Most welding professionals wouldn’t say that TIG and stick welding are similar processes. Yet, combination stick/TIG welding machines can be found everywhere. They can be purchased at the local tool store or from the most high-tech welding equipment manufacturer.
So why combine one of the easiest welding processes with the one considered to require the most skill? How are they similar? When should one be used over the other?
Both stick and TIG welding use electrodes connected to a constant-current power supply to create a welding arc. The electrodes used in stick welding consist of filler metal
coated with flux that shields the arc from the external atmosphere. The electrode is connected to the power source by a handheld clamp. To strike an arc, the user touches the electrode to the workpiece and then lifts it slightly to initiate the arc.
As far as stick welding is concerned, this touch and lift motion is often the most difficult technique to learn. The user then guides the electrode along the joint, welding the two pieces together. Stick welding is the simplest arc welding process and the electrode is consumed during welding.
TIG welding uses electrodes made of tungsten or a tungsten alloy that fit inside a torch. The torch and connected power supply ignite the welding arc where the tungsten electrode meets the workpiece. The user guides a filler metal rod in one hand and the tungsten electrode in the other hand along the seam. Shielding gas adjustments are made pre-weld, but on some machines the electrical current can be adjusted during welding via a foot pedal or knob. With so many parts of the process controlled by the user, it’s obvious why TIG welding requires the most skill.
As with almost all welding processes, stick and TIG rely on consumables. Stick welding uses electrical power and the consumable electrode. The arc bridges the gap between the end of the rod and the base metal, consuming the rod along the weld seam. When the rod runs out, a new one is needed. There’s no gas to mix or regulate, no spool or additional material, just the workpiece, electrode, power source and user.
TIG welding requires a bit more attention. With no flux to protect the arc, an inert shielding gas or gas mixture is used to create an arc-friendly environment. The type of gas mixture depends on the application. Tungsten and tungsten alloys have the highest melting point, making them the best choice for the electrode. Although the tungsten isn’t consumed, erosion does occur. The tungsten electrode needs to be maintained through chemical cleaning or grinding as necessary for arc stability, weld penetration and weld quality.
The base materials
Choosing which welding process to use is best determined by the application and often the type or thickness of the base material. Stick welding is a violent, hot process that is great for thick materials or contaminated workpieces. Some stick welding machines offer a pulsed option that allows welding of thinner materials without much burnthrough. Pulsed welding is also useful for out-of-position welding. Without a pulsed option, heat input is often too high and uncontrollable for thin materials.
One material that stick welding is not useful on is aluminum. With its low melting point, stick welding aluminum is difficult and best left for field-type repairs or when no other welding option is available. Rarely does stick welding aluminum produce a clean weld, and often, it requires extra post-weld cleanup. Other processes are a better fit.
TIG is ideal for both thin materials and aluminum. A skilled TIG welder can produce beautiful welds on thin materials and difficult alloys for everything from agriculture to aerospace. Furthermore, the TIG arc is versatile and can be adjusted to handle all manner of materials. The downside is that the process requires a high level of skill and can be labor intensive.
Portability: On-site spot welding and repairs are the perfect fit for stick welding. With its flux protection, it works in windy conditions and on dirty parts, making it the most
portable option. Some machines are even battery-powered, offering maximum portability. Because TIG welding requires clean surfaces for proper adhesion and shielding gas can’t protect the arc in windy areas, stick welding wins for portability.
Learning curve: Stick welding is the easiest process to learn. It teaches hand control and the basics of welding without complicating the process. TIG welding, being the most complex and most reliant on skill, is often taught last. The user must control the torch in one hand and the filler metal rod in the other, all while controlling and monitoring travel speed and current. A quality combination stick/TIG machine, however, that can range from simple to complex could be a smart investment for any welder, especially those just starting in the trade.
Singular purpose: Single-purpose machines have their place. Any single-process power source should have the most adjustments and capabilities for that welding process. A dedicated machine is the best possible tool for the job offering the professional the most options to control the arc. However, when space and budget are considered, a multi-purpose machine might offer the most cost-effective, space-saving option.
Artistic applications: Many hobbyists and artists use TIG welding to create beautiful work. Photos of the “stacked dimes” look created with TIG welding are shared all over social media. Most welders and aficionados consider stick welding a “quick and dirty” process producing “ugly” welds. So where does that leave stick welding as a form of art expression? It all, of course, comes down to the artist, but a thick bead of metal can be turned into an artistic element.
Finding the right equipment and process for the job is always key, whether it’s art, repair or production welding. Stick and TIG welding are similar enough to be offered in a multi-purpose machine, but each process has distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the application and environment. Knowing how each fits the application and welding skills can help one meet every welding challenge.