What is ARC Welding? A Guide to SMAW Welding Processes

What is ARC Welding? A Guide to SMAW Welding Processes

What is ARC Welding? A Guide to SMAW Welding Processes

If you are interested in metalworking, chances are you’ve come across Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), often referred to as “stick welding.” It stands as one of the oldest and most versatile welding methods still in use today. But what exactly is ARC welding, and how does it differ from other welding techniques? In this guide, we will dive into the world of ARC welding, exploring its mechanisms, advantages, and where it’s most effectively utilized.

What is ARC Welding and How Does it Work?

ARC welding is a process that involves creating an electric arc between a coated electrode (aka “stick”) and the base material, melting both to form a strong bond. It uses electricity to heat and fuse the metal pieces, creating a weld pool that cools and solidifies into a strong joint. This method requires relatively low equipment costs and can be done in various locations, making it a good choice for on-site and repair work. However, it does produce a significant amount of smoke and requires skill and practice to achieve high-quality welds.

ARC Welding Techniques and Steps

To weld using the ARC welding technique, the following steps are typically followed:

Step 1: Safety Precautions for Welding

  • Wear Appropriate Gear: A full-coverage welding helmet, fire-resistant clothing, gloves, and safety boots are essential.
  • Ensure Proper Ventilation: ARC welding produces harmful fumes and gases, so working in a well-ventilated area or using an exhaust hood is always necessary.

Step 2: Equipment and Material Setup

  • Welding Machine Setup: Connect your stick welder to the power supply, ensuring it’s set for the correct voltage (AC or DC, depending on your electrode and material).
  • Ground Clamp Connection: Attach the ground clamp to the workpiece or the welding table to complete the electrical circuit.
  • Electrode Selection: Choose the right electrode for your material and job. The electrode type affects penetration, slag formation, and the weld’s mechanical properties. Common electrodes for SMAW include E6010, E6011, E6013, E7018 and their variations.

Step 3: Preparing the Metal

  • Cleaning the Metal: Though rust removal isn’t always necessary, clean the area to be welded of any grease, oil, or rust with a wire brush or grinder. A clean surface ensures better weld quality.
  • Metal Alignment: If joining pieces, ensure they are properly aligned and secured using clamps or jigs to prevent movement during welding.

Step 4: Electrode Preparation and Welder Settings

  • Inserting the Electrode: Open the electrode holder and insert the electrode, ensuring it’s securely held and aligned with the direction you plan to weld.
  • Setting Amperage: Set the welder’s amperage based on the electrode’s diameter and the type of metal you’re welding. Follow the electrode manufacturer’s recommendations as a starting point.

Step 5: Striking the Arc

  • Striking Technique: Hold the electrode approximately an inch above the workpiece. Tap the electrode against the metal like striking a match to initiate the arc. Maintaining the arc without sticking the electrode to the workpiece might take a few tries.
  • Arc Length: Keep the arc short, roughly the same as the electrode’s diameter. A too-long arc can lead to spatter and poor weld quality.

Step 6: Maintaining a Steady Weld

  • Travel Speed and Angle: Move the electrode over the metal at a consistent speed that fills the joint but doesn’t build up excess material. The electrode should be tilted slightly in the direction of welding, around 15 to 30 degrees.
  • Welding Technique: Use a steady, consistent motion that matches the type of weld you’re making (e.g., straight line, small circles, or weaving for wider beads).

Step 7: Managing Heat Input

  • Heat Management: Pay attention to the heat being generated. If the metal starts to glow red or the electrode burns too quickly, you may need to adjust your amperage or travel speed. Overheating can lead to warping or weaker welds.

Step 8: Cleaning and Inspecting the Weld

  • Slag Removal: After completing a pass and allowing it to cool slightly, use a chipping hammer and wire brush to remove the slag covering the weld bead.
  • Inspection: Look for signs of good fusion along the weld edges and an even bead. Address any defects such as cracks, porosity, or undercutting.

Step 9: Post-Welding Care

  • Cooling: Allow the workpiece to cool naturally. Rapid cooling can introduce stresses and lead to cracking.
  • Cleanup: Properly dispose of used electrodes and clean your work area. Store your equipment in a dry, safe place.
  • Finishing: Depending on the project, you may want to use a metal finishing technique to finalize the piece.

By following these steps, you can effectively and safely start SMAW welding. Mastering SMAW requires practice and patience. Start with simple projects and practice different types of welds (e.g., butt, fillet, lap joints) and positions (flat, vertical, overhead, and horizontal). Adjust your technique and welding equipment based on the results you’re getting, and don’t get discouraged by initial failures. Stick welding is as much an art as a skill, with each welder developing their unique style over time.

Pros and Cons of ARC Welding

As with any welding technique, ARC welding has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


  • Affordable and versatile: SMAW equipment is relatively inexpensive compared to other welding processes like MIG welding, making it a popular choice for hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts. It can also be used on various metals, including steel, stainless steel, cast iron, and nickel alloys.
  • Works in various environments: SMAW can be performed indoors or outdoors, making it a flexible choice for different working conditions.
  • Strong and durable welds: When done correctly, SMAW produces high-quality, strong, and long-lasting welds suitable for structural applications.


  • Limited in thin materials: SMAW is not recommended for very thin materials, as it can cause burn-through and result in a weak weld.
  • Slower process: Compared to other welding methods, SMAW is slower due to the need to constantly replace electrodes and chip away slag after each weld.
  • Produces a lot of smoke and fumes: The flux coating on the electrode produces smoke and fumes during the welding process, which can be harmful if proper ventilation is not provided.
  • Slag Removal: The slag must be chipped away after each weld to reveal the finished weld. This process can be time-consuming and tedious.
  • Difficult for beginners: SMAW requires a lot of skill and practice to master, making it challenging for beginners to achieve quality results.

Weigh these pros and cons the next time you need to choose a welding process for your project. Overall, SMAW is an affordable and versatile option for strong and durable welds, but it may not be suitable for thin materials or those new to welding.

Practical Applications of SMAW

The flexibility and simplicity of the SMAW process make it a popular choice for certain industries and DIY projects at home.

Industrial Applications of SMAW

Construction Industry:

  • SMAW is used in constructing buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure due to its portability and effectiveness in welding thick materials. It’s particularly useful in outdoor settings where other welding methods might be sensitive to wind or environmental factors.

Shipbuilding and Marine Repairs:

  • The shipbuilding industry relies on SMAW to construct new ships and repair old ones. Its ability to produce strong welds with minimal equipment makes it perfect for working in the constrained spaces of a ship.

Pipeline Construction:

  • SMAW is a preferred method for welding pipelines, including those that transport oil, gas, and water. The process is adaptable to various pipe materials and thicknesses and can be performed in remote locations.

DIY Applications of SMAW

Home Repairs and Improvement:

  • Hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts use SMAW to repair metal furniture, create custom metalwork for home improvement projects, or even construct small structures like tool sheds.

Automotive Repairs and Modifications:

  • For those interested in automotive restoration or modifications, SMAW offers a cost-effective way to repair frames, fabricate custom parts, or modify existing metal components.

Artistic Metalwork:

  • Artists and sculptors often utilize SMAW to create metal sculptures or decorative items. The process allows for the joining of different metals, offering creative freedom in design.

If you are interested in using SMAW for DIY projects, keep in mind that it is a more difficult and time-consuming process than some other welding techniques. However, with proper training and practice, SMAW can be a great technique to add to your arsenal.

Get Started with Your Next Welding Project with H&K Fabrication

Whether you’re and experienced welder, or you’re just getting started, investing in quality welding equipment is essential. Check out some of our pipe fitting tools to help make your pipe welding projects go smoothly.