Welding has modernized significantly in the last one hundred years. It began in the early days during the twentieth century when stick welders began using AC power to charge and run welders. These welders soon made their way into country farms and urban production centers.
As electrical technology improved, new methods of welding were introduced such as MIG, TIG, and wire welding. However, stick welding remained the go-to kind of welding for professionals because it helped solve many types of complicated welding needs. In this piece, we will review the major differences between stick and MIG welding, the pros and cons of each, and identify which one should be used for your particular welding requirements. We will also touch upon TIG welding briefly to note its differences from the other two types of welding.
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 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. 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
Factors Involved in Welding Comparison
Both Stick and MIG welding offer unique advantages for welders. Which one you should use depends on your specific needs and the project you are working on.
For example, if you are going to work outside, the stick welding would be the better option as it allows you to create a powerful enough arc that would not be affected by the wind condition. However, if you are working on delicate metal that is less than 1/8th of an inch, then MIG welding is the better option.
Consider the following factors to decide which type of welding you should use.
Weld Joint Penetration
The stick welder has a much better metal penetration rate than a MIG welder. You have probably noticed that just keeping the arc on will require additional amperage input for the welding machine. If you are working with thick metal that requires deeper arc penetration to form strong joints, then go with a stick welder because MIG will not be up to the task for creating strong melds.
Margin for Error
MIG welding offers a much higher margin of error compared to stick welding where you do not get many options for making precise calculations. MIG welding gives more options and settings that can be used to customize the machine for a specific welding task. This could be a positive or a negative thing depending on how you look at it.
The MIG welding machine allows adjustments based on amperage, electrode wire out, shielding gas flow, torch angle, grounding, technique, and much more. While this opens up the opportunity to use MIG welders for varied tasks, it also increases the possibility that you would make an error and mess up your welding project.
This means you must be clear on the instructions and settings of your MIG welder to avoid mistakes. You can get the precise power and arc you need for a job with MIG that you just won’t get with a stick welder.
The operating cost can be a major factor for professional welders who work on many projects daily. The overall cost is quite different between the two types of welders.
The stick welder is a fairly simple machine that does not require much to operate. All you need is the feeding rod and the electric charge that clips into place. There are very few moving parts that could jam or break to cause problems. The arc does require a strong current but you can control the size with the dial. In most cases, you can work faster with a stick welder, as you have fewer settings to figure out and keep productivity high.
The MIG welders require some additional preparation work where you have to set up the arc and power before you begin the welding process. MIG welders also require shielding gas that is usually a mixture of helium, CO2, and argon. They also consume a wire during operations and it is generally slower to make welds with MIG welders.
If you are looking for a low-cost option, the stick welder is better. If you are going to work on varied projects and able to handle the different setting requirements, the MIG welder is the better option.
Both welders have their unique safety challenges. Stick welders can burn to a very high degree and get very hot. When the arc comes into contact with the metal, these welders also create spatter that can cause burns if you are not using a helmet and safety gear. Make sure to cover up your hands, forearms, and upper body to prevent injury.
The MIG welder isn’t entirely safe either. Although it does not create as much spatter as a stick welder, it can get pretty hot at higher temperature settings. The shielding gas should also be kept in check. Make sure to use high-quality valves and keep an eye on your gas lines during welding. When you are working with flames and sparks, you do not want to pump extra gas into the workspace.
Quality of Weld
Both types of welding machines produce a high quality of welding finish if you know how to finish up the surface. However, MIG welders are a much better option here because they create nice, clean welds with very little slag on the metal surface. The fine quality of MIG is particularly noticeable when you are working with thin metals.
Despite being good for thicker plates, stick welders are not ideal for thin metal projects. They also create a lot more slag on the joint surface in a puddle. This slag is created due to the rod used in stick welders.
The E70s6 bare wire used in MIG and 7018 stick used in stick welders are both equally strong. They have a 70,000 psi tensile strength, which is stronger than most steels that you will work with.
The Metal Types
In most cases, you will be working with steel, stainless steel, cast iron or aluminum. The stick welder works well for the first three while MIG is more useful for aluminum application than cast iron. The following chart provides a guide on welders.
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The comparison between MIG and stick welders would not be complete without the third main type of welder available in the market, the TIG welder. It uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode that can generate very high temperatures to create the weld. A shielding gas such as argon is used to protect the weld area from atmospheric contamination. A current-based power supply produces energy that is conducted through a column of metal vapor and ionized gases.
TIG welding is most commonly used to create welds for very thin steel alloys, stainless steel, and nonferrous metals, such as magnesium and copper. The TIG welder is more expensive than both MIG and stick welders to operate but it offers the biggest range of metal-working capability.
Both stick and MIG welders offer unique advantages and disadvantages. The stick welder is based on technology that has been around for a very long time while MIG technology was developed much later.
Equipment manufacturers often use MIG welders to assemble or create more advanced machinery in workshops. This is why many believe that MIG welders are the optimum welder for all types of situations. MIG welders are good for fabrication where the metal is clean, unpainted and the environment is closed from the wind.
However, many experienced welders prefer the A/C or A/C-D/C powered welding machines that use stick-type electrodes because it allows them to work from anywhere. If you want to make general repairs or carry out maintenance work where you will need to weld rusty or painted metal, or perhaps want to work outdoors in the wind, then the stick welder would be the better option.