We all know the importance of selecting the right tool for the job. When it comes to welding, the process you choose is every bit as important as the tools themselves. Using the wrong welding process for a certain task can be like trying to saw a 2×4 with a screwdriver. Good luck with that.
If you’re new to welding, there is a lot to consider before just jumping in. Different metals will require different techniques or materials, and some methods are far more suited to certain jobs than others. How can you know which method is right for any given job? That’s where this post will come in handy.
The three most common welding processes today are Stick and MIG. Each process has its own set of benefits and limitations. Choosing the correct process will save you a great deal of time and frustration.
To get a better idea of which process is most beneficial to you in any given situation, you need to understand each process inside and out. Let’s break down each of these three processes to help you decide which method is right for you.
If you have been welding for some time, you are likely to have learned how to weld using an arc welder. It involves using a metal stick that is charged up to create a high-temperature arc. The process uses an electric current that flows from a gap between the welding stick and the metal to form metal joints.
Stick welding has been the dominant and most popular method of welding for many years. It is the preferred kind of welding for small, home-shop welders, and electricians. It is considered an effective method for welding most types of metal alloys or joints.
The stick welder can be used indoors and outdoors as well as in drafty areas and confined spaces. Stick welding is the most economical method of welding and offers the ability to form effective joints, even on rusty or dirty metals.
There are some limitations to stick welding as well. It creates a very powerful arc that can heat metal to a very high degree. This makes it difficult to use stick welding for metals that are thinner than 18 gauges. With stick welding, you also need to frequently change the rod. It emits significant spatter and welds need to be cleaned upon completion of the welding process.
For a beginner, stick welding is also more difficult to learn and use. The ability to strike and maintain an arc is particularly difficult but once you learn how to do it, things become much easier.
Currently, stick welders are available in AC, DC, or AC/DC currents. Welders with AC input are the most economical. These welders are used for welding thicker metals that are 1/16 of an inch or greater in width. Stick welders are ideal for farmers, home maintenance, DIY hobbyists, and home maintenance projects, such as fencing and grill joints.
Advantages of Stick Welding
- Stick welding can be used for welding irrespective of paint and corrosion at the welding point
- You can attach a ground clamp to hold the metal in a place far from the welding point
- Stick welding generates a big arc that is not affected by wind or temperature
- It is very easy to change or replace rods to weld special metals including cast metals, stainless, etc.
- Offers effective welding both indoors and outdoors
- Welders using the direct current (d/c) option can alter the polarity of the electrode to reduce the chance of a burn-through on thinner metals
Disadvantages of Stick Welding
- Stick welding leaves a deposit of slag on the metal after the joint has been made. The slag must be chipped or scraped away from the welds before painting or subsequent welding
- There is also some amount of spatter during stick welding. Direct Current (DC) stick welding has less spatter than Alternating Current (AC) welding
- You will need to replace the rod now and then which interrupts the welding process
- It is very difficult to weld metal that is less than 1⁄8 inch in thickness with stick welding
MIG Welding (Metal Inert Gas)
MIG welders generate a wire welding electrode on a spool that is automatically fed into the welder at a uniform speed. An arc is generated with the help of the electrical current that flows between the base metal and the wire. The highly charged current melts the wire and the metal’s base, forming a joint between them. The weld created with this technology is quite sturdy and has very little need for cleaning.
MIG welding is considered easier to perform and clean up after the welding is done. It can be used on a variety of both thin and thick metal plates. It only takes about a week or two of welding to master the basic MIG technique.
Two of the more complex aspects of MIG welding are a selection of the correct shielding gas and the set-up of the parameters on the machine. Once you take care of these two parts, it becomes more or less a “point and shoot” process also called a “hot glue gun of welding” technique.
This welding process can be used to make high-strength welds that offer a great appearance with little need for cleaning or sanding. The application of a shielding gas allows the welder to generate an arc at a uniform rate, which makes the process very simple. MIG welders can be used on all types of metal surfaces and have the capacity to weld materials as thin as 26 gauge for delicate, precise work.
MIG welding has some shortcomings. For a start, the equipment is fairly difficult to use when working outdoors due to the gases involved in welding. Although you can work with all types of metals when using the MIG welder, some materials require different spool wires and gases.
Moreover, someone who is using a MIG machine must know the different combinations that should be used for the project and set up the machine accordingly. You can overcome this by using machines that come with auto-set features as they can save a ton of time.
It is also important to perform the MIG welding process on a clean metal surface to get the best results. Before laying down any welds, the welder must ensure that any paint, rust or any other debris is scraped from the surface of the workpiece.
Advantages of MIG Welding
- MIG welding can be very precise – you can use it to weld metal as thin as 24 gauge (0.0239″)
- MIG welding is quite clean, and you can produce beautiful, smooth, slag-free, and almost spatter-free welds
- You do not have to interrupt MIG welding to replace the stick rod, as it uses a spool for welding
- MIG welding is very easy to learn and use. Even a beginner can get good at MIG welding in a matter of weeks
- It allows you to create excellent, intricate welding designs
- It is possible to achieve very quick welding speeds and MIG welding is often considered the most productive
- You can use the MIG welding equipment on flux-cored welding projects as well
Disadvantages of MIG Welding
- The metal surface must be completely cleaned. Even a small amount of rust, paint or contamination will form weak, porous welds
- If you are using ground clamps they must be placed on bare metal and should be close to the welding point
- Even the slightest breeze or a fan can disrupt the shielding gases leading to porous, weak welds
- MIG welding requires pressurized bottles of inert gas which makes it difficult to use on the field
- Although you do not have to replace the stick every now and then during welding, you still need to change the entire spool of wire when you weld different metals
What’s The Difference Between MIG and Stick Welding?
Although MIG and Stick welding can both produce a quality weld, their setups, pros, cons, and applications are quite different. Generally speaking, MIG welding is the easiest form of welding to learn, and the easiest torch to operate.
And while Stick welding can also be a quick study, it’s more difficult to master. Stick is the oldest form of arc welding — around since the 30s — and is still considered the only choice for many veteran welders.
Quality And Quantity
Both MIG and Stick welding systems can produce high-quality welds, but the type of metal makes a big difference in which machine works better. For thinner metals, MIG welding is the better choice for creating a clean, strong joint. On thicker metals — over ⅜ inch — the Stick has better performance.
The MIG gun’s ease of use also means it can produce a great volume of work with little downtime. For that reason, it’s often used in fabrication and is also the choice for robotic welding operations. Stick welding takes longer, including a warm-up period when first turning on the gun and the more frequent downtime that comes with changing out electrodes.
The MIG and Stick welders have opposite pros and cons when it comes to cleanliness and cleanup, with one requiring more work upfront and the other post-weld. Because a Stick welder can form a strong joint on even an unclean or rusty surface, the pre-weld prep of cleaning the workpiece that’s required with a MIG setup isn’t necessary.
However, the electrodes used in Stick welding are covered with flux, which creates a spatter during the weld that must be chipped off after it cools. With MIG, however, the shielding gas not only protects the weld as it cools but also blows away any spatter. The end result is a lot less cleanup.
One of the biggest advantages of Stick over MIG is its ability to weld outside, in windy conditions, or anywhere that the MIG setup’s shielding gas would be compromised.
In fact, it can be wheeled to wherever you need it, where the MIG welder is bound by the length of its cable. Another advantage of a Stick welder is the ability to change the angle of the nozzle in order to weld in tight corners or obtuse angles.
Maintenance And Cost
Stick welding is considered one of the most inexpensive forms of welding, while MIG welding tends to cost more due to its high number of consumables (and downtime required to change them.)
That cost may be somewhat offset, however, by the long welds that are possible because of the MIG gun’s continuously feeding wire. Even though a stick welder doesn’t use consumables other than the electrode, a weld can only last as long as the length of the stick before it needs to be replaced.
What’s Better? Stick Welding or MIG Welding?
There is no “best” option. The differences between stick and MIG welding mean that both have their places and purposes.
Stick welding is great for beginners because it’s easy to learn, and very affordable. The results may not look clean, but they will be strong, and if you don’t care about a neat bead or are willing to spend time cleaning and sanding the bead, stick welding is a good option.
In contrast, MIG welding is faster and more efficient, and cleaner than stick welding. However, MIG machines are more complicated to set up and learn and are also usually more expensive. A MIG machine is a better choice for more advanced hobbyist welders who weld often, or for professional welders who may be looking for freelance work.