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Stick Welding: How it Compares to Other Welding Methods

stick-welding-gearsource: millerwelds.com

Stick welding is one of the oldest and most widely accepted welding methods, used extensively in construction, metal fabrication, mining, and general repairs, among dozens of other applications. The process is favoured for its simplicity, basic equipment needs, and no gas bottles, safety, and versatility. It produces strong welds in common metals and alloys (steel, iron, aluminium, copper, and nickel), is relatively easy to master, and is good for numerous projects in different settings. 

Stick Welding Fundamentals 

stick-welding
source: weldingbig.com

Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), or simply stick welding, is a manual welding technique that uses disposable electrodes covered in flux. The electrode is manually held (in an electrode holder) at the correct distance from the workpiece and helps maintain a stable electric arc provided by a welding machine. 

The generated heat melts the electrode and the metals, and the electrode is used as a filler material ensuring a strong, finished weld. The flux acts as a protective layer as it heats up and turns to gas, covering the weld pool and shielding it from outside contaminants and oxidization. With relatively few stick welding supplies needed for strong and lasting welds, the process is widely accepted by both beginners and experienced welders. 

More on How It Works 

Fusing metals using stick electrodes requires a stabilised welding arc generated at a consistent voltage and producing an enormous amount of heat. The arc is maintained between the electrode and welded metals, with amperage ranges of 5 to 2000 amps, and voltages of 10V or more. The arc length is proportional to the voltage applied, while the flux electrode coating shields and maintains the arc and molten metals, preventing contamination. 

Why Choose Stick Welding? 

Compared to MIG (Metal Inert Gas), TIG (Tungsten Inert gas), and Oxy-acetylene welding, SMAW requires no protective gasses in separate bottles as this is replaced with flux-cored electrodes with the same purpose. As such the technique is safer and more versatile, meaning welding can be done in different settings and conditions without the potential for risks or hazards. Stick welding is the only process that works in windy or wet weather, with the ability to maintain stable arcs and temperatures needed to penetrate thicker metals. 

Another reason are the lower purchase and setup costs, with stick welding supplies being inexpensive compared to what you’ll need to get comparable welds in MIG or TIG welding. Much of this is down to no shielding gasses, as these inflate costs in every project. Moreover, stick welding involves less prep work in metals before actual welding begins, as the technique is less sensitive to rust, paint, dirt, and uneven surfaces. 

There are a few downsides though. There’s weld slag which offsets time during initial setup and cleaning, frequent electrode replacements (especially when compared to MIG welding) and the fact that it doesn’t hold up in thinner metal pieces where there’s no substitute for TIG welds. Lastly, while welds are strong, the excess spatter needs more attention if you’re after cleaner looks. 

Necessary and Optional Supplies 

stick-welding-rods
source: unimig.com

To start stick welding you’ll need a set of basic equipment. This includes: 

  • A welding machine that can maintain a constant voltage
  • Electrodes (depending on the base metals0
  • Electrode holder (in the right amperage rating and length)
  • Ground clamp (to complete the circuit, and prevent burns or electrocution)

This covers most bases, but for effective spatter cleanup, you’ll also need wire brushes attached to die grinders, chipping hammers to deal with extensive slag, and finishing brushes for smoother surfaces. Aligning and securing workpieces can also be done with clamps or magnetic position holders. 

Getting Strong, Clean Welds 

Basic steps leading to clean, durable welds include prepping pieces by removing excess rust, grease, or other contaminants affecting arc stability. Next is setting up your gear. The electrode holder attaches to one end of the welder, while the ground clamp can be attached to the workpiece itself, or where there’s more space, to metal workbenches. This completes the circuit, prevents surges or leaks, and protects welders. 

Most mistakes are made when pairing electrodes with the base metal. Electrodes go by classification charts, determining among other things welder machine polarity (AC, DC, or both), the type of flux coating, and the overall strength of the weld in pounds per square inch. They also recommend welding positions to penetrate deeper into the base material, ensuring higher strength. 

Before beginning, don the necessary safety gear (helmets, glasses, gloves, and welding aprons) to protect yourself from sparks and fumes. To begin welding, strike the electrode against the base metal to create an electrical arc. This heats the metal and electrodes and generates a molten weld pool,. Hold electrodes perpendicular and at the right angles and length from the workpiece to ensure cleaner welds are free of spatter. Moreover control speeds (this is another gripe with stick welding) and ensure voltage and amperage are consistent. Lastly when the molten metal has solidified, clear remnant spatter. 

By Anthony Hendriks

The life of the party, Anthony is always up for spending some time with family and friends, when not blogging of course! Ever since a child, his love for books of mystery, race cars and travelling keeps on growing so it's difficult for him to single out that one all-time favourite hobby. If there's one thing he hates, though, it's having pictures taken but you already guessed that from his choice of plant photo for the blog.