lead reel welding

Reels for your fabrication shop or for welding rigs are a must! If you have been working as a mechanic or a welder, you know that air hoses and cables are quite a headache. There is probably not a day in a mechanics or welder’s life when you do not stumble over your cables. So whether you are looking for a reel that is suitable for your shop or welding rig, I got you covered. I did a fair amount of research to find the best welding lead reels available.

To be honest, if you have time and you are bit of an engineer, which you probably are as a welder, it is quite simple to make a smaller size hand-cranked reel yourself I believe, so if that is something you would like me to cover in the future, leave a comment below and possibly I will make a DIY post about it.

Since we are talking about reels that are just a huge chunk of steel, there is actually not much to talk about them besides design, they are all pretty much all the same.

Coxreels electrical welding cable reel – The most convenient

The first one I would consider buying is this one.

What I would bring out from this particular model is the fact that you can get one with an electrical motor. It is a huge advantage if you do not want to go the extra mile and rewind the leads together manually. Models with the motor have a few other advantages as well. For example, you do not have to lock the reel manually every time, giving you less room for error and causing potentially a fatal mistake.

The downside would be the price. If you want to enjoy the luxury of automation, you have to pay a premium price as well. The fact that Coxreel products are made in the USA makes me even more comfortable to pay the premium.

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Coxreels Hand RWD – Best Value For the money

Secondly, I would consider this one. It is probably one of the best options if you are not too fancy and do not need one with electrical rewinding capability. I believe it is one of the best reels for your buck.

As with the last one this too is made out of strong steel, enough to hold hundreds of feet of cable depending on the size you need. They offer the reel in various sizes from 1/2 x 75′ to 3/8 x 550′ which is great.

The one thing I did not mention earlier is that you can use the reels for various purposes. You can possibly store your watering or compressor hose on one. The one I mentioned earlier would have been a bit of an overkill to store a watering hose I think, but this should be a solid option.

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RPM Double Cable Lead Reel

Now if you have a good place to mount it, this is another one that caught my eye. It is 12″ in diameter and can fit 200 feet of 1/0 wire on one spool, which most likely is too much, but if you need to store that much cable then this might be for you.

The good design element is that it is galvanized, so it does not rust. Furthermore, it has a swivel, so you can move it around 360 degrees. In many cases that can make your life easier and is actually necessary.

What I like the most about it is the fact that it has a pre-milled hole so you can lock it with a regular locking hitch pin. Just a simple thing that makes the product so much better

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Heavy Duty Diamond Cable Reel

Now if you want to get smaller, 10″ reels instead of 12 inches, to save a bit of room and a few bucks, I would pick up these. These can fit 150 feet of 1/0 wire, which can be connected to welder at all times thanks to the “live reel setup” feature.

The good thing is that the reel has a lifetime warranty for the construction and a one-year warranty for moving parts like bearings, pins, and spools.

What differs this dual reel from the second one on the list, I believe, is that it has a friction brake that does not allow the cables to freeroll off the reel. The RPM mentioned has this as well, and I think it is one of those things you must have to save your nerves at work.

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RPM side-by-side lead reel

If you have the room for side-by-side design, yet another pair of reels I would recommend checking out from RPM. This one also is 10″ in diameter and has a constant connection capability, which is good.

The key differentiator with this, and for all RPM reels for that matter I think, is the fact that all the bearings and pins are replaceable. It is basically possible to rebuild the whole reel with replacement parts. A few years down the line it probably helps you to save quite a few bucks.

Maybe for some of you, reels mounted on top of each other are not an option. This would be a great replacement.

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What do you need to set up lead reels?

First and foremost, you need cable! What’s a lead reel without a cable? A useless reel! So depending on how thick material you are welding, and how long you need the cables to be, you should also pick up some cable. Probably 1 AWG wire works for most, but you can go with thicker wire if you need it. Keep in mind that you need two cables. One for the stinger and one for the ground clamp!

This should be the best one available: https://amzn.to/2PAJoQd

For picking the right size wire look at the table below. You can also check the full table here.

Amps Duty cycle To 50ft 50-100ft
300 60 1 1
350 60 1/0 1/0
400 60 2/0 2/0
500 60 3/0 3/0

Keep in mind that if you want to weld for longer periods of time, you need to buy thicker cables. Also, it is important to note that you can not go too crazy with the length of the cables you pick. The shorter the better in my opinion. I would keep it under 50ft.

The thing is, the more you add to the length of the cable, the more capable your machine has to be to produce a higher voltage. That is important to overcome the resistance of the cable. Longer cable equals less voltage at your end.

Secondly, you need to connect the cables from your machine to the cable on the reel after unwinding it. I have never owned a welding rig before, but as a welder, I know that you can have the cables, but if they are not connected to your machine, and the ground to your base metal, you will not get an arc. Try all you want but you can not weld if you don’t have a complete circuit. 

So for welding lead reel, if you don’t already have, you want to buy a pair of quick connectors.

These should be good from Amazon. They are suitable for 1 and 2 Ga wire.

To save you some extra time, I believe that they don’t include mounting screws, so make sure you have some before you start installing it.

Best welding lead reels frequently asked questions

Do lead reels cause arc blow?

Generally, I would say no. They can however if the reels are too close to the welding machine itself. The problem with cables is that when you pass current through them, they start to induct a magnetic field. I believe that the same magnetic field can start to affect the transistors of your welder.
The most surefire way to cause an arc blow would be if you coil the wires around your base metal thus magnetizing it.

What size cable to pick?

It depends a lot on the length of the cable and the amperage that you are working with. For example, for 1 AWG wire, welding at 300 amps, your maximum cable length can be 150 ft.
For 400 Amps you would need 2/0 size wire for the same length.

Should I unwind the cables from the reel when welding?

Yes! It is very important that you unwind the cables. That’s because when a lot of current passes through the wire, it also creates a lot of heat. When the cables are winded, the heat can, and more than likely will start damaging and melting the isolation of the wire. The risk is even higher when you are using undersized wire.

How should I unwind the leads?

It is best to uncoil them out holding both wires together. What I mean by that is instead of creating a huge pile of wire on the ground, you take both cables, and spread them out holding them side by side. That is important because keeping them near each other to balance out the induction created by the electricity flowing through, thus more juice reaches your electrode.

Conclusion

Picking the best lead reel for welding, weather for rig or shop, it is important to make life as a welder a bit more convenient. I believe that this article answered most of your questions about the topic and hopefully, you learned a thing or two when it comes to the welding leads in general.

If you have any thoughts or questions, comment below!