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Start with the basics: Understanding flux-cored wires


JANUARY 15, 2008


Arming yourself with basic information about flux-cored wires can help you
decide if these consumables are right for your welding application. Available in
gas-shielded and self-shielded, flux-cored wires require less skill to use than
other filler metals and commonly are used for general fabrication, pressure
vessels, petrochemical piping, and heavy-equipment manufacturing

By arming yourself with some basic knowledge, you can choose and use flux-cored wires for your own welding
applications confidently.

Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) wires certainly aren't new, but like any part of the welding process,
understanding them can be confusingwithout the right information. Becoming acquainted with
some basics, including the most appropriate applications, general classifications and characteristics,
and advantages and limitations, of flux-cored wires can yield significant results. With more
knowledge you can choose and use flux-cored wires confidently for your own welding applications.

Flux-cored wires have been around since the 1950s and are available in two main versions: gas-
shielded and self-shielded. Both types are composed of an outer sheath and are filled with flux, a
compound that is a mixture of alloys and deoxidizers, the latter of which are necessary to protect the
weld from contaminants.

As their name implies, gas-shielded flux-cored wires require an external shielding gas supply to
protect the weld; self-shielded wires do not. The flux in self-shielded wires generates the shielding
gas, which makes these wires highly portable and ideal for outdoor welding applications, such as
structural steel, shipbuilding, and bridge construction. Common applications for gas-shielded flux-
cored wires include general fabrication, pressure vessels, petrochemical piping, and heavy-
equipment manufacturing.

Start at the Beginning

Gas-shielded and self-shielded flux-cored wires are available for flat/horizontal or all-position welding
on base materials ranging from mild and low-alloy steel to stainless steel and special alloyed metals
like chrome-moly. Flux-cored wires also are available for hardsurfacing new parts to protect them
from impact and abrasion and for rebuilding old or worn-out parts. Note that hardsurfacing wires do
not have a classification according to the American Welding Society (AWS), but all other gas- and
self-shielded flux-cored wires do.


As an example, a gas-shielded flux-cored wire designed for welding mild steel has the AWS
classification E70T-1C. In this classification:

E signifies electrode

7 indicates tensile strength (here, 70,000 pounds per square inch [PSI])

0 indicates flat and horizontal positions (1 would imply a wire has all-position welding

T signifies a tubular (flux-cored) wire

1 indicates the wire's usability and performance capabilities, including its operating

C designates that the product is to be used with 100 percent CO2,shielding gas only

Gas-shielded flux-cored wires require either pure CO2, as in the previous example, or a mixture of
argon/CO2,(indicated by an M at the end of the classification). Using CO2,offers good penetration, but
may create more spatter and a less stable arc; a mixture of argon/CO2,provides good arc quality and
lower spatter levels, but typically provides less penetration. Self-shielded flux-cored wires, again, do
not require an external shielding gas supply. SeeFigure 1for other flux-cored wire classifications and
operating specifications.

AWS Shielding Welding Current & Minimum

Classification Gas Position Polarity Tensile
Strength (PSI)
E70T-1C CO2, Flat/Horizontal DCEP 70,000
E71T-1C/M CO2,or Ar/CO2, All DCEP 70,000
E70T-2C/M CO2,or Ar/CO2, Flat/Horizontal DCEP 70,000
E70T-3 None Flat/Horizontal DCEP 70,000
E70T-4 None Flat/Horizontal DCEP 70,000
E70T-5C/M CO2,or Ar/CO2, Flat/Horizontal DCEP 70,000
E70T-7 None Flat/Horizontal DCEN 70,000
E71T-8 None All DCEN 70,000
E71T-9C/M CO2,or Ar/CO2, All DCEP 70,000
E71T-11 None All DCEN 70,000
E71T-12C/M CO2,or Ar/CO2, All DCEP 70,000
Figure 1

Other factors to consider about both gas-shielded and self-shielded flux-cored wires are their slag
systems, which are classified as either rutile (T-1) or basic (T-5). A flux-cored wire with a rutile slag
provides good weldability (low spatter, good arc quality, and decent weld puddle control), but its
mechanical properties generally are not as good as those of a wire with a basic slag system.

Both gas-shielded and self-shielded flux-cored wires are available in multiple industry-standard
diameters, including 0.035, 0.045, 0.052, 1/16, 5/64, and 3/32 inch, and operate at wire stick-out
(also called electrical stick-out or electrode extension) ranging from to 1 in.

A few notes on wire diameter and stick-out: First, a larger-diameter wire does not necessarily mean
a bigger, better weld or, more specifically, greater deposition (how much weld metal is placed in a
given amount of time). Follow the manufacturer's recommendation for achieving the desired
deposition for a given flux-cored wire and application. In many cases, a smaller-diameter wire can
provide a better result.

Second, smaller-diameter wires typically require less stick-out, but the exact classification of the
given flux-cored wire and the amperage at which it is used also determine stick-out length.

Flux-cored wires operate on constant-voltage (CV) DC power sources. Depending on the

composition of the wire, the power source needs to be set for straight polarity (direct current
electrode negative, or DCEN) or reverse polarity (direct current electrode positive, or DCEP). The
composition of the wire also determines whether it can be used for single- or multiple-pass welding.
It is best to consult with the filler metal manufacturer or distributor and read the packaging label or
the wire's specification sheet for exact operating parameters.

You also can consult these resources for storage and handling directions. As a rule, however, gas-
shielded and self-shielded flux-cored wires should be well-protected from moisture, as exposure to
moisture can lead to poor welding performance and likely void the manufacturer's warranty.

Consider the Advantages and Disadvantages

Like any welding wire or welding process, flux-cored wires (both gas-shielded and self-shielded)
have advantages and disadvantages. Advantages of both include higher deposition rates than solid
wire or stick electrode, nice weld bead appearance, and the ability to weld thick materials.

Flux-cored wires also provide good mechanical properties, such as high-strength welds and strong
impact values, and can be alloyed to match different base materials. These wires tend to be more
tolerant of dirt and mill scale and can weld through such contaminants with less precleaning than
other types of welding wires or stick electrodes. Note, however, that precleaning is always
recommended as a best practice on any welding application. And, finally, flux-cored wires are
relatively forgiving, meaning that they generally do not require operators to be as skilled or well-
trained as those who weld with other types of filler metals.

The primary disadvantage of flux-cored wires is the post weld cleaning that is required. Both gas-
shielded and self-shielded wires produce slag, which must be removed by chipping and/or wire
brushing between weld passes or after the final pass is completed. In some cases, these wires also
can be more expensive per pound than solid wires.

Bottom Line
Before choosing either a gas-shielded or self-shielded flux-cored wire for an application, consider
some of this basic information. Or, when in doubt, remember that welding distributors and filler metal
manufacturers always are good resources for helping make an informed decision about flux-cored
wires or any other part of the welding process.