Stick Welding vs Flux Core: Differences Explained

Written By: Liam Bryant

Stick welding (SMAW) is more versatile but very demanding in skills. Flux core welding  (FCAW-S), on the other hand, is easier for beginners but has limitations with the types of metal it can weld.

These two kinds of welding are the most well-known and inexpensive processes I know. 

In this post, I will provide a concise description of both forms of welding, their advantages and disadvantages, the requirements of each piece of equipment, and lastly, when to use them.

What Is Stick Welding?

Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is a type of welding that employs an anode at the weld pool while utilizing an electric current to fuse two metals.

The anode is composed of a solid metal stick—hence the name—coated by metal powders mixed with other mineral combinations.

This type of welding provides new welders the fundamental knowledge of how the welding processes work.

Advantages of Stick Welding

Although stick welding is an old method of fusing metals, it remains the most popular among other types due to its substantial advantages, including:

  • Stick welding is cheaper than most other techniques I’ve experimented with.
  • Even on windy days, I can employ SMAW well with no issues. 
  • Other welding processes are not as effective as the wind blows away their shielding gas, leaving the welded metal porous.
  • You can weld different types of metals like carbon steel or stainless steel.
  • Stick welding electrodes produce carbon dioxide as their shielding gas. 

Disadvantages of Stick Welding

Just as there are no perfect systems, SMAW has undesirable characteristics. The following are a few of the disadvantages I’ve often experienced with stick welding:

  • Stick welding requires a higher skill level, so it may not be suitable for beginners.
  • Controlled handling and good eye coordination are requisites with SMAW to produce sound and strong welds.
  • I could only go a few inches before I’d need another stick to continue welding.
  • Removing the slag in each weld before continuing in the following pass is time-consuming when I work on a multi-pass weld.
  • In my experience, thinner metals are always harder to weld through stick welding, making them more prone to damage.

Equipment Required for Stick Welding

SMAW is simple. The fact that it takes minimal equipment is just one of the reasons why most welders favor it.

The following constitute stick welding:

  1. A stick welder powered by constant voltage (CV)
  2. Holder for rods or electrodes
  3. Ground clamp/electrical welding circuit grip
  4. Stick electrodes or welding rods.
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Amico 200 Amp Stick/TIG Welder

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What Is Flux Core Welding?

Flux Core (FCAW) is a welding process that operates through a steady wire-supplied electrode. 

Reliant on a constant voltage power supply, it functions like a stick welding system.

It also doesn’t need gas shielding as the various minerals embedding the electrodes induce its gas shield.

However, the main difference between flux core welding and stick welding is that the former doesn’t require the same care and skill level as the latter. If you’re getting into welding, flux core welding can be the greatest choice for a beginner.

It gets the job done easily and quickly. This makes FCAW more suitable for commercial use and large projects.

Advantages of Flux Core Welding

The flux core welding method has various advantages that justify its reputation as a reliable welding system, especially for people who want to increase productivity. 

Here are a few that I can highlight among many others.

  • It has an intuitive mechanism that feeds the wire electrode continuously, resulting in easier use for beginners, yet with quality output.
  • FCAW-S reflexively corrects the length of the arc and makes the wire electrode unstick easily.
  • FCAW-S generates an arc that consolidates at one point high portions of energy, resulting in a high energy density welding.

Disadvantages of Flux Core Welding

When there are advantages, there also are disadvantages.

Here are a few of the drawbacks associated with flux core welding.

  • FCAW-S causes fumes that are harmful when inhaled excessively. 
  • This welding process requires ventilation or must be done outdoors.
  • Unlike stick welding, which can fuse different types of metals by changing the electrode, flux-core has fewer metals on its list.
  • Flux-core welding is more costly than stick welding when it comes to replacement and repairs because it involves more moving parts.
  • Its welding system needs regular checking to avoid wire feeding issues and stability concerns of the arc.

Equipment Required for Flux Core Welding

Like stick welding, FCAW-S has minimal equipment requirements. Flux-core welding includes the following:

  1. Power source
  2. Flux core welding gun (air-cooled/water-cooled)
  3. Wire feeder
  4. Electrical welding cables

Make sure you choose a reputable brand for your flux core welding machine to avoid problems with build quality and workmanship.

Stick Welding vs. Flux Core: When to Use Each

Stick and flux core welding are two reliable processes. Choosing the right one for you depends on the objectives and skill level.

I find SMAW is best suitable for touch-up repairs and upkeep as it’s more versatile. However, the welding process is slower and more demanding in the level of craftsmanship.

FCAW-S is more appropriate for productivity and commercial purposes. It’s easier to use for beginners while promising quality output.