There has been a bit of buzz around this machine in the industry lately. So when I was asked to review it, I couldn’t help but be a little skeptical of it’s welding abilities. Usually hype or buzz around a product is nothing more than an effective marketing campaign. So let’s get to it..
My main point of concern when reviewing these budget minded, multi-process welders is that typically, one process will suffer, and be significantly lacking. In my experience, it’s the TIG process that usually will leave more to be desired. So I decided to jump strait to GTAW to start my review process.
My initial impession? I was impressed. For a welder that weighs just 33 pounds and is the size of a small suitcase, this little machine provides some seriously stable power output. Rated at 180 amps maximum output, the 181i has enough juice to handle most small jobs and projects that I usually reserve for my Miller Bobcat 225. Don’t get me wrong, it can’t compete with the Bobcat in situations that require the power of a large generator welder but for smaller jobs, I found myself preferring the Thermal Arc.
I’ve gotta say, Thermal Arc has fone a great job with the 181i.
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They are fine for some jobs, but under powered welders can leave you high and dry when you most need it. There is also a difference in weld quality when using a lower powered machine. Even in smaller jobs that involve working with thinner metals.. I can tell a difference in quality. That wasn’t the case with the 181i. It handled almost everything I threw at it and then some. Only when pushing it into work loads that it wasn’t designed for, did it start to feel under powered. Again, I’m impressed.
For one, the lift start feature makes TIG welding much more user friendly if your a beginner, or just don’t have much experience with that process. While working with some contaminated tungsten, the arc remained very stable and smooth. I use this test for most of our review welders and the 181i performed on par with welders that are almost double in price. In these days of having to make every dollar count, that wins Thermal Arc a lot of points in my book.
What about MIG welding? There isn’t a whole lot I can say about the 181i’s MIG capabilities, other than it is equally as impressive as the TIG process. This isn’t too much of a surprise, MIG is usually the standard process for welders in this price range, and Thermal Arc has been producing quality MIG welders for quite some time now. After seeing how the machine performed with GTAW, I wanted to make sure Thermal Arc didn’t decide to skimp on the MIG process, and as far as I can tell, they have held this machine to the same standards as their previous MIG welders. That’s a good thing, seeing as how those machines have become increasingly more popular over the years.
Thermal Arc doesn’t hold back on useful features either.
- Infinite Voltage Control
- Inductance Control
- Victor and Tweco Accessories
- Spool Gun Compatible
- Lift TIG Start
- Hot Start
- Adjustable Burnback Control
- 4″ – 8″ spool capacity
No doubt, this is a solid machine, especially for the price, but there are a couple things to take note of before purchasing the 181i.
For one, the 181i requires a 220 volt outlet for it’s power source. I think this was a poor decision by Thermal Arc. For a welder that’s marketed as a do-all, take anywhere welding solution, not having 110 outlet abilities is a huge oversight. What were they thinking? A welding machine that I plug into my 220 outlet and leave stationary in my shop, I can understand not needing a 110 outlet, but the 181i is designed for a whole different working environment. One where you can use it everywhere and do most any small job with it.
This could potentially limit the Fabricator 181i’s welding versatility.
So.. if you don’t see yourself needing to plug into a 110 volt outlet, and you don’t work with aluminum, this machine should be at the top of your list. Problem is, the people in the market for a welder of this type usually need the ability to plug into 110v, and I imagine, quite a few will want to have the ability to work with aluminum. Other than that, I highly recommend Thermal Arc’s new 181i. It performed flawlessly in stick, TIG and MIG welding, always giving a nice, hot weld with very little splatter.
Suggested retail is $999.00, but if you shop around, you can probably pick it up for around $775.00. It really is a nice machine, with a solid power supply, and lots of versatility- So.. if you can live with the small weaknesses of the machine… then this Thermal Arc may just be what your looking for. If you are concerned with the possible limitations, you may want to check out a more industrial generator welder such as the Miller Bobcat 225.
WMR Rating: 9.3
Read about the newer and more powerful Thermal Arc Fabricator 211i
To find out more visit Thermadyne.com
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