Arc Welding is one of the most popular fabrication processes. It is widely used, highly efficient, and affordable. There are few basic types of arc welding, such as wire feed welding, stick welding, TIG welding, etc. Stick welding and wire feed welding might seem similar to the inexperienced eye, but there are a few key differences present between them.
If wire feed welding seems unfamiliar to you, it is because it’s a relatively less used term. The more common name is MIG or MAG welding. The main difference lies in the filler metal. Stick welding uses a filler rod, and wire feed welding uses a filler wire. The wire is fed from a spool inside the welding machine.
There are lots of other differences between stick welding and wire feed welding. The differences lie in the fundamentals like shielding gas, its application, welding technique, etc. In this article, I am going to explore each type down to the core to help you determine stick welding vs wire feeders – what makes them different.
Basic Differences Between Stick and Wire Feed Welding
In this article I will be discussing everything there is to know about stick and wire feed welding. But before you head on to the details take a look at this table that I’ve prepared that explains how these two methods compare.
|Wire Feed Welding
|Various types of electrode sticks are used.
|No stick is used.
|No wire filler is used.
|An electrode is used in the form of a wire fed from a spool.
|Separate filler metal
|No separate filler metal is used. The electrode is consumable and works as a filler.
|No separate filler metal is used. The wire is consumable and works as a filler.
|No need for a separate flow of shielding gas.
|A nozzle supplies shielding gas from a gas tank.
|The deposition rate is slow.
|Fast deposition rate.
|Slow welding speed.
|Fast welding speed.
|Slag and weld splatter is formed after welding. Requires rigorous cleaning.
|The surface remains clean. Only a brief cleaning will suffice.
|Relatively weaker joint.
|Easy to learn, great for beginners.
|Not so easy as stick welding. Requires basic welding knowledge.
|Heavy industrial production.
|Light manufacturing and repairing.
What is Stick Welding?
Stick welding is the most basic type of arc welding. It is often the first taught welding technique because it is easy to learn. Stick welding gives insights into the basics of welding. So other arc welding types become easier to master.
If you learn stick welding, you will gain the necessary knowledge about all the other welding processes. You can learn about welding arcs, the basics components of a welding machine, voltage, amperage, metal ratio, etc.
Stick welding is also known as manual arc welding, manual metal arc welding, and shielded metal arc welding. In stick welding, the welder uses a stick or rod to weld two pieces together. The rod is called an electrode in technical terms. Welders use a consumable electrode in stick welding. The rod melts and deposits to the joint as the welding progresses.
The stick acts as the filler material. It fills the void between the two base metals, solidifies, and joins them together. Hence it is called filler metal. Due to the stick-shaped filler metal used in this type of welding, its name is stick welding.
If you have previously heard about other types of welding, you may be already wondering where the shielding gas is. That’s where the altar alias comes into play. As I have already mentioned, stick welding and shielded metal arc welding are two different names of the same type.
The filler rod has coatings of inert substances to protect the weld pool from contamination. When the welding begins, it provides a shielding substance from its coating. Usually, it has a layer of CaCO3 which breaks down into CaO and CO2 when the arc is formed. So, separate shielding gas is redundant here.
The manufacturers make the electrode in such a way so that it can provide shielding substances. Due to this reason, you can conduct stick welding in any environment, even outside.
Parts of a Stick Welding Machine
Stick welding is the most basic form of arc welding. Following are the most basic components of a stick welding machine:
- Power Supply
The power supply delivers the electricity to the workpiece or base metal through the electrode and the workpiece clamp. It gets electricity from a DC power outlet. It is the main component of any welding machine.
The power supply is a box-looking thing that contains a step-down transformer. The transformer lowers the high voltage current to the low voltage current. Modern-day welders have inverters for more efficiency.
- Electrode Holder
The electrode holder holds the electrode. The welding technician operates the electrode holder to control the arc and speed. The power supply delivers electricity to the stick through the electrode holder.
To protect the technician from electrical accidents, the holder has insulations. The manufacturers make the holder specifically to maintain a certain angle. Some holders also contain an internal cooling system.
- Workpiece Clamp
The workpiece clamp is connected to the working surface. The power supply delivers electricity to the clamp. So, when the stick touches the working surface, the circuit completes, and electricity flows through the circuit.
The workpiece clamp is also called a ground clamp or earthing clamp. Whatever the name is, the principle of the mechanism is the same.
The electrode or the stick is the chief component of a welding machine. The electrode holder holds the stick and initiates the arc. It also works as filler material. The operator uses the electrode to control the arc, speed, weld pool, and the formation of joints.
For shielding purposes, the electrode has coatings of inert substances. On contact, it releases inert gases that prevent contamination. The type of electrode plays a vital role in the quality of the welding.
How Does it Work?
Stick welding works following the basic principle of arc welding. The power supply delivers electricity to the workpiece through the earthing clamp. The stick gets electricity from the power supply through the stick holder.
When the operator contacts the tip of the electrode with the workpiece, it forms a complete circuit between the two poles. The contact between the stick and the workpiece ignites the arc. This achieves the necessary fusion heat. The workpiece and the stick gradually melt and form a weld pool.
The coating of the stick provides gases to protect the weld area from contamination. As the welding progresses, the weld pool is solidified and forms the necessary joint. For stick welding, low voltage and high amperage are most important.
The welding machine or the power supply has all the necessary parts to provide the correct voltage and amperage to the work field.
Applications of Stick Welding
Stick welding used to be a widely applied form of arc welding. As time went by, the advancement of MIG welding and TIG welding has limited the use of the age-old technique. But it still has diverse applications in various industries.
There are two reasons behind using stick welding: it’s cheap and easy to learn. It doesn’t require any high-end equipment. MIG welding requires the supply of inert gas. TIG welding requires separate filler material as well as an inert gas. Stick welding has all of these features built-in.
Following is some of the industries where we use stick welding:
- Construction industry
- Mining industry
- Structural welding projects
- Petroleum industry
- Field Repair
- pipeline projects
- Aerospace and nuclear engineering
- marine projects
- Machinery production industry
- Locomotive industry
- Shipbuilding industry
- Steel manufacturing industry
Advantages of Stick Welding
Although various industries prefer other welding techniques to stick welding, it has some advantages over others. That’s why various sectors still use it. Followings are some of the benefits of stick welding:
- Mobility: Stick welding doesn’t involve any heavy pieces of machinery. It is the most basic form of welding and thus, requires fundamental equipment. The equipment is lightweight, giving it high mobility. You can use stick welding anywhere.
- Affordable Equipment: Stick welding instruments are some of the very basics. Their price is reasonable, and they’re widely available. If you want one for yourself, you can easily avail it without breaking your wallet. By the same token, the overall cost is also low.
- Can be Performed Anywhere: The stick welding technique does not depend on shielding gas. The stick’s coating of shielding substances protects the welding field from reacting with atmospheric gases.
- Sudden gushing wind cannot affect the welding. You can perform it anywhere without compromising quality.
- No Need of Separate Shielding Gas: The manufacturers coat the stick with substances that produce shielding gas as soon as the welding initiates. So, there is no need for separate shielding gas.
- No Need for Separate Filler Metal: The electrode is consumable and works as filler metal. So, we don’t need separate filler metal in stick welding, unlike TIG welding.
- Versatility: You don’t strictly need an electric source for stick welding. You can also use other power sources like gas, diesel, etc. So, stick welding can be carried out in areas where electric supply is not available.
- Applicable on Various Metals: You can join various types of metals using stick welding such as Steel, Stainless steel, Nickel based alloys, Chrome alloys, etc. You can also weld aluminum, although it is not the best choice.
- Easy to Learn: Stick welding is the most basic form of arc welding. If you learn stick welding first, you can learn other types of arc welding quickly.
- Doesn’t Need Intensive Cleaning: In other types of arc welding, the work surface needs to be very clean to avoid contamination. Stick welding is not so vulnerable to contaminants. So, no rigorous cleaning is required.
Disadvantages of Stick Welding
Stick welding is not free from some disadvantages. These downsides are the reason why stick welding is less adopted each day. Followings are some of the disadvantages of stick welding:
- Lower Deposition: Stick welding has a meager deposition rate. The deposition rate is the amount of filler metal that melts into the joint per hour. Stick welding has only a 60-65% deposition rate.
- Every other welding technique has a deposition rate of 80-99%. Stick welding creates more slag than other techniques. Only two-thirds of the filler goes into the joint, and the rest becomes slag. The operator grinds away the slag later.
- Operator Skill Dependent: This welding technique cannot be automated. It is a completely manual process. Other types of welding can be manual or automatic but not stick welding. That’s why the quality of the welding depends totally on the skill of the technician.
- Need to Remove Slag after Welding: Stick welding creates more slag than any other welding technique. It is messy and requires lots of cleaning afterward. This makes it a time-consuming and tedious technique.
- Electrode Wastage: You cannot use every inch of your lead pencil, right? The same thing happens with stick welding. You cannot use up to the last bit of the electrode stick. About two inches from each electrode is wasted.
- Slow Speed: Stick welding is slow compared to any other technique. Low deposition rate plays a significant role in it. Slag formation and subsequent cleaning just add more to it. If you want fast results, this is not a suitable technique.
- No Automatic Application: You can easily automate MIG and TIG welding. This means you can use robot arms and machines for automatic welding without human effort. But that’s not the case in stick welding. Stick welding requires a periodic change of the electrode. That’s why it’s not suitable for robot welding.
What is Wire Feed Welding?
Wire feed welding is the less commonly used term for MIG or MAG welding. The filler metal is fed from a spool in the form of a wire. MIG welding is the abbreviation of metal inert gas welding, and MAG welding is the short form of metal active gas welding. A separate shielding gas flows to the work area to protect the weld from reactive oxygen and other gases.
MIG and MAG welding is almost the same. The difference is the type of shielding gas and base materials. We use MIG welding for joining nonferrous metals and MAG welding for joining ferrous metals. MIG welding strictly uses inert gases for shielding purposes. MAG welding uses active gases. They are usually a mixture of Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, and Argon.
Both MIG and MAG welding is often termed wire feed welding or wire feeder because the filler metal is the same in both. A spool contains a filler wire that is continuously fed to the working surface. It melts on contact, forms a weld pool, and joins the two pieces together.
Wire feed welding is different from stick welding. There is no electrode holder or stick present here. Instead, a spool feeds the wire to the welding torch through a hose pack. There is a gas nozzle inside the welding torch. It delivers inert gas for shielding purposes directly from a gas tank.
As the arc forms, the wire melts and accumulates in the weld pool. It fills the joint and joins the two pieces together. As the spool continuously feeds filler wire, there is no filler wastage here, unlike stick welding.
Parts of a Wire Welding Machine
The parts of a wire feed welding machine are nearly similar to stick welding. The dissimilarities are due to the variation in the welding methodology. Here are the components of a wire feed welding machine:
- Power Supply
The power supply is the chief component of any welding machine. In wire feed welding, the power supply has few extra tasks in hand. Besides lowering the voltage, the power supply also spins the spool and feeds the wire into the welding field.
The spool gets its power from the power supply. The power supply also delivers the necessary amount of shielding gas from the gas tank through the gas nozzle.
Torch in wire feed welding machines corresponds to the electrode holder or electrode clamp of a stick welding machine. The spool supplies wire filler material. On contact, an arc ignites, and the procedure starts.
The torch also has a nozzle for delivering shielding gas during welding. Other names for it are welding torch and welding gun.
- Welding Wire/Wire Spool
This component is similar to that of an electrode in stick welding. Stick welding gets its name from the stick-shaped electrode. And wire feed welding receives the name from the wire-like filler material. This is the reason behind calling it wire feed welding.
A spool contains the wire filler material and continuously feeds the filler in the weld pool. This is a continuous process and does not require changing electrodes after a certain period.
- Shielding Gas Tank
A gas tank contains shielding gas. It has a connection to the welding torch via the power supply. Once the procedure begins, the gas flows through the nozzle automatically.
The type of shielding gas depends on the metal: both inert gas and a mixture of inert gas with active act as shielding gas here.
- Workpiece Clamp
This part is the same as stick welding. A clamp completes the circuit by connecting to it. We mainly use direct current for wire feed welding.
How Does it Work?
Wire feed welding works similarly to stick welding. When the wire filer comes in contact with the work surface, an arc ignites. The wire is consumed gradually and melts the base metal. A weld pool forms; the pool solidifies when it cools down and forms the joint.
A shielding gas flows to the weld area constantly throughout the entire procedure. The type of gas depends on the type of metal, as I have already mentioned.
There is another type of wire feed welding where a flux-core wire replaces the traditional wire-like filler material. There is no separate shielding gas used. The core of the wire contains shielding materials. The wire releases shielding materials from the core as the welding progresses.
This method is also known as flux core arc welding. It is pretty similar to stick welding. The only difference is that in stick welding, the electrode has a coating of shielding materials. In flux-core wire feed welding, the shielding material is within the core of the wire.
Applications of Wire Feed Welding
Due to the distinction between stick welding and wire feed welding, the application of wire feed welding also varies. It is mainly used in more minor and low-volume works.
We use wire feed welding where various thin metals are involved, subtle repairing, and manufacturing of small structures. Following are some corresponding sectors of extensive wire feed welding usage:
- Used for sheet metal welding
- pressure vessels fabrication
- Manufacturing steel structures
- Automobile industry
- Home improvement industry
- Various type of construction
- Sectors where multiple types of metals are used
- Repair shops
- Fabricating small structures
- Medium to small-sized industry
Advantages of Wire Feed Welding
Wire feed welding has various advantages over stick welding. Both MIG and MAG welding have implementations in several sectors. Following are some advantages of wire feed welding:
- Easy to Learn: Although it is not the most basic type of welding, wire feed welding is still pretty easy to learn. Once you get elementary knowledge about welding, this technique is relatively easy to grasp.
- High Deposition: Wire feed welding has over a 90% deposition rate. 90% of the filler metal goes into the joint. You can tell by this statistic that filler wastage is less here.
- Fast Welding Speed: Due to the continuously fed electrode in the form of a wire, wire feed welding is much faster. Also, you won’t have to stop and start welding now and then. This also contributes to the faster speed.
- Suitable for Mechanized Applications: It’s straightforward to use MIG and MAG welding with robots. This welding technique doesn’t need any periodic intervention, unlike stick welding. That’s why it’s highly suitable for mechanized applications.
- Creates Clean and high-quality Welds: Wire feed welding creates a much stable arc and doesn’t make any excessive smokes and fumes. Consequently, it does form little to no slag. The result is welding clean as a whistle.
Disadvantages of Wire Feed Welding
Like any other welding technique, wire feed welding has some disadvantages as well. Although they are not overwhelming, every welding technician should know about them. Here are some disadvantages of wire feed welding:
- Sensitive to Rust and Moisture: MIG and MAG welding is very sensitive to rust, moisture, and other contaminants. They can badly affect the weld quality. You have to clean the work surface thoroughly before commencing the procedure.
- Costly: Initial investment for wire feed welding is more than stick welding. Welding machines, wire spools, gas tanks, etc., are costly. Stick welding doesn’t need such pricey equipment. Although the process is cost-effective, you will have to pay the more upfront cost.
- Limited Positions: you can apply wire feed welding only in a flat and horizontal position. The high heat input of the welder and fluidity of the welding puddle makes it unsuitable for vertical or overhead welding.
- Unsuitable for Outdoor Welding: Wire feed welding requires a separate flow of shielding gas. It does not use any flux with the electrode, so shielding gas is indispensable here. For this same reason, wire feed welding is ill-suited for outdoors.
- Sudden gusts of wind shall blow the shielding gas away. This will result in oxidation and poor weld quality.
- Unsuitable for Thick Metals: Wire feed welding has less penetration power than stick welding. That’s why it is used for joining thin metal sheets and repair industries. This welding technique is not suitable for joining thick metal. We use stick welding for that.
- Shielding Gas: Wire feed welding requires a separate supply of shielding gas, unlike stick welding. Both MIG and MAG welding requires shielding gas, although the type of gas is different. However, if flux core wire is used, then there is no need for separate shielding gas.
- Not Portable: Wire feed welding equipment is heavier than stick welding. The need for a separate gas tank contributes to this factor. That’s why wire feed welding is not easily portable.
So, when it comes to stick welding vs wire feeders, they are the opposite sides of the same coin. They have different techniques, specific applications, pros, and cons. For beginners, it is crucial to know at least the basics of each type. Without proper guidance, it can be pretty difficult to distinguish between the two because they have lots of similarities.
In this article, I have dissected the basics of stick welding and wire feed welding. I have explicitly explained what they are, how they function, and their application. I’ve also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each. I believe that this write-up will help you better understand these two common welding types and know their differences.