Stick Welding

Stick Welding Information and How to Guides for Basic Arc Welding

stick welder safety
stick welder safety

Basic Stick welding is not that hard to learn but knowing “what to do" and actually “doing it" are two completely different worlds! The first step is to determine what process you want to learn first and what and where you will be welding. There are four main welding processes which are listed below. The formula for a beginner to achieve a good, solid weld is mostly joint preparation and proper machine set up!

SMAW / Shielded metal arc welding / Stick welding

MIG / Metal inert gas welding

FCAW / Flux core arc welding

TIG / Tungsten arc welding

For practical reasons, as well as reasons related to equipment costs, we will cover stick welding which is otherwise known by its proper name, SMAW / shielded metal arc welding.

One of the biggest factors to consider is whether you will be welding indoors or outdoors.

If you are welding indoors, any process will work. If welding outside, you can forget about MIG and TIG for the most part, as there are only a few exceptions. Although it is not impossible to weld outside with MIG and TIG methods, the wind has a funny way of making it extremely difficult to get a good solid weld.

Let’s just assume you will be repairing outdoor machinery, such as a bull dozer. Stick welding is perfect for the job. With the right welding rods you can weld most metals even if metal is a little rusty.

Basic Welding Safety

Unlike many other trades where safety is preached and where accidents and injuries may happen, mishaps in welding are basically unavoidable if safety isn’t followed to the letter! Welding without proper safety equipment will seriously mess you up without exception… And it can even kill you! Take this seriously! I’ve seen it myself too many times.

The first thing you will need to do is get the proper clothes and protective equipment. Also, you may need a ventilation fan if you will be in a confined area. Welding fumes are toxic!

welder flash burn
welder flash burn

After welding for many years, I can tell you first hand that welding is very dangerous if you are unsafe or reckless. The most common injury is called “flash". I am yet to meet a welder who has not gotten a flash burn. Flash comes from the ultra violet light that the welding rod creates. Technically flash is UV radiation. It’s like getting sunburned on the exposed areas of your body that are not protected.

The worst part is getting flashed from the welding arc light directly into your eyes. It feels like there is sand in your eyes, but in reality it is blisters on your eyeballs, just like the sunburn blisters you get on your skin.

The best part of flash is you don’t know it until later that night or day that you got it. Remember going to the beach and that night you realize you will be looking like a lobster tomorrow! Yeah that’s it.

Third degree burns happen also and if you get too wet from sweating or rainy weather you will likely get shocked. Additionally, don’t weld near anything flammable or you may have a fire or explosion. It is quite common for welders to set their clothes on fire from either sparks or heat. Read the warning labels on your equipment and do as it says!

Joint Preparation

Next is joint preparation. The area that is to be welded should be free and clear of rust, oil, water, and paint at bare minimum.

clean welding joint
clean welding joint

Even the best welders who have these substances present will have a weak and terrible looking weld.

I have welded outside, after a rainfall, to finish a job that was moved outside of the shop, and I could not figure out why my weld looked so bad and was so porous. The weld had spots that looked like bubbles poking out! I dried the area, ground it, and thought it was fine. What I did not expect was the heat from welding attracted the water that was hidden below.

So, I poured some water next to where I was going to weld. I was thinking the heat would evaporate the water on the sides and keep the weld area dry. Sounded logical right? Absolutely wrong! I could not believe my eyes! The water on the side was getting sucked into the weld and when I flipped up my helmet the water was going uphill on top of the hot weld!

Lesson learned! Joint preparation is a must and it can literally make or break a weld. In the end, it broke the weld and I had to grind out the weld and start all over.

How Welding Works

Welding works like this. First, you have the metal and you need to join it. You hook up the ground clamp from the welder to the metal and then you take the welding rod and strike the area like a match where you want to start to weld.

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What happens here is the electricity from the welder passes through the rod and arcs at the point of contact creating a temperature of up to 7,000° F. Now the rod begins to melt and the coating around the rod creates a shield from any oxygen that will contaminate the weld. This is why stick welding is technically called SMAW / shielded metal arc welding. It’s a shield around the metal electrode that is arcing. As you move the rod over the joint it keeps melting (more like a spray of metal transferring to the joint) by creating a crater and filling the joint.

Before you begin to weld your project, you need to set your welding machine to the proper setting for the rod you are going to use. This is the most important part. The best welders with a machine that is set incorrectly won’t be able to weld right and a less experienced welder with the right settings will do just fine. A good clean joint and a well set machine make a real nice looking and solid weld.

Basic Stick Welding Electrode Selection

Welding rod selection for stick welding is pretty straight forward. For the purpose of steel machinery repair, a 6011 will do. A 6011 is a good general maintenance rod.

stick welding flat
stick welding flat

It does well in all positions and tolerates a less-than- perfect joint. Some other commonly used rods used for welding steel are:

6010 deep penetration works well in all positions and is excellent on dirtier metals.

6011 deep penetration works well in all positions and is excellent on dirtier metals.

6013 mild penetration works well in all positions and needs a cleaner joint.

7018 mild penetration works well in all positions and works best on clean metals.

7024 mild penetration works well in the flat positions and needs a clean joint.

A good example of what the strength of a weld is the rod numbers themselves. A 6011 rod using the first two digits (60XX) stands for a minimum of 60,000 pounds of tensile strength per square inch of weld. A 7018 is 70,000 pounds of tensile strength per square inch. In comparison, typical steel, which is graded A36 steel, has 36,000 pounds of tensile strength per square inch. The weld is usually two times stronger than the steel it is welding!

If you were wondering what the last two digits refer to, it’s the flux or shielding on the rod. The higher the number the more shielding, flux, and or metal is deposited. A (XX11) has a lot less coating then a (XX24).

Basic Stick Welding Machine Set-Up

The first steps in welding machine setup is selecting your rod, then set the polarity according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, and finally set the welding machine to the amperage range that the manufactures recommend.

For this project the 6011 rod is an excellent candidate for polarity selection. Most 6011 welding rods work with A/C (alternating current) and D/C (direct current). So no matter what type of stick welding machine you have this rod should do fine. Again, always read and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Now you are ready to fine-tune your welding machine to the metal you will be welding. Get some scrap metal that is as close as possible to the thickness of the metal you will be welding. This is important because welding different thickness metals requires different setting. You can compare setting your machine to lighting a match. A match burning will easily heat up a piece of tin foil to make a drop of water sizzle but that same match has no chance of heating up a frying pan to do the same. In this case it’s not a match but amperage settings!

When it comes to setting a welding machine from an experienced welder’s point of view (not some text book) I can speak for most of the experienced welders besides the deaf. The trick is to learn to listen to the crackle of the rod burning without looking at it and knowing if the amperage is set right. The sound of the crackle like eggs frying on a pan that tells you all you need to know. The welding machine should be set hot enough to burn the rod smoothly without sticking, and the rod should not turn cherry red, otherwise the settings are too high.

Welders give them a weld test and know from halfway across the shop by the sound of the weld if that welder will pass the test. Yes! I did say most welders, not all. I did say the deaf. Outside the scope of what most people think of proper welding settings, I would like to mention a welder who has been welding for 20 plus years and is an excellent welder. He is totally deaf! He sets his machine by visually seeing the weld and knows if the settings are right by the feel and vibrations of the handle. Absolutely remarkable how we as people learn to adapt to challenges! Welding, although it is a science, is also in no small way art. There are many welders that can bend the rules and do what the manufactures say is impossible. However, in the beginning, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and take it from there!

Basic Stick Welding Technique

Before you get started welding – and this is very important – get comfortable, use two hands to hold the handle, and brace yourself in any and every possible way to make sure you are in a comfortable position. This is one of the biggest secrets journeyman welders use all of the time. I had to go to a very expensive welding school to learn this. I was originally thought to weld with one hand and all that means for you is less control. Control is the biggest factor when it comes to welding technique!

stick welding electrode sticking
stick welding electrode sticking

Getting the arc started is easier said than done. In the beginning, you will find that the rod sticks and the flux will likely chip off and ruin a small part of the rod. It’s almost unavoidable and you have to take it like learning to ride a bike. Even the best welders have this happen now and then. To help with striking the arc, if you are wearing the proper welding gloves that are dry, you can lean the rod on the other hand almost like a pool stick and strike it. Once the arc starts you put that hand with the other one on the welding handle.

To fix any chipped flux, take a piece of scrap metal and strike an arc holding the rod about a ¼ of an inch away from the metal till it burns to a complete and undamaged part of the rod. This is the only time you will want a long arc like that. After you have a good rod again, I find removing the rod from the holder and scraping it on something to remove the used flux helps with restarting the arc later. It gives the metal inside the rod a good contact to strike an arc with much less effort.

There are a few ways to move the rod and see the puddle of metal in the crater. In stick welding, you normally drag the rod in MIG and in TIG you push the torch with only a few exceptions. If you are right handed, you will point the rod toward your left side and strike it like a match to the right or bounce it lightly off of the metal. It may take a few tries to get the arc started but once you do you want to keep the arc as short as possible while scraping the metal with the edge of the rod on your movements. If your arc is too far from the metal the shield of gas protecting the arc from oxygen will not be able to do so. This will result in a porous weld that looks like Swiss cheese on the inside. That means the weld is not very strong. The welding rod should stay ahead of the puddle to avoid trapping slag in the weld. Your eyes should also focus mostly on the size if the puddle behind the rod to determine the size of the weld.

With most welding rods you can use the same techniques in most positions, but there are certain patterns welders favor for good reason. The most common techniques for a E6011 are:

  • Whipping the rod, a moving it back and forth motion.
  • Circles to fuse the metal in a circular motion.
  • Weaving a side to side motion (for wider welds).

Then there are others, like myself, who have no real pattern. We only see the size of the puddle and adapt to what the fill needs of the joint are. When I was learning, circles worked for me. It all comes down to what you feel comfortable doing and gives you the best results! In the beginning, pick a pattern and stick to it until the weld is good. The rest will come in time!

Basic welding guidelines are that for 6010 and 6011 you whip the rod. For low hydrogen rods like a 7018 or 7024 you do circles or just hold a steady position and wait for the rod to fill the gap. With low hydrogen rods or any rods that have a lot of flux you want to avoid whipping because the flux that protects it also can cause problems by getting trapped in the weld. Technically this is called a slag inclusion. Don’t forget that the weld should twice the width of the rod.

Welding technique for thinner metals should be whipped; it keeps the rod from burning a hole in the metal. For metals slightly thicker than the rod, do circles or whip depending how wide you want the weld. Finally, for thicker metals after you complete the first pass using one of the above techniques, you should start weaving using a side-to-side motion and concentrating on holding onto the sides for the most part. The best example I can give on weaving technique is to actually count out loud the number 1001 while holding on one side and then weaving over to the other side and then repeating. It produces a very consistent pattern which produces a solid weld with excellent penetration.

Welding in different position changes what you do and how hot you set your machine. Flat or 1G /1F as it is called is the easiest. Horizontal or 2G /2F is a bit harder.

3g smaw cap weave electrode position left
3g smaw cap weave electrode position left

Vertical welding means you can be welding from bottom to top or top to bottom. There is vertical down which is pretty easy but is not very strong. Vertical down works great on thinner metals. Then there us vertical up. The direction of a vertical weld changes the amount of penetration and overall strength. Think of a water hose aimed at a mound of dirt. If you spray from the top down you only succeed in carving into the mound a little. But if you spray from the bottom up you gouge a deeper grove. Vertical up is a very strong weld but much harder to do.

Most welding shops require a vertical up or 3G welding certification or better.
Finally there is overhead or 4G / 4F welding. Literally meaning welding over your head. It’s just like welding flat or horizontal, but with way more sparks hitting you!

Typically, setting your machine for flat will allow you to weld flat, horizontal, vertical down, and overhead depending on the rod type. Vertical up usually required less amperage. What happens with vertical up is that when you weld, the rods arc gouges a crater into the metal and then fills the joint with filler metal. That is why the weld is so strong even though the setting are lower.

Welding position basics rod angles are as follows and are just a guideline. These are not set in stone!

  • Flat or 1G you drag the rod between 10 to 30 degrees in the direction of your movement. Use either a whip or circular motion.
  • Horizontal or 2G you point the rod upward at 45 degrees and drag it toward your direction of travel with a side tilt of 10 to 30 degrees. Also use a whip or circular motion.
  • Vertical up or 3G point the rod up at 45 degrees and use a tight side to side motion or a weave depending on the width of the weld you need.
  • Overhead or 4G is the same as flat or 1G except the rod is pointed up.

Summary of Basic Techniques

The rundown of welding techniques in flat, horizontal, vertical down and overhead is that they use the same settings and techniques. Whip for 6010 and 6011, circles and weaves for anything else although circles can be applied to 6010 and 6011 as well. The ultimate goal is to fuse the metal and fill the gap of the joint with a solid weld. It comes down to your comfort level and how the weld looks. Also, your weld should be twice the width of the rod you are using. If you are using a 1/8 rod, the minimum weld should be one quarter inch wide. The smaller the rod diameter the easier to weld!

Vertical up is more of a weave and a side-to-side motion with a lower amperage setting on the welder. The weld itself is wider most of the time than the other positions for less experienced welders. The reason for this when welding vertical up is that you need to build a platform of weld to build on upward, otherwise the weld will want to fall. Vertical up is done on larger joints where the weld is critical and vertical down is done on thinner metal like sheet metals. The best technique to do a weave is count how long you hold the side (an example is to say 1001 and move to the other side) of the joint and move to the other side when that side is filled.
The conclusion to basic welding is:

  • Get the proper safety equipment.
  • Clean your joint properly.
  • Set your machine right on scrap metal.
  • Weld using the right technique!

It’s not hard, but take away one of these steps and you will find yourself struggling or perhaps even seriously injured.
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