Specializing in Shielded Metal Arc Welding
Colloquially known as stick welding, shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is one of the oldest types of welding still used. It had its beginnings in the late 1800s; technological advances have further refined the process. The technique uses a wire electrode covered in a metal mixture, called flux, to create the weld. The arc is initiated when the electrode contacts the welding surface, at which point the consumable electrode melts into the space between two pieces of metal and the flux disintegrates. The gas and slag that are created by this disintegration protect the weld from environmental contamination.
SMAW equipment is fairly basic when compared with some of the more specialized welding techniques. For this method, you will need a power source, a coated consumable electrode and cables with clamps. The power source is often a direct current (DC) source, although alternating current (AC) can also be used with some electrodes. The two clamps are then connected to the power source by cables. The welding clamp holds the electrode, while the return current lead (cable) clamps to the welding surface.
Welders also need safety equipment when working. This includes a welding mask, ear plugs, fire retardant gloves, leathers to cover the body, heavy boots and a respirator.
SMAW is a welding technique favored in in heavy construction and repair work. One of the reasons for this is that it can create welds of almost unlimited thickness in any position. It can also be used indoors or outdoors. Unlike methods requiring a shielding gas, which can be blown away, SMAW creates its own contamination shield as the flux deteriorates. This method of welding is generally used on steel and iron of various types, although it can be used to connect other types of metal.
Pros and Cons
Part of the reason for SMAW’s continued popularity is its simplicity and versatility. It’s also convenient in situations where the material being welded is rusty or otherwise dirty, as there’s no need for the impeccable material that welding usually requires. However, SMAW is a messier welding technique, with the slag needing to be removed and a significant amount of grinding required. It also doesn’t produce the neat weld that other welding techniques do.
How to Learn
Before looking for work as a welder, or even for welding courses, it’s important to know your state’s training and certification requirements. Different industries may also have their own requirements, as might employers. After you find out the qualifications you need, you can look for courses at local trade schools or community colleges or at your local union hall. Good schools will have experienced welders on staff as instructors and will provide both classroom and shop hours. Apprenticeships with experienced welders are also an excellent way to gain knowledge and experience, and provide a paycheck at the same time.
Working as an Arc Welder
SMAW remains popular in construction and repair work, even with the increase in gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). This is in large part because of its uncomplicated equipment and its ease of use. It is also a favored method because of its ability to create thick welds.
As in any career, with practice comes skill. As you become more skillful, you will become a more valuable asset to employers, and you may eventually find yourself becoming the experienced welder whom apprentices look up to.