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Last Updated on January 3, 2023

Frank Wilson

Frank Wilson 

Senior Editor 

Stick welding, also known as Shielded Arc Metal Welding (SMAW), is a popular process because it is easy to learn and produces durable welds. There is no need for a continuous gas supply, as in MIG and TIG welding, and wind conditions do not affect the weld quality.

Whether you are a welding hobbyist or a professional welder, learning how to stick weld allows you to work with various metals for increased versatility. As your skill level progresses with practice, your welds become neater, and you can create tidy welds that look great anywhere.

Although stick welding requires a degree of skill, you can learn how to master the process by following a few basic steps.

How Stick Welding Works

The first step is to understand how the stick welding process creates the weld. When the welder strikes an electric arc between the flux-coated consumable electrode and the base metals, an electric current passes through the electrode. This process creates a weld pool by heating and melting a metal rod inside the electrode onto the workpieces. 

The name “stick welding” comes from the shape of the electrode, which resembles a stick. The flux electrode covering also melts, protecting the weld pool from atmospheric contamination that could negatively affect the weld quality. 

There are many advantages to stick welding. A small stick welding machine is lightweight because there is no need for a wire spool feeder or gas tank, but it can still produce durable welds on thick metals. Other welding processes can find it challenging to work on dirty metals, but stick welding is ideal for use when rust or tarnishes are on the surface. 

The main disadvantage is creating slag during the welding process, but you can remove this afterward using a hammer and slag chip.

Prepare Your Safety Equipment

Learning how to stick weld can be dangerous, and safety should always be your priority. Read the manufacturer’s handbook before using a stick welder and ensure you wear the proper clothing. Protect your body from the heat intensity, sparks, and UV rays by wearing flame retardant clothing, and check there are no gaps that leave your skin exposed. 

A high-quality pair of welding glasses and a welding helmet protect your face and eyes during stick welding. Choose a pair of heavy-duty gloves, and wear leather shoes or boots, ensuring your trousers cover the top of your footwear.

Because the stick welding process produces potentially harmful fumes, it is essential to work in a well-ventilated room or use an exhaust system to remove the gases. Check your welding machine for signs of damage or wear and tear. 

If in doubt, always contact a professional welding retailer or the manufacturer and replace any parts that may not be up to standard. Your stick welder should have a ground clamp that you can attach to the workpiece and plug into the welder for stability. If you are fresh welder, you must know the tools and preparations you need before welding so as to make sure you are safe.

Choose the Correct Electrode

One of the most crucial factors when stick welding is choosing the right electrode required for the task. There are several hundred electrodes, and you need to understand the qualities of an electrode before using it with your welder.

Most stick welder manufacturers adhere to the American Welding Society (AWS) numbering system, making it straightforward to choose the most suitable electrode for your welding job.

The first two numbers indicate the minimum tensile strength, and this should correspond with the base metal strength properties. 

The third number displays which welding position you can use with that electrode. If the third digit is number 1, you can use the electrode in all welding positions, while a number 2 indicates the electrode is only suitable for use in a flat position. 

The fourth digit indicates the current you can use with the electrode. By referring to the AWS electrode chart, you can ensure you have the right electrode before beginning to weld.

Lay Your First Stick Weld

Your stick welding polarity settings relate to the electrode you use, so ensure you adjust the power supply to the relevant AC/DC-/DC+ setting. When learning how to stick weld, there is a small learning curve, and it’s best to practice using scrap metal until you feel ready to weld on more valuable metals.

When the electrode is inside the electrode holder, it’s time to power up your stick welder. Touch the electrode’s end to the metallic workpiece and quickly move it across the surface, using the same motion as when striking a match. If the arc strikes, you should hear a noise similar to the sound of frying bacon. Raise the electrode slightly, and remove it from the metal. 

Add your weld by keeping the tip of the electrode close to the area where the two metals join. Maintain a sloped angle of between 15°-30° relative to the vertical. Always use a drag technique when stick welding, pulling the electrode back towards you with a steady and slow motion. If you push the electrode, the slag becomes trapped in the weld pool. 

To help with balance, brace your free arm against a table while using your other hand to move the electrode in a controlled manner. When welding in an upside-down position, the filler metal may drip from the weld. Remove the heat momentarily to allow the filler metal to dry before it slides from the join area.

If you want to know how to weld cast iron, check our complete instructional guide.

Avoid Common Mistakes

If you notice there is too much spatter, it’s likely the arc is too long. You can quickly resolve this issue by holding the electrode closer to the metal workpiece. If the arc is also making a loud noise, the amperage level is too high, and you can adjust the setting. 

A lumpy weld bead results from moving the electrode too slowly, allowing filler metal to build up in the weld. In contrast, a thin weld bead suggests you are moving the electrode too quickly and need to slow down.

Stick welders refer to a small depression between the weld and metal plate as an undercut. This issue can weaken a weld and indicates the amperage is too high, and you need to reduce the setting. 

If you are experiencing difficulty striking an arc, increase the amperage settings in increments of around 15 amps until the arc becomes stronger. 

check out our professional stick welding tips.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to stick weld is an excellent skill for hobbyists and professional welders. You can quickly pick up the basics and develop your technique to produce robust welds suitable for use in domestic and commercial environments.


Frank Wilson, or the “Elder Welder” as he is now known in his late middle age, has 23 years of experience in the welding industry, across every project imaginable. Pipe welding and underwater welding were his stock in trade for years before his partial retirement.