A transformer-style welding power supply converts the moderate voltage and moderate current electricity from the utility mains (typically 230 or 115 VAC) into a high current and low voltage supply, typically between 17 and 45 (open-circuit) volts and 55 to 590 amperes. A rectifier converts the AC into DC on more expensive machines.
This design typically allows the welder to select the output current by variously moving a primary winding closer or farther from a secondary winding, moving a magnetic shunt in and out of the core of the transformer, using a series saturating reactor with a variable saturating technique in series with the secondary current output, or by simply permitting the welder to select the output voltage from a set of taps on the transformer's secondary winding. These transformer style machines are typically the least expensive.
The trade off for the reduced expense is that pure transformer designs are often bulky and massive because they operate at the utility mains frequency of 50 or 60 Hz. Such low frequency transformers must have a high magnetizing inductance to avoid wasteful shunt currents. The transformer may also have significant leakage inductance for short circuit protection in the event of a welding rod becoming stuck to the workpiece. The leakage inductance may be variable so the operator can set the output current.