MIG welding is generally the welding process used for smaller weld joints and finer welding work. Stick welding is generally used for structural welds, pipelines, and reactors that need to be sturdy and reliable for the long term. While every welder has a favorite welding process, let’s take a minute to dig deeper into the differences between these two welding processes and look at the best applications for each.
Margin for Error
You could stack things up in both positive and negative ways. For instance, MIG welding offers plenty of options and settings that a welder can use to customize his machine for a particular task. That could also be a negative though, since there’s a greater margin for error.
MIG welding relies on the right amperage, gas flow, electrode stick out, torch angle, technique, grounding, and more. While that’s a great feature for welding something that requires precision, a structural weld may not work as well with a MIG welder who has that kind of margin of error. MIG welders provide ways to make your weld look really good, but they don’t necessarily provide all of the power you need in every case. At least, getting the right amount of power takes some experience and tinkering.
Weld Joint Penetration
There’s no doubt that a stick welder can penetrate metal better. In fact, a stick welder has to penetrate the metal better since just keeping the electrode lit while welding requires having your amperage cranked up.
Having said that, using a good uphill welding technique with a short stick out and a good bit of heat will help a MIG welder penetrate metal better. You can still mess up the weld by dropping the power down to keep things neat, but if the metal isn’t too thick, there’s a good reason to think your MIG welder will be up to the task.
Operating Cost of MIG Welding vs. Stick Welding
While you can find plenty of expensive and cheap MIG and stick welders, the overall operating cost is going to be pretty different if you compare a basic stick welder to a MIG welder. MIG welders need shielding gas, and that shielding gas will change depending on the kinds of metals you’re working on. MIG welders use various mixtures of CO2, helium, and argon.
Stick welders are also fairly simple machines in comparison. The electrode just clips into place, so there are fewer moving parts that could break or jam. You’ll be able to start working faster as well with a stick welder since you have less settings to figure out and the electrode is easily clipped into place.
In addition, MIG welders will require some prep work unless you’re working with flux core wire. Stick welders can burn right through impurities in your metal work piece.
Stick and MIG welding both have their safety challenges. For starters, stick welding burns pretty hot and will give off sparks and spatter. You’ll need to dress accordingly, especially if you’re welding out of position. Cover up your forearms and make sure you have a heavy duty stick welding glove with a long cuff to cover your wrists.
MIG welding isn’t exactly a “cool” experience either. It will get plenty hot if you’ve got your amperage turned up. So make sure you have gloves that can handle the heat. However safety won’t be quite so much of a concern when it comes to the sparks and heat from MIG welding.
The bigger safety concern for MIG welding is the shielding gas that needs to be stored properly. Use high quality valves that are in tact and keep an eye on your gas lines. Do a soap bubble test on a regular basis to check for leaks. When you’re working with sparks and flames, the last thing you want is extra gas being pumped into the room!
As with any welding work, you’ll need a good ground for both processes and a general awareness of your surroundings. Watch out for gas canisters, pipelines carrying combustible material, or water. You can read news reports every week of welders who were killed or injured because they didn’t realize they were welding near hazardous materials.
Stick welders and MIG welders can both deliver high quality welds. MIG welders can offer a much nicer weld if you’re working with thin material, while stick welders can provide solid penetration into thicker material.
However, the right technique, the right settings, the right electrode choice, and a little experience can even things out with MIG welding and stick welding. You’ll find new welders jumping for MIG machines and old timers standing by their reliable stick welders, but in either case, you can join metal effectively, which is what both want to do after all.