Stick welding electrodes sticking out of box

Stick Welding 101: The Essential Guide

Even if you aren’t interested in learning more about different welding processes, you’ve probably encountered the term “stick welding” at some point. Stick welding is known by many names, including shielded metal arc welding, manual electrode welding, and manual metal arc welding.

In this guide, we aim to break down the basics of stick welding, from what kind of equipment you need to the different metals stick welding is most often used for.

First, let’s explain the name a bit – stick welding has achieved this nickname because of the electrode it utilizes to achieve the weld. This welding electrode, the main component of the weld that is ultimately formed, comes in the form of a stick – hence the slang term.

From now on, we’ll also use this nickname for time’s sake, but remember that all the other names we mentioned are just as likely to come up in your research.

What Is Stick Welding?

Stick welding makes use of a consumable electrode coated with flux. As the wire rod is consumed, its flux coating is also burned, which acts as a protective shielding gas from atmospheric contaminants and oxidation.

We’ll get into the importance of flux and oxidation later, but for now, that explains the basics of flux. The presence of the burned-off flux is why stick welding is often known as shielded metal arc welding – the flux is the metal that shields the welding process from oxidation.

Stick welding uses an electrical current with a low voltage and high amperage. We’ll also break down these terms in more detail later on. Contact between the welding electrode and the metals being welded ignites an electrical arc, which results in a short circuit that allows the current to flow in said arc.

The continued flowing of this electrical arc generates large amounts of heat, which eventually melts the metal and provides for the arc welding process.

Welder stick welding in dark industrial setting

What Is the Purpose of Flux?

Flux is the coating often used to cover consumable rod electrodes. When burned during the welding, inert or semi-inert gasses are released into the air.

These gasses, along with the burnt flux, form a protective layer that keeps oxygen in the air away from the metals being worked on in the welding process. Without flux, metals being welded would be subject to the dangerous effects of oxidation.

Flux is made up of various materials that can have different properties once burned off. While the primary purpose of burning flux is to create a protective atmosphere around the welding process, flux can also be inundated with various other materials that, once in the weld, will strengthen the overall bond, improve its corrosion resistance, and more.

However, flux needs to be entirely burned off to result in a proper weld. If any flux remains in the weld, this is referred to as a “slag inclusion,” which can damage the integrity of the overall weld and result in a significantly weaker bond. While some slag will always remain, a proper stick welding process will ensure that the slag stays at the top of the weld, allowing the welder to chip it off quite easily.

What Are Environmental Contaminants and Oxidation in Stick Welding?

Oxidation refers to what occurs when oxygen comes in contact with metal. Since oxygen is present in both air and water, there will always be some amount of oxidation that occurs during the welding process. In almost all cases, oxidation can lead to a stronger weld.

However, there is a balance that welders need to learn how to achieve. Obviously, this only comes with experience, but even beginners can grasp the basics of how to avoid the negative effects of oxidation.

Oxidation has numerous negative effects, but the main problem is corrosion. You’re likely familiar with rust, as it is the most common form of oxidation in daily life. Rust can occur in welds that were exposed to oxygen.

Other negative effects can include porous welds that will deteriorate faster over time and a more brittle bond. None of these are things that you would want to occur in the stick welding process.

Oxygen isn’t the only contaminant in the air that can interfere with stick welding. Nitrogen is another gas that is kept out by the burning of flux. We won’t go into every gas and its effect on welding, but remember that your consumable electrode should always have a flux coating if you’re getting involved in stick welding.

Welder using thin stick for welding

What Materials Do I Need for Stick Welding?

To get started with the stick welding process, you’ll need a wide variety of items, including safety equipment and the base welding equipment and metals you’ll need.

The welding machine is the most significant piece of stick welding equipment you’ll want to get your hands on. A fully-equipped welding machine that is ready to go is made up of the following parts:

  • A transformer – The transformer is what converts your high-voltage current into a high-amperage current. Stick welding requires a high amperage current to function effectively.
  • A rod holder – A rod holder is basically what holds your electrode.
  • A main connection
  • A power source – Your average household outlet will output a voltage of between 200 and 600 volts – this is too high for an arc welding process, which is why the transformer is essential to the stick welding process.
  • A grounding cable
  • A ground clamp
  • A consumable, flux-coated electrode – The type of electrode you get involved with will depend on what kind of metals you will be working with. Certain electrodes are made up of different kinds of alloys designed to work with specific types of metals.
  • Viable workspace – If you’re engaging in stick welding, you’ll want to work indoors. Otherwise, wind and external factors will disrupt the protective atmosphere that you have achieved.

The most apparent safety equipment that comes to mind is a welding mask or face shield, which protects a person’s face and eyes during the welding process. Not only does a face shield block high-intensity lighting, but it will also protect from any sparks that have gone astray during the stick welding process.

You’ll also want to invest in long sleeves, thick work boots, and heat-treated welding gloves.

What Metals Can I Weld With Stick Welding?

One of the main benefits of stick welding is just how versatile the process is. In theory, stick welding can weld just about any metal because the electrodes essential to the stick welding process can be made of virtually any material.

Since some welding processes work better for stainless steel or various alloys, the ability to construct consumable welding rod electrodes for all types of metals makes it quite a process.

The most common types of metals that you can utilize in the average welding process include copper, iron, steel, stainless steel, chrome, nickel alloys, and aluminum.

However, there are better processes available for aluminum, so we recommend that you only resort to stick welding if you don’t have another welding method available. Aluminum is usually a rather thin metal, and stick welding is best for joining thicker metals due to many different factors.

One such factor to keep in mind is the thickness of electrode rods. While electrodes come in various thicknesses, they can only get so small. As a result, stick welding might not be your best bet if you’re trying to do a fine joining of two delicate pieces of sheet metal.

Stick welding can too easily result in a somewhat rough and indelicate bond, making it a slightly poor option for the more precise welding that some art pieces of industrial projects might require.

Another factor to keep in mind is the heat that is generated in the stick welding process. The level of fusion heat that is achieved can be moderated to some degree, but even the lowest achievable temperatures can still be too high for you to work with certain metal types comfortably.

As a result, you’d best stick to another welding method if you’re working with metals with a particularly low melting point, such as pewter or tin.

What Else Is There to the Stick Welding Process?

While it might seem like we’ve barely scratched the surface of the stick welding process, the truth is that there isn’t too much more to the whole operation. The finer points of what you can do with stick welding can only be achieved and understood through experience.

So, whether you’re just getting started on learning how to stick weld for your job, your DIY at-home project, or just for fun, then we encourage you to get all the equipment you need and contact an experienced professional to show you the ins and outs of how this welding technique is done. We wish you success in your welding work and hope that this guide proved helpful to you!

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