Choosing The Right Welder For Building a BBQ Smoker
There may only be one thing better than eating delicious barbecue cooked slow and low on a smoker, and that is eating some delicious barbecue that you cooked slow and low on the barbecue smoker that you made. Making barbecue smokers has long been a favorite hobby of backyard cooks and professional pitmasters alike.
While one may feel comfortable with procuring the material, cutting out the doors, and forming the metal of the smoke chimney, uncertainty may arise when it comes time to join these materials with a welding machine. Therefore, it is important to know at the start what type of welder will be required to make a BBQ smoker.
Shielded Metal Arc Welders (Stick or SMAW)
Shielded metal arc welders, colloquially known as stick welders, are an excellent way to weld together the components of many types of BBQ smokers. Stick welders, when compared with other welding power sources, are very simple. They do not require shielding gas, they do not require advanced electrical waveforms, and they don’t require a wire feeding system. All of this makes for a very robust and relatively portable welding system.
Inverter power sources, like the ES275i stick welder, are especially mobile because they do not have big, heavy transformers, making them much more carryable. This is nice if you have multiple projects ongoing. Another advantage of stick welders is that they can be used to join dirtier material because of the flux coating on the electrodes that the machines use. The reduced amount of time spent cleaning off mill scale and rust prior to welding allows one to get to that first slab of St. Louis spare ribs that much quicker. Stick welders such as the ES275i can also join very thick materials. Coming in with a maximum amperage of 275, the ES275i will be capable of welding BBQ smokers made of the thickest steels.
Stick welders are not the answer for all BBQ smoker welding activities though. If thin materials, especially those less than 1.5 mm, are to be welded, then stick welding could be troublesome because even the small electrodes are somewhat large when compared with other welding processes.
If weld spatter is a concern, which it may be if a paint or powder coating is going to applied after fabrication, then a stick welder may not be the best choice as the stick welding process can expel a lot of molten metal from the weld puddle. The weld spatter can be taken care of by proper post-weld cleaning though. Finally, if non-ferrous or stainless steels are being welded, it may be better to use an alternative welding process.
Gas Metal Arc Welders (MIG or GMAW)
Gas metal arc welders, less formally known as metal inert gas (MIG) welders, are another excellent category of welding machine to use when assembling a BBQ smoker. MIG welders are similar to stick welders in the sense that the electrode is also the weld filler metal, but MIG welders do come with other added complexities. For one, they require a wire feeding system. This wire feeding system could be internal like that of a Lincoln Power MIG 180C, or external such as an LN25 wire feeder combined with an EX360 welding power supply. MIG welders also require shielding gas, unlike stick welders.
MIG welders are excellent choices to build a BBQ smoker with because of the amount of skill it takes to learn how to make a MIG weld, which is arguably less than that required to stick weld or use other welding processes. Also, MIG welding is considered a fast travel speed process when compared with many other welding processes. If the BBQ smokers are getting made in large numbers in a production setting, then a MIG welder may be an excellent way to increase productivity. MIG welders are also better suited than stick welding to join materials other than carbon steel together.
If the BBQ smokers are getting made in large numbers in a production setting, then a MIG welder may be an excellent way to increase productivity.
MIG welding machines do come with several disadvantages though. In addition to the added complexities over stick welding mentioned above, MIG weld can also be a little more limited in the material thicknesses it can join together than stick welding because of its smaller electrode size. MIG welders, especially those without advanced pulse waveforms, can leave weld spatter on the BBQ smoker. A MIG welding machine like the Lincoln Power Wave 455M/STT has pulse welding waveforms that can alleviate this concern. Furthermore, MIG welding machines, while they can join materials other than carbon steel together, they are not as capable of doing so as the next type of welding machine this article highlights below.
Gas Tungsten Arc Welders (TIG or GTAW)
Gas tungsten arc welding, often called tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding is a process that can also be used to manufacture BBQ smokers. Of the three welding machine types mentioned in this article, TIG welding machines are perhaps the most complex to use. They require the manipulation of a torch with a non-consumable tungsten electrode and a shielding gas in one hand, and in the other hand a filler metal rod in order to add weld metal reinforcement. The amperage can also be adjusted by the welder on the fly, typically by use of a foot pedal. TIG welders can be light and transportable like the Miller Maxstar 200 SD inverter power source or big and heavy like the Miller Syncrowave 250 DX transformer power source.
TIG welders provide many benefits when assembling a BBQ smoker. One of the greatest benefits is their ability to join materials other than carbon steel. Aluminum, stainless steel, even nickel superalloys can be joined using a TIG welding power source. Now, it’s unlikely that anyone will be using Inconel 625 to construct the smoky chamber that houses their prime cut of brisket, but one may want to make it out of stainless steel, or even simply add stainless steel grates to a carbon steel frame. This is where a TIG welder can really shine during the fabrication process. Another reason for selecting a TIG welder is cosmetic purposes. TIG welders, when operated by skilled welding personnel, can make very aesthetically pleasing welds. In addition, when it comes time to join extremely thin materials, TIG welders are very capable machines.
One of the greatest benefits of TIG welders is their ability to join materials other than carbon steel.
TIG welding machines may not always be the best choice, however. For one, they can be more expensive than MIG welders and barebones stick welders. Power sources like the Miller Dynasty 350 have a lot of bells and whistles that, while allowing for an incredible amount of operator control, can tend to come with a premium over the welding machines used solely for stick or MIG welding. TIG welding is also a relatively slow travel speed process, which may be fine for one-off smokers, but not necessarily suitable for a production environment. TIG welders also require a high degree of operator skill with respect to operating other types of welding machines.
…But Which One is the Best?
The best welder for building a BBQ smoker truly depends on the type of smoker being built. For most smokers, any one of these three types of welders will work just fine. Want speed? Go with MIG. Need portability? Give a stick welder a try. Welding non-ferrous or stainless steel? A TIG welder may be your best bet. Refer to the table below to see the advantages of each welder type to see which one may suit your needs best.
Stick Welder MIG Welder TIG Welder
Extremely portable Fast Very high-quality welds can be achieved
Affordable Relatively low skill required to operate Can be used to weld thinner materials than MIG or stick welders
Low Complexity Adequately suited to weld stainless steel and non-ferrous metals Superbly suited to weld stainless steel and non-ferrous alloys
Can be used to weld thick materials Can be used to weld thinner materials than a stick welder Virtually no spatter
Less skill required to operate than a TIG welder Can have less spatter than a stick welder Generally provides cosmetically superior welds when compared with stick or MIG
Advantages of Various Welding Methods For Building a Smoker or Barbecue Grill
|Speed||Slower than MIG welding because the electrode is typically larger, it is not semiautomatically fed via a wire feed system, and it has a flux coating||Fast||Slower than MIG welding because it requires manual additions of filler metal with a seperate hand|
|Portability||Extremely portable||Less portable than stick welding machines because it requires shielding gas and a wirefeed system||Less portable than stick welding machines becauase it requires a shielding gas|
|Cost||Affordable||More expensive than stick because of the wire feed system, shielding gas, and potential proprietary pulse welding waveforms||More expensive than stick welders because of a more complex torch system, shielding gases, and potential welding power source unit that has more complexity|
|Difficulty||Low Complexity – Less skill required to operate than a TIG welder||Relatively low skill required to operate||Generally considered the more difficult than MIG or stick welding because of the use of two hands and the manual addition of filler metal|
|Materials||Can be used to weld thick materials||Adequately suited to weld stainless steel and non-ferrous metals but can also be used to weld aluminum.||Can be used to weld thinner materials than MIG or stick welders
Superbly suited to weld stainless steel and non-ferrous alloys
|Weld Quality||Stick welding machines can produce very high quality welds, but will generally produce more spatter than MIG or TIG machines. Stick welding also requires the removal of slag, which can be difficult in some circumstances||Can provide less spatter than a stick welding machine||Very high quality welds can be achieved – Generally provides cosmetically superior welds when compared with stick or MIG|