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

Reader Contribution by Staff
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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.

This 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.”

Photo by Jack McCornack

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