This article will cover the pros and cons of each process, and it should help you decide which is best for your needs.
MIG welding vs stick welding is a debate as old as time, and many welders will have different opinions on this.
Benefits Of MIG Welding
MIG is a great process for fabrication, especially in the shop. The external shielding gas used means that there is no slag to clean up after you finish your bead. You will have to purchase a gas cylinder and get it refilled, but these cylinders can be placed on welding carts and wheeled around easily. Stick welding produces lots of slag, and this can be troublesome for trying to fabricate and save time.
MIG is also a faster process than stick welding. Since you don’t have to replace your electrode as often, you can lay down bead after bead without having to worry. The larger spools of MIG wire can last a long time.
Hard wire MIG allows the welder to run beads in all positions. You can weld vertical downhill, vertical uphill, and even diagonally with this process. Learning to weld in the flat, horizontal and overhead positions is also manageable with the MIG process.
Stick welding positions are dictated based on which rod you use, so you’ll have to use multiple rods for different positions. Some rods can only weld downhill, while others will only allow uphill. However, most stick rods can tolerate the flat and horizontal positions.
Different bead styles can be achieved with MIG. There are loads of patterns that a welder can use, and these will produce beads from thin stringers to wide weaves. The MIG puddle tends to “freeze” pretty fast, so you don’t have to worry about it dripping down on you.
Welders can use the traditional “push” or “pull” methods, or they can play around with patterns – a series of cursive e’s or a series of triangles can be very productive in producing a wider bead. You can even achieve the “MIG like TIG” look with lower wire speeds.
Stick welding doesn’t allow as much freedom with bead styles and patterns. Low hydrogen rods have to be “dragged” or else the slag will get trapped in the puddle and weaken the weld.
The wide range of settings for MIG is also beneficial. The wire speed, voltage and gas flow can be manipulated to get different bead styles. Stick welding does not allow this because amperage is the only setting that can be changed. Polarity can be changed with stick welding, but DC positive is most common.
Benefits Of Stick Welding
We like stick welding because it is a more mobile process with less gear required than MIG. It is the choice of most mobile welders due to the lack of excessive equipment. An engine drive, leads, and a box of electrodes is all you need. Stingers and ground clamps are necessary as well, but these can be purchased for affordable prices.
MIG cables are limited in length, and it can be hard to weld at farther distances. With stick, you can purchase leads of any length. It is possible to stick weld 500 feet away from your welding machine if your leads are long enough; this is simply not possible with the MIG process. Leads do get pricey (up to $3.50 a foot) but a rig welder having 200 foot leads is not uncommon. This allows for more versatility on the job site.
Having more electrode choices is also a huge benefit of stick welding. With over a dozen major rod types, there’s an electrode for every process. MIG wire choices are a bit more limited; hard wire, flux core, stainless and aluminum are the main choices.
Similar to MIG welding, electrodes come in different diameters based on how wide you want your weld to be. 5/32″ rods are some of the largest, and can lay down a wide bead very easily and penetrate thick steel. Stick rods come as small as 1/16″ in diameter, which can lay down very narrow beads.
Stick welding is also a great process for outdoor applications. Since the rod produces its own gas, you can get away with stick welding in the wind, sleet, and even light snow. Leads are very water resistant and allow for this as well.
When Is MIG Not A Good Choice?
Welding outdoors can be tough with MIG. Strong winds can blow away the shielding gas, which can leave you with a subpar weld. It is also harder to move the gas cylinder around on the job site; you can use a smaller cylinder, but refills will be required more often. All in all, it is just tougher to be mobile with a MIG setup.
If you want maximum penetration, hard wire MIG is not the best option. It doesn’t dig through mill scale as easily as stick, and the welds tend to be more brittle. Although the PSI rating is often the same as stick welding, hard wire welds just tend to crack more over time.
MIG welds also require relatively clean metal to achieve a solid weld. Stick welds dig better through rust, grease, and even light paint. Cellulose rods i.e. 6010’s are especially good at welding on dirty steel due to their “digging” arc. MIG generally won’t tolerate these conditions nearly as well.
When Is Stick Not A Good Choice?
Stick welding is generally not a good choice for fabrication. Cleaning slag, replacing rods, and arc starts make it a more time consuming option for fabricating. It is a messier process, and rod stubs/slag all over the floor can get annoying after awhile.
For aluminum applications, stick is a poor choice. Although aluminum stick rods are manufactured, they are really tough to use and often lead to subpar results. Even the best welders in the industry will struggle to weld aluminum with a stick electrode. They burn very sloppy, and TIG or MIG is always a better option for aluminum.
Dual Shield Flux Core
In our opinion, dual shield flux core MIG is the MIG equivalent to a stick weld. It produces slag and penetrates similarly to a stick electrode. This process is generally done for structural purposes, and the beads can be very wide.
The wire has flux built in to produce shielding properties, but a gas cylinder is also used. The double shielding effect provides extreme penetration on steel. You can read more about MIG gas in our article here.
It’s a great option for covering ground, but is best used on thicker steels and bigger projects. If you’re proficient with stick, dual shield should come to you relatively easily.
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