Can you TIG weld with a stick welder?


Recently a friend asked me about what would be necessary to start welding TIG. He wanted to give TIG a try, just he didn’t want to break the bank in doing so. While he had an old stick welder in the garage, I recommended the following procedure. 

Question is, can you TIG weld with a stick welder? Short answer: Yes, you can turn any DC welder into a stick welding machine, given that you buy a TIG torch and an Argon bottle. 

Especially when starting off in TIG welding, or maybe even just for giving it a try, TIG welding with a stick welder might be an option to tip your toe in the game. In this article, I will give an overview of how to transform your current stick welder into a TIG welding machine. Starting with a list of required purchases and the setup, I will explore the unique odds and ends of the process. Further what advantages and disadvantages are there to consider. And finally the alternatives. After reading the article you should be in a pretty good position to decide for yourself if you like to go down the TIG welding with a stick welder route or if you are committing to a full TIG setup purchase. 

What is required to get started?

So, what will you need? A stick welding plant with DC connections is what you should already have. Without spoiling too much of the resume, it just won’t make sense to buy a dedicated stick welder when you intend to do TIG welding frequently. 

First purchase, cheaply available on Amazon or your local welding dealership, an air-cooled TIG torch, cup, and tungsten. For questions about cup size, tungsten diameter and other more detailed questions regarding this topic, consider reading up on my dedicated articles to the topic. Or get some real-life advise in the welding store of your trust when knowing which kind of project you would like to start. The advice can only be as good as your goal post, so make sure you roughly know what kind of material thickness, material type and positions/joint types you would like to weld. Recommendation on the torch: pick a TIG torch with a valve on the handle. Since you won’t have many of the built-in features of a native TIG machine, this will add some more usability at no or very low extra cost. Once you have all these torch related items together, shielding gas would be next.

Argon bottle (100% Argon). Or Helium 100% (more pricey option though, possible benefits see this article). The shielding gas is vital for TIG welding, there is no workaround for having a bottle of shielding gas, as I further explain in this article. But the Argon is useful for all kinds of welding atmosphere protection and can also be used for MIG welding. Don’t forget the gas hose that will be necessary to connect the gas with the torch. 

Quick recap: To get started with your stick welder, the following purchases will be necessary: 

  • TIG torch (incl. tungsten and cup plus recommended valve on the handle)
  • 100% Argon gas bottle (incl. gas hose and connector)
  • TIG filler rod (for the guide how to use MIG/MAG wire, read here)

How to set up a stick welder for TIG

At this point, you should have all the above-mentioned items. Now we can get started on setting up the gear. The Argon bottle will be connected with the gas hose to the gas connector of the TIG torch. Don’t turn up the Argon flow just yet. 

Next step is connecting the ground to the positive plug in your welding plant and the electrode lead to the negative plug in your stick welding machine. Final part is connecting the electrode stick clamp with the lead end of the TIG torch. Make sure that everything is properly connected before continuing. 

To get ready for the next step, welding, make sure that the valve on your TIG torch is closed. Also double-check that you have the leads connected as described above. Otherwise, you will end up in the troubleshooting section later on. 

How to TIG weld with a stick machine

Now, after purchasing the necessary items to transform your stick welder into a TIG machine, setting everything up, we are ready to get started. 

  • Weld settings: Switch on your welding plant and set up the amps suitable for the material and material thickness you are working on. If you burn through your material right away, amps were too high. Word of additional warning: The current is flowing constantly through your torch once you turn up the amperage. Make sure your torch is safely positioned, ideally a solid torch holder. There are some really good magnetic torch holders for a couple of bucks on the market that make welding much safer and enjoyable. 
  • Shielding Gas: Turn up the Argon gas at the flow meter to 15 to 20 cfh. The exact flow depends on your weld job. If you hear gas then you have forgotten to close your gas valve on the TIG torch. Or your torch doesn’t have a valve. In this case, don’t worry. Open the valve before you finally start to weld. 
Torch Angle for scratch start
  • Scratch Start: As seen above in the picture, the TIG torch needs to touch the workpiece/metal to create a closed current connection. But this is not enough to get the arc going. Two ways of creating an Arc now. 
    • 1) Touch the metal with the tungsten tip and change the angle with an up and down movement as depicted in the picture above. 
    • 2) Touch the metal as well, but “scratch” the metal surface to get started. 

Pro tip: Use a thin metal plate at the start of your workpiece to sacrifice on the start. This will result in a much nicer weld appearance. 

To finish, just take the torch far enough away from your weld. This will automatically stop the circuit and the welding arc will vanish. 

I hope you got the ball rolling now if you run into any trouble, I compiled a couple of common problems in the troubleshooting section. 

Troubleshooting

Arc does not start: Check if your connections are plugged in right. And that the torch is connected to the negative output. 

Porosity: Check if gas is flowing and if so, maybe increase the flow volume. If you are already at the higher end of the spectrum, consider turning it down. If the Argon flows to quickly, turbulences are created that suck in oxygen. Also check for sources of drafts. 

Grey welds: Similar to porosity. Make sure the above points are all clear. But welding with this setup will create a bit more grey around the edges of the weld. Make sure to clean this off properly when welding is finished. 

Burn through/holes: To much amperage. Turn down the power and decrease the time you spend in one spot with the torch. 

When does it make sense to turn a stick welder into a TIG welder? – Pros and Cons

TIG welding with a stick welder, definitely a more exotic application, but it has its applications and merits. The most obvious one I already mentioned: Saving your money when giving TIG a try and you have a stick welder already in the workshop. Otherwise it might be more sensible to use a TIG welder to weld thinner material or trying to seal of a container. A lot of the advantages from TIG welding can be transfered to the stick welder setup, even though the quality of a native TIG welding machine will be hard if not impossible to reach. 

Another advantage is the flexibilty on cable and hose. The gas is flowing seperatly into your torch, so you can use a very long gas hose to get a bit more flexibilty where you are welding. Also the electric leads are generally longer from the start compared to native TIG welders. 

Disadvantages are: 

  • Less easy to handle (no footpedal → no amp adjustment while welding)
  • Results not as clean as a native TIG (therefore also more post-processing and clean up work)
  • Probably more Argon consumption (depends on how quick you are turning the valve on and off between welds since the machine won’t help you switching).
  • Less influence on the start and end (no ramp up, slope, etc). 
  • Hard to impossible to weld really thin material (which is normally one of the strengths of TIG welding). 
  • More (or even much more) wear on the tungsten tip. therefore more sharpening, more contamination and less precise arc formation)

So basically this transformation is a way to do the odd TIG job and getting a feel for the process. Once you are set on TIG welding or jobs in this area become more frequent, investing in an inverter power source will be the wisest decision. Decent machines start around 650$ and they generally come with all the necessary gear to get started right away. Clearly my recommendation if you are not happy with your welding results from the stick welder or all the extra hassle handling the stick welder TIG is diminishing your fun with TIG welding. 

Alexander Berk

A bit about myself: I am a certified international welding engineer (IWE) who worked in different welding projects for TIG, MIG, MAG, and Resistance Spot welding. Most recently as a Process Engineer for Laser and TIG welding processes. To address some of the questions I frequently got asked or was wondering myself during my job, I started this blog. It has become a bit of a pet project, as I want to learn more about the details about welding. I sincerely hope it will help you to improve your welding results as much as it did improve mine.

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