A Guide To Stick Welding

by Steve Darnell
stick welding

Stick welding is an essential skill that every great welder needs to learn. Just like MIG or TIG welding, this process can be used to complete a range of different projects from work around the house to large scale industrial applications. 

Today, this welding process is used to work on bridges, pipelines, construction sites, and make repairs to other projects. This method of welding is a popular choice for those who weld outdoors. Unlike MIG and TIG welding, you don’t need to use shielding gas or have gas cylinders readily available.

Let’s take a deeper dive into stick welding to learn how to stick weld properly and why this welding process has been popular for nearly 100 years.

What is Stick Welding

Just like MIG and TIG welding, “stick welding” is not the technical name for this process. It’s formally referred to as Shielded Metal Arc Welding. The reason a lot of welders refer to it as stick welding is because the electrode that’s used is a stick.

Stick welding is done by using electricity to melt the electrode and joint. As this happens, the melted electrode fills the joint of the weld. This essentially fuses the joint of the workpieces together.

Once the weld is complete, there will be a layer of slag on top of the weld bead. This is often removed by chipping it away from the weld bead and then cleaning the bead some more with a wire brush. The slag that forms is caused by the outer flux layer of the electrode. Unlike other welding processes that use a shielding gas to protect the weld pool, stick welding uses a layer of flux to protect the weld pool from getting contaminated by the atmosphere. 

Since there is no need to have a cylinder of shielding gas, this welding process is incredibly portable making it a popular choice when welding outdoors.

How Does Stick Welding Work?

Other than the lack of shielding gas, the actual process of stick welding is very similar to other welding processes. An electrical current flows from the welding machine through the electrode holder and a ground clamp. This forms a closed circuit and makes it possible to melt the electrode and workpiece together.

Sounds simple enough, right? Here’s how to get everything set up to stick weld.

Setting Up a Stick Weld

  1. First, connect the stick holder and ground clamp to your welding machine. You’ll need to make sure your machine is calibrated to the correct polarity. Different types of electrodes require different polarity so make sure you’re in the right setting. 
  2. Connect the ground clamp to the piece of metal you’re going to be welding and place the electrode into the stick holder.
  3. Now it’s time to actually start the arc welder. There are two easy ways to do this, the “tap” or “scratch” techniques. The tap technique involves touching the tip of the electrode to the workpiece momentarily to complete the electrical circuit before raising it slightly above the workpiece to create the arc. The scratch technique is similar to lighting a match where you quickly scratch the tip of the electrode across the workpiece before raising it slightly. Once the arc is created, the electricity flowing through the rod and arc will raise the temperature up to 7000° F at the point of contact. This is hot enough to effectively melt the weld joint together and fill the crater that is created with the melted electrode.

Advantages of Stick Welding

As you can see, stick welding is a very straightforward process. It’s easy to get started and requires less equipment than other welding processes. Here are some of the biggest advantages of stick welding:

  • Works outdoors in windy conditions
  • No need to purchase shielding gas, cylinders, flow regulators, and hoses
  • Fewer fumes created than TIG or MIG welding
  • Portability
  • Versatile and effective with a range of materials
  • More affordable than other welding processes
  • Easy to learn

Disadvantages of Stick Welding

Stick welding offers a lot of advantages compared to other welding processes. However, there are still some things you need to consider when choosing this process to complete your welding projects

Some of the disadvantages of stick welding include:

  • More time spent cleaning the weld afterward to remove the spatter and slag
  • Doesn’t work very well on thinner pieces of metal
  • Easy to learn but does require more skill than MIG welding
  • Takes more time to complete your welding project
  • Doesn’t offer the same quality that TIG welding does
  • More time spent changing out electrodes than wire feed welding processes

Working With The Correct Polarity

Depending on the type of electrode you’re using and the metal you’re welding, you might need to make adjustments to the power supply. Stick welding can be done with a direct current (DC), alternating current (AC), or both. It all depends on the machine you use.

In most cases, expert stick welders will agree that using DC is the way to go. This allows you to decide to use either a DC electrode positive (DCEP) or DC electrode negative (DCEN) configuration. Ultimately this gives you more flexibility and allows you to work on different types of metal.

With AC, the current switches from positive to negative 120 times per second. This can result in less consistent weld beads because the arc goes out and then gets restarted every time the current switches. 

So you’re probably wondering, why would anyone ever AC stick weld then? Well, if there’s some distance between the power supply and the workpiece, you could lose voltage when working with a direct current. As the voltage goes through the cable it decreases the farther it travels. With an alternating current though, this drop in voltage doesn’t happen. So, if you’re going to have your power supply, somewhat distanced from your work area, you may need to AC stick weld instead.

DCEP vs DCEN Configurations

When you’re setting up your equipment and connecting the stick holder and ground clamp, you’ll find two ports. One is for the negative charge (marked with a -) and one is for the positive charge (marked with a +). The ground clamp and stick holder can be plugged into either port. If the stick holder is connected to the positive port and the ground clamp to the negative port, you’ll be welding with a positive electrode (DCEP). If the configuration is reversed, the electrode will be negative (DCEN).

When your equipment is set up for DCEP, this means the electrode is positively charged and the workpiece is negatively charged. Electricity will always flow from negative to positive. In this case, the workpiece has the current flow through it to the electrode. As a result, you’ll apply more heat to the workpiece and get a deeper weld penetration.

A DCEN setup is completely opposite to DCEP. With this setup, the current flows from the electrode to the workpiece. As a result, less heat is transferred to the workpiece and you get a shallower weld penetration.

The majority of the time, you’ll want to stick weld with a DCEP configuration. This provides a more stable arc and stronger welds overall. The only time to really consider using DCEN is if you’re stick welding something that requires a light penetration.

Stick Welding Technique

Once you’re ready to start stick welding and lay your first bead, the process is very straightforward. If you’re a beginner, you might want to grab some scrap pieces to practice on before jumping into your project. Spending a little extra time welding a butt joint between some scrap pieces can help you avoid mistakes when the welds really count.

Strike the Arc

Once the electrode is in the holder and the machine is turned on, you need to strike the arc. As mentioned above, you can either tap or scratch the tip of the electrode against the starting point of your weld. You only need to touch the tip of the electrode to the workpiece for a moment. 

Once the arc is formed, lift the tip of the electrode slightly above the weld pool. Be careful, if the electrode is held too high above the workpiece, the arc will cut out. Once you’ve got the arc lit, the sound should resemble bacon cooking in a frying pan. If it sounds too loud or aggressive, you likely have the amperage set too high and need to adjust it.

Electrode Position

Now that you’ve got the arc lit, you can actually start to stick weld. For best results, you’ll need to make sure to hold the electrode in the correct position. It should be tilted roughly 15-30 degrees from a 90-degree vertical position.

Travel Speed and Direction

As you move the electrode across the weld joint, make sure to pull not push. If you push the electrode, slag will get trapped in the weld pool and cause porosity. To get the best results, pull the electrode slowly. You may want to rest an elbow on your workstation and use two hands for added stability and control of the electrode holder.

What Equipment is Needed to Stick Weld?

Stick welding is often more affordable than other welding processes. Most multipurpose welding machines can be used for MIG, TIG, or stick welding projects. However, you can also purchase a welding machine solely used to stick weld. These are often cheaper than multipurpose welding machines. 

Another way to save on cost is by enrolling in the Welder 101 course. Part of the course registration includes equipment discounts from some of the most reputable welding equipment manufacturers.

With that being said, here is the list of equipment you need in order to stick weld.

  • Welding machine – multipurpose or stick welding specific
  • Welding helmet
  • Gloves
  • Apron or welding jacket
  • Boots
  • Long pants
  • Slag chip and hammer
  • Wire brush
  • Electrode

Ensure that you have taken all the necessary safety precautions. On top of protective clothing like a welding helmet, apron, gloves, and boots, consider having a fire extinguisher nearby in case disaster strikes. 

Selecting Which Type of Electrode to Use

There are many different types of electrodes to use when stick welding. They each offer different results and are intended to be used with different materials. The most popular options though are 6010, 6011, 6012, 6013, 7014, 7024, and 7018.

The four digits that make up the model number are important to understand. The first two digits tell you the minimum tensile strength. If you see 70, it means a 70,000 psi tensile strength. The third digit tells you what positions the electrode can be used in. A 1 means it can be used in any position. If you see 2, though, you can only use that electrode in a flat position. The last digit tells you what the type of flux coating is on the electrode and what the current needs to be set to.

Generally speaking, the majority of welders will use three standard electrodes. If you’re working with dirty or rusty metals and need deep penetration, go with an E6010. For most general all-around welds, the E6013 is the ideal choice. It will help you get smooth beads with decent penetration. Last but not least, a 7018 should be used on clean metal where weld appearance matters. The 7018 is the industry standard for most professional welders.

Master the Art of Stick Welding

If you want to get truly great at stick welding and add it to your skillset, enroll in Welder 101 today. This comprehensive masterclass combines thirty-plus years of knowledge and welding experience into an easy-to-follow welding course.

You’ll get lifetime access to over 50 training videos, resources, and access to a private Facebook group filled with peers and mentors. The course will teach you everything you need to know to start your welding career. If you’re already an established welder, it’s a great way to refresh your knowledge and help mentor other aspiring welders.
Click here to learn more and save $200 on the enrollment fee.

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