Stick Welding 101: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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Have you always wished that you could learn how to weld and become a professional welder? Stick welding is just one of the methods that you might use. It's also an area that you can make your specialty and become the go-to choice for clients in your area.

An easy way to learn about stick welding is through an apprenticeship program that pairs you with a local welder, but you can also use the web to learn about this type of welding. With our guide, you can learn everything you need to know about stick welding, including the best equipment and machines on the market.

man stick welding

What is Stick Welding?

Stick welding is a process that allows you to join two pieces of metal with a welding machine or welder. You might hear it called shield metal arc welding or manual metal arc welding. It can use an AC or DC that comes from the welder to create an arc, which you'll use to connect those pieces of metal.

Though some used similar processes during the late 19th century and early 20th century, stick welding became popular in the 1930s when KK Madsen discovered how to automate the process and create gravity welding. Japanese men working in shipyards popularized the process even more in the 1960s.


How Does a Stick Welder Work?

If you don't have much experience with stick welding, reading about what it is may not give you all the information that you need. That's why we'll cover some of the basics below, including the currents you can use and the type of equipment that welders use.

Stick Welding Equipment

The most important piece of equipment that you need is the stick welder itself. Though you can choose from different models, we recommend a lightweight model with a built-in handle. No matter where you need to go or work, you can take the unit with you.

You'll also need a helmet that fits your head, face and neck comfortably. It should cover the top of your head down to where your head and neck meet. Those with a mask that lifts are helpful because they let you take a peek at your work, but you may want an auto-darkening helmet too that comes with shields designed for different jobs.

Electrode holders are also useful because they keep the electrode in a convenient spot. If you buy a welder that lacks clamps, you can purchase one or more separately. Most welders come with a torch too, which connects to a cable attached to the welder.

AC or DC?

AC and DC are different types of currents: alternating currents and direct currents. DC is often popular with welders because it is more stable and fluid. You can use this current to keep your arc stable as you weld and to prevent power surges when you turn on the unit.

Some of the stick welders that you see for sale only feature an AC option, though some come with both. This is the best current to use when you want to reduce arc blows. An arc blow causes the arc to bounce from side to side.

Power or Amperage in a Stick Welder

The amperage that you use will depend on the job or application at hand. You generally need an amperage of 300 or less, which is enough power to handle most jobs. Professionals sometimes need a higher amperage, though this is rare.


With an amperage of between 225 and 300, you can weld metals of up to 3/8 inches. You only need a higher rating when working with thicker pieces of metal. If you have a unit rated lower, you can go over the metal several times too.


Tips for Those New to Stick Welding

Before you grab a stick welder and start looking for metal to weld, check out some of the tips that we found for beginners. These tips are handy when you start and when you gain more experience.

Use Geometry

Those geometry classes you took in high school and/or college will come in handy when you line up joints. You need to make sure that the metal pieces sit flush with each other and that you use clamps to keep the pieces together. As you weld, you can use different angles to make sure you fill the whole area.

Amperage

When you set the amperage on a stick welder too high or low, it will produce an arc that might be too hot or cold for your metal. Though you can experiment with this setting, you typically want to choose a midrange setting such as 140. You can always go higher if you need.

Clean Your Metals

One reason pros use stick welding is that it works on metals that have rusty spots. Before you weld though, you should clean the metal as thoroughly as possible. A metal or wire brush will remove the rust and take away the other debris that can affect your welds.


Steps to Take When Stick Welding

Now comes the time where you can put into practice everything you learned on the web and in the field. We'll go over the basics of stick welding to make sure you know how to start.

Get Your Equipment Together

For stick welding, you'll need the unit, a ground clamp and the right gear. The best gear to wear includes a helmet, leather shoes, a welding jacket and an apron. You will attach the ground clamp to the machine and clamp the opposite end to the metal.

You can take a few minutes to prepare your work area too. Go ahead and place the metal on a flat surface before you clamp the second piece in place.

Pick an Electrode

A 6013 electrode is the best option for beginners, but you can use a 7018 electrode too. Each electrode features a series of four digits. Those figures tell you the strength of the electrode, the position that you can use and the current needed. If the fourth digit is a zero, you can only use the electrode with a direct current.

Get an Arc

To get an arc, you need to hold the torch in one hand and make sure that the welder has power. You will place the tip of the electrode flat against the metal and pull back quickly as if you just lit a match. If the electrode does not light and produce an arc, try twisting your wrist sharply as you run it against the metal.

Pull, Don't Push

One of the most important things to keep in mind when stick welding is that you will always pull the electrode rather than pushing it. If you push it back towards the metal and away from your body, you risk leaving behind a messy pool and forcing debris into the weld. 

You can simply place the electrode on the torch at the angle you want and slowly pull it back towards your body. For welds that require more strength and support, you can go over the joint one or more times.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes

Some of the more common mistakes that stick welders make include using too much power or producing splatter. Splatter refers to the liquid metal that comes off the electrode as you move it, which can stick to nearby surfaces. To avoid this mistake, simply adjust the electrode and hold it closer to the metal. If your welds look too thick or wide, you can turn down the amperage on the machine.


The Best Stick Welders

Before you attempt to work on projects in your home or handle jobs for clients, you need to make sure that you have the right tools for the job. Some of the best stick welders on the market are listed below. We provided short reviews on the best features of those machines too.

Best Overall: Everlast PowerPro 164

  • Best overall stick welder for beginners and advanced users
  • Portable and lightweight design
  • 110V and 220V compatible
  • Functions as a 120A stick welder, 40A plasma cutter and 160A TIG welder
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Five-year warranty on all parts that covers labor costs
  • Produces 3/16” welds with one pass
  • 20 by 12 by 13.5 inches in size
  • AC and DC power sources
  • Includes combo tools for stick and other types of welding

Best Professional Choice: ESAB EMP215IC

  • Top premium choice and stick welder for professionals
  • 120V and 230V dual design
  • Weighs less than 80 pounds and is portable
  • Bright yellow case makes it easy to spot the welder on the job
  • 17.7 by 7.8 by 13.7 inches in size
  • Suitable for stick welding and both MIG and TIG welding
  • Includes multiple cords and cables that attach to a torch
  • DC power source
  • Reaches a maximum of 25.5V without wearing out
  • Highly affordable choice for pros

Best for Beginners: Weldpro 200

  • Best stick welder for beginners
  • 110V and 220V dual options
  • Designed for stick welding as well as arc and MIG welding
  • Works at different amperage rates to save on the battery
  • Dual digital display helps you keep an eye on all settings and options
  • Three-in-one design makes adjusting the wire speed and voltage easy
  • Compact design reduces the weight to just 30 pounds
  • Includes torches you can swap out for different welding jobs
  • Earth clamps quickly connect the welder to the torch
  • Maximum output of 200 amps

Best Value: Amico ARC-160D

  • Lots of features at a low price point
  • Built-in handle and compact design for toting the welder to jobs
  • Advanced technology provides more stability to your arcs
  • Works with all types of generators
  • Reduces splatter to help you clean faster
  • Automatically compensates for fluctuations to the voltage
  • Intelligent fan turns on to reduce heat inside the welder
  • Dual voltage options of 115V and 230V
  • Runs on AC power
  • Weighs only 16 pounds out of the packaging

Final Thoughts

Stick welding is one of the more popular types of welding because it's easy to learn and produces a stable arch. As someone new to this field, you can become an apprentice and learn from professionals and use the web to pick up tricks and methods that you can use on the job. There are even videos that you can watch to see professionals in action and the methods that they use.

We hope that you found our guide to stick welding helpful. Make sure to check out our other resources to read reviews of the best stick welders and other products.