Welding technology has advanced since the 1930s, when stick (electrode) welders, using AC power sources, began making their way to farm country. Today there are other options, such as TIG and wire welding, but stick welders remain the go-to form of welding to tackle farm tasks. Here are several tips from experts to help you use your stick welder more effectively.
What Electrode Numbers Mean
A numbering system—for example, E6011—established by the American Welding Society identifies electrodes, explains Mike Crawford, Hobart Brothers stick electrode product manager. The numbers are printed on the side of each electrode. The "E" at the beginning of the numbers simply means "electrode."
The first two numbers indicate the minimum tensile strength, in thousands of pounds per square inch (psi), that the rod will produce. For example, the E6011 rod has a tensile strength of 60,000 psi.
If the third digit is 1, the electrode is designed for use in all positions. If it's 2, the rod is designed for flat and horizontal welding. A 3 means the rod is for flat welding.
The fourth digit represents the coating type and the type of welding current (AC, DC or both) that can be used with the electrode.
Don't spend too much time trying to memorize the system. As the adjacent story explains, you probably only need two to four different electrodes for farm repairs.
AC or DC?
If you inherited your stick welder from your father, chances are it uses AC power. Once, that was the only kind of stick welder available.
You certainly can stick weld with AC power. "Some guys I grew up with are very good with an AC welder,” says John Leisner, product manager for Miller Electric Manufacturing Company. "But it took them a lot of welding rod to get to that point, as well as a lot of frustration.”
Today, AC/DC welders cost a bit more but provide substantial benefits compared with AC-only machines. So, if high commodity prices have left you with a few extra dollars to spend on shop equipment, buying an AC/DC welder might be a good place to upgrade.
As a ballpark figure, Leisner says, you can buy an entry-level stick welder with AC and DC power for $600, about $200 more than a straight AC version. "If you opt for a welder/generator, most of them come with AC and DC,” Leisner adds.
There are numerous reasons to use DC power, says Cary Urka, who repairs and fabricates equipment for his family's strawberry farm in Brethren, Mich., and teaches welding classes through The Farmer's Workshop. "It makes welding easier, especially for poor fit-ups and out-of-position work. Most electrodes run best on DC-positive, and there's a wider selection of electrodes to use.”
Leisner adds: "The biggest misconception in the industry is that stick welding is difficult. That misconception originated with people who grew up using AC ‘buzz boxes.'”
The reason DC makes welding easier lies in the nature of AC power. AC, of course, stands for alternating current, which means the power is not continuous.
- October 2008