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What is Stick Welding? – Understanding it Thoroughly

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SMAW (Shielded Metal Arc Welding), also called stick welding is the most commonly used welding approach in all arc welding procedures. To join various metals, it utilizes an electric current and an anode at the weld pool.

Its versatility and simplicity makes it more popular. The anode consists of a stick or solid metal stick (therefore the name) encircled by a covering of metal powders and composites with an agent that binds them so that they can fasten to its surface.

Remember that the correct term for the rod is an electrode. The electric current (AC or DC) is used to produce an electric arc between the metals you’re attaching and the electrode. This spot is known as the weld pool.

Stick welding is mainly used in welding steel and iron and is widely used in the repair and maintenance industries, as well as in the construction of heavy steel structures.

How Does it Work?

SMAW dates back to 1889 when Charles L. Coffin patented the procedure. It’s one of the most widely used welding techniques these days as you can use it for both repair welding and production.

Also, you can use it in all welding positions on all ferrous metals. It’s also called manual metal; flux shielded arc welding or shielding metal arc welding. In stick welding, an electrode coated with flux (a metal rod or stick held on an electrode holder plugged to a source of power) is used to create the weld.

Credit: Tortoon, Shutterstock

The electric current flows via the electrode and touches the parent metal. Meanwhile, the flux creates a gas that protects the electric arc between the metal you’re welding and the anode.

It helps stop contamination from atmospheric gases and makes stick welding, dissimilar to MIG welding, fit for working outdoors. As the anode starts to thaw, the flux covering around it forms a cloud of gases that protects the melted metal and stops corroding.

For this reason, it’s also known as shielded metal arc welding. The gas cloud calms on the pool of melted metal when cooling and changes into slag. It has to be chipped away after you’re through with welding.

The SMAW procedure is relatively easy and doesn’t need a lot of particularized gear.

Although stick welding is among the most widely used welding techniques, it needs expertise and training to achieve clean, premium quality stick welds.

Several issues that may arise if the quality is compromised comprise:
  • Bad fusion
  • Cracking
  • Spatter
  • Feeble welds
  • Shallow penetration
  • Permeability

These problems are caused by errors in the welding procedure such as dirty metal, using low voltage or high amperage. Other mistakes comprise using traveling time that’s too fast, gas bubbles, using metals that are unfit for the purpose, and not permitting movement in the weld.

Such pitfalls spell out why the right training is crucial. With stick welding, you also have to get rid of “slag” (a layer of a by-product that you have to chip off after the weld). 

Equipment Used in Stick Welding

Of all the electrical arc welding procedures, stick welding gear is the simplest. A stick welder comprises four parts:
  • Rod holder/electrode
  • Power output (continuous voltage) or a SMAW welder
  • An earth clamp
  • Stick welding rods/electrodes to weld with
Credit: Bannafarsai_Stock, Shutterstock

Basic Stick Welding Safety Requirements

Dissimilar to numerous other professions where safety is preached, and where accidents and injuries occur, mistakes in welding are inevitable if you don’t follow safety precautions to the letter.

If you weld without donning the right safety gear, you’ll mess up big time – and it can even be fatal! Therefore, take it seriously.

To begin with, you have to put on the right clothes and protective gear. You may also require ventilation fan if you’re working in a confined space.

Welding fumes are poisonous! The basic gear you require should comprise:
  • Welding gloves manufactured using leather
  • Fire-proof shoes or leather boots
  • A welding headpiece
  • Leather welding jacket or long sleeve cotton shirt
  • Cotton trousers or any non-flammable materials
  • If ventilation is a problem, use a respirator or ventilation fan
  • If there are inflammable around, you should have a fire extinguisher

Even with proper safety gear (also called Personal Protective Equipment or PPE), your clothes can catch fire and get burns from melted metal and sparks. The most usual injury is known as “flash.” Flash emanates from the UV light that the welding stick produces.

Technically, flash is ultra-violet radiation. It’s similar to getting sunburned on the parts of your body that are exposed and not safeguarded. Worst of all, the arc light will flash right into your eyes.

You may feel as if you have sand in your eyes. Third-degree burns can also occur and if you get too damp from perspiration or rainy weather, you can get electrocuted.

Also, don’t weld close to anything flammable because it may lead to fire or even explosion. It’s relatively common for welders’ clothes to catch fire as a result of heat or sparks. Ensure that you read the warning labels on your gear and do what it says!

Where is it Used?

You can use stick welding on various types of metal with distinct thicknesses. It’s frequently used for heavy-duty work that includes industrial iron and steel such as cast iron and carbon steel and when working with low and high alloy nickel and steel alloys.

Stick welding is used in a wide range of industries, comprising:
  • Building
  • Construction of ships
  • Underwater welding
  • Pipelines
  • Manufacturing farm machinery
  • Steel fabrication
  • Mining
  • Structural welding
  • Marine

Some of the benefits of stick welding as compared to other types of welding are that the gear is easy to transport and can be used in a wide variety of surroundings, from inside to outside to out on the sea on a vessel.

Although SMAW is among the most ancient welding forms, new technology is constantly improving stick welding procedures and making them increasingly more effective.

If the stick welder knows how to select the right electrode, length of the arc, speed of the weld (and is working using clean materials), a stick welding task leads to dependable welding for various industries.

Advantages of Stick Welding
  • You can use stick welding regardless of paint or oxidation at the welding point.
  • You can mount a ground clamp to grasp the metal in a point further from the welding point.
  • Stick welding produces a large arc that isn’t influenced by either temperature or wind.
  • Stick welding facilitates replacing or changing rods to weld specific metals such as stainless steel, cast metals, and many more.
  • Provides efficient indoor and outdoor welding
  • If you’re a welder utilizing the DC (Direct Current) alternative, you can change the electrode’s polarity to lessen the likelihood of a burn-through on thinner metals.
  • You can use it in areas with limited access.
  • The procedure is fit for many of the commonly used alloys and metals.
  • Stick welding gear is somewhat easy, affordable, and portable.
  • You don’t need granular flux or auxiliary gas shielding.
Disadvantages of Stick Welding
  • After a joint has been created, stick welding leaves behind slag deposits on the metal. Before painting or consequent welding, ensure that you’ve scratched or chipped away slag from the welds.
  • Stick welding produces an insignificant amount of spatter. DC (Direct Current) stick welding produce fewer spatter than AC (Alternating Current) welding.
  • You have to replace the rod from time to time, and this interrupts the welding procedure.
  • With stick welding, it’s hard to weld metal with a thickness of fewer than ⅛ inch.
  • You cannot easily mechanize the stick welding procedure as it’s considered manual.
  • The procedure isn’t fit for reactive metals like tantalum, columbium, zirconium, and titanium. It’s because the protection doesn’t stop oxygen contamination of the weld.
Credit: Tricky_Shark, Shutterstock

SMAW for Novices

Stick welding is among the most widespread arc welding forms. However, it’s hard to learn this welding technique. If you want to become an efficient stick welder, you need to learn several techniques and a higher level of expertise.

Here are crucial things that you should concentrate on as a novice:
  • Present Context

The anode you select ascertains if your device needs AC (Alternating Current) or DC (Direct Current). Use the right setting for your particular undertaking. Electrode positive provides deeper penetration, while anode negative offers improved results for thin materials.

Choose your amperage depending on the position of welding, electrode, and the perfected weld’s visual inspection. For the perfect amperage setting, follow the manufacturer’s suggestions.

  • Length of the Arc

In stick welding, it’s crucial to have the right arc length. Every application and electrode needs a distinct arc length not more than the electrode’s diameter. For instance, a 0.125-inch 6010 anode is held approximately ⅛ inch from the parent material.

  • The Travel Angle

Use the “backhand” or “drag” technique if you’re welding in level, overhead, or lying positions. Ensure that the electrode is at a right angle with the weld joint.

Incline the tip of the electrode at 5-15 degrees towards the direction of its travel. Use a “forehand” or “push” technique when it comes to vertical welding that travels upwards.  Slant the electrode 15 degrees away from the travel direction. It also influences the travel speed.


Q: What stick welder type works best for all-encompassing use?

A: An AC/DC welder is okay. Direct Current provides benefits over Alternating Current for numerous stick welding operations.

The benefits comprise:
  • Fewer arc outages and sticking.
  • Easier starts.
  • Fewer spatters.
  • Easy overhead and vertical up welding
  • A smoother arc.

Electrode positive (DC reverse polarity) offers 10% more penetration than Alternating Current at certain amperage, while electrode negative (DC straight polarity) welds thinner metals better.

Q: Are there any advantages of having an AC output?

A: Yes, it’s an excellent option when you require welding friction magnetized material like when hay, feed, or water continually rubs against a steel part. Because of arc blow, a Direct Current output won’t work.

It’s where the magnetic field blows the melted filler metal out of the weld puddle. You can weld magnetized parts since an AC output alternates between polarities.

Q: How large of a machine do you require?

A: A 225 to 300-inch stick machine manages nearly anything the ordinary person will confront. It’s because numerous stick welding processes need 200 amperes or less. If you want to weld material that’s thicker than ⅜-inch, make many passes – this is what experts do when welding on 1-inch mild steel

Q: Do you need to get rid of dust or oil before you begin welding?

A: For dirty conditions, stick welding is more forgiving. However, it won’t hurt to clean portions using a wire brush or scrape off excess rust.

If you have an average welding ability and you’ve prepared adequately, you can produce a sound weld. Nonetheless, excellent welding expertise cannot overcome poor preparation because it can cause slag inclusions, cracking, and lack of fusion.

A Quick Reference Guide

When to use MIG welding When to use Stick welding
When working on fragile metal that’s less than ⅛ inch If you’ll be working outdoors, stick welding is the best option because you can produce a powerful arc that’s not influenced by wind condition
When you have steel, aluminum, and stainless steel When welding alloys or joints
When you’re working indoors If you want strong welds
If you have numerous distinct metal types with varied thicknesses If you have thinner metals
When carrying out repairs for mower decks, fences, DIY garage, and small structure fabrication If you’re carrying out repairs on tube frames, lawnmowers, and small-scale automotive repair
If you have commercial projects When you’re on a budget
  If you’ll not be using a shielding gas


Despite stick welding being among the earliest welding forms, it’s still a well-known type among all arc welding procedures.

It’s an easy procedure that doesn’t need intricate or costly equipment. It also brings in portability. The procedure isn’t sensitive to drafts or wind and gives excellent results in numerous surroundings.

The procedure works with numerous alloys and metals and is an excellent option if you’re working in localities with restricted access.

Read More: Stick Welding For Beginners: 11 Tips & Tricks to Get You Started

Featured image credit: Christopher PB, Shutterstock

Cameron Dekker

Cameron grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a once-proud steel town on the Lehigh River, where he got a taste of TIG welding in his high school shop class. He holds certificates for Certified WeldingEducator (CWE) and Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT) from the American Welding Institute. His interests include scuba diving, sculpture, and kayaking.