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SMAW Basics - Tutorial

1. Safety
There are many ways in which welding can damage your health. The main points are:

1. Protect skin and eyes from UV light, and shield your welding area from the eyes of
2. Work in a well ventilated area (extraction fans should be used when welding inside a
workshop) A vapour mask or an air fed helmet are required for special materials.
3. Be careful not to leave anything flammable nearby. Welding spatter and grinding
sparks can travel a long distance.
4. Slag can ping off from hot weld and burn into your eyes. Use safety glasses or

Arc UV Light
Arc welding tends to be used for thick metal at high amps, so the light generated by the arc is
very bright. Any exposed skin will become sunburned quickly so overalls and welding
gauntlets (gloves) are a must. Looking directly at a welding arc even for a short time causes arc
eye where the UV from the arc burns the cornea. It may make you awake all night with the
sensation that someone is sticking pins in your eye. Also warn others in the area not to look at
the arc and keep the welding area screened from public view.
Auto-darkening helmets are very useful for arc welding. With fixed shade helmets it is difficult
to judge where the end of the rod will first make contact with the work. A shade between
around 10 and 12 would be suitable for arc.
Welding fume should be controlled to ensure there is less than 5mg per cubic metre of clean
air. This is surprisingly little and very easy to exceed. Even the fumes from 6013 mild steel
rods can be harmful if breathed in regularly. The best advice is to avoid as much as possible.
Keep the work area well ventilated, and keep your head out of the fumes. Being a flux shielded
process it is possible to arc weld in a strong breeze, so extraction can be added close to the
welding area.
For galvanised metal, stainless steel and hardfacing alloys (in fact anything other than mild
steel) at least a fume mask should be used, preferably an air fed helmet, in addition to
ventilation. Some rods have fluorine coatings and these require very careful precautions
against fumes.(E 7018 contain flourine). Some cast iron rods contain Barium which should
also be avoided as much as is possible. (Gasless wires can also contain Barium). Some
degreasers also contain flourine Always ask for and read the manufacturer’s instructions and
guidance. Manufacturers are legally obliged to inform you of any hazards and to supply
Material Safety Data Sheets for all their products.
There can be a lot of sparks and spatter flying around especially when learning to arc weld.
Cotton overalls are more resistant to spatter than man made fabrics, and leather aprons offer
excellent protection. Spatter getting down into the neck or shoes can be especially annoying. A
welding cap can help protect the head when overhead welding.
The welding area should be cleared of inflammable materials. Fires can be difficult to notice
while wearing a welding helmet. Always cool the welded parts before leaving the workshop.
Hot material may cause fire any time. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby - Both CO2 and dry
powder types are suitable. Any type that contains water (foam or water types) should not be
used near mains powered electrical equipment.
Electric Shock
DC arc welders run at about 80V so can give an electric shock. AC welders set to 80V will
have a peak voltage near 120V, so the risk and potential danger of a shock is higher.
For a shock you would need to bridge between the electrode and the earth return. Minimise
the extent of live parts by making sure all cables are in good condition (with no bare insulation
or frayed wires), and that the rod holder is insulated. Welding gauntlets will help insulate only
when they are dry, they can become damp even with sweat. The shock from an arc welder can
be a fair jolt but is unlikely to be life threatening (unless you are also working on top of a tall
building or have other health problems.)
Do not look closely at the weld while it cools as the weld contracts tiny hot pieces of slag can
ping off and burn themselves into your eyes. This is especially true of stainless rods. Slag is
lightweight and brittle so can fly a fair distance. Wear eye protection when chipping slag or
wire brushing the weld.
2. Starting the Arc
Arc welders do not have a button to start the arc. Unlike MIG welders the rod (electrode) will
become live as soon as the machine is switched on. The arc is started by touching the
electrode momentarily against the work to complete the electrical circuit before raising the
electrode to establish the arc. This needs to happen quickly to avoid sticking/welding the rod
to the work. "Tap Starting" and "Scratch Starting" are the two common methods of starting
the arc.
Because the rod is live at all times it needs to be kept insulated from the earth when not in use.
In the photo the welding bench is earthed, and a piece of wood is being used to isolate the rod
from the bench. After welding the rod is returned to the piece of wood.
Tap Starting
A sharp tap of the rod against the work will remove excess flux from the end of the rod and
create the electrical contact needed to start the arc. A sharp wrist action should allow a
momentary contact with the work before quickly pulling the rod a short distance away. Too
heavy a contact or too slow an action can cause the rod to stick.
In the attached video “Tap Start” the auto-darkening helmet darkens as soon as the arc is
started. The light is bright at first because the arc length is initially too long. The arc length is
quickly reduced to the correct distance for welding.
E6013 rods start much more easily on the second attempt so it is good practice to first start
the arc on some scrap material before starting the arc at the beginning of a weld.
Scratch Starting
An alternative starting method is to lightly scratch the rod against the work. Moving the rod
against the work removes excess flux from the rod and allows electrical contact from the steel
in the middle. As soon as the rod starts to spark it is lifted from the work to start the arc.
In the attached “Scratch Start” video a backwards and forwards scratching motion is used to
remove the flux coating. A limited movement should mean the arc will start somewhere close
to where you want to start welding. When the first spark is seen the rod is pulled away from
the work to prevent sticking, and then it is returned to the normal arc length for welding. The
scratch start technique is more prone to sticking as it relies on human reaction times. It can be
a useful technique for difficult to start rods, or for AC machines and those with low open
circuit voltage which make Tap Starting more difficult. Excessive pressure on the rod while
scratching will increase its chances of sticking.
Rods Sticking to the Work
If you are new to arc welding you will frequently stick the rod to the work when trying to start
the arc. The rod welds itself to the work and it is be possible to remove it just by pulling.
Moving the rod backwards and forwards, or twisting the rod should fatigue the joint allowing
you to remove the rod. If you have a crocodile clip type electrode holder you can just release
the rod from the holder.
There is no need to panic when the rod sticks. It is normal for rods to stick occasionally, so
arc welders are designed to cope with it for a short time. Inverter welders will reduce voltage
automatically, and transformer welders should only go up in smoke if the rod is stuck for a
prolonged period. Example the photo shows a 7018 rod recessed into the flux coating after
welding. It illustrates why the flux coating needs to be removed before the arc will start.
It is suggested to keep some scrap material near the work and start the rod on that before
beginning your weld. This will remove excess flux and warm up the rod which will make it
much easier to start your weld.
3. Basic Techniques
Arc welding takes some effort to learn, and it is very sensitive to the position of the work. It is
a good idea to keep things easy to begin with by laying beads in flat position. The following
suggested setup is a good starting point for beginners


A 6mm (1/4") thick mild steel work will be used in this practice. Arc welding is more tolerant
to slightly rusty metal and mill scale than other arc welding processes, but it is good practice
to clean the worst off with a grinder/wire brush before welding.


A 3.2mm (1/8") E6013 rod will be used here for practice. 3.2mm rods are easier to learn with
than 2.5mm rods. Always use good quality rods. E6013 are rutile electrodes rods which offer
soft arc with lighter penetration. The arc ignites and restrikes easily. Slag comes of nicely.


Amperage of 110A for 3.2mm rod is suggested. If you want to use 2.5mm rods reduce the
current to about 80 amps. The current is determined more by the rod size than the thickness
of sheet. Always follow manufacturer’s suggestion for amperage otherwise use 1 amp for each
0.001in of electrode diameter. About 15% less heat for overhead work compared to a flat
weld is desirable.


DCEP (rod positive, earth negative) will be used. You may use AC if you do not have option
to use DC. Electrode positive provides about 10 percent more penetration at given amperage
than AC, while DC straight polarity, electrode negative, welds thinner metals better.

Rod Angle (Lead Angle)

For welding on the flat (as in the photo) the rod should be angled 10 to 20 degrees from
vertical and pulled in the direction of the arrow. The angle of the rod prevents the slag
overtaking the rod (welding over slag would cause inclusions in the weld). In the photograph
the rod has been bent at the electrode holder to position the holder at a more comfortable
It is good to support the top of the electrode with your spare hand and this improves control
of the electrode. Electric shocks are not a problem, but be careful to reposition your hand
away from the heat before the electrode gets too short. Stick welding in the flat, horizontal
and overhead position uses a “drag” or “backhand” welding technique. Hold the electrode
perpendicular to the joint, and then tilt the top in the direction of travel approximately 5 to 15
degrees. For welding vertical up, use a “push” or “forehand” technique and tilt the top of the
electrode 0 to 15 degrees away from the direction of travel

Arc Length
The arc length is the distance between the electrode and the weld pool. It should be roughly
the same as the diameter of the rod. This is nowhere near as straightforward as it sounds. The
weld pool will also be hidden by molten slag. To achieve the correct arc length using 3.2mm
rods the distance between the flux coating on the rod and the flux on top of the weld might
be less than 1mm.
The arc length is normally judged by the sound and visible light from the arc. In the video the
arc length is varied between correct, too long, and too short. Both the intensity of light and
the sound of the weld alter dramatically with the length of the arc. The arc should be kept
short and hide the majority of the light from the weld without pushing the rod into the slag
pool. A good short arc length will result in a consistent sharp crackling sound. Holding the
electrode too closely to the joint decreases welding voltage, which creates an erratic arc that
may extinguish itself, or cause the electrode to freeze faster and produces a weld bead with a
high crown. Too long of an arc length will create excess spatter in the weld joint. There is also
a high potential for undercut
Maintaining Lead Angle and Arc Length
The rod becomes shorter as the weld progresses, and it takes a conscious effort to reduce the
length of the arc as the rod gets shorter. Excess arc length can lead to an unstable arc, excess
heat and undercutting and is probably the most common beginner fault. The angle of the rod
should also be maintained over the length of the weld. A little practice is required to avoid
decreasing the lead angle as the weld progresses, as this can result in slag inclusions and even
cause the arc to stall. The easy way to maintain rod angle is to focus attention on moving the
rod holder rather than the rod as the weld progresses.
The video shows a 2.5mm rod being consumed while running a bead around 200mm long.
Welding Motion
For most arc welding activities the rod is moved in a straight line to form a "stringer". A tiny
amount of weave can be used to help control speed and direction. In the video the arc is
started with a tap start. The rod quickly becomes shorter as the weld progresses and the
motion that can be seen is constant correction to maintain a short arc length. The rod angle is
also maintained. It takes practice to maintain arc length and rod angle, especially if you are
moving to arc welding from another welding process.

Do not look closely at a hot weld - bits of slag continuously ping off the weld as it cools and it
is very painful to have them removed after they have burned themselves into your eye. Eye
protection is must when chipping slag as it is brittle and can fly a fair distance. The slag
covering the weld should be reasonably easy to remove though it does depend on the type and
quality of rods

Practice makes pads

Other positions will go disappointingly badly before you have perfected laying beads. A good
way to practice is to weld a pad on 6mm plate. Clean the plate thoroughly then lay the first
weld in a straight line near the edge of the plate. Remove the slag and lay a second weld
immediately to the side of the first, close enough so the two welds merge together with no
gap. Repeating several times should result in a pad of welds with a flat top. If you struggle
maintaining a straight line then drawing a line in chalk might help.
Turn the pad 90 degrees and weld the next layer of the pad.
In college training the pad would be sectioned to check for inclusions in the weld. The
practice helps develop consistency, keeping the weld in a straight line, and is good preparation
for thicker metal where the joint is often formed from multiple strings of weld. The technique
is also used for hard facing and building up worn material.
Arc Length Faults
Beginners will commonly have too long an arc length and too great a lead angle. Note that an
excessive rod lead angle will also increase the arc length.

Arc Length Too Short

This weld was laid with the end of the rod covered by the molten slag. The surface of the
weld is uneven where it has been dragged along by the rod, and the weld will be low on
power and contain slag inclusions.

Normal Arc Length

The weld with normal arc has a consistent profile and minimal spatter

Arc Length Too Long

Too great a distance between the rod and the work will increase the voltage resulting in a flat
and wide weld with a great deal of spatter. It also makes the arc unstable, and the slag will be
difficult to remove from the edges of the weld. Sectioning this weld reveals undercutting to
the left side.

Arc welding is a constant current process, but the arc length has an effect on voltage.
Reducing the arc length will decrease the voltage, and this reduces the heat in the weld.
Increasing arc length will increase the voltage. Arc length faults can share many similarities
with the current faults later on this page

Travel Speed Faults

Most of beginner welders tend to move the rod too quickly especially those who are
transitioning to arc welding from another welding process. The pool of molten slag is wide,
tall and bubbly and should not be mistaken for the weld pool!
The weld underneath the slag will be about half the width of the molten slag pool, and it
takes longer than might be expected to build it up. Experienced arc welders say they can see
the weld through the slag pool (they say it is darker and more red in colour).

Speed OK
The bead is fairly consistent. The ridges in the weld are semi-circular.

Speed Too Fast

Excessive speed results in a thin, weak bead. The ridges in the weld are elongated and
triangular. Had the current been increased to compensate for the speed the ridges would
still remain elongated.

Speed Too Slow

Welding too slowly results in a wide tall buildup of weld. The shape of the weld is not
consistent as the weld pool has built up and then collapsed into the crater. The poor
control of the weld pool can result in cold joints and slag inclusions.

Current Setting Faults

Welding rod boxes are marked with their recommended current. For my 6013 Murex rods the
2.5mm rods are marked 70 to 100 amps DC, and the 3.2mm rods are 100 to 140 amps DC.
Where in the range you work will depend on the position of the work, but for beginners
setting the amps right in the middle of the range should rule out most faults due to incorrect
Amps too low
Setting the amps too low will result in a tall, narrow bead lacking in penetration. The weld will
be difficult to start and the arc prone to straying towards one side of a joint in preference to
the other.

Amps Too High

The bead is wide, flat and irregular, and a small undercut can be seen on the right of the weld
in the sectioned photo. A deep crater has formed at the end of the weld, and the slag is
difficult to remove from the edges of the weld. Excessive current should not be compensated
by excessive travel speed. This can result in slag inclusions due to rapid cooling of the weld.

Amps OK
With the amps set correctly the bead is a consistent rounded shape, and the slag is easy to