There are different types of welding and using the right process will make a big difference to your project. The wrong weld can mean having to start over.
Two popular methods are Stick and MIG welding. Both are excellent at creating good welds, but there are some differences. Stick welding can be better in some circumstances than MIG welding and vice versa.
Let’s take a look at how each method works.
MIG welding, Metal Inert Gas welding, is relatively easy to learn, but as with all welding, it does take practice.
MIG welders feed a wire spool electrode through the welder, which makes it easier to select the right length of wire. The welder has a trigger which releases the spool and this feeds the wire through the gun. Most welders will have the option to adjust the speed, polarity and voltage.
Unlike other welders, MIG welders use a combination of gas and electricity to melt the electrode. The gas, a mix or Argon and Carbon Dioxide, is used to protect the weld from nitrogen and oxygen. Older MIG welders have a separate tank for gas, but some newer models no longer require this, making them a better option for everyone.
One major benefit of using the spool to feed the wire, is that you get a clean weld with little splatter. You do need to clean the metal first as any pain or oil can affect the quality of the weld.
Unfortunately, as you need to shield the gas to create a weld, MIG welders are not as reliable if used outdoors. If the gas blows away, your weld won’t work. If used indoors they also don’t create many fumes or splatter, so they are a good option for indoor welds.
MIG welders work well with most metals, particularly thinner ones such as carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, aluminum and magnesium.
There are many benefits to using MIG welding, and of course some drawbacks.
- As the spool provides a continuous feed of wire, you don’t have to keep stopping to alter the cable. This makes it quicker to create a number of welds.
- MIG welders create a good weld on metals as thin as 24 gauge.
- Welds are clean with no slag or splatter. This not only looks good, but saves you time cleaning the weld after.
- The lack of splatter also makes it safer to use. While the heat is still a safety issue, you don’t have to worry about being burnt by splatter.
- Less electrode is wasted, as the spool will only feed through what you need.
- Suitable for beginners.
- MIG welding can be more expensive as it requires gas to work as well as electricity.
- Although many MIG welders are portable, they can still be quite cumbersome as they require a source of gas too.
- They do work on all metals, but if you’re working with a thicker metal, you won’t get such a good join.
- Before you start work, you must clean the surface so it is free from rust, paint or dust.
As with MIG welding, stick welding allows you to work with different metals, but it works better with thicker metals. It is also referred to as Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) and is a popular method used by home-shop welders and electricians.
Stick welding uses a metal rod which is coated with an electrode. The stick is heated and when it comes in contact with the metal, the 2 pieces melt and weld together. It can be used on alloys and ferrous metals, such as nickel, copper, aluminum, iron and steel.
It is great for working outside as it is not affected by wind or rain, and being outside helps to disperse smoke and fumes caused by the weld. It is also an economic welding method, and you don’t need to clean rust or dirt off the surface first.
It does, however create a lot of slag and splatter, so any welds will not be clean and you will need to spend some time cleaning them up. Due to the splatter, more care should be taken to protect yourself from burns while you are welding.
Interesting fact: The first patent for stick welding was issued in the late 1880s
Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of Stick welding.
- Stick welding can be used both indoors and outdoors, so it works well on farms, automotive repairs and outdoor projects
- There is no need to clean the metal before welding
- It is easy to change rods
- Suitable for beginners
- There will be splatter and this causes a hazard, both to the body and to any flammable material around you.
- Slag and splatter mean the weld won’t be clean and you’ll spend some time cleaning afterwards
- Doesn’t work well with metals less than 1/8 of an inch in thickness
- Can take longer to weld due to the need to clean the weld and swap as need to clean after, swap electrodes
Stick Welding v MIG Welding
So now we’ve looked at the two different types of welding, which one is the best? There is no right or wrong answer and it very much depends on what you are welding and where. So, here’s a quick comparison for you.
- Easy to use: If you’re new to welding or simply want something easy, then MIG welding is the better option. It is quick to weld and welds cleanly as well. Stick welding is easier to set up, but because it creates more splatter, there can be more work needed to clean up the weld.
- Cost: This is a consideration for most of us. As well as the cost of the machine, there is also the question of how much it costs to operate. Stick welders are cheaper to operate as MIG welders rely on an additional gas source.
- Portability: If you need to work on different sites, then stick welders are more portable. Many MIG welders, however, are now being manufactured which can be easily transported.
- Quality of weld: This is obviously important for all welds, but is one better than the other? MIG welders will create a cleaner weld, but you do need to make sure that the surface has been cleaned so there is no corrosion or paint. Stick welding is messier, and you will need to clean up the splatter it causes. You won’t need to clean the surface as thoroughly before you weld.
- Indoor / Outdoor: If you’re welding outside, stick welding is the best option. Not only is it resistant to wind and rain, but the outdoor environment helps to disperse the fumes it creates. MIG welding can be adversely affected by weather conditions and the gas does need to be shielded, so is better used indoors.
- Metals: Both types of welding will work with most metals, but the thickness of the metal will make a difference. If you’re working with thinner metals, such as copper, brass, stainless steel or aluminum, then a MIG welder will perform better. Stick welding doesn’t work as well on thinner metals, but it is better for thicker ones.
- Intended use: This is one where you need to take on board the conditions you will be working in. MIG welding is a quick and clean way to repair outside projects, such as fences, metal sculpts, and garage and garden projects. However, it is not always the best to use outside. If conditions are poor, then you will need to use stick welding. This is also best for larger projects such as lawnmowers, utility trailers and automotive repairs.
- Additional resources: This not only puts the cost of the weld up, but can also make it more inconvenient to work. MIG welding needs gas, and this is something you will need to consider. Stick welding requires no gas and just relies on the arc vaporizing the flux covering.
- Safety: All welding comes with hazards, so whatever method you use, always have your own safety in mind, as well as the safety of others around. Stick welding creates a lot of splatter, so you will need to cover your forearms and body as well as your face and hands. MIG welding does not create splatter, but it does get hot and you will need to check your gas to make sure it is pumping correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions:
I travel around for work. Which is the best welder to carry?
MIG welders are designed to be portable but they can still be bulky and the need to carry gas can make them hard to transport. Stick welders are easier to take from site to site and will work better if you work outside.
What happens if I don’t clean the metal first?
If you’re using a MIG welder, then any dust or oil can prevent the weld from being strong. If you’re using a stick, then the dirt won’t matter as it will stick anyway
What safety equipment do I need.
As a minimum you need to protect your hands and head from any heat. If you’re using a MIG welder, a helmet and gloves should be enough. If you’re using a stick welder, be prepared for extra splatter. This can cause some nasty burns so protect your arms and upper body too. Stick welders also create more smoke and fumes, so take this on board before you start work.
As you can see, the comparison between stick and MIG welding really does depend on what you are working on. Both work very well and will give you a strong, reliable weld as long as you use them properly.
Both methods are good for most welds, but as a general rule if you’re working with thinner materials, use a MIG welder and thicker metals need a stick welder. You can use a MIG welder outside, but if the weather is not very good, you won’t get a good weld.
For both methods, it can be trial and error to see which works best for you. MIG and stick welding are good choices for beginners as they are both easy to operate and they are not expensive to buy. Running costs may be slightly higher for MIG welding, but that can be compensated for by the fact that stick welders need more time to clean up the weld.
Professional welders with use both methods and as you practice more and get more experience, you’ll soon get used to the pros and cons of both systems.