What To Look For When Buying a Stick Welder
Stick welding is one of the most popular types of welding out there today, and with good reason! Stick welders are simple to use, inexpensive, dependable and highly efficient. Also referred to as Shielded Metal Arc Welding, or SMAW, the goal of a stick welding machine is quite basic. Using a manual arc, it uses a consumable electrode coated with flux to lay the weld. Stick welding also has the unique ability in that it can bond metals, even if the metal is rusty, painted, corroded or dirty.
Stick welders can be used by just about anyone. Perfect for farmers, home welders, pipe welders, home welders, construction workers, DIY home renovation enthusiasts, the list is endless. Countless workmen have benefited from using stick welders, no doubt due to its overall ease of use and portability. Stick welding is used when the material’s appearance is not critical; therefore it is not recommended for automotive, art or metal work where precision and accuracy is imperative.
Deciding you would like to purchase one of these impressive and versatile machines is the easy part. The not so easy part is deciding which one to buy! It can be a bit overwhelming, so let's take a look at some features that you will want to consider before you decide to purchase one.
What Will You Be Using it For?
The most important question you will want to consider is what exactly you will be using it for. Additionally, what type of metal, the general thickness of the material you will be cutting, and how much power you will need are also important factors to consider. You don’t want to purchase a stick welder and realise it is unable to cut through your metal! An average DIY home enthusiast doesn’t need the same type of welder as those who are in the infrastructure construction business. You will also want to think about what kind of output current you need. Three types of current are available. They are AC, DC and AC/DC. Let’s take a look at these types in further detail.
AC, also known as alternating current, are considered entry level, inexpensive basic welders. These types of welders are best suited for a DIY hobbyist or those with a minimal workload. Don’t be fooled by this seemingly simple machine, however, as it still is quite powerful. Its current is used when the material becomes magnetised, thanks to friction. The arc blow is the result of this friction. Although electrodes may not run as smooth as compared to their DC counterparts, they are still quite robust and dependable, capable of handling both small and large tasks.
Operating under direct current, the DC welders are the most commonly used units. Efficient and versatile, it can be used in nearly every and any situation. Some of its benefits are that is offers a much more polished finish, is easier to manage, and is more efficient in vertical and overhead welding. Unlike AC, which can only operate under AC, DC has the option of two different polarities of negative and positive. A negative DC will produce less weld penetration but more deposition, whereas a DC positive will provide higher depth fusion and less deposition. Robust and dependable, DC stick welders are generally more costly that AC welders.
AC/DC provides welders with the best of both worlds. The AC/DC stick welder offers options not found on either the AC or DC. The AC/DC unit provides optimal control and smoothness, and tends to be the most costly of the three.
The bottom line is, you need to take into consideration what you will be using the stick welder for. You must also be certain that the unit you choose has enough power to finish the projects you have. Access to a power outlet that can withstand the voltage of your welder is also a necessity. Although you may have a budget, you want to think about the future. Do you see yourself tackling bigger projects where you might need a more heavy duty welder? Will you require a stick welder with more amperage? These are all questions you might want to consider before purchasing.
How Much Power Do You Need?
As stated earlier, the amount of welding you will be doing will have a direct influence on which stick welder you decide to buy. You want to keep in mind how large of an electrode you will be using, as a larger rod means more power must be utilised. You will also want to look into the amount of output and input.
Output- The output is measured in amperage or amps. You will want to purchase a welder with an output of no less than 100amps. Anything less, and you are looking at a unit that will require multiple passes. A stick welder with higher amps can do the job in one pass. Although lower amps tend to be cheaper, and that may be tempting to buy, think it over carefully first. You may in the future require a welding unit able to cut through more heavy duty material which would force you to purchase an entirely new welder.
Input – Input is measured in voltage, or volts. The standard is either 110/120V or 220/240v. 110/120V is perfect for hobbyists, DIY enthusiasts and those who have a lighter workload. The 220/240v is the preferred choice of welders with a heavy workload, as welders who choose this option to depend on more power to keep up with their heavier projects. The higher input has a smooth arc, just at a much higher amperage.
Types of Stick Welders
There are two types of stick welders, inverters and transformers. Both of these have pros and cons. The most popular choice between them is the inverter.
Inverter - What makes inverters so appealing if how easily transportable they are. At a mere 9 kg, stick welding machines have never been easier to move from site to site. These welders are the preferred choice for those with a less demanding workload, partly because it requires so little space to set up. Inverters produce top quality welds with a sleek and secure arc. Highly efficient, inverters are much more efficient than transformers, which makes them more expensive. However, the long-term investment is worth it, as it will save you in energy costs.
Transformer - These stick welders are robust and reliable. Known for last a long time (some nearly 50 years!), they are much larger and less mobile than inverters, but their longevity is what makes them unique and still in demand. They are much cheaper that inverters, so if you are on a tight budget and have room to spare, this might be an option for you. They are mighty and are made of excellent quality. Most importantly, they are in it for the long run!
As the world of welding is evolving, many manufacturers are looking beyond selling single functional machines. Nowadays you can purchase a stick welder that also functions as a TIG welder. In some cases, you can find a Stick, TIG and MIG welder combo!
Although you may not require any of the bells and whistles on these multi-purpose models, you might be interested in them further down the line. More and more welding machines are going the combination route, and with technology progressing and demand increasing, it may benefit you to consider purchasing one of these units. Yes, they will be more pricey. However, you will no doubt receive a hefty return on your investment. This option is also useful for those who may want to keep their options open or use a wide variety of different materials.
Ease of Transport
In today's day and age, workers need efficiency. One of the most appealing features about the stick welder and the inverter, in particular, is how easily transportable it is. Many welders who do freelance work must depend on a unit that they can bring from site to site. If you fall into this category and ease of transport is important to you, then an inverter welder is truly the best option. At most 9 kg, an inverter welder is a high-quality machine that is easily portable.
The Duty Cycle is the amount of time you can use a stick welder before it must turn off and cool down. The duty cycle is measured in increments of 10 minutes. For example, if a duty cycle is 50%, that means that you can weld for five minutes before having to give it a rest for five minutes. When deciding which stick welder would be best suited for you, try to choose one with a relatively long duty cycle. This is especially important for those who are doing projects with a deadline. Having to rest every minute can be time-consuming and frustrating.
Ease of Use
The great thing about stick welding is that by nature they are very easy to use. Entry level machines usually just have an on and off switch, a knob which allows you to modify the amperage, and a display showing you what amperage you are at. Moving past entry-level units, and you may find more options will be available. For example, some stick welding machines will warn you if you are approaching the end of your duty cycle. If you have an AC/DC machine, you will be able to turn a switch alternating between A/C and D/C. Some have one amperage adjustment knob; others have more. How elaborate you want your machine to be simply a personal preference. For those that are worried that the machines will become too complicated, fear not. Even with all sorts of gadgets, stick welding machines are quite simple to operate.
There is nothing more important than your safety and the safety of others. Fortunately, you will be hard-pressed to find a popular unit that is deemed as unsafe. Safety ranks as the most important factor in the majority of machines, so you need not worry. There are some features that you will want to be sure are included in the stick welder you purchases. They are not absolutes, and a welder is not deemed as unsuitable is they do not have them, but they could be beneficial for the welder and make you feel more at ease. Thermal Overload Protection will make sure your unit shuts down when it overheats. With this useful feature, you don’t have to worry about continually monitoring your welder, as it will shut down on its own.
Stick welding also makes fumes and can smoke up, which can be burdensome if working in a tight space. Therefore, you will want to make sure you have proper ventilation or are wearing a respiration mask. Welding screens will prevent sparks from hitting you in the face. There are more up to date welding models whose features include splatter reduction.
A few factors will depend on how costly your unit will be. For example, whether it is AC or DC, an inverter or transformer, or how up to date the features are will all dictate the price. It is easy to find an inexpensive machine, but you don’t want to sacrifice high quality for low cost. Consider carefully how much you will use the machine. It is better to spend a bit more and purchase a reliable machine that you can use for many years to come. Unlike other types of welding, stick welding only has one consumable necessary to purchase, which are electrodes. Knowing that you only have one consumable to replace down the line may give you some financial leeway. If you are on a tight budget with no breathing room, then you might be able to do without all the special features. While nice to have, they are not an absolute necessity.
Lastly, make sure you have done your research. Maybe trusted colleagues or professionals have units they recommend. If you can try out a stick welder before purchasing, we highly recommend you do so. Always be sure to scan the reviews for the product online as they will give you a good indication of how they perform and how easy they are to use.