobs are too large (or small) for the average 220 volt MIG. And do note I say MIG, not wire feed welder. Metal Inert Gas is the welding process by which the spool-fed welding wire is shielded from the atmosphere by an inert gas. Flux-core wire feed does away with that gas. The burning flux shields the weld instead. As the wire arcs to the welded material, flux forms its own inert atmosphere of shielding smoke and gasses that keep the molten puddle safe from oxidation. It sounds tidy but it isn't. Flux core has its place. Without the burden and expense of an Argon/CO2 tank and regulator, a flux-core setup can be several hundred dollars less and is far more portable. That kind of convenience has its own costs though. Flux core makes a mess of spattering tiny balls of molten steel, opaque foul-smelling smoke and a blinding arc that makes it more difficult to see what you're welding.
The MIG is cleaner in every way. It produces smooth, even beads. It doesn't smell or leave you begging for a fan and the visibility of the weld without the brilliantly illuminated flux smoke affords the welder far better control and a lot less guesswork. More than anything, it offers convenience. In a hurry, tacking two parts together is as easy as opening the gas valve, flipping the power switch, closing your eyes and pulling the trigger. Though an extra minute to put on a shop coat and welding helmet are well worth the effort, tiny burn holes in all of your clothes, pealing facial sunburns and pitted prescription glasses are not as cool as they sound. Doing your own fabrication though, is a pleasure without equal in the sanctity of my garage. It's a deep and fulfilling satisfaction that follows in part from the DNA-coded primal fascination of melting steel.
The MIG makes this possible. In the animal kingdom that is my garage, it is the top dog of tools. - E. John Thawley III