Welding Articles

Stick Welding Aluminum - How Does It Work?

Dec 22, 2023

Stick Welding Aluminum - How Does It Work?

Welding aluminum can be a tough job, even for skilled welders. Many of you who have tried welding this silvery metal know it's not as straightforward as working with steel. Aluminum's unique properties mean that using traditional stick welding methods presents a real challenge.

You might find the metal warping or notice that your welds just aren't holding strong.

One surprising fact is that stick welding, also known as Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), isn't typically the first choice for aluminum. However, it can still get the job done when other methods are not available or practical.

Our article aims to guide you through this complex process step by step. We'll share techniques and tips to help make your aluminum welding projects more successful and less stressful.

Can You Stick Weld Aluminum?

The short answer is yes, you can stick weld aluminum. Stick welding is a modest and generally unknown way of welding aluminum because it produces extremely untidy results. Aluminum is frequently chosen for its aesthetics, yet Stick/Arc welding cannot produce the same effects as TIG or pulsed MIG welding.

Furthermore, stick welding is not appropriate for thin aluminum. Stick welding with aluminum welding rods is generally not suggested for metal less than 1/8" thick, which can be a problem given that aluminum is typically sold in thin sheets.

However, let's say you don't have access to an AC TIG welder or a Spool gun MIG welder. In that situation, your stick welding equipment can be used for light aluminum repairs and thick aluminum maintenance. It can be used in distant jobs, maintenance, and repairs, but only in certain circumstances.

Why Stick Welding Aluminum is Challenging?

Stick welding aluminum is challenging due to the higher heat needed for melting, difficulty in joining thin pieces, and the risk of oxidation and contamination.

These factors make it more difficult to achieve a strong and clean weld compared to other metals.

Higher Heat Needed for Melting

Aluminum is a tough metal to melt. It needs more heat than steel before it starts to weld. You must get the settings on your welding equipment just right, or the aluminum won't melt properly.

Using the correct amount of heat is important so that you can join two pieces together well. If it's too hot, you might burn through the aluminum. But if it's not hot enough, you won't have a strong weld.

You also have to think about AC vs DC welding for aluminum. AC (alternating current) helps clean the surface as you weld, which makes for a better bond between pieces.

Difficulty in Joining Thin Pieces

Welding thin pieces of aluminum can be challenging due to the higher heat needed for melting and preventing burn-through. It's important to control the welding amperage and maintain a steady hand to avoid warping or creating holes in the metal.

When stick welding thin pieces, choosing the right electrode with a smaller diameter is crucial for precise and controlled welds.

To address this challenge, welders should focus on proper material preparation, including cleaning and removing any surface contaminants. Additionally, adjusting the welder settings to lower amperage and travel speed can help achieve better control over the welding process when working with thin aluminum pieces.

Focusing on these factors will result in stronger and more reliable welded joints for thinner aluminum materials.

Oxidation and Contamination

When welding aluminum, oxidation and contamination are major challenges. Aluminum quickly forms a thin oxide layer when exposed to air, making it difficult for the weld to penetrate.

Contamination from dirt, oils, or other residues on the surface can also compromise the quality of the weld. To overcome these issues, thorough cleaning and proper storage of aluminum materials are essential before welding.

Using appropriate cleaning solvents and mechanical methods like wire brushing or grinding help remove oxides and contaminants, ensuring strong and durable welds.

Methods of Welding Aluminum

TIG (GTAW), MIG (GMAW), and Stick (SMAW) are the common methods for welding aluminum. Each method has its own advantages and limitations, so it's important to choose the right technique based on the specific requirements of the project.

TIG (GTAW) Welding

TIG welding, also known as Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), is a popular method for welding aluminum. It uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to create the weld and requires a filler rod made of the same material as the base metal.

TIG welding allows for precise control over the heat input and provides clean, high-quality welds on aluminum.

When welding aluminum with TIG, it's important to use pure argon gas as the shielding gas to protect the molten weld pool from contamination. The process demands steady hands and good coordination to feed in the filler rod while maintaining a consistent arc length.

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MIG (GMAW) Welding

MIG welding, also known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), is a popular method for welding aluminum. It uses a wire electrode that's continuously fed through a welding gun. The weld area is protected from atmospheric contamination by an inert gas, typically argon or helium, which shields the molten metal.

With MIG welding, high heat levels are employed to melt the aluminum and create strong bonds. This process can handle both thick and thin aluminum pieces efficiently. However, it is crucial to adjust the settings properly based on the thickness of the material to ensure a successful weld.

One key advantage of MIG welding is that it enables faster travel speeds compared to other methods like TIG welding. This makes it suitable for applications where efficiency and productivity are important factors.

Stick (SMAW) Welding

Stick welding aluminum using the SMAW process can be challenging due to the higher heat needed for melting. It's important to choose the right electrode and adjust the aluminum welder settings properly.

Proper preparation of materials, including cleaning and using appropriate techniques, is also crucial when stick welding aluminum. Welders should pay attention to their travel speed to ensure a strong and clean weld.

When working with thin pieces of aluminum, alternative methods like TIG or MIG welding may be preferred over stick welding. However, for certain applications or in outdoor environments where wind can affect gas shielding, stick welding may still be the best choice for joining aluminum.

How to Stick Weld Aluminum - Tips

Proper preparation of materials, choosing the right electrode, and adjusting welder settings are essential for successful stick welding aluminum.

Read on to learn more about these important tips below:

Proper Preparation of Materials

Prepare the aluminum surface by thoroughly cleaning it to remove any dirt, oil, or other contaminants using a stainless steel brush or a chemical solvent. This ensures a clean surface for better weld quality.

Use an appropriate wire brush and acetone to remove any aluminum oxide layer before welding. The removal of this layer helps in achieving strong and clean welds. It's crucial to remember that proper preparation of the material is key for successful stick welding of aluminum.

Clean the filler rods with a stainless steel brush and acetone before use to ensure they are free from any contamination that could affect the weld quality. Properly prepared materials lead to successful stick welding of aluminum alloys without issues caused by contamination.

Choosing the Right Electrode

When choosing the right electrode for stick welding aluminum, it's important to select one specifically designed for this material. Look for electrodes with flux coatings that help protect the weld from contamination and oxidation.

Consider using 4043 or 5356 electrodes, which are commonly recommended for welding aluminum due to their compatibility with the base metal.

Ensure you carefully clean the base metal before welding to remove any oxide layer and potential contaminants. Additionally, adjust your amperage settings on the welder according to the electrode manufacturer's recommendations and consider using a high-frequency unit to aid in starting and maintaining an arc when working with aluminum.

Adjusting Welder Settings

When stick welding aluminum, proper adjustments to the welder settings are crucial. Begin by choosing the right electrode, typically a high-frequency electrode designed specifically for aluminum.

Consider adjusting the amperage to accommodate the thicker nature of aluminum compared to steel. Set the machine's polarity to direct current electrode positive (DCEP) for better penetration and cleaner welds.

Additionally, adjust the travel speed and maintain a consistent arc length throughout the welding process to achieve strong, quality welds.

Alternatives to Stick Welding Aluminum

When stick welding aluminum is not the best option, welders can turn to TIG and MIG welding methods for better control and cleaner results. Additionally, alternative methods may be considered for joining thin pieces of aluminum where stick welding may be more challenging.

TIG and MIG welding

TIG, or tungsten inert gas welding, is ideal for welding aluminum. It uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to create the weld. MIG, on the other hand, stands for metal inert gas welding and is commonly used because of its speed and efficiency when working with aluminum.

Both TIG and MIG welding techniques provide control over heat input—essential for preventing burn-through in thinner materials. These methods offer versatility in terms of joint configurations and positions, making them suitable for a wide range of aluminum fabrication projects.

Using Alternative Methods for Thin Pieces

When working with thin pieces of aluminum, TIG and MIG welding are often preferred over stick welding gun. These methods allow for more control and precision when joining thinner materials, minimizing the risk of burn-through and warping.

Additionally, using a spool gun attachment with a MIG welder can offer better accessibility and maneuverability when welding in tight spaces or on delicate structures.

For intricate or thin aluminum workpieces, the use of specialized pulse settings in TIG welding provides heat management and precise control over the weld puddle, ensuring minimal distortion or damage to the material.

When Stick Welding is Preferred Over Other Methods

Stick welding is preferred over other methods when working outdoors or in windy conditions, where TIG and MIG may struggle to maintain a stable arc. Additionally, stick welding can be more forgiving with dirty or rusty materials due to its ability to operate effectively under less than ideal conditions.

Moreover, for some welders who are more comfortable and experienced with stick welding techniques, it remains the method of choice for aluminum because of their familiarity and skill level.

When working on thicker aluminum sections, stick welding might be preferred over TIG or MIG due to its higher deposition rate which allows for faster completion of the job. Furthermore, in situations where access is limited or when mobility is crucial (like repairing equipment at a remote site), the simplicity and portability of stick welding equipment make it a favorable option.


In conclusion, stick welding aluminum can be challenging due to the higher heat required and the difficulty in joining thin pieces. However, with proper preparation, electrode selection, and welder settings adjustment, successful stick welding of aluminum is achievable.

While TIG and MIG welding are popular alternatives for aluminum welding, stick welding can still be preferred for certain applications. Stick welding aluminum may be challenging, but with the right technique and preparation, it can produce strong and durable welds.


1. What is stick welding aluminum?

Stick welding aluminum is a process that joins pieces of aluminum using a rod made for welding and electricity to melt the rod and join the metal parts.

2. How do you set up the machine for welding aluminum?

When setting up for stick welding, you must choose the right rods and adjust your welder settings, like travel speed and current, so it’s best for welding aluminum alloys.

3. Can all types of aluminum be welded with this method?

Most types of aluminum can be stick welded, but some alloys work better than others, so it's important to pick suitable rods and use good techniques.

4. Do you have any tips for someone new to stick welding aluminum?

Yes! For better results when stick welding aluminum: clean the metals well before starting; select appropriate rods; control your travel speed; practice lots because getting it right takes time.


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