What is Arc Welding for Beginners

Arc weld is a broad term that encompasses different subtypes of welding techniques. The common factor between these techniques is that they use a high voltage electric arc to heat up the metals and fuse them together.

Arc weld is also used to refer to a specific subtype more than others, which is stick welding.

In today’s article, I’ll walk you through a brief guide with everything you need to know about Arc welding, including all the different types, the process of arc welding, as well as the pros and cons of this method. Let’s dive in!

What is Arc Welding?

Arc welding is a process in which the fusion between metals occurs due to an electric arc that is produced by the welder’s power supply, hence the name.

One thing you should know here is that Arc welding is used to refer to any type of welding that relies on electric arcs to create a weld pool and fuse metal joints together.

With that being said, you should also know that it’s informally used to refer to the most common arc welding type, known as “Shielded Metal Arc Welding”.

Arc welding

How Arc Welding Works

In Arc welding, the welding machine is fitted with a power supply that produces direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

As the electric arc passes through the electrode, the metal is heated to extremely high temperatures (around 6500 °F), which ends up melting the metals within the weld pool almost instantly and fusing the two joints together. The welding arc is also very bright, requiring specific eye protection to avoid sunburns.

Various leads can be used to supply filler metal to fuse the joints together, Depending on the specific type of arc welding.

A common element between all the different types of welding is shielding. Molten metals can easily react with atmospheric gasses like oxygen and nitrogen, which makes the fusion brittle.

To overcome that, most arc welders will use a protection method to minimize the contact between the molten metal and atmospheric air, either by gas shielding, slag formation, or both.

Types of Arc Welding

Now that you know that there are different types of arc welding, let’s have a closer look at those different types and what makes them special.

1. Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)

This one is the most commonly used method for arc welding due to its simplicity and affordability compared to other types. 

Shielded metal arc welding is also called “stick welding” because it uses a manually guided consumable rod as the electrode during the welding process.

This electrode melts when it touches the workpiece surface because of the intense heat generated with the arc at that moment, which connects the two surfaces at the weld pool after it cools down. 

The rod is shielded on the outside with flux materials that create a protective shield to deoxidize the metal and minimize contact with atmospheric gasses.

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2. Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)

This arc technique relies on a tubular consumable electrode that has an inner core filled with flux material (usually carbon).

The wire is continuously fed through the welding gun and melts instantly upon contact with the workpiece under the high arc voltage.

As the wire melts, the flux core also produces a protective barrier to shield the weld pool from contact with oxygen and nitrogen in the air, which is known as “self shielded flux core welding”.

Flux core welding can also be gas shielded, in which a high pressure inert gas is also produced by the welding gun to prevent oxidation.

3. Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)

This one is commonly known as MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding. It is very similar in principle to flux core welding, as it also uses a continuously fed electrode that melts to fuse joints using a high arc.

The main difference is that MIG welding uses a solid wire and relies completely on inter gasses to shield the weld pool from oxidation. 

The most popular gasses used in this technique are helium and argon in different blends with other gasses.

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4. Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)

This one is commonly known as TIG welding. In this technique, a special tungsten rod is used to weld the materials together.

TIG welding is often the trickiest type of arc welding, but it produces the best looking results and works very well with thin non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminum, nickel, and lead.

Similar to MIG welding, this one also used blends of inert gasses for shielding, but you don’t have to replace the tungsten rod because it’s non-consumable

Another variation of TIG welding is Plasma Arc Welding (PAW), which generates much higher temperatures and is mainly used in aerospace and marine industries.

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How to Arc Weld

The specific process of arc welding may vary depending on the type of arc welding method you’re using. However, the general outline of the process is somewhat similar regardless of the welding method you’re following. Here’s a simple guide that shows you how to arc weld:

1. Select a Suitable Type of Arc Welding for the Project

Since there are various types of arc welding methods, you should start by assessing the project and choosing the best technique for the situation. 

If you’re a beginner who is looking for an all-around decent method that is also affordable, simple stick welding might be a good choice for you.

2. Gather the Necessary Equipment and Safety Gear

Working with arc welders involves electric and visual hazards, which is why protective gear and safety precautions are always important. 

In addition to the welding machine and its accessories, choose a suitable surface for work and gather your welding gloves, mask, and goggles. You also need to get a slag chipping hammer and wire brush for prepping the surface.

3. Prepare the Workpiece for Welding

For better results, start by prepping the welding surface for the process. This includes removing any dust, greases, and dirt from the surface using a wire brush. 

If possible, you might want to consider creating a beveled edge where the surfaces are joined through grinding.

4. Attach the Ground Clamp to the Workpiece

The ground clamp is important for completing the circuit. Connect it to the larger workpiece for stability and make sure that the clamping area is clean.

5. Choose the Adequate Settings and Components for Welding

Check the instruction manual for your welding machine to choose the ideal polarity, amperage, and voltage for the weld. In automatic feed, you should also adjust the wire feed speed and the size of the wire.

In stick welding, you’ll find plenty of rod sizes available, depending on the metal thickness. A rough estimation of the rod sizes should be as follows:

  • Metals up to 3/16 inch thick – 1/16 inch rods
  • Metals of 1/4 inch thickness or less – 3/32 inch rods
  • Metals thicker than 1/4 inch – 5/32 inch rods

6. Turn on the Machine and Strike the Arc

Hold the welding gun/electrode holder (stinger) in a natural position so that you’re capable of tapping the tip of the electrode exactly where you want to weld, then immediately pull the stinger back, which is known as the “strike and pull” technique.

This may require some training, but soon after, you should be able to move across the weld path at a consistent speed.

7. Clean the Weld and Remove the Slag Layer

After finishing your weld, a slag layer will be deposited over the weld pool. This one is essential for protecting the weld from oxidation and allows for slow cooling down.

You can remove this layer by using a chipping hammer or wire brush depending on the size of the slag created. You may also paint the surface for aesthetics and further protection against corrosion.

I use this Estwing Chipping hammer. It is affordable, well made, and comfortable with a shock reduction grip:

estwing chipping hammer

Equipment Required

Arc welding has a simple layout across all its types, although you might add a few items depending on the specific type. In most cases, these are all the equipment you’ll need:

  • The welding machine
  • The power supply unit
  • Welding wires or rods
  • Ground clamp
  • Electrode holder or welding gun
  • Chipping hammer
  • Wire brush
  • Protective gear

Advantages of Arc Welding

Arc welding has various benefits that make it a popular choice among both amateur and professional welders. Here are some of these advantages:

Highly Reliable

A common feature of various arc welding types is that they’re fairly affordable and versatile. For example, stick welding is considered one of the cheapest methods to get a decent, basic weld without spending a lot of money.

Arc welding is also quite versatile, as you can typically use MIG or flux core welding for a wide range of applications, so you don’t have to invest in multiple tools and machines.

Fast Welding with Little Distortion

Electric arcs are capable of creating weld pools almost instantly. This allows for a relatively faster weld with an acceptable level of accuracy and very little distortion, especially after becoming familiar with the “strike and pull” technique.

Some Types Don’t Require Gas Shielding

Arc welding requires shielding against atmospheric gasses to prevent the oxidation of molten metals.

Luckily, various types of welding machines create their own shielding. This includes stick welding as well as self shielding flux core welding.

This design comes with several advantages for welders. For instance, these types of welding machines are usually quite portable and cost effective because you don’t have to worry about the added weight and costs of gas shielding systems.

Disadvantages of Arc Welding

Various drawbacks make arc welding somewhat problematic. These disadvantages include:

It has a Learning Curve

Some types of arc welding are suitable for beginners, such as stick welding. However, stick welding still requires consistency and accuracy while welding to avoid distortion and have a clean weld. 

The good news here is that you should see noticeable improvements in a short time.

Produces More Slag and Waste Than Other Types

Another common drawback that many types of arc welding have is slag cleanup. This is particularly noticeable with stick and flux core welding where spatter is a major issue.

Slag is essential for a slow cooldown and protects the weld pool from reacting with oxygen and nitrogen but you’ll have to remove it eventually, which can make the welding process a bit tedious.

Not Suitable for All Types of Workpieces

If you’re mainly working on thick and large structures, you should typically go for shielded metal arc welding or flux core arc welding, as they both have high penetrating power, making them suitable for the job.

On the other hand, if you’re mainly working on slimmer metals and non-ferrous options like aluminum and copper, you should go for MIG or TIG welding. 

The problem is that if you work on a combination of both, you might need to purchase different arc welders.

Luckily, some modern arc welders are capable of welding in several types at once, saving you the hassle and extra cost of buying separate models.

When to Use It?

Arc welding can be used in a variety of applications due to the variety of its types. For example, if you’re looking for an affordable, reliable, and quick weld, you should go for stick welding or MIG welding.

If you’re welding outdoors or in windy areas, self shielding flux core welding is your way to go. However, if you’re working on thin non-ferrous metals where the cleanliness of the weld is essential, you might want to go for TIG welding.

Final Thoughts

Arc welding is a category of welding that includes any welding involving electric arcs. The most common type of arc welding is stick welding, which is why it’s used as slang to refer to that specific type.

In arc welding, different methods are used to protect the weld pool from atmospheric oxidation, including inert gasses and melted flux.

Its portability, affordability generally characterizes the process, and speed, although it can be a little messy, especially for a beginner or when used on thin metals.