No welding method is as versatile or easy to learn as stick welding. MMA or Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is the most common form of welding and with good reason. It requires a minimal setup and can be done in most situations, whether outdoors or indoors. With some practice, one can even weld aluminium strips, though the results may not be the prettiest to look at.
MMA welding does have its drawbacks, and alternative welding methods like FCAW (Flux Core Arc Welding) are poised to replace them, but this is not going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future. FCAW has its own limitations, the least of which is the cost of equipment and materials associated with emerging technologies. MMA is still the king of welding, at least as far as popularity is concerned. It is still the most beginner friendly welding method, and experienced professionals can produce results with consistently high quality.
There are some important rules that must be adhered to when undertaking a stick welding job. These golden rules of MMA welding are more than just guidelines. A lot of them also determine your safety and the value of your work.
• Preparation: This may almost be described as doing one’s homework. Even before you buy materials for a project, it is important to do your research about the various materials you will need. The most important consideration is the electrode, or the stick to be used. The most common mistake is to simply buy the 6011 or 6013 rods for all purposes. Figure out if some other electrode will better suit your needs and requirements.
• Electrode Polarity: The rule here is simple – follow the manufacturer recommendation. This will require you to read up on the electrode you are using and the metals you are going to weld. It is always better to come in prepared than end up making a mistake.
• Practice and Trials: Even experienced professional welders rarely skip this step. The idea is to find a piece of scrap metal as close as possible to the workpiece and test the welder’s settings. You can adjust the amperage settings easily with a trial run on scrap instead of ruining a workpiece.
• Observe and Listen: Look at the weld, the electrode, and the sound of the arc crackle as you work. Ideally, the electrode should never turn red – it signifies that the amperage is too high. The sound of the arc should be a stable and consistent crackle. Beaks in the pattern are indications of some problem, possibly insufficient amperage that may fail to sustain the arc.
• Work Intermittently: Remember that an MMA welder will have a duty cycle of around 60% for most work. Do not hold the arc for too long as it may damage the welder. For low current work, the duty cycle may be 100%, but it is still advisable to take breaks as the metal may heat up too much.