MAX Update No. 72: The Most Valuable Tool in the Shop

| 5/21/2011 4:29:56 PM

That would be our Millermatic 180 Auto Set wire feed welder. It’s not the most expensive tool in the shop, but it’s the most valuable. As if by magic, it turned me into a tolerable welder. I won’t say I’m a good welder--I’m not, and anything welded that you get from Kinetic Vehicles is welded by professionals, not by me--but considering my eyesight and my skill level, I’m not bad...and I was flat out crummy before I got my Millermatic. My welds used to look like bird poo (and here you thought that was just an expression). Anyway, I was at a Miller display at an air show, and with 15 minutes of adult supervision and some top quality welding equipment to work with, I made my first welded parts that I was willing to trust on a cross-country drive.

The parts were a front and rear roof rack...or would have been if I’d had a roof. I had to transport a set of aircraft wing spars from Oshkosh Wisconsin to Cave Junction and I was driving a beater Miata--enough of a beater that I didn’t mind bolting racks to the hood and trunk. I cut the steel I needed and taped the parts together the way I wanted them, and figured I could beg the Miller demo team into welding them up for me, but no dice: they just showed me how it’s done, and made me weld them myself. By the time I got to Oregon, I was saying, “I gotta get one of those Millermatics of my very own!” And the rest is history.

MU72MillermaticThis photo is cropped from the first MAX story in Mother Earth News, back in Aug-Sept of 2008. My friend Dave is in the photo for scale, and he’s a pretty big guy...but I don’t think he’s as big as the guy (or guys) who broke into Kinetic and stole the welder, since they didn’t bother stealing the cart with it. They just kicked in the door, picked up the Millermatic and the tank, and left...and if it was just one guy, well, if I’d been there I would have held the door open for him, ‘cause I’m sure not going to mess with somebody who can run with a welder under one arm and an argon tank under the other. And my Miller Elite auto-darkening hood on his head.

Oh, they took some other stuff but it was dumb stuff, like my telephones (honestly, who steals plug-in telephones any more?), and they went through my file drawers like they were looking for Barack Obama’s birth certificate or something, but the only thing of clear value was the Miller welding gear.

So I can’t fault them on taste. I would (and do) recommend the Millermatic 180 to anybody with welding jobs at home shop or farm, and I’m going to get another Millermatic ASAP. I may go for the Millermatic 140 this time; it runs on 110 instead of 220 and it’s plenty powerful enough to make another MAX (the thickest steel on MAX is 1/8” and the 140 model is good to 3/16”) but it’s a tough call (I make some pretty heavy tools now and then so I may stick with the 180). And I’m going to replace my Miller Elite hood with one just like it, because I think half the difference between how I used to weld and how I weld lately is that lately I can see what I’m welding.

This burglary sure was a nuisance, but it was nothing critical. I have friends who weld who can fill in for a while, and I still have the cheaper welder I had before I got the Miller...but I’m spoiled now. Mind you, nobody praises the quality of my personal welding work, but at least lately they don’t say anything at all. Before I started using the Millermatic, they’d look at my welds and say “It looks like your duck isn’t getting enough roughage.”

Peter Johnson
10/29/2011 10:40:02 AM

I have an opportunity at a Millermatic 180 bought new last year and used once, complete with a cart, tanks and helmet. What do you think is a reasonable price?

dave tornio
5/29/2011 12:34:28 AM

Go for the 180 Jack. I've used the 140 and it's pretty limited power wise. I realize 120 vac power is convenient, but 230 vac is available in virtually every building. Besides the 140 needs 20A at the high end of the power settings. It usually trips 15A breakers. I have the 210 at home and love it. I bought it for doing aluminium. The 180 will do small aluminium also and is more portable. The 140 doesn't really have enough zap for aluminium of any size. The 180's your best bet. Lincoln makes a good 180 machine as well.

5/27/2011 11:29:05 PM

I fell in love with MIG welding while working at a Ford truck dealership. It was a huge millermatic 250 (if memory serves). I wanted to get a similar set up for home only more affordable so I got a Lincoln SP 170. The issue was a small garage and no air flow so I had to weld outside in the wind requiring flux core wire. It splatters horribly but a little anti-splatter spray keeps it from sticking.

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