Is it Dangerous to Touch the Electrode While Stick Welding?

Have you have run into the issue while stick welding where you just can’t seem to keep the electrode from shaking? You may have been tempted to steady the rod with your other hand, but is touching the electrode while welding actually safe?

As a general rule, it is considered unsafe to touch the electrode while in use. Although there are some cases when a welder may feel they need to hold the electrode, contact should always be avoided, especially with bare skin or wet clothing.

There are moments in stick welding when you will need to handle the electrode. Below we go over exactly when it is safe to touch the electrode of a welder and just how dangerous touching the electrode can be. 

When is it Safe to Touch the Electrode of a Welder?

The safest time to touch the electrode of a welder is when the machine is off. 

A stick electrode is “electrically hot” whenever the welder is on, as are the screws and the metal jaws of the electrode holder. This doesn’t just apply when the welder is in use. Whenever the machine is on, the electrode should not be touched with bare skin or wet clothing. 

Voltage in an electrode is actually at its highest when the machine is on, and you are not welding. This is called open-circuit voltage (OCV), and its purpose is to initiate the arc in welding. 

To avoid getting zapped while changing out an electrode, it’s best to shut the machine off then ground out the electrode to earth for a few seconds before touching the rod. When you’re done, just switch the machine back on, and you’re good to go. 

Can You Get Shocked from the Electrode While Stick Welding?

Although receiving a mild shock is rare (and receiving a fatal shock is even rarer), it is possible to get shocked while welding. 

When welding, a controlled circuit of electricity is being used to create heat and erode the metal or wire you are working with. Electricity is a powerful source of energy that flows through the path of least resistance. Although it would much rather travel through the rod, into your work, and back through the ground cable, there are circumstances when you may be the only conduit bridging and electrical circuit, which could result in you receiving a shock. 

Conditions That Increase Probability of Getting Shocked

  • You, your clothes, or the area around you is wet. Water has much less resistance than you, giving it the ability to conduct electricity through your clothing. Make sure that your gloves and workspace are dry and avoid welding in the rain or snow. 
  • Not grounding the machine. Do not operate the machine without establishing a safe ground connection, as this could lead to serious electrical shock. 
  • Touching the electrode or other metal parts of the machine. Especially with bare skin. This could lead to electric shock or burns. 
  • Worn or damaged leads. Your leads will experience wear and tear from high heat and repetitive bending, stretching, and flex. Make sure to always check your leads before you start welding. 
  • Avoid standing on metal. Make sure to stand on a piece of plywood or a rubber mat. 

What to Do In Electrically Hazardous Conditions

At some point, you’re likely to encounter moist or wet conditions that are beyond your control. If you find that welding must be done under electrically hazardous conditions, it’s important to take precautions so you can avoid electric shock. 

Having the proper safety gear can help protect you and prevent possible shocks from causing damage. 

  • Clothes – Make sure clothes are clean and dry and avoid short sleeves. 
  • Gloves – Avoiding using gloves with holes or tears, and make sure they are wet from perspiration or outside water sources. 
  • Boots – This will protect your feet and ankles from possible shocks, burns, and cuts. 
  • Eye Protection – Eye injuries account for about 25% of all welding injuries. Make sure to wear the proper protection, so you don’t damage your eyes. 
  • Insulation – Keep dry insulation between you, the project, and the ground

It’s important to point out that there are really no circumstances that make welding outside in the rain safe or acceptable. If you are in the middle of a project when the rain hits, immediately shut off all equipment and get the machine out of the rain. 

At What Voltage Can You Be Injured by an Electric Shock?

While there have been reports of injuries resulting from shocks with as little as 42 volts, typically, low voltage shocks result from currents of up to 500 volts. However, tiny changes in amperage could alter the severity, making a current at 100 volts just as deadly as a current at 1000 volts. 

What Voltages and Amperages Are Used in the Stick Welding Process?

The amount of voltage in a machine will depend on the welding process and type of welds and vary based on how many amps you are putting out. 

In welding, the current is high while voltage is low since a high current produces more heat, which is required to melt metal. Most welding jobs are done using under 200 amps but can sometimes reach above 300.  

Effects of Amperage on the Body

Different levels of amperage affect the body in different ways. Contact with ten milliamperes (mA) will result in little to no electric shock felt, while 200 mA can cause severe burns, ventricular fibrillation, and organ damage. 

To give you an example of how dangerous touching the electrode can be, a standard household circuit carries 15 to 20 amps or 15,000 to 20,000 mA. There is typically around 200,000 milliampere traveling through an electrode while the machine is on, so make sure to take the proper precautions when welding.  

Is the Electrode in Stick Welding Positive or Negative?

In stick welding, direct current (DC) is the most commonly used because it flows in only one direction, creating a smooth and more stable arc. The electrical current that is created when you turn on the welder has a positive and negative pole. This is a property called polarity. When speaking in terms of polarity in the electrode, “straight” polarity is used for negative welding currents, and “reverse” polarity is used for positive currents. 

Welding currents with reverse polarity result in deeper penetration, while straight polarity benefits faster melt-off and faster deposition rate. 

Is Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC) more dangerous?

As a general rule, alternating current tends to be more dangerous than direct current due to its high electric frequency and RMS value. AC can also affect the frequency of the heart, creating a higher risk of a heart attack. 

What Happens When You Get an Electric Shock?

About five percent of the burn unit admissions in the US are due to electrical shock. Electric shock happens when an electric current passes through the body. This can result in burns to both internal and external tissue, as well as organ damage and cardiac arrest. 

What Factor Affect How Serious an Injury from Electric Shock Is?

  • The type of current—is it alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC)
  • The intensity of the current
  • Resistance to the current
  • Length of exposure
  • Area of the body the current reaches

What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Electric Shock?

When welding, there are two different classifications of shock you can receive: primary and secondary. Primary shock happens when you touch a hot component of the inner welding machine while touching other grounded metal. Secondary shock happens when you touch part of the welding circuit. 

Secondary shock is the most common, and it is the type of shock you receive when you touch the electrode. To receive a shock, you must be touching both sides of the welding circuit at the same time, such as the electrode and work. 

Electric Shock Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Burns 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Numbness

How Do You Protect Yourself from Electric Shock when Stick Welding?

To protect yourself from electric shock, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure to ground the work to a good electrical ground. Whatever you are welding must be grounded, or everything else will suffer. 

You will also want to insulate your body from your work and ground. Make sure not to rest your arms, body, or legs on the metal being welded, and stand on dry plywood or rubber mats while you work. 

Wear proper protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved, heat-resistant jacket, un-cuffed denim pants, steel-toed boots with rubber soles, insulated gloves, and a face shield or welding helmet. 

What Should You Do if You Receive an Electric Shock While Stick Welding?

While it isn’t always the case, injuries caused by electrical shock have the potential to be severe, and severity may not be obvious right away. 

If you receive an electric shock, the first thing you’ll need to do is immediately shut off the power to the machine. Then, it is in your best interest to contact emergency medical personnel. An electrical shock may cause burns on the skin, or there may not be any visible marks at all. Regardless, an electrical current passing through the body has the potential to cause internal damage

Medical personal will be able to walk you through the necessary first aid, which may include washing burns, bandaging, and treating for shock. 

What to Do If Someone Else Has Been Shocked from the Electrode

If someone around you has had an electric shock, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests these steps: 

  • Don’t touch the person. They may still contact the source, which could result in the current passing through you. 
  • Call 911 and request medical help.
  • Turn off the source of electricity if possible. 
  • Once the person is free of the electricity source, check their breathing and pulse. If either is stopped, perform CPR immediately. 
  • If the person shows signs of shock, such as pale skin or being faint, lay them down with the head slightly lower than the body and legs elevated. 
  • Don’t touch burns, blisters, or clothing. 

Stick Welding Techniques for a Steadier Hand

If you feel like your rod is shaking too much as you weld, you may be tempted to grab hold of the electrode. Some welders will steady the tip by putting two gloved fingers on the middle of the rod, especially at the start of using a new rod. 

Instead of placing your hand on the electrode itself, try using your second hand as a prop for the one holding the welder. This will give you a bit more precision and help you keep your rod at the angle it should be. 

Here is a video of one of the propping techniques to try out for a steadier grip. 

Safe Work Practices When Stick Welding

The best way to prevent electrical shock when stick welding is to follow standard safety procedures. Here are some of the most important basic safety rules to follow:

  • Operate the welder in a well-ventilated area
  • Don’t place the welder on the ground. Instead, set it on a piece of plywood
  • Keep hands, hair, and clothing away from moving parts
  • Always stop the engine before performing any maintenance. 
  • Protect your entire body with fire retardant clothing
  • Wear eye protection at all times
  • Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand
  • Make sure that the welder is properly installed and grounded

First Aid Kit for Stick Welding

Your welding area should always have a well-stocked first aid kit in case an injury should occur. You should also keep a fire blanket and fire extinguisher nearby in the event of a fire or burns. 

It’s also a good idea to have someone other than you who is trained in first aid to treat any minor injuries or to assist in the event of a more severe injury. 

Final Thoughts

The main takeaway here is that although you CAN touch the electrode while stick welding, it is not recommended from a health and safety standpoint. If you are having trouble keeping the rod from shaking while welding, try out different holding techniques that will give you a steadier grip. 

Always make sure you are wearing proper attire and following the basic safety protocols to keep yourself safe. 

Sources: 

https://www.shopfloortalk.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3585

https://weldtalk.hobartwelders.com/forum/weld-talk-topic-archive/welding-projects/4412-is-it-safe-to-hold-the-electrode

https://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net/forum/general/47997-avoiding-electrocution-with-a-stick-welder-advice-needed

https://www.quora.com/Can-I-get-shocked-if-Im-holding-the-arc-welder-while-welding

https://www.awoakes.com/toolbox/arc-welding-electrical-hazards#:~:text=A%20secondary%20voltage%20shock%20occurs,’re%20welding%20(work)

https://www.oemeyer.com/sites/default/files/materials/pdf/safety/arcweldingsafety.pdf

https://weldingproductivity.com/article/cable-trouble/

If you liked this article, have a look at my other articles I wrote about the topic!

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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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