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What is Stick Welding? MMA & SMAW Welding

What is Stick Welding? MMA & SMAW Welding

What is Stick Welding? MMA & SMAW Welding

Stick welding, also known as Manual Metal Arc (MMA) welding or Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), is a cornerstone welding process that has been used for many decades. For many welders, it is often the first welding process they learn. Whether you are a beginner looking to get started with stick welding or a veteran looking to refresh your skills, this guide will walk you through the basics of stick welding, its pros and cons, and its applications.

What is Stick Welding and How Does it Work?

Stick welding started as a simple manual process where an electrode was manually struck on the metal surface to create an arc, giving it its name, MMA welding. Over time, this technique has evolved to include flux coatings on the electrode, which help to protect the molten weld pool from atmospheric contamination, making it a more efficient and reliable process.

Stick welding uses an electric current to create an arc between the stick electrode (which serves as both the filler metal and the flux) and the base metal. As this arc heats up, it melts both the electrode and the base metal, creating a molten pool. As the electrode is moved along the joint, it deposits the molten metal into the weld joint, creating a strong bond between the two pieces of metal. The flux coating protects the weld from the atmosphere, making it a great option for outdoor or windy conditions where other welding processes may struggle.

Equipment and Materials Needed to Stick Weld

Stick welding requires minimal equipment and can be done with a basic welding machine, stick electrodes, and protective gear. Let’s get into some of the equipment needed in order to stick weld:

  • Stick Welder: This is the heart of your setup. Stick welders come in different sizes and power outputs, so it’s important to choose one that fits your specific needs. The two main types of stick welders are transformer welders and inverter welders. Transformer welders are more affordable and durable, while inverter welders offer more control and flexibility.
  • Stick Electrodes: These are the “sticks” that we mentioned earlier. They come in various sizes and types, with each type having specific properties for different welding applications. It’s important to choose the right stick electrode for your project, as using the wrong one can result in a weak or faulty weld.
  • Ground Clamp: This is used to connect the welding machine to the workpiece, completing the electrical circuit needed for welding.
  • Protective Gear: As with any welding process, it’s important to protect yourself from potential hazards. This includes wearing a helmet with proper eye protection, gloves, and protective clothing such as a welding jacket or apron. Also, make sure to follow safety protocols to limit the risks of welding.
  • Tools for Cleaning: Unless you are looking for a rough finish, it’s important to have tools for cleaning the metal before and after welding. This includes a chipping hammer, wire brush, grinding wheel, or sandpaper to remove any rust, slag, or debris that may affect the quality of your weld.

Because of its simplicity and affordability, stick welding is often the go-to choice for beginners and DIY enthusiasts.

Process of Stick Welding

If you have all of the equipment needed to stick weld, follow these steps to successfully complete a weld:

Step 1: Equipment Setup

  • Welding Machine:
  • Set up your welding machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Connect the ground clamp to the workpiece or the welding table.
  • Select the appropriate current (AC or DC) based on the electrode type and material.
  • Electrode Selection:
  • Choose the correct electrode for the material and position you are welding. Common electrodes include E6010, E6011, E6013, E7018.
  • Ensure the electrode is dry and clean.
  • Adjust Welding Parameters:
  • Set the welding current (amperage) based on the electrode diameter and material thickness. For example, for a 1/8″ (3.2 mm) electrode, you might set the current between 75-125 amps.
  • Fine-tune the current as needed based on the weld puddle and penetration.

Step 2: Preparing the Workpiece

  • Clean the Workpiece:
  • Remove any rust, paint, oil, or other unwanted material from the weld area using a wire brush or grinder.
  • Make sure the welding surfaces are clean and dry.

Step 3: Striking the Arc

  • Positioning:
  • Hold the electrode holder in one hand and the other hand on the workpiece to steady yourself.
  • Position the electrode at a slight angle to the workpiece (10-15 degrees from vertical).
  • Striking the Arc:
  • Tap the electrode on the workpiece to create a short circuit and quickly lift it to create an arc.
  • Alternatively, you can use the scratch method by dragging the electrode across the workpiece like striking a match.

Step 4: Creating the Weld

  • Arc Length:
  • Maintain a short arc length (distance between the electrode and workpiece) of about 1/8″ (3.2 mm). A consistent arc length helps achieve a stable arc and a good weld.
  • Travel Speed:
  • Move the electrode steadily along the weld joint at a consistent speed.
  • Adjust the travel speed to control the weld bead shape and depth. Slower speeds provide deeper welds, while faster speeds result in a more narrow bead.
  • Weaving Technique:
  • For wider welds, use a weaving motion (side-to-side) to cover more area.
  • Maintain a consistent weave pattern for a consistent bead appearance.
  • Weld Bead Overlap:
  • Overlap each pass by about 1/3 to 1/2 of the previous bead to avoid problems in the weld.

Step 5: Finishing the Weld

  • Ending the Weld:
  • Slowly lift the electrode away from the workpiece to break the arc without creating a crater or unwanted spatter.
  • For thicker materials, fill the crater to prevent cracking.
  • Slag Removal:
  • Allow the weld to cool slightly before removing slag.
  • Use a chipping hammer and wire brush to clean the slag from the weld.
  • Inspect the Weld:
  • Check the weld for defects such as porosity, cracks, or holes.
  • Make any repairs or re-weld poorly done areas.

While this process seems simple on paper, it takes time and hands-on experience to master stick welding. If you can, shadow an experienced welder to learn the proper techniques. Keep in mind that different types of stick welding electrodes may require slight variations in the welding process, so always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

Pros and Cons of Stick Welding

No welding method is perfect, and stick welding is no exception. Consider these pros and cons before deciding if it is the best option for your project:

Pros of Stick Welding

Versatility: Stick welding can be used on a wide range of metals, including steel, stainless steel, cast iron, and some non-ferrous metals. It is also well-suited for outdoor and fieldwork because it is less sensitive to wind and drafts compared to other welding processes.

Equipment Simplicity: Stick welding machines are relatively simple and portable, making them easy to transport and use in various locations.

Cost-Effective: The initial cost of stick welding equipment is generally lower than that of MIG or TIG welding setups. The electrodes are also typically less expensive than other consumables.

Strong, Versatile Welds: When performed correctly, stick welding produces high-quality welds with good mechanical properties. Stick welding can be used in various positions, including flat, horizontal, vertical, and overhead, offering flexibility for different welding scenarios.

Cons of Stick Welding

Slag Formation: This process generates slag, which needs to be chipped away and cleaned after welding, adding an extra step and time to the process.

Spatter: Stick welding can produce significant spatter, which requires cleaning and can affect the appearance of the finished weld.

Speed: Stick welding is generally considered slower than other processes, such as MIG or TIG welding. The need to frequently change electrodes can slow down the welding process.

Limited Thin Metal Welding: Due to the high heat input and slower travel speed, stick welding may not be suitable for thin metal welding. Thinner metals are more prone to distortion and warping with stick welding.

If you are planning on using stick welding for your projects, take into consideration these pros and cons. It may be a good option for beginners or those looking for a cost-effective, versatile welding process. However, more experienced welders may prefer other processes that offer faster speeds and better control over heat input.

Let H&K Fabrication Help You Get Started with Stick Welding

Mastering stick welding opens a world of opportunities, from creating custom metal projects to repairing equipment and structures. While other welding processes have gained popularity in recent years, stick welding has solidified its place in welding history and continues to be widely used today. If you are looking to refine your stick welding skills or practice on a new project, H&K Fabrication is here to help. We offer a variety of high-quality pipe fitting tools to help you perfect your stick welding technique. Take a look at our catalog or contact us for more information today!