Flux core welding is as good as stick welding in most applications. Both types of welding use a “flux” which creates a protective welding environment for the weld puddle, which helps produce a sound weld.
However, stick and flux core welding require different techniques to weld.
In this article, you’ll learn about the similarities and differences between stick and flux core welding and when to use each method, depending on the job requirements and the metals you work with.
What Is Stick Welding?
Stick welding, also known as Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), is one of the most common welding methods.
This welding process involves using an electrode coated in flux to weld two pieces of metal together. The flux protects the weld from oxidation and other contaminants in the air.
Stick welding is common in construction, metal fabrication, repair & maintenance, and pipe welding.
Welders love this method because it’s versatile, durable, and affordable.
You don’t need a shielding gas to stick weld, which means it’s highly portable. Another benefit of not needing a shielding gas? You can stick weld in windy conditions.
Most stick welding machines use direct current (DC) positive and negative. Alternating current (AC) is rarely used in stick welding.
Suitable Welding Positions for Stick Welding
Flat, vertical, horizontal, and overhead are examples of welding positions when stick welding.
As you stick weld, the way you hold and move the electrode is very important. The electrode’s position determines how deep the weld penetrates, as well as the weld’s appearance.
Keep the electrode about 1/8 to 3/8 inch from the workpiece, depending on the diameter of your electrode, and find a suitable angle for the electrode, normally 5 to 20 degrees direction of travel.
Finding the correct angle can be tricky, especially if you’re a beginner. So I recommend doing a couple of practice passes on a scrap piece of steel to find the right welding position.
For flat and overhead positions, you’ll find with an angle between 5- 20 degrees works well. For horizontal and vertical positions, anywhere from 10-20 degrees works best.
As you work, try to maintain a slow and steady speed. If you’re a beginner, some of your initial welds will come out quite rough – and that’s okay.
With patience and practice, you’ll learn how to achieve strong, better-looking welds.
What Materials Can Be Welded Using Stick Welding?
You can stick weld a variety of metals. The more common ones are:
- Mild and stainless steel
- Cast iron
- Nickel and copper alloys
- Materials at least an eighth of an inch
You can stick weld aluminum as long as it measures thicker than an eighth of an inch but is not recommended for anything structural.
Pros & Cons of Stick Welding
- Doesn’t need shielding gas
- One of the easier welding methods to learn
- More affordable equipment than other types of welding
- Easy to change out electrodes quickly
- Portable equipment and materials
- Can perform in all welding positions
- Useful in dirty, and windy, conditions
- Can use to weld a wide variety of metals
- Produce welds with deep penetration and excellent mechanical properties
- Produces a lot of slag and smoke
- Requires extra clean-up work after welding
- Can be difficult to master
- Tends to burn through thinner metals
- Requires specific electrodes that can be expensive and difficult to find
- Produces shorter welds as you are limited to the length of electrodes
- Can’t stick weld reactive metals, e.g. titanium and zirconium
- Deposits metal slower than other welding methods
When choosing between stick welding and another process, you should weigh your options based on the project and which process best suits your needs.
Even without an ideal process, personal preference and experience can guide your way.
What Is Flux Core Welding?
Flux core welding (FCAW) shares a few similarities with stick welding. Both are arc welding techniques that involve using a consumable containing flux.
Flux core welding can use a self-shielded wire or use a shielding gas to protect the weld puddle. The use of a shielding gas helps provide a more stable arc, which produces a better quality weld with fewer fumes and spatter.
Flux core welding is only for ferrous metals (carbon steel, stainless steel, cast iron, etc.). You will need to use a wire feeder with a mig gun to feed the wire at a specific rate.
Self-shielding and dual shielding make up the two main types of flux core welding.
- Self-shielding flux core wire works well alone. But adding a shielding gas will produce a better weld.
- Most dual shielding applications need carbon dioxide, argon, or a mixture of both gases. The most common mixture is 75% argon and 25% carbon dioxide.
When flux core welding, the wire should stick out about half to three-quarters of an inch. Your feed rate depends on the size of the weld wanted, which is determined by the thickness of the materials.
Heat control with flux core welding requires more effort than stick welding.
Suitable Welding Positions for Flux Core Welding
Like stick welding, angles also matter in flux core welding.
Most welding done in the vertical position requires anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees of electrode angle in the direction of travel. All other positions range in electrode angle from 10 to 20 degrees.
You can use both forehand and backhand techniques with flux core welding. With a forehand (pushing) technique, the electrode follows the direction of the weld. This approach works best for most welding positions.
For backhand (pulling), the electrode moves opposite the direction of weld travel. You can avoid slag debris easier with this method in both flat and horizontal positions. But, this technique can obscure your view of the weld puddle. Inexperienced welders will struggle to confirm if they’ve achieved proper penetration.
What Materials Can Be Welded Using Flux Core Welding?
Flux core welding is typically used on the following metals:
- Cast iron
- Mild steel
- Certain stainless steels
- Nickel-based alloys
You can’t flux-core weld aluminum. The heat produced by the electric connection will eat away at the metal. Even thinner materials of the metal types listed above can suffer burn-through holes.
Pros & Cons of Flux Core Welding
- Weld in less-than-ideal conditions
- Fewer restrictions on arc length
- Makes up for lack of experience or skill
- Not always necessary to use shielding gas
- Metal deposits quickly and efficiently
- High productivity due to high weld deposition rate
- Can be used in the shop or for fieldwork
- Produces large amounts of slag, smoke, and heat
- Potential to burn through or distort your work
- Difficult to weld thinner materials, including ferrous variants
- Specialized flux-core electrodes are more expensive
- Cannot weld nonferrous metals
- Less portable than stick welding equipment
- Effort and knowledge required to dial in various settings
Stick and Flux Core Welding Compared
Flux core and stick welding produce strong welds through different techniques. This table compares stick and flux core welding in various aspects.
|Flux Core Welding
|Works wells for structural and industrial pipe welds, generally on thicker material
|Good quality, functional, and strong welds on thinner materials
|Slow deposition rate and speed
|Quick welding speed and deposition rate
|Determined by settings at the machine and welding stickout
|Wide range of heat control via wire feed speed
|Cost & Availability of
Equipment and Materials
|Lower cost and more commonly available
|Widely available in multiple price ranges
|Visibility of Work
|Depends on the welding position and direction of smoke travel
|Slightly more visible weld due to less flux
|Low amp machines can be compact and portable in contrast to industrial-size machines
|Less compact and commonly run off 110-volt power
|Industrial and farm use with various metal types for quick repairs and smaller projects
|Ferrous metals only and great for hobby and garage use and for production welding and bigger projects
Deciding between flux core and stick welding requires more thought than looking at them both on paper.
They’re both reliable, viable welding methods you can use for your projects.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Flux Core and Stick Welding
Because of their similarities, you might have trouble deciding on which one to choose. But, you can use the following factors to determine the right method for your welding project.
Type of Metal Being Welded
Most welders tailor their approach to a specific task based on what metals they need to weld together. This distinction often narrows down the candidates significantly based on whether or not the metals contain iron.
In other words, these include metals that have magnetic properties.
For example, you can flux core weld only ferrous metals. You can stick weld almost any type of metal, including aluminum. But, you cannot stick weld metals such as titanium and columbium.
Thickness of Metal
The flux core wire can accommodate a higher deposition rate, compared to stick. So, you can add more filler metal to the weld joint in a shorter amount of time.
To be more specific, flux core welding allows you to weld 0.5-inch thick material in a single pass. Most flux core welding is done on materials that are between 0.028 inches and 0.08 inches thick.
But, it’s best for metals that are 0.1875 inches or thicker.
When flux core welding thicker materials, it’s often best to use a shielding gas. The shielding gas can help shroud the weld for better results.
To stick weld thin metals, you’ll need a small diameter electrode and move the weld quickly across the surface.
This method of heat and penetration control can help you avoid warping, distorting, or burning through the welding surface.
I don’t recommend stick welding metal thinner than 0.06 inches. Stick welding produces too much heat for thin metals to handle.
If you try to stick weld thin metals, they’ll burn through and create holes, spoiling the weld.
The thinnest mild steel you can stick weld is 0.125 inches. But, more experienced welders can weld metal that is 0.09375 inches thick or less. That’s because they’ll know how to adjust the welder’s settings to prevent burn-through.
If you’re a beginner, you can probably stick weld up to 0.24-inch-thick sheet metal. But if you need to weld anything larger than 0.375 inches, you’ll need to use multiple passes.
Application and Environment
Stick and flux core welding can be used in windy conditions to weld unclean metal. Many hobbyists use both types of welding for various projects.
Some craftsmen prefer stick welding because they can weld a wider variety of metals, compared to flux core welding. But, flux core welding will offer higher weld deposits on larger, thicker pieces.
You can use flux core welding on galvanized steel and structural steel. Flux core and stick are often used in the field, from farms and off-the-grid locations to shipyards and construction sites. Pipe welders often turn to stick and flux core welding to repair cracks and other types of weld faults.
Both types of welding can perform general repairs. Stick welding is common in steel fabrication and mining. Flux core can be used in manufacturing and underwater welding.
Engineers prefer stick welding for architectural applications because it can penetrate deeper into materials.
Required Skills and Experience
Both flux core and stick welding cater to beginners who want to learn this skill. Arguably, flux core welding makes up for areas where a welder might lack the skill necessary for a successful weld.
In comparison, stick welding is less forgiving.
You’ll need a lot of patience and practice to get the appropriate skills for employment in stick or flux core welding positions.
Minute differences in settings, electrode types, gases (in the case of flux core welding), and other facets take hard work to conquer. Welding is a skill, and the more practice you get, the better you will be.
Availability of Equipment and Materials
Stick and flux core welding machines are found at most local hardware or welding supply stores.
You can also buy flux core and stick welding equipment online, including welding helmets, gloves, chipping hammers, and more.
Welding suppliers commonly carry stick welding materials because of their versatility. Flux-core welding is not as common, so finding flux-core electrodes can be more difficult.
Should you choose to use a shielding gas with flux core welding, you’ll need to source a gas cylinder and the corresponding services to refill it.
Is flux core welding better than stick?
Flux core welding can be better than stick when it comes to welding speed, machine settings, and skill. Beginners tend to do better with flux core welding because it is more forgiving of a lack of skill.
However, stick welding allows you to weld together various metals that you may not be able to with flux core welding. Stick welding also works best for repairs and industrial applications.
Can you get a good weld with flux core?
Yes, you can get a good weld with flux core welding because you can add a shielding gas and achieve higher temperatures for deeper penetration and, therefore, stronger welds.
Is flux core harder to weld?
Flux core can be harder to weld because of the materials and skill necessary to dial in the settings. At the same time, flux core welding is more forgiving of lack of experience than stick welding.
Wrapping It Up
Flux core welding is as strong as stick welding. It’s just a matter of technique, materials, applications, and job requirements.
Stick welding can be done on several types of metals, while flux core welding can only be done on ferrous metals. Stick welding materials and equipment are more widely available.
Due to the lack of shielding gas, stick, and flux core welding can be done in windy conditions. Flux core and stick welding are used by hobbyists and in industrial applications.
Flux core welding provides a more forgiving environment for beginner welders. Whether you choose flux core or stick welding, the proper technique will result in a sound weld acceptable by industry standards.