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Whether you own one piece of equipment or 100, that equipment is inevitably going to break down, and breakages can be more than just an inconvenience. They can keep you from planting or harvesting crops and even endanger your safety.
In a perfect world, your equipment would break at the end of the day right next to the shop. In reality, equipment tends to break down at the most inopportune time and as far from the shop as possible.
When you can't bring the work to the welder, it might be time to consider an engine-driven unit. Not only do these machines provide their own welding power, but also they supply AC generator power to run tools and lights.
“I broke the spindle on my ripper at 11:00 p.m.,” says Todd Lewis, who farms near Forest City, Iowa. “The tire fell off in the field, and it has walking wheels on it. I either had to chain it up to get it home or fix it on-site. I just pulled the welder out to the field and started working on it. I may not use my Lincoln Ranger 8 welder a lot, but it's nice to have it when things break after hours.”
What these machines can do
While basic engine-driven units can only stick-weld, by adding the right accessories to the engine-driven units, they are also able to MIG- and TIG-weld.
“When you can't bring the work to the welder, it might be time to consider an engine-driven welder.”
“In case you have in-field repair work, most of the time you need a machine that is lightweight, low cost, and does stick welding,” says Lincoln Electric's Eric Snyder, senior product manager for engine-driven welders.
For in-field welding repairs, shielded metal arc welding (or stick welding) is one of the most common processes. Stick electrodes are self-shielded and cut down on the amount of equipment needed. There's no need to haul in a gas cylinder, a hose, or a regulator. The welding rod or electrode diameters most commonly used are 3/32 inch, ⅛ inch, and 5/32 inch.
Engine-Driven Welder Manufacturers
The Champion 10,000 is a 10,000-watt generator or a 230-amp constant-current DC welder. This unit is designed for stick welding with quick and easy arc starts. It also performs general scratch start DC TIG. The engine is warranted separately by the engine manufacturer. List price is $3,457.
Lincoln Electric lincolnelectric.com
The Outback 185 engine-driven welder has portable DC stick welding with AC generator power. Features patent-pending Low-Lift Grab Bars. All engine controls are on the front control panel. Fuel tank holds 6.8 gallons. Weld with up to 5/32 inch stick electrode. Up to 185 amps of DC output for many applications. Has 5,700 watts of peak AC generator power. List price is $3,224.
Miller Electric millewelds.com
The Bobcat 250 EFI engine-driven welder/generator can stick and flux-core weld. Features include multiprocess weld output and strong generator power. Electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology provides benefits over carburetor models. For example, it is more reliable when used infrequently, has better fuel economy, and starts easily in all climates (with no choke required). Machine has 12,000 watts of generator power. List price is $5,056.
“Output is measured in amps, and up to 185 amps is normally sufficient for the electrode sizes mentioned,” says Snyder. “Most equipment is DC (direct current) output for best arc stability.”
When choosing an engine-driven welder, there are four basic considerations you need to keep in mind.
1. Application. Determine the type of material that needs to be welded. “Most of the time, the material will be steel,” notes Snyder. “However, if it's aluminum, welding will require added equipment.”
2. Engine type. The next step is to choose the engine. Diesel, gasoline, or liquid propane gas (LPG) are the choices. While gas models may cost less, weigh less, and are smaller in size, diesel versions offer better fuel economy and have a longer engine life.
“If you want something lightweight, portable, and low cost, gas will be the way to go,” says Snyder. “However, you may prefer to go with diesel, because it's more readily available. But remember that a diesel welder is heavier and more expensive compared to a gas machine.”
It's important to note that gasoline engines are sometimes preferred in cold-weather climates. That's because they start easier without extra starting aids, such as ether start kits and winterized fuel for colder weather.
LPG is typically used in environments where gasoline and diesel emissions are not acceptable.
3. PortabilitY. “Sometimes the need for portability will be the main factor in equipment selection,” notes Snyder. “If an engine-driven welder needs to be moved with an undercarriage or lifted to a work area, having a small gasoline stick welder will normally be the best answer.”
4. Ac power. “All engine-driven welders create AC generator power and could be an important feature if you're doing repair work at night,” says Snyder. “This is a nice feature to be able to run a light. You may also want to do some grinding, and the AC generator power can be used for that as well.”
Typically, 3,000 watts of AC generator power is plenty for these applications. A ground fault circuit interrupter is also recommended and may be required.
Miller Electric's John Leisner, product manager for engine-driven welders, says, “The generator should be industrial quality to deliver clean power to run home furnaces and appliances. It should be strong enough to give good starting power for pumps and motors.”
Because you probably don't use one every day, your welder should be fully enclosed to protect the insides from rodents, says Leisner.
Also, look at electronic fuel injection, because it is a better fuel-delivery system when used infrequently. “There are no carburators to cause problems, which can occur with infrequent use,” he says.
Snyder says expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $3,300 for a basic engine-driven welder that includes a generator.
Metal preparation is always key to any great weld that will hold, says Leisner.
If you need more information or guidance, welding company sales people and their customer service representatives can be great resources to field technical questions on applications and products.
“If you're not sure about what you're trying to do, it would be best to ask the question before you start welding,” says Snyder. “The more knowledgeable you are about how to weld, the better the outcome will be.”
Lewis adds, “An engine-driven welder is really nice to have. It's one of those expenditures that I think you won't want to invest in. But it's like buying your first ATV. Once you have it, you can't do without it.”
The chart above features a sampling of what three manufacturers offer.