2018 November 8    Metal & Shop


After making a ton of bad welds (not literally a ton, but you know what I mean), I think I've figured out why it's so difficult to weld with 1/16" electrodes.

I've also learned how to improve the welds greatly.  The result might not be perfect, and there's still probably room for improvement.  However, maybe you'll find this helpful if you're trying to weld with these and don't know where to start.

Here are seven Shop Tips for welding with thin electrodes (1/16" and 5/64").

Welding and metalworking can be dangerous.  (Disclaimer.)  Make sure you wear a good respirator and use at least a fan for ventilation.

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In This Article

1.) Initial Conditions are Critical

2.) Preheat

3.) The Right Electrode

4.) Arc Length

5.) Polarity

6.) Weld Length

7.) The Learning Curve


#1. Initial Conditions Are Critical

First of all, make sure you have the current dialed in correctly.  Thin electrodes are picky about this.

Too low a current will make you have to increase arc length to avoid sticking.  That can cause ugly welds.  Too-high a current, though, can cause baked-on slag, undercut, etc.

Another thing about initial conditions:  if you start out trying to weld over the smoke, weld spatter, and slag from an earlier attempt... bad welds are almost guaranteed.  Kind of like this:

So yes, initial conditions are rather important with thin electrodes (1/16" and 5/64").  Even more so than with 1/8" and 3/32".

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#2. Don't Forget The Preheat

Even if you do everything else right, cold metal and cold electrodes are a sure way to start out with crummy welds.  Again and again this happens; I just cannot seem to make a good weld with these when everything is cold.  3/32" or 1/8", maybe, but not with the super-thin electrodes.

One solution:  Make a couple of tack welds on a piece of scrap first, so the electrode is warmed up before you do the good welds.  Also, it helps if the workpiece is warm enough that water vapor doesn't condense on it when you heat it with a torch.  If your work area is only 40 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bad welds are almost a certainty when there's no preheat.

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#3. Pick The Right One

6013 is widely recommended for thin metal.  However, it can actually be the most difficult electrode in this diameter. 

An easier alternative is 1/16" 7014.  Then there's 6011 (also mentioned in that article), which is a fast-freeze electrode.  And then of course there's 7018, which can produce the toughest and most ductile welds. 

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#4. Arc Length and Feed Rate

The flux coating is so thin that it doesn't act as a built-in spacer for the arc.  But if you keep the arc too short, the electrode is likely going to stick. 

You'll probably need to maintain some spacing away from the puddle, but not so much that you get "long arcing".  What makes it even more tricky is that these thin electrodes get consumed so quickly.  So, you're having to feed the electrode quite fast to build up a decent weld bead.

Those two things are sort of at odds with one another:  Maintaining more arc length, but at the same time, feeding the electrode faster.

This could be one of the most important tips for using 1/16" welding rods.

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#5. Travel Speed

Thinner electrodes consume away faster, and they don't put as much filler metal into the weld. 

In Tip #4 we saw the importance of increasing arc length and electrode feed rate.

You may also have to reduce travel speed.

I think this is why the learning curve for thin electrodes seems to reset at the beginning of each welding session.  Three or four variables are different from what you may have learned with 3/32" and 1/8".

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#6. Short Welds

Long welds put a lot of heat into a workpiece.  Sheet metal has very low heat-sink capacity.  Put those together, and you get burn-through.

The thinner the metal, the shorter the welds really have to be.  This is so important.  On very thin metal, you may have to do a series of tack welds.

5/64" steel seems about the thinnest metal that does OK with long welds.  2 3/4" at a time without burn through... but near the end of that weld, the base metal really starts to glow.  With 16- to 18-gauge steel, you may find that welds have to be kept to 1" or so.  Even 1 1/2" may be pushing it. 

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#7. The Learning Curve

Thinner electrodes have a steeper learning curve, and for some reason it's easier to forget the technique each time.  So, you might find you have to re-learn your optimal travel speed, arc length, etc., every time you start a new welding session.

Here again, make sure to have some scrap steel in the same thickness as your good project.  Warm up on the scrap, then make your good welds.

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There you go:  seven tips for welding with thin electrodes. 

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