To learn to weld is easy. The education, hands-on training, and the jobs are there. When beginning, the basics of welding are an important foundation on which to build your skills.
The same is said for the different welding processes. To truly master the more difficult methods like GTAW (TiG) and GMAW (MiG), being comfortable with SMAW (Stick) helps. SMAW welding is reliable and is used for welding in windy and difficult welding conditions.
Welding in various forms has been around for a while, but an American, C.L. Coffin, invented the first coated metal electrode in the 1890s. This was the first record of metal from the rod being transferred across the arc to act as filler material.* As more variations of flux (coating) were discovered, this method became the most reliable way to create consistent high quality welds.
As with every welding process, safety is first. While SMAW welding is well suited to welding outside in windy conditions, you will have to weld inside. Always check the ventilation system in the work site; the health issues that can come from inhaling fumes are no joke.
Because the filler rod has flux covering it and it is a consumable electrode, there are times when touching the electrode to strike it or stabilize it for the weld is necessary. Keeping your gloves and work clothes dry is important for preventing your protective gear from shocking and injuring yourself. With that being said, don’t weld in the rain or when you are too sweaty.
Other important protective gear is for your skin and your eyes. There aren’t many welders who have experience in the industry, that haven’t suffered from some form of “flash”. “Flash” is from exposure to harmful UV rays and looks like redness on your skin or can be blisters on your eyes. Keeping yourself covered and having a decent welding face shield will help prevent this.
The only way to make sure you get the best quality weld is with a clean and well-prepared joint. Depending on the environment that you are welding in, the metal might be rusty or covered in muck. Welding with a layer of mud is never a good idea, but stick welding is great for metal with rust or slight buildup on the weld site.
If the metal you are welding is thick steel, certain SMAW electrodes can penetrate and produce good welds even if there are a few contaminates present. However, thinner aluminum or stainless steel still needs to be very clean, with precise heat control to create high quality welds. TiG and MiG welding are more efficient processes to use for thinner metals because of how much more control you have. However; TiG and Mig use shielding gases for high quality welds, any amount of wind makes it very difficult.
No matter where you are welding, the setup is usually the same. Attach your stinger, the part that holds the electrode, to the machine. Then attach the work lead (the ground) to the machine and the piece of metal that you are welding.
To choose which electrode and what voltage settings to use, refer to the manufactures notes about the metal you are going to weld and what position you are in. If the manufacture says to set the machine at 80 – 120, set it in the middle and adjust it from there.
Each electrode has a set of four numbers. The first two specify a tensile strength, and the second two tell you how much and what kind of flux is on the electrode. A joint that requires more flux usually needs to be very clean as well.
Here are the most common electrodes:
6010 – All positions, deep penetration, great for dirtier metals.
6011 – All positions, deep penetration, great for dirtier metals.
6013 – All positions, mild penetration, clean the joint well.
7018 – All positions, mild penetration, clean the joint well.
7024 – Flat position, mild penetration, must clean the joint well.
So a 7018 electrode has a minimum tensile strength of 70,000 pounds and has a lot less coating then the 7024 electrode.
When welding in the flat or horizontal position there are a few options. A steady consistent travel speed with an appropriate angle is usually enough to deposit enough filler with decent penetration. When switching to the overhead position things can get tricky with sparks coming down on your head, but the techniques are the same.
Using the push method by angling the rod in the opposite of the direction of travel will create a flat and wide weld. Pulling the rod by angling it in the direction of travel, depositing material where you have already welding, will leave a thicker weld with less width. These factors along with a consistent fast or slow speed will change the penetration.
There are three basic welding techniques for moving the weld pool. Circles are the easiest, small consistent circles to heat the metal evenly to move the pool forward. Whipping the weld pool for good penetration; think of it as a two steps forward and one step back method. To create a very wide and shallow weld, use a side-to-side motion (Weaving) keeping a steady count as you move back and forth.
Who uses SMAW Welding?
SMAW or “stick” welding sets itself apart from the rest of the welding processes by the ability to function in almost any situation, even underwater! The ability to work on less then perfect materials, while 250 feet away from the machine, is truly unique. MiG welders cannot weld that far away from the machine because of the issue of lines being tangled and the wire not feeding through.
Most heavy equipment repair services use SMAW welding because of the ability to work anywhere. Any company that needs to work outside uses this process as well; such as pipelines, shipyards and the fabrication industry. Simply put, SMAW welding is a great foundation for being a great welding, and it is essential for a lot of careers!