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Five Steps To Improving

Your Stick Welding

Paying attention to the five basic elements of Stick welding techniqueCurrent setting,
Length of arc, Angle of electrode, Manipulation of electrode and Speed of travel (CLAMS)
can significantly improve your Stick welding results. This illustrated technical article
provides five steps to improve your stick welding technique, including helpful
photographs demonstrating correct and incorrect Stick technique.
For many people, especially to those who are new to it or perhaps who dont weld every
day, Stick (SMAWshielded metal arc welding) is one of the more difficult processes to
learn. Experienced welders who can pick up a stinger, pop an electrode in and lay down
great welds time after time can inspire great awe in the rest of us. They make it look
The rest of us may struggle with it, though. And we dont have to, not if we pay attention
to five basic elements of our technique: Current setting, Length of arc, Angle of
electrode, Manipulation of electrode and Speed of travelor CLAMS, for short. Properly
addressing these five basic areas can improve your results.
While Stick welding may be the most forgiving process on dirty or rusty metal, dont use
that as an excuse for not properly cleaning the material. Use a wire brush or grinder to
remove dirt, grime or rust from the area to be welded. If you dont, youre hurting your
chances to make a good weld the first time. Unclean conditions can lead to cracking,
porosity, lack of fusion or inclusions. While youre at it, make sure you have a clean spot
for the work clamp. A good, solid electrical connection is important to maintain arc
Then position yourself so you have good view of the weld puddle. For the best view,
keep your head off to the side and out of the smoke so you can be sure youre welding
in the joint and keeping the arc on the leading edge of the puddle. Make sure your
stance will allow you to comfortably support and manipulate the electrode.
Bringing all the CLAMS points (Current setting, Length of arc, Angle of electrode,
Manipulation of the electrode, and Speed of travel) together may seem like a lot to think
about while welding, but it becomes second nature with practice. Dont get discouraged!
There is a learning curve with Stick welding, which many believe got its name because
when learning how to weld, everyone sticks the electrode to the workpiece.

Current setting: The electrode you select will determine whether your machine should be
set up in DC positive, DC negative or AC. Make sure you have it set correctly for your
application. (Electrode positive provides about 10 percent more penetration at a given
amperage than AC, while DC straight polarity, electrode negative, welds thinner metals
better.) The correct amperage setting primarily depends on the diameter and type of
electrode you select. The electrode manufacturer usually indicates the electrodes
operating ranges on the box or enclosed materials. Select your amperage based on the
electrode (a general rule of thumb is 1 amp for each .001 inch of electrode diameter,
see FIG 1.) welding position (about 15-percent less heat for overhead work compared to
a flat weld), and visual inspection of the finished weld. Adjust your welder by 5 to 10
amps at a time, until the ideal setting is reached.

FIG. 1. Unless the electrode manufacturer states otherwise, use 1 amp for each .001-in.
of electrode diameter. Here a 1/8-in. (.125 in.) electrode is used, so the operator starts
at 125 amps. Hell then adjust in 5 to 10-amp increments, if necessary, to find the
optimal setting for his technique and application.
If your amperage is too low, your electrode will be especially sticky when striking an arc,
your arc will keep going out while maintaining the correct arc length or the arc will
stutter. (See FIG. 2)

[FIG 2] Too little current. If youre welding with amperage set too low, your electrode will
be especially sticky when striking an arc, the arc will keep going out while maintaining
the correct arc length or the arc will stutter.
Once you get an arc going, if the puddle is excessively fluid and hard to control, your
electrode chars when its only half gone or the arc sounds louder than normal, your
amperage might be set too high. Too much heat can also negatively affect the
electrodes flux properties. (See FIG. 3)

[FIG 3.] Too much current. When the amperage is set too high, the puddle will be
excessively fluid and hard to control. This can lead to excess spatter and higher
potential for undercut. In addition, the electrode will become hotperhaps hot enough
to glow [See FIG. 3A.] toward the end of the weldwhich can adversely affect the
shielding properties of the flux.

[FIG. 3A.] A sign of too much current is when the electrode becomes hot enough to glow.
Length of arc: The correct arc length varies with each electrode and application. As a
good starting point, arc length should not exceed the diameter of the metal portion
(core) of the electrode, e.g. an 1/8-in. 6010 electrode is held about 1/8 in. off the base

[FIG. 4] Length of arc: The optimal arc length, or distance between electrode and
puddle, is the same as the diameter of the electrode (the actual metal part within the
flux covering). Holding the electrode too closely to the joint decreases welding voltage,
which creates an erratic arc that may extinguish itself or cause the electrode to freeze
faster and produces a weld bead with a high crown. (See FIG. 5)

FIG. 5. An arc length that is too short will create greater potential for the electrode
sticking to the base material.
Excessively long arcs (too much voltage) produce spatter, low deposition rates,
undercuts and often leaves porosity. (See FIG. 6.)

FIG. 6. Too long of an arc length will create excess spatter in the weld joint. There is
also a high potential for undercut.
When first attempting to Stick weld, it seems natural to use too long of an arc, possibly
to help get a better view of the arc and puddle. If you have trouble seeing, move your
head, dont lengthen the arc. Start by finding a good body position that gives you an
adequate view of the puddle, while also allowing you to stabilize and manipulate the
electrode. A little practice will show you that a tight, controlled arc length improves bead
appearance, creates a narrower bead, and minimizes spatter.
Angle of travel: Stick welding in the flat, horizontal and overhead position uses a drag
or backhand welding technique. Hold the electrode perpendicular to the joint, and then
tilt the top in the direction of travel approximately 5 to 15 degrees. For welding vertical
up, use a push or forehand technique and tilt the top of the electrode 0 to 15
degrees away from the direction of travel. (See FIG. 7.)


FIG 7. Angle of travel. When welding from left to right, maintain a 0- to 15-degree angle
tilted towards the direction of travel. This is known as the drag or backhand
Manipulation of Electrode: Each welder manipulates the electrode a little differently than
the next. Develop your own style by observing others, practicing and noting which
techniques produce the best results. Note that on material 1/4 in. and thinner, weaving
the electrode is typically not necessary because the bead will be wider than necessary.
In many instances a straight bead is all thats needed.
To create a wider bead on thicker material, manipulate the electrode from side to side,
creating a continuous series of partially overlapping circles in a Z, semi-circle or
stutter-step pattern. Limit side-to-side motion to 2_ times the diameter of the electrode
core. To cover a wider area, make multiple passes or use stringer beads.

FIG. 8. Here the welder uses a semi-circular motion to create a wider bead with a
stacked dimes appearance. For thinner welds, a straight line bead may be sufficient.

When welding vertical up, if you focus on welding the sides of the joint, the middle will
take care of itself. Move across the middle of the joint slowly enough so that the weld
puddle can catch up, pause slightly at the sides to ensure solid tie-in to the sidewall.
If your weld looks like fish scales, you moved forward too quickly and didnt hold long
enough on the sides.
Speed of travel: Your travel speed should allow you to keep the arc in the leading onethird of the weld pool.

FIG 9.. To establish the optimal travel speed, first establish a weld puddle of the desired
diameter, and then move at a speed that keeps you in the leading one-third of the
puddle. If you travel too slowly, the heat will be directed into the puddle and not into the
weld, leading to cold lap or poor fusion.
Traveling too slowly produces a wide, convex bead with shallow penetration and the
possibility of cold-lapping, where the weld appears to be simply sitting on the surface
of the material. (See FIG. 10.)

FIG. 10. Too slow of a travel speed will create a bead that has too much weld deposit,
which can lead to cold-lap. This can result in insufficient penetration in those areas.
Traveling too slowly can also focus the heat into the puddle and not into the base
Excessively fast travel speeds also decrease penetration, create a narrower and/or
highly crowned bead, and possibly underfill or undercut, which is when the area outside
of the weld is concave or recessed. Note towards the end of the bead in FIG. 11 how
the bead appears inconsistent as if the puddle were trying to keep up. (See FIG 11.)

FIG. 11. Traveling too fast will create a thinner/undersized bead that will have more of a
V- shaped ripple effect in the puddle rather than a nice U shaped, or stacked
dimes effect.
These tips, along with practice and patience, will get you headed in the right direction.
For more welding tips, visit

Miller Electric Mfg. Co.