Learning how to stick weld sounds like an intensive task, but with the right attitude, preparation, tools, and knowledge, this very-popular variety of stick welding can be easy to do. Stick welding is one of the most popular forms of welding in the world, and these tips will tell you how to get it right the first time.
Tips On Learning How to Stick Weld
Even if you’re a well-seasoned woodworker or do-it-yourselfer, welding can seem like an intimidating prospect for the uninitiated. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult to get into welding. Most of the time it just requires practice. While there are several different kinds of welding that you could choose for your projects, here we’re going to concentrate on how to stick weld.
Why Stick Welding?
Stick welding is one of the most popular kinds of welding. Sometimes it is referred to as “shielded metal arc welding” or “covered electrode.” It is called this because it uses an electric power source along with a fixed-length electrode to fuse metal. The “stick” part is a reference to the electrode; a solid metal rod comprises the core of the electrode. Mineral compounds and metal powders cover this rod with a binding agent, which is often referred to as “flux.” This rod conducts the electricity and provides the compound that secures the joint.
Stick welding is popular largely because it is versatile. It can be done anywhere, inside or outside. It also doesn’t require water, gas or being close to a particular power source (in remote locations, generators are safe to use). It also doesn’t need a lot of equipment as compared to other kinds of welding, which makes it popular for home use. It also works well on the majority of alloys and metals.
The major downside is that it’s more of a manual process as it cannot be reliably mechanized, but for most DIYers, this isn’t a concern.
However, even though stick welding is one of the easier forms of welding to catch on to, it’s not quite as easy as wire welding or some other common welding practices. Learning how to stick weld will still take time, as it requires knowledge of a few specific practices to complete successfully. Here are some tips to make learning how to stick weld easier.
Don’t Skip the Safety Gear
Probably unsurprisingly, our first tip is to ensure that you and your workspace stay safe while you’re stick welding. As mentioned above, you can stick weld in many places, but you want to make sure wherever you are working is safe. Again, you don’t necessarily need a lot of gear to stick weld properly, but you should also make sure to pick up all of the following before you begin:
- Welding helmet. One of these is essential, as arc welding is very bright… it’s like looking into the sun! There are more expensive helmets on the market that are self-darkening, and these are the best to get if you can afford them. If you can’t, then a cheaper fixed-shade welding helmet is fine. But a helmet is essential, both to protect your eyes from brightness and your face from flying sparks. The brightness can be very dangerous; people who don’t take precautions often end up battling an eye injury called “arc eye,” where the retina is burned.
- Welding gloves. Again, these come in a variety of styles and budgets. Any of them will work to protect your hands from the heat, which is important.
- Make sure to wear natural fibers, not synthetic. In the event that a spark gets out of control and lands on your clothing, fabrics like nylon can potentially melt to your skin.
These are the essential three. It is also highly recommended to get a welding apron and a respirator if at all possible, but if you are not welding often, they are not as necessary as the first three items.
What You Need to Get Started
Once you have your safety gear in order, you’ll need to have the machinery and supplies necessary to actually stick weld. Again, the good news is that you don’t need a lot of equipment for this particular task. Here is a basic list of what you will need:
- Power source. Generally, you will need a step-down transformer as well as a rectifier, though if you are engaging in outdoor welding, you may have a more portable source, such as a generator. Assuming that you are looking to weld from the inside of your home, you can normally get one of these for under $200 for the most basic models.
- Electrode. There are many different electrodes on the market. Generally speaking, your choice of electrode will depend on the material that you are welding. There are three different main types of electrodes. “Fast-fill,” which is designed to liquify quickly, “fast-freeze” which are meant to harden quickly, and those called “fast-follow” or “fill-freeze” that are intermediate. The most common electrode is the E6010, which is a fast-freeze electrode.
And that’s all you need in terms of equipment. One of the reasons why stick welding can make up next to half of the welding done in certain countries is due to this simplicity.
Make Sure Your Metal Is “Normal”
For stick welding, it’s important that your materials are in what is considered the “normal” range for metals. If you are unsure what this means, it refers to metals that are AISI-SAE 1015 to 1025 steel. These also will have a sulfur level of less than .035 percent and a maximum silicon level of .01.
This is important since any kind of material with a level that above normal will have a tendency to crack using this method. Stick welding itself normally uses steel and iron. However, you can also weld nickel, copper alloys, and aluminum with this approach.
Pay Attention to Angle Position
Some angles may affect the quality of your work. For instance, if the sheet steel you are using is between 10-18 gauge, a 45-75 degree angle is optimal. However, you will also want to watch out for what is known as “burnthrough,” or when you try to apply too big of a weld to the joint. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and this is a common beginner’s mistake. You want the weld to be complete, but overdoing it can actually weaken the metal and lead to breakage.
Watch Out for Buildup
Like burnthrough, you also want to be wary of “buildup” when you are engaging in stick welding. “Buildup” refers to how thick the weld is. If the weld is too thick (has too much buildup), this can cause problems with fit. That is, if you are attaching your metal piece to another surface, this can throw off dimensions, and again, end up weakening the joint. A good weld really shouldn’t have a thickness of more than 1/16-inches. Buildup not only potentially weakens a joint and throws off other measures, it simply wastes time. It takes practice to know how much is too much.
Make Sure Your Electrode Matches Your Weld
General best practices with stick welding mean using the largest possible electrode for your joint. However, common sense will need to be applied here; even though bigger is generally better, too big of an electrode can lead to burnthrough or too much buildup. Generally speaking, if you are doing overhead or vertical welding, you want your electrode to be no bigger than 3/16-inches.
Clean Your Surfaces Prior to the Weld
Naturally, you will want to be working with the cleanest surfaces possible in order to ensure the best-quality weld. If you are working with entirely new materials, you are likely good to go, but if something you’re welding has been exposed to the elements, you will need to take the time to remove grease, paint, rust, oil or anything else that could potentially contaminate your joint.
Nobody’s perfect, and when learning how to stick weld, it’s natural for a novice to make welding mistakes. Some of the below are very common mistakes made by welders when using this method:
- The “wandering arc.” Stick welding’s other name is “arc welding,” due to the arc of electricity that appears when it is being used. Sometimes if you are using a DC current, you may find the arc “wandering” out of your control. Not only does this result in an imperfect joint, it can be dangerous as well. This is most commonly encountered when tackling complex joints. The best solution is to switch to an AC current.
- “Shallow penetration.” When talking about welds, the “penetration” is the depth of the weld into the joint. For a secure joint, the weld needs to penetrate the entirety of the weld. Essentially, this is the opposite problem as buildup. If your penetration is too shallow, try a higher current.
- “Bad fusion.” If your weld does not fuse the entire joint, you are experiencing bad fusion. Your joint needs to be fully fused in order to be secure. To combat bad fusion in your joints, try using a higher current.
Stick welding is one of the most popular forms of welding across the planet for its ease. With enough practice, you, too, will understand how to stick weld. Stay safe, and remember to practice your techniques. This is a quick-to-learn kind of welding that can tackle anything from a small job to a large construction project.