Stick Welding Sheet Metal? Here is How!

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Welding sheet metal with a stick welder is a bit more challenging, especially when welding thin sheets of metal. The heat input in stick welding is generally higher than with other hand welding processes, so how do you prevent blowouts and create a nice weld bead?

Stick welding sheet metal can be done by welding DC electrode negative with 20-40A which is about the the lowest amperage settings that still allows to strike an arc. Suitable electrodes are E6011 for rusty or painted surfaces or E6013 for clean surfaces. Rod diameter shall be as thin as possible, so 1/8″ or 1/16″ diameter electrodes are good options.

In this article, I will discuss the step-by-step process of stick welding sheet metal, as well as the electrodes and settings I would recommend. There will be some additional tips and explanations to give you some insights into the whole process. So if I spiked your interest, keep reading!

When to use Stick Welding for Sheet Metal

To create a good connection between your metal sheets, setup is most important. Stick welding is, generally speaking, a blunt welding process compared to MIG or TIG welding. And if you have the full range of process to choose from, I would refer you to either TIG for thinner sheets of metal, or MIG welding for construction type welding. You can read up on it in my other articles about TIG welding and MIG Welding.

However if one of the following describes your current situation, than stick welding is quite a viable option:

  • On a Budget: Stick welding is a great process for beginners, and even though the results might not match other welding processes, the requirements are also not as harsh as in the industry. So be it out of convenience or for budget reasons, if a stick welder is the only thing you have, go with it. Great for simple DIY repairs or people who like the challenge to test the boundaries of their machines.
  • In the Field: Stick welding is great in terms of simplicity, portability, and sensitivity to adverse environmental conditions, like wind or high humidity due to rain (Word or warning: Welding directly in the rain is hazardous and not advised! I am talking about an open barn, for example, with a dry floor. Read up on danger of electric shocks here). For repairing items like a rusty fence or some piece of agricultural equipment, stick welding is easy to carry and needs no additional gas, just a power source. And it is quite forgiving to paint and rust residues on the material.

So if your are still determined to continue and identified stick welding as the best option for the job at hand, let me give you my step-by-step approach.

Choosing the Right Electrode

As there are a couple of options, my recommendation would be either an E6011 or E6013 rod. Advantage of these electrodes are the high cellulose content in the coating, which makes them easy to use.

E6011E6011 is commonly used as an all purpose electrode for automobile body shops and mild steel farm equipment. Other uses would include shipbuilding, bridges, boilers, barges, railroad cars, pipes, truck frames, pressure vessels, storage tanks and galvanized steel.
E6013E6013 is commonly used for automobile bodies, truck frames and bodies, ornamental iron, metal furniture, farm implements, machinery guards, storage tanks, or wherever appearance is important or desirable.
Direct comparison of applications. Source

The E6011 has the advantage that you will get less slack inclusion in the weld due to the lower deposition rate when used for stick welding. However, for the same reason, the E6013 will create better results when running a complete weld bead from start to finish. The high deposition rate allows it to pass faster and reduce the overall heat input compared to E6011 or E6010 rods.

Another factor is the material condition that you weld. In case the base material has paint or rust residues you can’t clean, E6011 would be the better choice. Be mindful, though, that welding over unclean surfaces will create inferior results. Especially welding over paint creates dangerous fumes, so if you can’t prevent it, create sufficient ventilation to mitigate harm!

As for the rod diameter size: Ideally, your rod diameter is smaller than the material thickness of your sheet metal. A 1/16″ rod is a good starting point. However, they are harder to handle than 1/8″. The advantage of the small diameter is that the 1/16″ will create an arc at much lower Amps and therefore also have less heat input, which creates warping in the metal sheet.

Setting up the Stick Welder for Sheet Metal

Welding sheet metal DC electrode negative (DCEN) is the best setting due to the higher deposition rate. And DCEP has a deeper penetration into the base material, which we also like to avoid. So this means we attach the electrode clamp plug into the “-” marked outlet on the stick welder.

Brandon Lund created a very nice comparison video to visualize the differences between DCEN and DCEP for 1/16″ electrodes (see below). It shows the difference in penetration and the nicer flow of the E6013 electrode compared to the E6011.

Comparison video for DCEN and DCEP stick welding sheet metal.

Regarding the settings: The electrodes have a recommended amperage on the package. However, depending on how thin the sheets are, you want to join. Even the lower setting might lead to you burning through the material. So if you burn through the material, despite moving the electrode fast enough, consider turning down the A settings to 20-40A.

At this point, it is finding the sweet spot where your welder still ignites an arc and the lowest possible amount of heat input to not burn through the sheet. Unfortunately, due to the wide range of equipment differences, I can’t be more precise than that. A hot arc feature on your welder will allow you to start on lower settings, so it depends on your machine.


Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Electrode is coiling up and down too much: Support the electrode a bit closer to the weld puddle or use half-used electrodes to hit the target better.
  • Arc won’t ignite: Try cleaning the surface of the material or incrementally increase amperage.
  • Burning through holes: Move the torch quicker or decrease the amperage incrementally. Other steps are to source a smaller electrode diameter and reducing the gap between the sheets. Also, try to use the stitching method to join the sheets. This connection might be sufficient for the application. Reducing heat input with a smaller weld can help enormously.
  • Warping of the sheet: Clamp the sheet well to the weld table or another sturdy metal piece. Clamping will help as both a mechanical counter-pressure and also a heat sink to soak up access energy. Consider reducing the settings incrementally. Increase travel speed. Pick a smaller rod diameter for the electrode.

Final Thoughts

It is a bit more tricky to stick weld sheet metal, especially for thinner sheets, compared to the alternatives TIG welding and MIG Welding. However I hope the article encouraged you to give it a shot, as it is definitely possible when setup correctly. Most likely, the results will be a bit less presentable compared to the competition, but the weld should be solid and stick welding gets the job done.

In case stick welding sheet metal is a frequent occurrences, however your welder does not have hot start feature, consider upgrading to a welder that allows you to weld “colder”.

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

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