For beginner welders, the cost of a set of leads may come as a surprise. Ranging between $1-$4 a foot, the price can add up quickly.
As mentioned in our lead sizes article, the thicker gauges are better for high amperage applications, while the smaller gauged leads are good for home use/hobby welding. The thinner gauges (#4, #2) are best for low amperage welding, as they’ll overheat if you try to run larger rods.
Leads are a pretty simple item. The internal components consists of tightly woven copper strands, and the exterior is just a high quality rubber wrap. Some folks prefer to set up their own leads. You can select a ground clamp, a stinger, and Tweco connectors. It doesn’t take long to make your own set, but some beginners just prefer to have one pre-made.
If you want to go with a more affordable route, you can use copper lugs instead of quick connects. These lugs will bolt into your terminals (+ & -) for a secure fit. Although the lugs are cheaper than the Tweco connectors, it can be a pain to detach your leads, as you’ll need a wrench.
We prefer to keep our leads in our toolbox (to prevent theft) and then we use the quick connects when we get ready to weld on a mobile job.
This article will cover our favorite lead sets that are currently on the market. We’ll describe what each set is best for, which will hopefully guide you in your decision.
Keep in mind that most stick welders will not come with a set of leads. This comes as a shock to some beginners, but it is just the way it is. Some smaller machines may come with a set of 10 foot leads, but such short lengths can limit your options in terms of projects. If you can’t reach the steel, you can’t do the job.
Hobart #2 Lead Set (50 feet)
This is the set that we started out with when we purchased the Hobart Champion 145. The #2 lead size can burn 3/32″ rod and 1/8″ rod with ease. It can burn 5/32″ rod, but that is on the higher end of the spectrum. We would only recommend doing so for shorter periods.
The stinger is nice and compact, and has a very strong spring that will last for a long while. The ground clamp is more of a standard design – it works, but it isn’t very high end.
This set of leads comes with copper lugs at the end instead of connectors. This is good for bolting the leads into the terminals for the long term. If you want to scratch start TIG, you’ll have to switch them around (electrode negative).
This set from Hobart got us through many of our first jobs. The 50 foot length is good for folks who are just starting out with mobile welding, but over time you may find that you need more length.
Side note : Both the ground and the stinger leads are 50 feet long = 100 feet total.
#1 Lead Set (25 Feet)
This set comes with #1 gauge leads. This is better for burning larger electrodes (5/32″), and they are also a fair amount heavier than a #2 lead. However, this set is shorter than the Hobart set, coming in at 25 foot per lead.
This lead set is great for shop welders who require high amperage. In a shop, you can get away with a shorter set, since you’ll usually be welding on a fabrication table. You can set your welder up right near the table and be good to go. This is why MIG leads are often so short, since you can wheel the machine around the shop.
We found that the stinger is very high quality, and is a little bit beefier than the Hobart model. The ground clamp is quite similar, but it still gets the job done. The lead material is “flex-a-prene” which is considered one of the more flexible rubbers. This means that the cables are more supple, and they won’t kink as easily.
Rated at 300 amps, this set is good for beginners and experienced welders. You’ll be able to burn the rod of your choice without overloading the cables.
Keep in mind that your machine must be able to handle these amperages. Burning larger 5/32″ electrodes means that your stick machine must be capable of at least 150 amps.
If you’re looking for a beefy, shorter set of leads – these are worth checking out. You can also select if you want a regular copper lug terminal, or if you would rather a connector style terminal (for quick changes).
This is a great light duty set for a garage setup. The #4 leads will limit the welder to 3/32″ and 1/8″ electrodes, which should suffice for most hobby projects and small fabrication pieces.
One added benefit of lighter gauged leads is that they don’t weigh much. This means that when you’re welding, you’ll be holding up less weight. This equals less fatigue throughout the course of a project.
The stinger lead is 20 feet, and the ground clamp is 15 feet. The reason for this is that you can often ground your project closer to your machine, and then weld your way along the project with your stinger lead (i.e. a handrail project) For this reason, many rig welders often have a shorter ground lead on their truck.
If you like to build small projects and just enjoy having a stick welder around the house, this set from Hobart is worth looking into.
Tweco 1/0 Lead Set (100 Feet Total)
This is a great set for the folks who like a more DIY approach. It comes with male/female Twecos, a nice ground clamp, Tweco stinger, and a 100 foot spool of 1/0 lead. The Twecos allow for quick changes in polarity (think scratch start TIG)
This kit allows you to piece together your own set without having to shop separately for all of the components. It’s good practice to be able to piece together your own lead set, and you’ll find that it’s relatively straightforward.
Now, the 1/0 lead size is in a whole different category. You’ll be able to burn just about any rod you want without overheating the components. 1/0 is the choice of many pipeliners and mobile welders. It is what we run for our mobile jobs, and it never lets us down.
With this being said, 1/0 leads may be a bit much for the garage hobbyist. They are very heavy and can be hard to move around. We only recommend these leads if you plan on burning 5/32″ (or larger) electrodes at some point down the road. It is a great size to grow into as you progress with your stick welding skills.
This lead set has the nicest components compared to the other models. All are genuine Tweco parts, which is one of the industry’s finest accessory makers . The cable is made by Excelene which is also one of the industries best manufacturers of cables.
If you’re looking for the real deal that lasts for years – the Tweco set is worth a look.
Picking a set of leads can be tricky. You never really know how far you’ll need to reach. I’ve been on jobs where the leads barely made it to the project, and I was kicking myself for it. I now run 125 feet of stinger and 125 feet of ground just to be safe. It is a bit overkill, but I know that I can pull up to any job and be just fine.
Shop welders and garage welders won’t need these extreme lengths. A good 25 foot set should be just fine. 50 feet is right in the middle, and should be fine for shop projects and a bit of field work.
Think ahead to the projects you’ll be doing, and plan your lead lengths accordingly.
Thanks for reading.