Question: What type of welding outfit would you recommend for a small shop or hobbyist?
Answer: I use to be 100% convinced the way to go initially was with a traditional oxy-acetylene welding outfit. With this you could join metals, build up parts, and do some basic heat treating. However, I'm beginning to think it might be best just to go with a small TIG welding outfit. While you can't do heat treating with the TIG outfit, it's a lot more versatile and controllable when it comes to joining metals or building up surfaces of worn or damaged small parts.
The only problem with TIG is that it's harder for a lot of folks to master than traditional oxy-acetylene. The solution to that is before you buy a welding outfit, take a welding course or two at your local community college or vocational training center. Getting some knowledgeable instruction from an experienced welder will get you up to speed faster and save a lot of time, mistakes, and wasted resources. You'll gain more knowledge and experience in a few weeks working with a good instructor than you'll pick up on your own in months or years.
Coffield has changed his mind and believes a small TIG outfit is the best initial welding setup for a gunsmith. It takes a bit more skill than an oxy-acetylene setup, but is more versatile.