Harbor Freight MIG-180 Quick Repair

California

Well-known member
Messages
161
Good Post Points
42
First problem today with the HF MIG-180 I bought used in 2017. First owner was a mad experimenter type who apparently spent more time 'improving' it than welding. Big capacitor added, longer aftermarket stinger, heavier ground cable with Dinse connector, more.

It quit while welding today and the FC wire stuck like a stuck rod. No wire feed, no current, but the fan kept running and the trigger clicked the relay.

I opened it up, nothing smelled smoked, no loose connections. Found some mystery wires that went to an aftermarket relay that had been added then abandoned and its wires cut. Oh well. The diode label said built in 2010. I guess it had a good life.

I tried rotating both knobs thinking that was the only thing that might help before a complete teardown. It finally made a momentary burp after it occurred to me to hold the trigger while turning the knobs. After more of this, it gradually came back to life.

Apparently there was a rusty or arced spot in the upper (voltage) rotary switch and working the knob with the trigger engaged, cleaned it up. I've seen those switches on Ebay and I'll get one if it acts up again.

Went back to work like nothing had happened. That welder nearly went on Craigslist 'broken, as-is'.

I expect it doesn't like where it is stored at the back of an open-front barn stall. Covered, but not sealed against outdoor humidity.

IMG_20170214_122627rHF&GrizzlyWelders.jpg
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
Nothing electrical likes to be stored in a moist environment. You might try just covering it up with a plastic sheet from now on. If you can find one the breathes a bit, like a tarp, all the better. This might be detrimental to your machines if you have a dirt floor though since the plastic could trap moisture underneath which would be worse than just open storage.
Then again, a 10 year old machine might be ready for an upgrade to something a bit newer. Arent those old HF Chicago Electric machines a transformer type? I wonder if they are more bullet proof than the inverters. I have an inverter machine in the shop for warranty work right now and it was only good for about an hour of use, stored in a completely enclosed shop too.
 

California

Well-known member
Messages
161
Good Post Points
42
Yes, the HF MIG-180 has a big transformer and a good size choke in it. Heavy enough that I avoid rasseling it up onto the workbench, except for the recent troubleshooting. These seem to be pretty troublefree. Long ago I bought one of the blue HF-90AC 'mig' (!) flux welders, and found a forum filled with complaints and hobbyists upgrading all of HF's models. That forum is silent now aside from occasional DOA complaints. HF still expects the customer to do final QC! Apparently there's little to complain about after the black CE welders superseded the blue welders 10 years ago. This welder's smaller cousin Mig-170 is still a current model.

Prior owner of this MIG-180 was an experimenter and had applied all the upgrades that hobbyists had discussed there for HF's earlier models, for example a big capacitor same as in Lincoln welders and an adjustable timer delay relay to let the capacitor charge for a moment after pulling the trigger. I should start a thread documenting all the upgrades.

I doubt reliability now is any better than typical HF but its theoretical specs are likely the equal of a $1500 unit. The experimenter sold me this MIG-180 and the Grizzly stick/tig unit in the photo above for $25 so I'm not out much if it quits. Parting out the longer stinger, heavier ground cable with Dinse connector, capacitor upgrade etc on Ebay would likely recover my cost.

It lives on a little handtruck that was intended for luggage so its a few inches off a concrete floor. It's not practical to carry it from down in the barn where I use it, to anywhere more protected.

Ikea's Frakta shopping bag makes the ideal welder cover. 99 cents. Blue tarp material. This doesn't reach the floor below that cart, so air circulation should be sufficient.


Upgrade? Heck yes! I would love to get a Titanium 125 like yours. That's light enough to carry up to the house for better weather protection. I have the Grizzly for stick welding (130A) and the big 230AC stick welder for occasional heavy work so that little one would do 90% of what I need a welder for. I was badly tempted to just replace this MIG-180 yesterday with the Titanium, instead of troubleshooting and getting it back in service.
 

CA_Bgrwldr

Well-known member
Messages
100
Good Post Points
20
Location
Grass Valley, CA
Welder
Hobarts
The issue with the theoretical specs, is that the cheaper stuff is manufactured by the Chinese, and not just in China. Due to their lack of quality control in the components used by the Chinese owned manufacturing facilities, it is a crap shoot of what you get, which why some have no issues with reliability where others do.
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
The issue with the theoretical specs, is that the cheaper stuff is manufactured by the Chinese, and not just in China. Due to their lack of quality control in the components used by the Chinese owned manufacturing facilities, it is a crap shoot of what you get, which why some have no issues with reliability where others do.
So true. MY Titanium 125 is a real champ. I then bought a 170 and it never ran right. Pull the trigger on the MIG gun and it would hesitate long enough for the wire to burn back almost to the contract tip then start feeding, then when you released the trigger, it would continue feeding up to about 8" of wire before stopping. I ended up taking it back spending another $700 and got a Vulcan OmniPro220 and a spool gun to weld aluminum. So far I am happy with it but I havent done a lot of welding with it yet. The Titanium lineup claims to be Professional grade and Vulcan Industrial grade, they are certainly about twice the weight of the Titanium welders. I think the T170 weighed 28# and the Vulcan weighs 42#.
 

California

Well-known member
Messages
161
Good Post Points
42
The issue with the theoretical specs, is that the cheaper stuff is manufactured by the Chinese, and not just in China. Due to their lack of quality control in the components used by the Chinese owned manufacturing facilities, it is a crap shoot of what you get, which why some have no issues with reliability where others do.
Fer Sure!

I wouldn't have paid the original $350, closed out @ $260 with coupon, to buy a new MIG-180. That's too much of a gamble. HF is terrible for after-sale parts support. I see they even took down the online pdf manual for these.

But buying this used after the experimenter got bored and sold it dirt cheap was worth the gamble. At the time I already had a reliable alternative I could have resumed using if needed, a Century 135 with specs similar to the Titanium 125. I finally sold the Century after I determined that the MIG-180 was good.
 

California

Well-known member
Messages
161
Good Post Points
42
Here's the capacitor upgrade that the first owner put on the MIG-150. That project also included a large bleed-down resistor and a start-delay relay added inside the cabinet, and the capacitor in/out switch visible here.

The capacitor adds about two clicks to the ABCDEF rotary current selector on the front. It has to be out of the circuit for welding thin material. I suspect it would stress everything way beyond spec if I tried maximum everything.

Engaging the capacitor makes the arc more smooth, even, when its engaged. Almost like an expensive real welder. :)

20200926_132623rMIG-180Capacitor.jpg
 

CA_Bgrwldr

Well-known member
Messages
100
Good Post Points
20
Location
Grass Valley, CA
Welder
Hobarts
Fer Sure!

I wouldn't have paid the original $350, closed out @ $260 with coupon, to buy a new MIG-180. That's too much of a gamble. HF is terrible for after-sale parts support. I see they even took down the online pdf manual for these.

But buying this used after the experimenter got bored and sold it dirt cheap was worth the gamble. At the time I already had a reliable alternative I could have resumed using if needed, a Century 135 with specs similar to the Titanium 125. I finally sold the Century after I determined that the MIG-180 was good.
Yah, for $25, it was worth t only The risk, and with 3yrs if use it has certainly paid off. For me with HF tools, I wont spend anything more than about $50 with their coupons, figure at that price if they are disposable, which has been my experience with those that I bought there or been given. Though I did get lucky with a 1/2" electric hand drill I bought there about 12yrs ago, that thing has hand wrist breaking torque, and seems to handle all the abuse I can through at it.
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
At least HF is stepping up with better quality tools although many times now the price is more than you can by Dewalt and other branded tools. For an example, I just bought a Dewalt 4.5" grinder on sale for $49. The HF best quality grinders are $69 for a similar amp rated grinder.
 

California

Well-known member
Messages
161
Good Post Points
42
I just bought a Dewalt 4.5" grinder on sale for $49. The HF best quality grinders are $69 for a similar amp rated grinder.
What? Where?! You did good!

I went to buy a DeWalt DWE402 11amp angle grinder when it was advertised $10 off, and happened to stop by HF's sidewalk sale on the way. Instead I bought HF's Hercules 56459 near-twin to the DeWalt as a customer return @ half price, $35. It's flawless, and powerful. Quality seems every bit as good as the DeWalt I had set out to buy for $89 at HD.

Using this one I realized I should have bought a powerful angle grinder years ago.
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
I found them (Dewalt grinders)on sale at Atwoods Farm and Ranch store. I went back yesterday and bought another one for a spare. At this price, they cost about the same as the HF grinders. They may not be any better but hopefully they last longer.
I am sure my HF ones will be biting the dust soon. I have been using them for almost 10 years now. One has a broken locking pin but the other 2 seem to be working fine. They do get hot when using them even for light loading. I took all of them apart when new and put good grease in the head to replace that "wax" that comes with them.
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
I think today I will take the head apart on the Dewalt and see how the grease looks. I will report on that later. I have a couple of projects to work on today. A friend is moving his stuff from Gulfport Miss. Yesterday he came with his Harley, Honda 4 wheeler, a box blade and a small steel fab table that he found free on side of the road, It needs some TLC to fix the rusted out legs which we will try to do today along with unloading all the stuff he brought. My shop is getting full now with truck, motorcycle, 3 riding mowers and a boat. Also need to fix one of the mowers PTO clutch and get it out of the shop since it now belongs to my friend from Miss (traded it for a couple of TIG torches with regulators and a bunch of spare parts.)
 

Gary Fowler

Well-known member
Top Poster Of Month
Messages
424
Good Post Points
70
l was at HF today and bought a Earthquake XT 24v x 1/2" impact which is supposed to do 1200 FP torque. I stuck it on a 3/4 bolt and hammered it for 5 seconds. I couldnt remove it with a 15" crescent wrench but the impact zipped it right back off. My buddy put a 2 foot cheater on it to get it loose after I retightened it with the impact. I am very impressed with it. I also got the 4.5" Earthquake 24v grinder. Took it apart and greased the head, it had a little dob of grease around the bearing but none on the worm gear. I didnt remove the impact mechanism from the impact as yet.
I also havent gotten around to the Dewalt grinder yet either.
 
Top