How To Weld Aluminum With A Stick Welder

The question that sometimes gets a “no” from welding experts is if it’s possible to weld aluminum with a stick welder. However, such an answer isn’t always true as long as the practice is coupled with experience. Moreover, it also takes caution and patience to push through it and get the best results.

Today, I’ll give you a summary of how everything works when welding aluminum pieces with a stick welder. Later on, you’ll be able to finally decide whether this technique is a no or a go for you.

Overview

Welding with the use of a stick is not widely recognized as a method for aluminum because of its expensive nature. It’s only utilized as an alternative because of another issue that comes with the rods. Welding rods necessary for aluminum are hygroscopic therefore containing water affinity is not suitable when left outside. Leaving them outside overnight may end up with the flux being dumped and gummy. 

Also, before deciding to go with the process, you must first think of the factors such as the aluminum’s thickness which would highly affect the efficiency of the method, and of course, you must also have enough knowledge on how to prepare a piece for welding. Keep in mind that precautions are very necessary too.

Since welding aluminum with a stick welder can be messy and does not assure to give you an excellent result when done improperly, I’ll give you a few words about the recommended methods.

Recommended Stick Welding Methods for Aluminum

Firstly, the AC (alternating current) TIG (tungsten inert gas) using a helium or argon mix is known to be the best method because it provides maximum control over the aluminum welding process. Thus, making it the cleanest technique with minimal mess.

Next on the list is the DC (direct current) TIG method with the use of helium gas. Because of its capacity to penetrate in greater depths, this method is the best choice for thicker aluminum. Another option is with the use of argon and flux, however, you might deal with several issues with preparation, visibility while in the process, and cleanliness right after doing it.

For the last one, a method faster than TIG is MIG (metal inert gas) welding. With this, you have to keep track of the settings such as speed of the wire feed, flow rate of the gas, type or mixture of gases, voltage, straightness of the MIG cable, and drive roll tension to get rid of push-pull or spool gun. The MIG method also gives you less control over the process since a filler metal is always necessary to melt the base metal. 

The Process of Stick Welding Aluminum

When using an aluminum stick, the flux would most probably splatter because it is DCEP (Direct Current Electrode Positive) Reverse Polarity. With this, aluminum melts rapidly in a forward manner requiring you to have an intense concentration. Moreover, when it’s beginning to cool, a muck-like appearance would appear. Just a note that these instances would depend on the maintenance alloys as well as the flux composition of the stick you’re using.

For a smoother preheating process, I have kept things for you to understand and follow.

  1. Directly heat the aluminum using a torch with a carburizing flame first. Intentional application of extreme heat builds soot on the surface of the workpiece for a cleaner weld. Do this before you begin your welding. 
  2. Switch back to a neutral flame.
  3. Return the concentrated heat to the aluminum.
  4. When the soot clears, the workpiece has reached 400֯F.

When preheating, take note that aluminum dissipates heat up to four times faster than carbon steel. Also, the oxide layer of aluminum can be removed with a stainless-steel wire brush using different techniques such as filling the metal with light sanding pressure, chemical etching, and hand wire brushes. Any of this can be done to receive the best results.

Before you start working, keep in mind that your working position should be at an angle pointing straight toward the desired site at a relatively fast travel speed. Do it by simply floating the rod without drifting too close to the workpiece or slowing down too much while welding. 

Moreover, you should be performing the weld in a short arc. Do this by pulling the stick away from the workpiece with a minimal distance. Take note that holding the stick closer to the workpiece the shorter the arc will be. 

Even though the electrode and flux have some chemistry to work together in this process just like sealing other kinds of materials, stick welding still tends to yield a non-aesthetically pleasing weld on aluminum pieces due to lack of exposure of electrode, the wrong variant of electrode rods, or just because of its naturally messy process. The most suitable option is using the 4043 electrode rod coupled with a little scratching of the tip of the stick on a hard surface to bear a bit of the electrode before starting.

Precautionary Measures

Precautions should be taken seriously when welding, and one of the best ways to protect yourself from any potential harm when working is by using the right equipment.

Before starting, put on protective clothing made from thick fabric to avoid too much radiation and burns. The use of thick gloves and a welding helmet are also highly encouraged for protection against immense light, oxides, fumes, and other harmful effects. For safer working, a fire extinguisher should also be readily accessible.

Safety checks are necessary too to prevent injuries and for an overall safe working environment. Do this by checking your cords and wires beforehand and replacing what needs to be replaced. Also, make sure that all your settings are done properly.

How To Weld Aluminum With A Stick Welder

Pros and Cons 

As mentioned above, stick welding on aluminum workpieces takes experience, patience, and precaution. Before resorting to this technique, several factors listed above have to be considered first. For an easier understanding, we’ve sorted out the primary pros and cons of this technique.

Final Words

Some techniques can be tried out when welding aluminum pieces, and although the use of a stick welder is recognized for giving high-quality results, this may not be the best option for some. 

With the help of this article, assess your resources and all the necessary factors before trying this technique. Remember that this process may not be the most suitable for beginners, but experience may teach you so much over time.

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