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How To Arc Weld: Simple Step-by-Step Guide

Arc welding is cheap, convenient and you can weld outdoors. 

Arc welding is one of the most common methods of joining two pieces of metal. It is more convenient than MIG welding, which requires gas shielding. It is also easier to master than TIG welding.

Arc welding is not without its challenges. In this easy to follow guide, we show you the best techniques to help you perform successful arc welding.

Key Takeaways

  • Arc welding is an easy and affordable method of joining two metal pieces, making it suitable for beginners.
  • When arc welding, pull the rod away from the weld joint, holding the stick at a 15-degree angle.
  • Set the amperage between 80 and 100 amps, and choose the correct current and electrode for the material.
  • Always prioritize safety by using protective gear and ensuring a clean, well-prepared working area.

What Is Arc Welding?

Arc welding is the process of welding two pieces of metal together using a flux-covered rod. The rod melts and releases inert gas from the flux coating. This gas shields the weld, ensuring that you get the best quality without contamination or oxidation and the highest tensile strength.

Do You Push or Pull Arc Welding?

Arc welding requires that you pull the rod away from the weld joint unless you perform a vertical weld. This technique involves holding the stick at an angle of 15 degrees, and you push up the weld line. For 99 percent of the time, you will weld with the base material flat.

You can lay the beading down in several ways. Some people use the zig-zag method, weaving from side to side as they drag the rod, while others use a figure-eight pattern. A common style is to work in circular motions, looping the weld material like an old fashioned coiled telephone cable.

Top Tip

Remember this mantra; if it creates slag, you always drag.

How To Arc Weld for Beginners

Before we get to the method, we need to run through the equipment and the safety gear you need. Safety should be at the top of your agenda when it comes to any form of welding.

Here is a list of the basic equipment you will need to get started with arc welding.

  • Arc welder.
  • Spare rods (electrodes).
  • Ground clamp.
  • Electrode holder.
  • Welding leads.
  • Wire brush.
  • Hammer.
  • Welding table.

Here is a list of the safety equipment you will need while you arc weld.

How To Arc Weld

1. Prepare the Welder

Correctly setting up the welder is crucial if you want the best outcomes. You need to attach the welding leads and make sure that the rods are suitable for the base material. For this example, we will use E6011 0.12-inch rods for welding steel plates.

You should also set the amperage between 80 and 100 amps and select the current, either AC or DC, depending on the material you are welding. In this instance, we are using DC. Insert the electrode into the holder at the clean end of the stick.

2. Prepare the Material

Nothing sabotages a joint as much as ill-prepared metal. Use a grinder to shave off any blemishes, rust and particles of paint. The surface should be as smooth and clean as you can make it if you want a joint with the highest tensile strength.

Beveling the joint adds extra solidity to the weld because it gives the two metal pieces a greater surface to bond and allows a deeper penetration of the welding material.

3. Prepare the Working Area

Preparedness helps to reduce accidents, and making sure your working area is weld-safe is vital. Choose a welding table made of sturdy material, preferably with a metal tabletop to help make the circuit if the workpiece is too small to attach the ground clamp.

Remove any trip hazards and fire risks like paper or material that could ignite easily. Also, make sure the floor is free of grease or anything that can compromise grip. At this point, it would be a good idea to place the fire extinguisher within arms reach should the worst happen.

4. Place Your Workpiece

Clamp your workpiece to the table, making sure it won’t move during the welding process. “C” clamps or spring-loaded ones work just fine for this.

5. Attach the Ground Clamp

Completing the circuit involves attaching the ground clamp to the larger of your two workpieces. If you can’t do this, then the welding table’s metal surface will do just fine.

6. on Your Safety Equipment

You are about to switch on your welder, so now is a good time to put on your protective equipment, as listed above. You are not in immediate danger by switching on the machine. It is the arc that causes all the damage, and you have yet to strike that.

But it is good practice to think about safety at this stage to avoid the temptation to cut corners later.

7. Power Up

Plugin your welder and switch it on. You should hear a humming sound coming from your transformer. Hold the electrode gun with your dominant hand, making sure that the angle of the rod is such that you can easily strike an arc. Double-check you have the amperage set to between 80 and 100 amps on the welding machine.

8. Strike the Arc

You can tap the end of the stick on the base metal to create the arc, or drag it like striking a match. Once you have struck the metal, immediately lift the rod away by about a quarter to half an inch, which produces the arc.

Top Tip

Practice this technique several times before executing it for real. And tap the rod in the area where you want to weld.

9. Start Welding

The arc melts the rod, which produces the molten pool of weld material. Start by dragging the rod, keeping a steady speed. The slower you travel, the deeper the weld pool, and the more material is deposited in the joint.

If you want a wider bead, try zig-zagging or weaving the electrode’s tip. Follow the line that you want to weld until you are done. If the arc is lost because you moved the rod too far from the base material, clean the slag away from the spot you were welding and restrike the arc.

Never try and weld over existing deposits of weld material, as this will reduce the integrity of your joint. If the stick gets stuck to the metal, jerk the electrode away to free it and remove it from the holder to clean away any slag attached to its surface.

10. Power Off

When you reach the end of the weld line, lift the stick away from the base metal to break the arc. Switch off the welder and remove the plug from the wall socket. You can now remove your safety equipment and admire your handy work.

11. Clean the Weld

Grab the hammer and the wire brush to clean away any excess slag deposited on the metal surface. You may be doing this purely for cosmetic reasons, but it is easier to spot a mistake in a clean weld, and paint bonds better to smoother and cleaner surfaces.

12. Protect the Weld Line

Paint the weld with a protective anti-rust coating immediately after it has cooled. This protects the weld joint from corrosion and contamination.

Freshly welded joints are highly susceptible to atmospheric conditions, especially moisture, and will rust far quicker than the base metal.

Top Tips for Arc Welding

Don’t Reuse Electrodes

If you have partially used electrodes, don’t reuse them when you start a new weld line. They increase the porosity of the joint and may contaminate the new weld pool. Wherever possible, use a new rod. It may seem like a waste, but if you can, you should choose quality over cost.

Keep Your Electrodes Dry

If you are experiencing a rough arc action, despite choosing the correct polarity and amperage according to the recommendations, you may have a wet electrode. Try and store them in a sealed container away from moisture penetration.

If you can, storing them near a heat source is a great way to keep them completely dry.

Reduce Cracking

Cracking is common with welding, especially if the base metal contains alloys, carbon or sulfur. Using a low hydrogen electrode significantly reduces instances of cracking and could be the difference between preserving the joint and abandoning the entire project.

Tack Welding

Tack welding is a great technique for holding the material in place. It involves laying a small bead of weld material at each end of the weld line. Once done, you can work down the line without fearing the metal will move. It also reduces joint distortion, where the metal reacts to extreme heat.

V and Double V Grooves

For thicker metals, V-edging the butt joints is an excellent way of increasing the penetration of the weld material and increasing the tensile strength of the joint. V-joints are recommended when the metal ranges in thickness from 0.19 inches to 0.75 inches.


Is Arc Welding Good for Beginners?

Arc welding is regarded as one of the most accessible types of welding, making it suitable for beginners.

That doesn’t mean everyone will have an easy time mastering it, as it takes practice and technique to get constantly good results when arc welding. It is, however, more accessible to learn than other welding techniques.

If you are new to arc welding (or general), starting small is a good idea. Invest in a less powerful welder and, if possible, practice in the presence of a more experienced welder.

Should You Push or Pull When Arc Welding?

In most cases, you must pull when arc welding (unless you’re welding vertically). To master this technique, practice holding your welding stick at a 20 to 30-degree angle in the direction you’re dragging.

Is Arc Welding Harder Than MIG?

For a beginner, MIG welding is easier to learn than arc welding. This doesn’t mean that arc welding is difficult, as it offers some noticeable advantages compared to MIG welding.

If you are a beginner welder and want to master this profession, arc welding implies a lower upfront cost for materials and equipment.

Even if MIG welding equipment can be tricky to set up, the welding part is easier (as easy as pulling a trigger). MIG welding makes less mess than arc welding, so post-work cleanup is easier and faster.

What Should You Not Do When Arc Welding?

Arc welding, much like any other type of welding, can be dangerous if you are not careful. To prevent potential mishaps and keep you safe, the National Safety Database released a set of preventive safety rules for those interested in arc welding.

When choosing an arc welder, only look at units that comply with the National Electric Manufacturers Association safety standards. The welder in question needs to bear a seal of approval that tells you the product is safe.

Never use a welder if the electrical wiring system can’t handle its power. If unsure, it’s best to consult an electrician to prevent further electricity-related hazards.

Don’t weld in areas that aren’t properly ventilated. Even if you’re not welding hazardous materials, having at least 2,000 CFM of fresh air in your working space is best. If you work in an enclosed area, identify the exhaust system and work as close to it as possible.

If you have no experience in arc welding, try to avoid any hazardous materials first. That includes materials such as mercury, lead, zinc, and others.

Don’t work in environments that have flammable materials. Cover the area around you using flame-resistant materials. Concrete floors are the safest to be around when you’re arc welding.

Never start arc welding without a fire extinguisher nearby. You can also use a dry chemical extinguisher, sandbags, and buckets (the latter is better because the bags themselves might be flammable).

Don’t weld if the welder is not on a stable surface or if it’s wobbly. All hazardous welding equipment needs to be grounded before you start working.

Can I Use an Arc Welder at Home?

You can use an arc welder at home if you take all the safety measures mentioned earlier and your house’s electrical wiring is equipped to handle the welder in question.

Don’t overload your breaker and consider what other home appliances will be running simultaneously with the welder. Consider investing in a low-voltage arc welder if you work with one of your home’s outlets.

Arc welders are safer at home because they use electricity instead of gas. Gas would be an extra thing to worry about. However, arc welders make more of a mess with their splatter, so you must carefully fireproof your working space.

In case of flying sparks ignite a fire, you want to have a fire extinguisher nearby. If you use an arc welder at home, check back the working space an hour after you’re done. You might have missed a spark that landed on a cardboard box and caught fire.

It’s All About the Arc

Arc welding is one of the simplest forms of welding. It can be performed at little cost, used in almost any setting, including outdoors, and is relatively easy to master. If you are looking for a new way to weld, consider arc welding as a flexible option. It might just become your new favorite technique.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.