Learn to Weld 5
Going straight with the stick
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 2-1-2011
This edition of my Learn to Weld series focuses on stick welding. While I try to use both my stick and MIG machines when possible I have noticed that when I focus my practice on something with the stick welder that very often carries over to welding with my MIG setup. There just might be something to the “learn stick first” school of thought. However, being me I will continue learning both at roughly the same time but with a greater understanding regarding my occasional failings with the MIG machine.
It has been bit over a month since I posted Learn to Weld 4 and in that time I have experienced a surge of progress. Naturally much of the improvement came from putting in the hours of practice necessary to get the most from my Hobart Stickmate® and Lincoln Pro-Mig 180 Welders. That practice was enhanced by a bit of welding technique insight that I discovered through trial and error and a fortunate bit of observation. When stick welding I had been using the “little circles” motion that was preached to us in my high school metal shop class. As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly right, at least not all of the time.
Straight and Steady
Some do in fact believe that a circular motion of the stick (or MIG gun) is necessary for the bead to come out right. I have had folks insist that these motions are necessary to produce the small ripples that many equate with good bead appearance. However, I began noticing a complete lack of this circular motion in videos I had seen and while watching someone I know to be a great welder. So, I went out to the shop, fired up my Hobart Stickmate® and gave the straight theory a try. I struck an arc and then held the stick steady as possible while I moved along. I noticed right off that without the distraction of trying to form those little circles I could focus more easily on the length of the arc and the size/shape of the puddle. Bingo! The bead looked great! I also noticed that the penetration was better with both of the rod types I was using. They still penetrated to different depths as they are supposed to but both penetrated deeper than with me circling the rod during the weld. Keep in mind that all of this came about while I was using the new (to me) “no-circles” method while practicing flat and horizontal fillet welds.
As I practiced the straight method one reason for the better penetration became clear. I was better able to maintain the proper angle of the electrode and without the circular movement the arc was staying focused into the now smaller puddle. Even the slag looked smoother and it seemed to chip away more easily. Of course the best indication of progress continued to be the more consistent and finely rippled bead beneath the scale.
Armed with the no-circles technique I have been able to substantially improve all of my flat welding as well as on angles up to about 45-degrees. With so much progress coming so quickly I decided to continue practicing this straight method for a while to get it firmly in my head before moving on to more out of position welds.
While I am practicing flat welds I do an occasional butt weld to see how my penetration is coming along. This is a simple test that can reveal quite a bit about the quality of a weld. I use 3/16”-thick mild steel because that is on the high end of the materials I normally work with and my Hobart Stickmate® should be able to handle it without straining. The rest is up to my welding skill which is exactly what I want to test.
I use a long strip of the metal so I can cut off a short piece and then clamp that at the end of the long piece on my welding table. The free end of the longer piece hangs off of the table so I can attach the ground clamp and keep both pieces flat on the table. Then I make a single pass across the full 3”-width of the joint. For the test in the photos I used a 7014 rod, 1/8”-diameter with the Hobart Stickmate® set at 140-amps.
After making the weld I let it cool down a bit before sawing the welded portion off, leaving a couple inches to allow clamping it firmly in my big vise with the weld facing away from me. Then I beat the half not clamped in the vise with my 5-lb sledge until the whole thing either bends over or the weld breaks. This one bent over until I got tired of hammering it. The gap on the backside did not open and the weld shows no cracks so this test shows that I am a welding god. OK, for that pass, in my own mind, for now.
The other piece in the photos was clamped with the welded joint right at the vise jaws and then beaten with the same sledge until it finally snapped off. You can see the thin line of the base metal along the bottom edge that defines the depth of my penetration. Close but no cigar, we want to see virtually full penetration without blowing out of the backside of the metal. I’ll keep practicing.
One of the confusing issues with stick welders can be choosing a type of stick that works with you more than against you. The welding companies intentionally create sticks that are very easy to use because they know that there are lots of us in the home garage trying to use them! Besides, an easy-to-use stick can allow you to actually learn something other than your threshold for frustration. There are lots of stick types available to fit the vast array of welding jobs that can be encountered. For our purposes here I will stay with the more user-friendly ones to help prevent you (and I) from stomping around the shop saying bad things. Once we get proficient with the easy electrodes we can learn the idiosyncrasies of the more specialized stick types and the more complex welding techniques they require.
For the most part I use 6013 rods in 1/8” and 5/32” diameters. I also like 7014 rods in the same diameters. Both are easy to strike and make a nice looking bead even when your technique isn’t 100% just yet. Despite their ease of use these rods don’t cover up everything we can do wrong so you actually have to learn to use them correctly to produce a good bead with the proper penetration. The slag produced by 6013 and 7014 rods is easier to chip away and the 7014 rods leave a surprisingly clean almost shiny bead. Both of these rod styles work well with the AC welders that so many hobbyists have. The 7014 rod is a “fast freeze” meaning that the puddle solidifies quicker than normal rods like the 6013. Incidentally, the first two numbers indicate tensile strength. The 6013 is rated at 60,000psi while the 7014 is 70,000psi tough. Now, if we beginners could make a weld that uses all of that strength!
Generally speaking it is best to keep welding rods dry and stored in a dry place but some rods are particularly susceptible to moisture contamination. Moisture can get into the coatings on stick electrodes and compromise their ability to produce the shielding gas that protects the weld while it cools. Too much moisture can cause weaker welds, popping, sputtering and increased spatter. The 6013 and 7014 are not as sensitive to moisture which is another good thing for the hobbyist welder and just one of the reasons I use them so much.
Along the way I am confirming the tenant that thin rods are generally harder to handle than the thicker ones. It seems that there is a bigger sweet spot in terms of the voltage setting with the larger diameter rods. The bigger diameter rods also seem to burn away a bit slower which makes it easier to maintain the correct arc length. Of course there is a reason for the different rod diameters, the thickness of the material being welded being just one. Once you become more proficient at welding overall the selection and use of different rod styles gets a bunch easier. To avoid complicating things even more I am focusing on the 6013 and 7014 rods for now.
For the time being I plan to continue with the stick practice using the non-circular motion. While most of the practice is on flat stock or in horizontal fillets I will also return to my “sculpture” and add a few more scraps occasionally. The freestyle form of this “sculpture” gives me opportunities for slightly out of position welding to help ease into verticals and the never ending situations that you can find yourself in while trying to weld up a crack or add a piece.
Have a comment on this story? Email Me!