Stick Welding Guide for Beginners

Piecing metal parts together is something that a welder knows how to do best. Although there are different types of welding processes, it’s safe to say that SMAW stick welding is the most important one. Why? Well, the explanation is in the name. SMAW stands for shielded metal arc welding. What this means is that the electrode used to weld the metal comes in the form of a stick. This electrode comes covered with an alter of flux which melts when exposed to excessive heat.

steel welding welder

Flux is there to provide protection for the weld pool so it doesn’t get contaminated by the atmosphere. But when the flux gets melted, not only does it protect the pool from contamination, it also makes for a layer of slag on the weld bead. This slag needs to be removed after the welding as it makes the weld look unprofessional. This makes stick (SMAW) welding versatile, affordable and an easy to learn welding process.

How to Properly Stick Weld

Preparation & Safety

The first thing you need to ensure before you start welding is that you have all the necessary safety equipment and that you’ve taken safety precautions too. Once you got all your safety equipment such as safety glasses, helmet, leather apron, leather shoes, welding jacket, gloves, and denim pants you can start stick welding safely. Make sure your position allows you to have a good view of the weld puddle. You want to have your head off to the side and out of the way of fumes. Your stance should also allow you to support and manipulate the electrode comfortably.
stick welding rods


Before you start welding, make sure to have the right current set which will depend on the diameter and the type of electrode you go for. This is usually indicated on the box the electrode came in. Typically, 1 amp equals 25,4 μm in diameter. You can easily find what the ideal current is for the type of metal you’re welding online, or you can ask your welding equipment supplier.

Arc Length

Something else you need to pay attention to is the arc length. Having the correct arc length determines the quality of your weld and it needs to be adjusted with every application. A good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t have the arc length go over the diameter of the core of the electrode. Too long of an arc can make for excessive spatter and even make for porous surfaces. If you think that a longer arc will allow you to have a better view of the puddle you’re wrong. You just need to move your head if you have trouble seeing and not lengthen the arc.
electrode welder gas tungsten arc welding

Travel Angle

When stick welding in horizontal, overhead and flat positions you use what is called a drag or a backhand welding technique. This technique requires you to hold the electrode perpendicular to the joint. Then, you need to tilt the top of the electrode in the direction of travel from about 5° to 15°. If you’re making vertical welds, then go with a push/forehand technique and tilt the top of the electrode away from the direction of travel anywhere between 0° and 15°.
tig welding aluminum horizontal


While not everyone will manipulate the electrode the same, you need to still develop your own style by watching others. Practise what they do and note which technique suits you best. In most instances, you just aim for a straight bead, but when the metal pieces being joined together are 6mm or thinner, you don’t need to weave the electrode, since the bead is wider than usual.

If you want to make a wider bead on thicker pieces, you should manipulate the electrode by going from one side to the other. This creates a series of circles that will overlap only partially forming the letter “Z”. To cover a wider area, just make more passes than usual. The side-to-side motion needs to be limited to two times the diameter of the electrode’s core. Take your time, but don’t get too loose when it comes to keeping up with the bead as speed is an important factor too.


You may think that as a beginner, speed is not going to be on your list of priorities but when it comes to SMAW welding, it’s going to be. However, that doesn’t mean you should try to be as fast as you can. In fact, you should have your travel speed so that it allows you to keep the arc in the leading third of the weld pool. This will take some time and a lot of practice. The good thing is that once you learn how to do it, it isn’t something that you would just forget. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to go through some trial and error when starting out.


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