Stick welding, while a bit simpler in principle than other types of welding, isn’t an easy skill to master. As many of you probably already know, it takes years of practice and mistakes to master this art.
Before you ever really feel comfortable with any welding job, you’ll probably have plenty of times where you have to get the grinder out and start all over on your bead.
To help you through this process, we’ll give you some of the best stick welding tips we’ve learned over the years and hopefully save you some time and headaches in the process.
One of the biggest points of confusion for those just starting out is the types of rods you can use, and what the numbers on the rods actually mean.
Reading Rod Numbers
Let’s say you have a 6011 rod. Looking the first two numbers, 60, this tells us it has a minimum of 60,000 lbs of tensile strength per square inch of the weld. If it was 70, then it would be 70,000 lbs. Steel, on the other hand, has a tensile strength of about 36,000 lbs, so the weld should be almost two times as strong.
The third number tells us in which positions the rod can be used to weld. 1 means any position, 2 is horizontal and flat positions, 3 means flat only, and 4 is good for overhead, horizontal, vertical down and flat. So for 6011 the rod can be welded in any position.
And finally, the last 2 digits taken together indicate the type of coating on the rod and the polarity that can be used. Here are the numbers, 0-8:
- 0: High cellulose sodium (DC+)
- 1: High cellulose potassium (AC, DC+ or DC-)
- 2: High titania sodium (AC, DC-)
- 3: High titania potassium (AC, DC+)
- 4: Iron powder, titania (AC, DC+ or DC-)
- 5: Low hydrogen sodium (DC+)
- 6: Low hydrogen potassium (AC, DC+)
- 7: High iron oxide, iron powder (AC, DC+ or DC-)
- 8: Low hydrogen potassium, iron powder (AC, DC+ or DC-)
It’s good to remember some of the more common rods, like 6011, which is great for machinery repair and general maintenance. Many rods out there will be used for specialty jobs, so get to know the common ones and what they’re good for (like depth of weld, position, and how clean the joint should be).
There is really only one advantage to using AC current in stick welding, and it has to do with magnetized metals. A material may be naturally magnetic or become magnetized by friction with other objects.
These magnetic materials can cause “arc blow” when welding with DC current. Arc blow occurs when the magnetic field blows out the filler metal from the weld puddle.
AC current doesn’t have this problem since it is constantly alternating currents, and therefore polarity.
Unless you’re pretty experienced with both, or have formal training, it might not be so obvious as to what the advantages of using DC current are. Here are few of the advantages to DC current that might be of interest to you:
- Starts easier
- Less splatter (resulting in better-looking welds)
- Fewer arc outages and less sticking
- Better for learning how to weld thanks to smoother arc
- Easier for vertical and overhead welding
DC current in reverse polarity (electrode positive) also provides about 10% more penetration than at the same amperage as AC. On the other hand, DC straight polarity (electrode negative) is better for welding thinner metals than AC.
DC stick welders are more expensive than AC, but they’re well worth the extra money. Even better, shell out a few more bucks and get a dual DC/AC setup so you’re covered for all kinds of jobs.
There are some things you should go through before you even start welding. Here is a quick checklist of things to do when setting up with a stick welder:
- Choose a rod
- Set your polarity according to manufacturer’s recommendation
- DC electrode positive (reverse): More heat is generated on the workpiece (deeper penetration, better fusion)
- DC electrode negative (straight): More heat is generated on the electrode (shallow penetration, higher deposition rate at a given current, better for thin materials)
- Set amperage range according to manufacturer’s recommendation
- Machine should be hot enough to burn the rod smoothly without sticking, but it should not turn bright red, otherwise your settings are too high! See the picture below
- Choose AC or DC
For the most part, stick welding is fairly forgiving when used in unclean conditions. Although, that’s not an excuse to weld without any preparation. You’ll make your life a whole lot easier if you clean the area first, like grinding off excess rust. This will save you a lot of time from having to grind out and redo your welds.
If you’re setting up and preparing correctly, you should really only be welding about 30% of the time you’re working. A lot of people look past this, but this much time really is required to ensure a safe, clean, and efficient work space.
Now on to the fun part! These are tips we’ve learned and heard from others over years of experience. There are quite a few, so I’d suggest to just focus on one at a time and don’t worry about the others until you’ve mastered the one you’re working on.
I learned pretty quickly that one of the most important things in welding technique is control. You should always use two hands for more control when arc welding, otherwise your beads won’t be straight and you’ll have a weak joint. Make sure to brace your body on whatever is close to you so you can stay steady and use two hands on the torch.
If you have control, then it’ll be easier to keep the rod straight, which is the ideal position. You can tilt it a few degrees either way, but no more than about 7 degrees. Otherwise it can become too difficult and you won’t be able to lay a good bead. This is one of those things that you can easily play around with see for yourself the difference it makes.
Just make sure that whatever position you put yourself in that you have a clear view of the weld puddle. Keeping your head off to the side is usually best since then it won’t be blocked by the smoke. If you can’t see the puddle then you can’t be sure that you’re welding the actual joint.
You should be keeping the arc on the leading edge of the puddle. This is much easier if you’ve chosen the right amount of heat. You’ll know if it’s too hot if you can see the puddle roll out of the joint.
One of the best ways to help you keep good form is to remember the CLAMS acronym (which you might have learned in training):
- Current setting
- Length of arc
- Angle of travel
- Speed of travel
I’ll go in to a bit more detail on each in the subsections below.
You should be selecting an amperage that’s based on the material’s thickness, an observation of the final weld, and the welding position. We usually recommend about 15% less heat for overhead work when compared to a flat position. Just about every machine has a label on it that tells you the recommended amperage settings for different electrodes and material thicknesses. We highly recommend consulting this label!
Length of arc
This is something you’ll have to learn through experience since the length varies with each application and electrode. If your arc is too short, it decreases the welding voltage, which creates an inconsistent arc that might go out. Too long of an arc, on the other hand, gives you too much voltage. This can cause more splatter, low deposition, undercuts, and even porosity.
Angle of travel
We touched a bit on this earlier, but the angle in which you keep the stick is pretty important. While beginners usually focus on keeping the rod straight, the ideal position is actually to “drag” or “backhand” it a bit for flat and horizontal welds.
The rod should be tilted in the direction of travel about 5-10 degrees. Some people say you can tilt it even more, but that’s up to you. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest more than 10 degrees, but that’s just me.
For vertical welding it’s a bit different. Use a “push” or “forehand” technique by tilting the top of the rod 5-10 degrees away from the direction of travel. This is the opposite of flat and horizontal welds, but it works best this way.
Manipulation is the way you move the bead over and around the actual joint. Some people use different patterns to create stronger welds, which is what I recommend doing.
For example, some popular patterns are the “Z”, semi-circle, and stutter-step patterns. Just make sure you limit the side-to-side movement as much as possible to get a stronger, wider bead. If any of these patterns aren’t good enough then you can always just do multiple passes, which is a great way to add strength.
This is especially good to do on thicker materials, like 1/4 in. or bigger. This technique will ensure you get good penetration, and therefore better fusion. Anything smaller than 1/4 in. doesn’t really need much manipulation, though. So a normal straight bead is fine in those cases.
Speed of travel
The speed at which you travel the torch/rod will determine the type of bead you lay. Slower travel gives you a wide, convex bead that will penetrate fairly deep. Just make sure you don’t go too slow, otherwise you’ll be putting too much heat in to the work piece.
At higher speeds, though, you’ll have less penetration and create a narrower crowned bead. But if you go too fast you won’t get very good coverage or penetration, so the weld won’t have much strength.
Trying to find that middle ground is tough, but it’s another thing that will come with experience. And knowing when to do what speed is tough to master itself. Just keep practicing on scrap metal and take the time to learn the right speeds for different types of material.
There are way too many tips to cover in just one article, and these alone will probably take you a while to master. Hopefully you learned something useful from this article that you can apply to your daily work.
Feel free to share this article with friends and coworkers. Let us know what you think and what other stick welding tips you have in the comments!