By Jayden Mark
Stick welders owe their popularity mostly to the fact that they are relatively inexpensive. While it takes a little practice to master stick welding, it is not as complicated as TIG welding. Like so many, I first learnt to weld using a transformer stick welding machine. Since then, inverter stick welders have come along, which has been a great improvement. More about this later when I discuss the particulars of these machines in the stick welder buying guide.
For now, let’s get down to business, a review of the best stick welders. Naturally, this is our opinion as to which are the best the stick welders. Not everyone will agree. Though, with decades of welding experience and, having taught many a novice how to use a stick welder, I believe I bring some valuable knowledge to the table.
Our team have set about to select some of the best options for the stick welder buyer. For some of you, budget may be more important than finding the very best stick welder for sale today. So, we’ve done a good deal of research to come up with a few great suggestions for more affordable stick welders. For those in need of something with a more heavy-duty design, we’ve also got some fantastic stick welding machines that are great for more demanding applications. Whether you’re a professional metalworker, contractor, or an occasional home welder, we’ve put in the hours to find the best options in every category.
I’ll do my best to guide you through the process of buying a new stick welder. Newbies to metalwork may have more questions than seasoned welders. So, there could be a lot of folks who’d like to keep reading beyond the stick welder review to learn more about these machines in the stick welder buying guide.
Best Stick Welders – The Full Review
With names like Hobart and Lincoln in our lineup of arc welders, you can be sure we’re going to be looking at a few of the very best stick welders in the light to medium duty range. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few cheap welders for those who don’t want to spend all that much on a quality stick welder. Even the cheap machines are decent in terms of build quality. So, none of the welders in this review are the very cheapest. I would never recommend buying cheap junk. Look at the cheaper machines in this review as affordable quality that’s easy on your budget.
All but one of the welders in this review are inverter stick welders. The exception being the Lincoln Electric K1170, which is a heavy old-school arc welder with a virtually indestructible transformer. Later, you can read more about the pros and cons of inverter welders. For now, I’d like to say that I really like the Lincoln welder that we’ll be reviewing. Sure, it’s old technology, but that makes it really cheap for this class of welder.
1. Amico ARC-160D 160 Amp STICK ARC IGBT Inverter DC Welder
If you’re looking for a high-amp, heavy-duty arc welder, you might want to scroll down the page. However, if a budget stick welder for home repair jobs is what you’re after, the Amico ARC-160D is likely to catch your fancy. A good quality inverter stick welder, at a budget price, is quite a find. So, although this one is less powerful than many of the others in this review, and is not intended for heavy-duty welding, it is one of the very best stick welders for its price.
With a maximum output current of 160A, the Amico ARC-160D may be a little underpowered for thick steel. Though, for most welding jobs around the home and for automotive repairs, you really shouldn’t have a problem. A great IGBT inverter, with a small transformer, means great portability and easy, smooth welding. Hot start and anti-stick technology are amongst the benefits of using an inverter of this caliber. At 16-pounds, this is most certainly a portable stick welder and the carrying handle, along with a shoulder strap serves to make this even easier.
A simple dial makes output settings as easy as it gets and a quick glance at the LCD digital display informs you what output amperage you’re using (20 – 160A). Like any of the best IGBT welders, overheat and overload protection is a given.
I would never expect a high duty cycle from one of the cheapest inverter stick welders, so I was more than pleasantly surprised by this little machine. At the maximum output, a duty cycle of 60% @ 160A (230V input), and 60% @ 130A (115V input). A power supply adapter is provided with the welder and a 20A circuit breaker is recommended. Another spec that has really impressed me is the 90% efficiency. This inverter is above average, not something one would expect to find in a welder this cheap.
Now, at this price, I had to wonder, where are the cheap components? As usual, I found this in the ground clamp. It’s okay, I suppose, but I suspect you will start to lose conductivity over time, especially if you’re using the higher amp range that this welder delivers. The electrode holder is also okay, but not the best. The cables supplying the clamp and electrode holder look to be up to scratch and they are a convenient 10’ in length.
If you’re looking at quality vs price, I doubt you’d find a better deal anywhere. The Amico ARC-160D is a small portable welder, making it ideal for easy use around the home and yard. Even if you’re using a heavy-duty welder in you shop or on a farm, this little machine could be a brilliant additional welder for when it is unpractical to lug a big heavy machine around.
2. ZENY Arc Welding Machine DC Inverter Dual Voltage
Keeping to the theme of small, affordable arc welders, the Zeny Arc is, in my opinion, the best buy in this category. It is almost identical to the Amico (reviewed above), down to the red color. This is also a dual input voltage (115V/230V) inverter welder with a maximum output of 160A. Despite being so similar, the Zeny is even cheaper than the (already cheap) Amico. Bargain hunters will probably choose this one for that reason.
Comparing the specifications, the Zeny and Amico 160A arc welders match point for point. The only exception being that the cheaper Zeny is slightly less efficient (85% vs 90%). This is a minor difference, most of the cheaper inverters have an efficiency rating of 85% or less.
Duty cycles are matched: 60% @ 160A, using 230V input voltage with a rated input current of 20A. Output amperage is adjustable by means of a dial calibrated from 5A up to the maximum rated 160A. You have a similar digital display for output amps and all the same electronic safety functions – overheat, overload, and over current.
The cables, ground clamp, and electrode holder are of the same, slightly cheap standard. I would classify these as acceptable, but not ideal. I like the 10’ cables for both the ground clamp and electrode holder. Portability is also fantastic at 18-pounds, with a carrying handle and shoulder strap.
Because the Zeny is so incredibly cheap, this would be my first choice if I were looking for a small, light-duty home welding machine. The only difference I can find between this model and the slightly more expensive Amico, is a minimal difference in efficiency. Though, I would hardly see this as a serious issue. At 85% inverter efficiency, the Zeny is well within the normal parameters.
3. SUNGOLDPOWER 200A ARC MMA IGBT
As a very affordable MMA stick welder for small repair jobs, no one can fault the Sungoldpower 200A IGBT inverter welder. Even though this is very much a DIY, home user welding machine, it packs quite a punch and has a good duty cycle. For this price, I’m more than impressed with this little portable arc welder. A very capable inverter supplies a smooth current with hot starting and a good level of anti-sticking. It’s great for less experienced metalworkers as it’s quite easy to use
For this class of machine, the welder and accessories are of a good standard. My only real complaint would be the length of the ground and electrode cables. A 47.2-inch ground cable seems like a bit of a joke to me, and the 70.8-inch electrode holder cable isn’t too much better. These restrictions are easily overcome, however. The cables are relatively cheap to replace.
When it comes to portability, the Sungoldpower arc welder is tops. It weighs just under 15-pounds and has a great carrying handle. It’s also easy to set up. The machine automatically adapts to the input voltage to avoid any mistakes. A control knob allows you to dial it up to the required output amps and this is displayed on a digital screen. You can’t go wrong and it’s simple to make changes to the output as you go.
Looking at the important specs, this is a very competent arc welder. The rated duty cycle is 60% with an output current of 20 – 200 Amps, not at all bad. You have the option of using either 110V or 220V input and an adapter is supplied. Rated input current is 32A, I’d suggest using a 35A breaker for this welder. Efficiency is rated at 85%, which is quite acceptable for a cheaper inverter welder.
At this price, you’re getting a pretty decent 200A inverter welder. You can achieve a lot with this power, making it more than adequate for home projects and welding repair jobs.
4. LINCOLN ELECTRIC CO K1170 AC225, 60Hz Arc Welder
I know that technophiles won’t be all that impressed with the Lincoln Electric K1170. Call me a dinosaur, but I appreciate the never say die old-fashioned technology used to make this an incredibly tough AC stick welder. Nicknamed the “Tombstone”, this is a heavy welder, weighing a hefty 96-pounds. This also makes it an extremely heavy-duty arc welder and could easily serve you faithfully for a lifetime, no matter how hard you work it. It’s designed to work hard and is capable of welding pretty thick material of most metal types.
Not only is this a Lincoln welder, which in itself guarantees a high quality standard, it is also not an inverter welder. I know inverter welders have numerous benefits, but they will never be as tough as old-fashioned transformer/thyristor welders. The Lincoln K1170 is virtually indestructible. It lacks the refinement and efficiency of the modern inverter machines. It also guzzles electricity, requiring a 50A 230V power supply. You won’t be able to use this welder running on a portable generator.
You should be aware that this is an AC stick welder, which takes some getting used to if you’re used to the more common DC stick welding process. Setting your output amperage is as easy as turning a dial to the desired pot setting. There are a total of 11 settings ranging from 40A up to 225A. Duty cycles aren’t too great; I suppose the old technology and the absence of forced ventilation cooling has its downside. At peak output current, you only have a 20%/225A/25V duty cycle. Though, not many people use a 225A output current all that often.
True to form for this prestigious brand, all the components are super heavy duty. From the tough metal casing, to the ground clamp, electrode holder and the cables, there’s nothing that feels cheap or nasty about this welder. Ground and electrode cords are 10’ and 15’ respectively, all very convenient.
If you’ve ever driven an old Ford F250 along a dusty farm road, you might appreciate how I feel about the Lincoln K1170 AC225. Some machines are built to endure absolutely anything you throw at them. This AC stick welder is definitely one of them. Nothing beats a heavy lump of solid copper inside a welder. As with any Lincoln product, this is not the cheapest welder you can find. However, for a welder that could, in all likelihood out live you, it’s more than worth the money. If you have any doubts, the superb Lincoln 3-year warranty should put your mind at ease.
5. Forney Easy Weld 298 Arc Welder 100ST
The Forney Easy Weld 298 Arc Welder 100ST is a nice mid-level machine. I rate it a little above the really cheap machines in this review, but not quite in the same league as Hobart or Lincoln. The price is also inline with this opinion. With a good on Amazon, most buyers seem to agree that this welder is worthy of being rated amongst the best stick welders. This is not an arc welder intended for very thick metals, though a skilled welder can achieve a good result on just about any thickness with several passes.
A maximum rated output of 90A is about what most home users would require, you can use welding rods up to 1/8”, but I wouldn’t think it wouldn’t be too easy using such thick rods at only 90A. The cool thing about this amperage, is that you shouldn’t have any hassle using it when plugged into a standard 120V socket.
I like the general quality of this machine, its cords, electrode holder, and ground clamp are certainly up to scratch. Nothing has a cheap feel to it. There’s a control dial for standard amp settings and warning lights for overload and overheating, that’s it. No fancy digital display or controls, which is fine by me. I see a switch for TIG welding, but there are no TIG controls and I also don’t see any inert gas connections or flow settings. You’ll need a TIG welding gun with a flow valve.
The Forney 298 is as light as one would expect a modern inverter welder to be, 13.74 LBS. It has a great carrying handle that allows you to neatly wrap the cords around it for easy portability and storage. It is a robust welding machine with a good inverter unit but, unfortunately, I cannot find official duty cycle specs for this machine. My guess is that this should be around 60% or more at 90A. I also expect the efficiency to be around 80 – 90%. Though, this is only my estimate.
The Forney 90A inverter stick welder is perfect for just about all home welding jobs. The 90A output, may be below any of the others in this review, but most of the mild steel welding that we do around the home seldom requires more than about 75A, so this should be more than adequate for most home applications.
6. Hobart 500570 Stickmate 160i
The Hobart Stickmate 160i has brought the high-end quality and performance for which this brand is famous to the home user. It’s not too cheap, Hobart welders never are. But it is not nearly as expensive as their industrial welders. In the end, you have one of the best quality inverter stick welders, which is worth paying for. Dual voltage input for 120V or 240V (with the relevant MVP power adapters), give you a maximum output of 160A at 240V, and 80A at 120V. Duty cycle is rated at 30% when set for the maximum 160A. I would have expected Hobart to have one of the best duty cycles, so this is surprising.
I really like the infinite amperage control dial. Hobart claim you can adjust the output current to within 1A. Though there’s no way of telling, because this welder does not have a digital output display. It can accommodate a TIG welding gun, but you’ll need to purchase a separate power block, as well as a TIG torch with a gas control valve.
I trust Hobart to use the very best capacitors, this is the most important aspect to building a reliable inverter welder that doesn’t depend too heavily on the transformer. I can’t easily find fault with Hobart quality and this is clearly evident in the high-quality electrode holder, ground clamp, and cables. It comes in at a very reasonable weight of 15-pounds. This is certainly a very handy, portable stick welder with a good handle and a shoulder strap.
I think it goes without saying that most people expect the very best from Hobart, this is why we pay top dollar for their welders. Ironically, this usually results in lower customer ratings on sites like Amazon. People expect more from high-end expensive brands and are, therefore, more critical. I believe this is, in true Hobart style, a very well-made machine. Though, I can’t help being a little disappointed in the short duty cycle.
7. ARC Welder 160A Stick Welding Machine
I wouldn’t normally recommend an unknown brand as one of the best arc welders. But having taken a careful look at the excellent customer reviews for the little Hitbox, I thought it definitely deserves a mention. Despite being one of the cheapest inverter welders, this machine has everything you could possibly want. It’s an advanced inverter welder with MMA and TIG capabilities. Of course, you’d need to buy the appropriate TIG gun if you want to make use of this additional function.
Blissfully lightweight (9.5 LBS) and very easy to use, are both great reasons to consider this arc welder. Using either 240V or 120V, you have a good deal of power – 160A maximum output. The control panel is superb, with an easy to use output control dial and a digital output display. Output power ranges from 10A to 160A.
Being such a cheap little welder, I’m prepared to be a little forgiving on specs and quality. It kind of goes without saying that the ground clamp and MMA electrode holder are not of the same high-quality standard that I’d expect from an expensive welder. The duty cycle is not the best either, but pretty reasonable – 40% @ 160A, reaching 100% duty cycle at a very respectable 101A.
Beginner welders will certainly appreciate how easy this welder is to use. Not to mention the wonderfully cheap price. If you’re starting out on a low budget, this welder will make a lot of sense.
8. Century Inverter Arc 120 Stick Welder
The Century Arc 120 is one of the more expensive 90A stick welders around. Then again this is another quality product from a respected US brand. Like Hobart and Lincoln, there are enough people who prefer paying a little extra for a brand of this caliber. Quality is assured, as is backup service. This is a convenient home welder, using a standard 120V household outlet. I’d recommend using it on a 20A circuit, but you could get away with a 15A breaker if you’re not pushing it all the way to the maximum 90A rated output. You have an infinite amperage selection dial (10 – 90A).
Instead of calibrating this dial for amp settings, they’ve indicated the size welding electrodes on the dial. This should take the guess work out of setting up the welder, which is great for beginners.
I really would have expected a better duty cycle from a welder of this class. Rated for 20% @ 70A, welding thick metal is going to end up being a time-consuming task. Even thin metal could become frustrating for an experienced welder who works fast. Though this would be my only complaint.
General quality is really great, deserving of its 4.5-star customer rating on Amazon. One can always tell the top brands by their high-quality ground clamp, electrode holder, and cables. This welding machine has all of these and can rank amongst the best. Cords for the clamp and electrode holder are equally impressive and have a good length of 10-feet.
A small inverter welder needs to be portable, this one is certainly that, with a weight of 14-pounds and a shoulder strap for added convenience. Despite being light and easy to transport, this is a robust machine with a tough metal housing and quality brass fittings.
I find it strange that the Century, like some of the other more expensive welders in this review, has such an unimpressive duty cycle. Perhaps this helps preserve their durability, who knows? Be that as it may, there can be no disputing that this is one of best welders in terms of general quality.
9. AHP Alpha-160ST 160 Amp Arc/Stick Welder
This is a great little DC stick and TIG welder with easy to use functions. The AHP Alpha portable welder is, in my opinion, excellent value for money.
You have the option to use either 240V or 120V, and the power adapter is supplied with the unit. A DC TIG welding function is available, but you’ll need to buy a separate TIG gun with a gas valve. The control panel is easy to use and is protected by a plastic cover.
An infinite amperage selector dial gives you good power control and you can toggle the functions with a touchpad selector. This is a great MMA stick and TIG welder for beginners.
The very competent IGBT inverter offers smooth stick welding with low levels of sticking. It also has a really good duty cycle of 60% at maximum (160A) output. The ground clamp and stick electrode holder don’t appear to be of the best quality standard, but reasonable enough for a home welder of this class.
Portability is up there with the best lightweight inverter welders, 13-pounds. Looking past the pretty average ground clamp and electrode holder, this appears to be a well-made portable stick welder.
For a general-purpose light to medium duty arc welder, the AHP Alpha 160ST has the goods. It is a wonderfully easy machine to use, making it one of the best stick welders for the less experienced DIY metalworker.
Stick Welder Buyers Guide
Mostly for beginners, but also a valuable source of information for seasoned metal workers, this buyers guide will offer all you need to know about stick welders.
How Does a Stick Welder Work?
You may often see the more technical definitions, like MMA (Manual Metal Arc), or SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding). These technical terms give a good indication as to how a stick welder works.
Power is supplied by a transformer, or a combination of a transformer and inverter. This allows you to control output amps of the welder. The current is transferred to a metal compound electrode, or welding rod. The metal rod conducts the electricity and causes an arc when in close proximity to the metal being welded.
The electric arc generates heat, which in turn melts the metal welding rod, producing a filler metal to help bond the two pieces being welded together. All welding is a process whereby two pieces of metal are joined by fusing them under high temperatures.
In order to create this arc, a ground clamp is used. The ground clamp is usually connected to the negative terminal of the transformer and the electrode holder to the positive terminal. The arc is generated by a short circuit between these two poles.
The welding rod also contains a chemical compound which, when heated releases a shielding gas. This gas forms a protective barrier, preventing contaminants in the atmosphere from weakening the weld. This is known as flux and leaves a hard layer, called slag, encasing the weld once cooled. Once hardened and sufficiently cooled, the slag is removed using a chipping hammer and wire brush.
Welding rods are made up of various metal compounds, depending on the type of metal that they are used for. MMA welding is not suitable for all types of metal and is mostly used to weld steel or iron. It can be used for aluminum, but this is not an easy process.
Welding rods vary in thickness. Thicker rods are used for heavier and thicker metals. The ampere power setting of the welder is set according to the thickness of the welding rod being used. High amp settings will burn thin metal, this is something that the beginner welder needs become accustomed to. Guides are available as to what rods and amp settings to use for the thickness and type of metal you’re welding, but it takes some trial and error to master this.
What to Look For in a Stick Welder
Understanding how a stick welder works should have already given you a good idea of what to look for when buying your first welder. Though some guidelines of the important stuff can’t go amiss.
While most arc welders use Direct Current (DC), some will use Alternating current (AC). Before you decide which is best, lets discuss the AC vs DC welder question.
AC vs DC welders
The reason why DC welders are so popular is that it is easier to obtain a smoother weld with less splatter when using direct current. DC power also provides better penetration. There are, however, some instances where AC welding can be preferential. AC welding pulses the negative and positive polarity of the arc, which is better on magnetized metal. The lower penetration is better for oxidized, or rusted metal and it makes for easier welding into corners.
Because of its easier use, DC welding is preferred. AC welders are cheaper to build and have some specialized applications where they are the better option.
The maximum current, or amperage of a welder determines what thickness you can weld. Harder metal will require more amps per inch of thickness. Though, generally, most welding in a home shop requires 70 – 90A for mild steel, depending on material thickness.
The duty cycle of a welder is important in terms of productivity. A good duty cycle means that you can weld for longer and spend less time waiting for the machine to cool. This is the amount of time you can use the welder before it becomes too hot and how long it needs to cool. The duty cycle is the percentage of a 10-minute cycle, at the rated amps. EG. 60% duty cycle @ 90A means, 6-minutes working time and 4-minutes cooling time when the welder is producing an output current of 90 amperes.
You never know what is inside the welder when you buy it. So, it isn’t too easy to know how long it will last or how hard you can work the machine. I always take a look at the ground clamp and electrode holder to get a basic idea of the overall quality of the machine. Generally speaking, the more quality conscious brands will supply high-grade clamps and electrode holders.
Inverter vs Transformer Welder
Inverter welders have become the norm. These welders are more efficient and produce a smoother weld with less splatter. They are also easier to use, without much sticking of the electrode.
Inverters are more expensive and are not quite as durable as welders that only use a transformer. Capacitors in the inverter may need to be replaced over the lifetime of the machine.
Jayden Mark has gained a wealth of knowledge about safety protocols in industries while working in a steel mill as well as a welder in the construction industry. He is the content editor for comfortworkboots.com where he shares his insights and expertize in his related field.
Antonio Johnson says
Amico ARC-160D is great. Really, more than I expected !! Settings are accurate and EASY to adjust. Welded 6 hours straight and it never kicked out – NOT ONCE. I will recommended this welder to anyone with small garage or farm, that needs to FIX AND GO. I have welded with all kinds of machines for 50+ years — THIS IS THE BEST for the money.