13 Surefire Ways to Improve Your Stick Welding Skills

1.Be able to clearly see what you are welding

If you are using a welding mask or helmet with dirty or scratched lenses it is probably time to replace them. If you will keep an extra set of replacement lenses on hand, you are more likely to replace defective lenses when it is time.

But, if you are like me and don’t keep a spare set of lenses, we are more apt to think we can do just one more job with these old second-rate lenses and then swear we’ll pick up a new set later.

Then, we tend to put the helmet up when finished and forget about it until the next welding project.

It may be time to upgrade your welding helmet altogether. Did you start out with a cheap one or maybe an older style? If so, you really need to experience a quality helmet with a larger viewing area, auto darkening, with an adjustable shade feature.

If your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, make sure your helmet will accommodate a magnifying lens. For more information about 10 best welding helmets for beginners, click here.

Don’t let your welding experience or the quality of your welds suffer because you can’t see the weld pool well enough.

2. Know your machine

If your machine is an AC only welder then you have no other polarity choices. If you have an AC/DC welder then familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of each setting.

With direct current, a.k.a. DC, you can opt to weld with either straight polarity or reverse polarity. This means that the electrons in the current will only flow in one direction. Never both ways simultaneously like with alternating current, a.k.a. AC.

So, with three polarity choices, which one will be the best for the job in front of you?

Note: AC current is really not a polarity as the current itself reverses polarity 60 times per second – 60 hertz

3. Know when AC current is the best choice

Again, if AC is your only choice just be sure you are using rods made specifically for AC welding. If you have a choice between AC and DC, you may choose to only use the AC setting when welding on magnetized metal.

A good example of magnetized metal is tubing and rods that have been in a rod pumped water or oil well. The friction between the rods and tubing as the rods cycle up and down several times a minute will quickly magnetize the steel.

Once the metal liquefies in the welding pool, magnetized steel has a tendency to blow or push the molten metal away from the pool. This is better controlled when welding with AC.

Otherwise, most welders with the option will perform 90% or more of their work welding with DC. It is easier to start the arc, keep the arc going, it welds smoother, and is more consistent, and splatters less.

4. Know which DC polarity is best and why

Since the current flow is either one direction or the other depending on the DC setting, it is fairly easy to understand what is actually happening when welding. What might be a little confusing for some is the industry uses two different sets of terms to describe the two settings.

Straight and Reversed is one way to distinguish the polarity. The other is Positive and Negative polarity. The latter description may be the less intuitive of the two.

Straight and Positive are describing the same polarity direction, as is Reversed and Negative. Since most DC machine dials are typically marked with the + and – symbols, we’ll stick with the terms positive and negative to define the settings as we continue.

Most people will do the majority of their welding on DC+. This means the current flows from the machine to the base metal then up to the electrode and back to the machine to complete the circuit.

The consequence of the current flowing through the base metal first is that an estimated 65-70% of the heat generated will be created in the base metal. This helps to gain more penetration.

Conversely, when the current is reversed to the DC- setting, the current will flow from the machine through the electrode to the base metal and back to the machine to complete the circuit.

With this setting, the electrode will receive more of the heat this time. This results in less penetration. It also makes the electrode burn off at a higher rate creating more deposition, making welding thinner metals easier with less burn-through.

5. Know which amp/current setting is best for your electrode

There are more 1/8” welding rods sold than any other size. So. Let’s use this rod size for our example in finding the best starting point for our amperage setting. If the rods do not specify, the rule of thumb is one amp per .001 in rod diameter.

A 1/8” rod is .125 inches in diameter. Therefore, a good amp setting to start with is 125 amps. Make adjustments in 5-10 amp increments until the desired setting is found.

6. Know the correct arc length

The arc length is the distance between the rod tip and the pool when welding. Again, using a 1/8” rod for our example, the rule of thumb suggests keeping the arc length at 1/8”,  the same distance as the rod diameter.

Keep in mind, the rod diameter is the diameter of the steel portion, less the flux.

If the arc length is too short, the rod is going to tend to weld poorly and stick more often. If too long, you will create more splatter and get less deposition to the weld.

7. Know the correct rod angle

For welding in the flat or overhead position hold the rod at approximately a ten-degree angle with the top of the rod leaning towards the direction of the weld. This is also known as the drag or backhand technique.

When welding vertically and uphill, tilt the rod the same ten degrees but in the opposite direction of the direction of travel. This method is known as the forehand or pushing method.

To estimate the ten-degree angle, picture a straw laying to the side of your glass of tea and that should be close to +/- ten degrees of angle.

8. Know the correct way to move the rod tip

There are several different ways a welder might maneuver the rod tip and therefore the pool during the welding process. For ¼” thick metal or less, a steady drag with no lateral motion imparted on the tip is probably best.

Using a half moon or L shape motion when making a T weld, may be helpful at times. This would be to maneuver the rod up, on the vertical portion while pulling the puddle slightly forward as you work the rod tip down to the horizontal piece.

Then, working the tip slightly up and back then down and forward. This would only be necessary when welding thicker metals. Be careful not to undercut the base metals.

On thicker, flat metal, to make the weld slightly wider some will simply make a Z pattern or a semi-circle pattern with the rod tip. Another method is the hesitate and drag technique keeping the rod tip in line with the weld with no lateral movement whatsoever.

9. Pay attention to how fast you are welding

Travel speed is very important. Travelling too fast will result in poor penetration and the possible formation of pinholes or porosity. The bead will also be too narrow, the deposition will be inadequate and the base metals will often be undercut.

Overlap or what is also known as cold lap happens as the result of moving too slow. This forms as the result of excessive deposition and lack of penetration. The weld appears to sit on top of the base metal instead of becoming part of it.

In other words, the tie-in on the edges of the weld may not be smooth and uniform.

10. Keep your electrodes dry

Rods that have soaked up moisture from the surrounding air will weld very poorly. Damp rods may cause the arc to be rough and erratic. If you have the correct polarity and are welding in the recommended amperage range for the rod you are using and your rod is not burning smooth and consistent, your rods may be damp.

To remedy this problem always store rods in a sealed container when not in use.

Discard electrodes if the flux becomes flakey and separates from the steel easily. Many welders will store their rods in an old discarded refrigerator.

This aids in keeping moisture away from electrodes. It is also handy to store anything else you may want to keep dry and dust free. If you have no dry rods to finish your job with, try sticking the rod to the base metal for just a couple of seconds.

This will cause the rod to heat up very quickly and the heat may help evaporate the moisture held in the flux. The rod will become red hot in just a few seconds. For that reason, do this only as a last result and with caution.

11. Clean the base metals prior to welding

To help ensure that there will be no porosity in your weld, thoroughly clean all mill scale, rust, dirt, moisture, grease, and oil from the surface to be welded. This can be accomplished with a wire wheel, flap wheel, or grinding wheel on an angle grinder.

If it’s not too bad, a wire brush my get the job done. If for some reason you are not able to clean the metal, be sure to use E6011 rods.

When welding on less than clean base metals slow down your welding speed and slightly increase the pool size which will allow more time for any additional gas bubbles to migrate out.

12. Perform a dry run

It can be very helpful to perform a dry run with your electrode before you actually start welding. Especially, if the weld is going to be in a tight area.

With the power off, test where your hands will need to go and if there will be sight obstacles as you move around the proposed weld. Identify the areas where you may be welding out of position and may have issues keeping the proper rod angle.

You may find it best to stop your weld in strategic areas in order to reposition yourself in a manner more conducive to maintaining proper sight and technique. It will be better to identify these spots ahead of time.

Before you get to them during the actual welding phase.

13. Have fun

Take pride in your work. Things built out of steel will be around for a long time. Be able to step back, admire your work and take pride in the fact that you have built something that is going to be around for a long time for others to admire.

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Be safe and marry some metal today!