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Last Updated on May 24, 2021

Frank Wilson

Frank Wilson 

Senior Editor 

From the amateur and hobbyist to the industry professional, welding and metalworking skills will always be in demand.

Essential welding skills, such as stick welding, are relatively easy to learn yet very versatile. Knowing the basics of stick welding can improve your skill set and open you to a range of opportunities.

If you’re interested in stick welding, following these recommended tips and tricks by industry professionals can improve your work and help you avoid bad habits.

Basic Information For Beginners

Stick welding is the slang name for Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW).

SMAW is a purely manual arc welding process that requires an electrode coated in a special compound called flux. 

Flux protects the weld from contamination with atmospheric elements, serving the same purpose as shielding gas in other welding methods.

The stick welding process begins by striking an electric arc between the working metal and charged electrode, using one of two motions: a scratching motion (similar to striking a match) or a tapping motion.

As the electrode hits the working metal, the current passes through it and forms an electric arc. The heat generated by the arc melts the flux, producing the protective gases that shield the weld from atmospheric contamination.

Dealing With Slag

As the molten metal cools, so does some of the molten flux, forming slag, a non-metallic, vitreous byproduct of stick welding.

While slag formation is a normal byproduct of stick welding, you should remove it after each weld. It obscures the weld area, making visual inspection more difficult, and causing problems if you need to make a second welding pass or apply layers, such as paint or oils.

Recommended Safety Equipment

When stick welding, it is essential to protect your body from injuries. 

Recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for stick welding includes:

  • A quality welding helmet with an auto-darkening viewing screen
  • Durable welding gloves to protect your hands from heat, sparks, and slag projections
  • A long-sleeved flame-resistant shirt, such as a welding jacket, providing your arms with protection against heat and projections
  • A long, heat- and flame-resistant welding apron covering your legs and feet

Typical Applications

Typical Applications

Stick welding is versatile because it allows a welder to work on many working metals, both indoors and outdoors. Stick welding machines are also relatively inexpensive, making stick welding ideal for home shops and small workshops.

It is a little more difficult for a beginner to learn stick welding compared to other techniques. The most challenging aspect is to learn the right technique for striking an arc and maintaining it. 

Stick Welding Tips and Tricks

Making high-quality, consistent welds with the stick welding method requires practice. Follow these stick welding tips to make the best out of this method and avoid common mistakes.

Power Supply Settings

Stick welding uses AC, DC, or a combination. The right setting depends on the application.

The most common setting is DC. Most stick welders prefer using DC because it produces a more stable and consistent welding arc than other power settings. Using DC also allows you to choose between using a DC electrode positive (DCEP) or a DC electrode negative (DCEN) to work with different metal types and thicknesses.

  • DCEP charges your electrode with a positive current and your welding piece with a negative current. Therefore, your current will travel from the welding piece to the electrode, transferring more heat and creating higher penetration into the welding piece. DCEP is suitable for general-purpose stick welding on all but the thinnest metals.
  • DCEN does the opposite. Your electrode becomes charged with a negative current and your welding piece with a positive current. The electricity flows from the electrode to the welding piece, creating less heat and less penetration into the metal. DCEN is better suited for thin metal, such as aluminum sheets.

It is also possible to use AC with a stick welder. AC causes the current to switch between positive and negative approximately 120 times per second.

While this results in less consistency, AC stick welding may be necessary if there is a very long distance between your power supply and your work area. With DC, the longer your cable is, the higher the resistance, resulting in less voltage. However, with AC, the voltage does not drop even over long distances.

The Right Stick For The Job

One of the essential stick welding tips is how to choose the right electrode, also known as the stick. Most electrodes in the United States employ American Welding Society (AWS) designations, which use 4 numbers:

  • The first 2 numbers represent its tensile strength. Multiply the first two numbers by 1,000 to obtain its tensile strength in pounds-per-square-inch (psi). For example, a 60xx electrode has a tensile strength of 60,000 psi.
  • The 3rd number is either 1, 2, or 3. 1 means the electrode is suitable in any position, 2 means the electrode is applicable only for flat or horizontal welds, and 3 means it is used solely for flat, horizontal, vertical down, and overhead welds.
  • The 4th number is a code indicating the electrode’s flux coating and suitable current type. Refer to an electrode chart for more information.

The most common electrode types are 6010, 6011, and 7018.

Electrode Care

Buy plenty of spare electrodes of the types you need for your current work. Avoid using worn or partially used electrodes across multiple jobs, or your weld quality will suffer.

Spare welding electrodes have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years under ideal conditions (in a dry, heated cabinet). Avoid letting your electrodes become wet since humidity affects the electric arc’s behavior, and if you’re AC welding, you risk electric shock.

Arc Length

The proper arc length depends on the electrode used and the intended application.

As a rule of thumb, your arc should not be longer than the diameter of your electrode’s metal core. For example, if you’re using a ⅛” 6010 electrode, hold it ⅛” above the working surface.

Most beginners hold their electrodes too far from the work metal, resulting in too long long arcs. The consequence is large amounts of spatter and rough and uneven welding beads, leaving porosity and cratering in the weld.

If the electrode is too close, the arc length is too short, and you risk freezing your electrode, a phenomenon causing the tip to remain stuck to the working metal.

Related Article: Flux core welding tips

Final Thoughts

final thoughts

Following these tips can help you become a stick welding pro, enabling you to tackle more interesting and intricate projects. Whether you want to start a new career as a welder or embark on a new hobby, stick welding is a fantastic way to learn more about welding.


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.