Reviewer's Notebook: Premier Power Welder

Premier Power Welder

Nov. 01, 2005 By George Reiswig
Freebies. Everybody likes them, but they're rare. Free canoes are among the rarest of the breed. Montana, 1997: somewhere back in the woods near the Flathead River, two travelers in their trusty Isuzu Amigo are trying to find a spot that hasn't been overfished. By using the considerable four-wheel-drive capabilities at their disposal, they are able to work their way down a remote old wagon trail to just above a floodplain, the river clearly visible a hundred yards away. Getting out to see what obstacles lie on the trail ahead, one of them espies something red on the floodplain.

Lo! A canoe! Closer inspection reveals a fiberglass hull with weeds growing up through the holes, but an otherwise intact, evidently abandoned canoe. For free. A few fiberglass patches, and this could be a decent craft! But alas, there's no way to take it home! How does one carry a 16' canoe on a convertible Amigo without a roof rack? Simple.

Having logged the GPS waypoint for the remote spot, my wife and I headed back to town. The next day, we purchased some 1x2 box iron, some threaded steel rod, and some nuts and tie-down straps. Then we set off to find the canoe again, and quickly located it. Breaking out the Makita 4" electric disk grinder with a cutting wheel on it, I began cutting the box iron to make crossmembers and supports. Once that was completed, it was a simple task of arc welding the pieces together, bolting them to the winch mount and roll bar, and loading up the canoe.

The rack I built in the Montana wilderness is the same one I use today to get my canoe to and from the water on my Amigo. How, you say, did I use a disk grinder out in the middle of the Montana wilderness? How did I manage to weld out there? Why, the Premier Power Welder, of course!

 

Parts

Shown above is the blue control box. At upper left is the vernier throttle control cable, which enables very fine control of engine speed. The curved plastic at the bottom of the picture is the cover for a fuse/relay box that I added for all my gadgets. Attached to the left of the control box is a continuous duty solenoid that connects the Premier to its circuits when the key is on.

You see, the Premier unit combines a control unit with a 115VDC outlet, hookups for welding cables or jumper cables, a potent alternator, welding cables, and a vernier throttle control cable. You can get the alternator in sizes ranging from 160 to 220 amp output. This is more than enough to power most peoples' stereos, lights, and automobile television sets (wouldn't want to miss that last episode of Seinfeld!) all at once. The only catch is that you won't be able to operate the TV off the 115V outlet, since it's DC. But almost anything without transformers is fair game: coffee makers (non-digital), hot plates, toaster ovens. And power tools like the Makita disk grinder operate even more smoothly than normal on this Premier juice. The company provides a list of devices that will operate on their power, including a Craftsman 1.5HP compressor that works remarkably well.

Tools

You'll need a drill and bits to mount the control box, wrenches to mount the new alternator, some duck tape, and fingernail clippers (if you're a guitar player... see, you need those nails on your right hand for fingerpicking, and they need to be smooth and a little long, so when you start wrenching... oh, never mind).

 

Installation

Here are the alternators. The upper one is stock Isuzu, and below and to the right you can see the front of the larger Premier 170-amp unit.

Installation is simple, as Premier sends everything you need. Essentially, there's not much more to it than replacing your existing alternator, finding a place to put the control unit, and wiring it together. It helps if you know how to solder, since some of the wires that Premier sends are a bit long... you can clean up the installation by cutting them to length. The only thing left is placing the throttle control cable where you want it. It is tempting to put it in the cab, where you can use it as a throttle control for difficult trails. But this is what controls the output for the welder, so you'll want it close to where the control box is, with its voltmeter.

I put my cable in the engine compartment, right next to the Premier control box. Adjusting the welding voltage is easy: throw some switches, watch the voltmeter on the control box, and turn the cable control until the voltage is within recommended specs. And no, you don't end up revving your engine very high.

For my own rig, I decided to make a completely separate electrical system. The new Premier alternator powers all major lights, the electric fan, the winch, and anything else that requires lots of current. The stock alternator is moved to a higher location, but powers everything else. Each system charges its own battery. This redundancy makes me feel a little more secure when I venture into the deep wilds. I also made a pair of LED bargraph voltmeters for my dash, which helps me keep an eye on the state of my twin electrical systems. Whenever I switch on a set of high-power off-road lights or some other large-current-draw device, you can see a momentary blip on the Premier's bargraph as the voltage drops below 14.5 volts. But that's all... as soon as the regulator senses the voltage drop, it signals the alternator to pump out more. No problem running all those accessories, the big stereo, and so forth. For my '90 Amigo, the 170-amp alternator would be the largest that would fit in the stock location. Is that enough juice to weld heavy-gauge metal?

 

Testing

"No problem," said Pat Gremillion, Premier's owner. The Premier's output is high-frequency DC, which has a number of advantages. For welding, the high frequency DC agitates the weld puddle at around 7000Hz, making the welds penetrate much better than a standard arc welder set at a comparable current and bringing more of the impurities to the surface where they can be chipped away.

This is the first piece of scrap that we tried welding. My first two welds run diagonally from upper left to lower right. I'm not a good welder, but these looked better than those I get out of my MIG wirefeed. My wife's efforts are along the left edge. She'd never even thought about welding before this, but she was able to draw a bead after a couple of tries. The cut through the X at the bottom revealed that even my stainless welds penetrated very well.

It also makes it so that it's much easier to start and maintain a good bead. My wife had never welded anything before. Her first three attempts to strike an arc resulted in sticking, and a few tries later she was getting a bead that?well, okay. It wasn't great, but for anyone to be able to get a bead his or her first time on an arc welder is adequate testimonial to the ease with which the welder does its magic. For those of you who prefer heliarc or TIG welding, the Premier unit can supply power to those, too. But you may be amazed at what you can do with simple, cheap welding rod.

More high-frequency magic: Premier sent me a set of welding leads that are 25' long, but they were #4 wires. This seemed pretty thin to me. When I asked, I was assured that, due to the high frequency, you can use this relatively light wire for up to 500' without much loss of heat at the arc. Cool! 'Course I can't afford the 500' leads, copper being as expensive as it is. Besides, where would I keep them? Anyway, the 25' leads are long enough for virtually anything and they are easy to carry because of their small size and suppleness.

 

The #4 cables are easy to deal with. I used a microphone cable reel to store mine. The red clamp is used to hook the stinger to a positive battery cable for jump starts. The toes at the bottom of the picture are used primarily for balance.
The same high-frequency DC makes for interesting jump-starts. If you find someone with a dead battery, just hook up the welding cable positive to their battery positive (Premier supplies a battery clamp just for this), hook up somewhere on their chassis, and let your vehicle idle for two minutes. In that time, the high-frequency DC charges their battery to nearly full strength, so that they start their own vehicle after you've disconnected. Neat! And, when jump-starts are done this way, there is no danger to either vehicle's ECM (computer).

 

Conclusions

Now for the bad: I'm a Human Factors Engineer. (No! That's not the bad!) What that means is that I'm trained to look for problems in usability, particularly with computers, software, and controls. How does that relate? Well, my one and only complaint about the Premier unit is that the layout of controls is not conducive to ease of use. There are three switches: one for the 110V outlet, one for the "Master" on switch, and one to control high/low charge or weld levels. The latter of these switches is located on a different face of the box than the other two are, so it's not easy to see what state all the switches are in at a glance. There is also a particular sequence of switchings that you are supposed to do for a particular task, and that sequence is supposed to be reversed when you finish. That, too, is made more difficult by the switch arrangement. Still, this is a minor complaint, and it's easy to get used to. Furthermore, the Gremillions tell me that they are now in a position to have more production control, and that they will finally be able to address this issue.

The customer service that Premier gives is first rate. Considering the quality of the components, the results of my wife's and my own welding efforts, and the utility of having such a versatile tool at your disposal underneath the hood, the Premier Power Welder is well worth the investment. You won't regret getting one, and it may just save your butt... or get you a free canoe!

The makers of the Premier Power Welder also produce the Pull-Pal Winch Anchor. Click here to see the Off-Road.com Pull-Pal Winch Anchor Review.

Premier Power Welder
P.O. Box 639, Carbondale, CO 81623
(800) 541-1817
tech/phone/fax (970)-963-8875 
For more information, email [email protected].

 


Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!