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Stick welding is better known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), but your nerdy friends probably may call it other names, like manual metal arc welding (MMAW) or flux shielded arc welding. These are fancy names for an arc welding process using flux-covered electrodes. Basically, what you’re doing is create an electric arc between the electrode and the metals you’re working on using electric current from a power supply. The arc heats up and melts the electrode and the edges of the metal pieces to form a weld pool that joins the pieces together. Shielded metal arc welding is used for welding iron and steel, as well as aluminum and copper alloys.
It’s not an elegant way to join metal sheets together, especially considering the amount of spatter and slag it produces. However, it’s a versatile and simple process. Stick welding is the oldest way of welding, but it remains the most common type of welding procedure. Repair and maintenance industry uses SMAW most of the time. Industrial fabrication and construction also rely heavily on stick welding. So just because your fabrication shop uses mostly MIG machines, that doesn’t mean stick welding is becoming obsolete. It’s not going out anytime soon, especially when major welding supply companies still develop new stick welding electrodes (1).
1. Stick welding is inexpensive.
With stick welding, you only need a SMAW machine and electrodes. You don’t need shielding gases because the electrode is coated with flux that produces the shielding gas. In fact, it’s not just an inexpensive but also a convenient way to weld. You don’t need to worry about transporting gas cylinders or bottles when you have to do welding operations somewhere else. Because the flux coating produces the shielding gas, stick welding is great for welders who travel or move around a lot. This takes us to the next advantage.
2. Stick welding can be done outdoors.
SMAW welding can be done in different types of weather because the machine you use and the electrodes work even when it’s raining or when it’s windy. Stick welding is the right choice when you have to do welding operating outdoors. The flux coating creates a more robust shielding gas around your weld pool. This shielding isn’t easily disturbed by a breeze. In contrast, MIG shielding gas is easily blown away by even the slightest breeze. Inappropriate shielding creates porous, hence weak, joints. That’s the same reason why you can’t have fans blowing in your shop when doing MIG.
3. It’s versatile.
If you’re doing MIG welding, you need different types or mixtures of gases for different types of metals. That means you need to keep different gas cylinders handy. However, you don’t need different gas cylinders for different types of base metals when you’re doing stick welding. Instead, you use different types of electrodes for different base metals. Between gas bottles or cylinders and welding rods, you probably would rather carry around the latter than the former.
4. It’s generally more convenient.
Again, because you need less equipment with SMAW welding compared to MIG or TIG, it’s just the more convenient option. The only things you need to set up are your machine and the leads. Then get your welding rods ready, and you’re good to go. And if you need to make a quick welding operation, you can just set up your equipment and you’re ready. You don’t need to set up gas hoses and configure gas flow rate, gas mixture, and wire speed.
Also, if you’re in a hurry, you can weld rusty or dusty metals. That means you can work faster because there’s less preparation needed even when you’re working on old metals.
With stick welding, you can also access areas that are hard to reach using MIG. The rods are 12-16 inches long, long enough to reach deep joints
5. You get stronger welds.
Adding alloys to the flux is completely easy. The flux coating then provides alloys that help create stronger welds. It’s quite difficult to do the same to your MIG wire. In fact, manufacturers don’t typically add any alloy to the wire. For MIG, the strength of the weld depends on the properties of the green rod. This is why, generally, stick welding creates stronger joints.
Although slag is often considered a drawback of SMAW welding, it serves a good purpose for overhead or vertical welding. The slag keeps the molten weld pool intact and prevents it from dripping or running. It also shields the molten puddle from the atmosphere until it hardens.
These advantages make shielded metal arc or stick welding great for a variety of operations. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that it is good in all situations. Like any type of welding processes, it comes with pros and cons, and you have to understand both to determine whether stick welding is the right option in a particular situation.
If you are looking for the best stick welder you can read our reviews here.