Stick Welding Process and Tips

Shielded Metal Arc Welding, also known as stick welding, melts and joins metals by using an electric current to melt the tip of an electrode, which is also called the stick. This melted electrode mixes with the melting metals in the work piece in order to form a weld. It is a more forgiving welding process than other types of welding since it works on a wide variety of surfaces and is very portable. Over the years, stick welding has been one of the most popular forms of welding in home garages, construction sites, and maintenance work.

The electrode’s core provides the filling material for the weld, while the outer layer of the electrode, the flux, helps create an arc and provides a shielding gas and protective layer of slag—which keeps contaminants out of the weld and can later be chipped away. Since stick welding has so many applications and is quite affordable, it remains an important process for welders to master for a wide variety of applications.

Preparing for Stick Welding

With stick welding, you can weld parts that are not necessarily clean, whether they have paint or rust on the weld joint. Most weld joints will be stronger if they are cleaned properly, and therefore it's always better to clean a joint if it's part of a building's support. However, unlike other methods such as MIG welding that require a completely clean surface, stick welders can save time by skipping extensive joint preparation and getting right to work on the weld.

The Correct Power Settings for Stick Welding

DC power is preferable to AC power for stick welding since DC power is easier to start, causes less splatter, results in less arc outages and sticking, produces better looking welds, permits welding in different positions, penetrates 10% more (in a DC reverse polarity over any amp in AC), and strikes a smoother arc. However, AC power makes it possible to stick weld magnetized parts. It's often recommended to pick up a welder that offers both AC and DC power options since both can prove quite useful depending on the project.

The Right Metal for Stick Welding

Stick welding is limited to welding metals that are no thinner than 18 gauge. The most common metals welded in this way are iron and a variety of steels, including stainless steel. However, aluminum, nickel and copper alloys can also be joined with a stick welder. It is rarely used on aluminum.

The Right Stick Welding Electrode

Stick welding requires frequent electrode rod changes and splatters more than other methods since it creates a layer of flux on the metal to protect the weld. When the weld is completed, the flux must be chipped away. Choosing the right electrode for the job will help lessen the splatter and achieve the best weld for the job. The most commonly used electrodes are 6010, 6011, 6013, 7018 and 7024. 6010 and 6011 are the most popular all-purpose electrodes, but there are particular applications, such as vertical welding, where a 7018 becomes the electrode of choice.

Choose the Right Stick Welder

When purchasing a stick welder, an excellent all-purpose welder is a 225 to 300-amp machine. Most stick welding procedures only require 200 amps, but having just a little more power offers flexibility for completing bigger jobs if needed. If faced with a job that would require more than 300 amps, such as metals over 3/8" thick,  make several weld passes. Smaller welders (115-volt) can only handle a metal thickness of 1/8", while larger welders (220 volt) can weld a 3/8" thickness in one pass.

Select the Best Duty Cycle for Stick Welding

A welder can only work as long as its duty cycle. A duty cycle is the number of minutes out of a 10-minute cycle that a welder can operate, which makes all of the difference when it comes to efficiency and time on task. For example, a welder that creates a 200 amp DC output at 20 percent duty cycle can weld continuously at 200 amps for two minutes, and then must cool for eight minutes to prevent overheating.

Maintain the Correct Arc Length

Be sure to maintain the proper arc length while welding. Arc length varies with each electrode and application. The best rule of thumb is to use an arc length that is the same distance from the metal as the thickness (diameter of metal portion/core) of the electrode used for the project. Be careful not to hold the electrode too close, as this produces erratic arc and high crown bead due to the decreased welding voltage. If the arc is too far from the metal, this will produce, significantly more splatter and low deposition rates.

Diversify Your Stick Welding Positions

Practice welding in different positions in order to be sure you can handle any job that comes your way. For example, construction and maintenance work may require vertical welding. Vertical welding requires welding uphill in a slow, side to side motion that builds the weld upon itself without creating too large of a weld puddle. If the area is wide, it's much easier to make multiple passes or "stringer beads."

The Scratch Start Technique for Stick Welding

In order to strike an arc for stick welding, drag the electrode across the metal workpiece as if striking a match. After making contact, lift the electrode slightly so that the arc is formed between the electrode and the piece. If the arc goes out, that means the electrode was raised too high from the metal. If the electrode sticks to the workpiece, use a quick twist to free it and regrind the tip with a file.

Move at the Correct Travel Speed

The goal of every welder is to produce a smooth weld bead with a uniform shape. If the weld has ridges like fish scales, then the travel speed was too fast. Slow down the weld by pausing briefly on each side while moving back and forth. Keep the arc toward the front of the weld pool, ensuring that the weld pool doesn't run ahead and become too large. If the weld pool becomes too large, then the travel speed is too slow and the weld will have poor penetration. Naturally moving too fast will also provide poor penetration and create a weak weld with a narrow, uneven weld.

One welding instructor suggests practicing with travel speed by moving the electrode to one side, counting to three, making another pass, counting to three, and so forth. There are different opinions about the most effective way to perfect one's welding speed, but using this method or a modified version of it is a good place to start. Keep moving the electrode across the center without stopping, as the center will fill up if you maintain a steady side-to-side movement that pauses on each edge of the weld joint.

The Angle of Travel for Stick Welding

Most welding is done in the flat position. For stick welding in the flat, horizontal and overhead positions, use a "drag" or "backhand" welding technique. The rod should be perpendicular to the weld joint. The electrode's tip should be tilted at 5 to 15 degrees in the direction it's traveling. Vertical welding that moves upward uses a "push" or "forehand" technique. The rod is tilted away from the travel direction at 15 degrees.

Avoid Cracking When Stick Welding

Cracking often becomes a concern for multiple pass or stick welds. The first weld bead must be a sufficiently large size and have a convex shape that bulges outward. If the bead is too small, move at a slower travel speed and use a short arc technique.

Resources and Sources

Written exclusively for by Ed Cyzewski. has a Shopper Approved rating of 4.8/5 based on 300 ratings and reviews