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Shielded Metal Arc Welding: Definition and Common Uses

If you find yourself getting lost in the weeds when it comes to welding terms, don’t worry. There are technical and non-technical names for many things. My son got confused when someone asked if we had a shielded metal arc welder. He first said no, but caught himself when he realized they were referring to a stick welder.

Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is a common type of arc welding that uses a flux-coated consumable electrode to produce the weld. This process is often used in construction and manufacturing because it’s an inexpensive and versatile way to create high-quality welds.

This blog post defines shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) and explores some of its common uses. So if you’re want to know more about this versatile type of welding, keep reading.

Picture of a person using shielded metal arc welding process.

Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Shielding Metal Arc Welding, abbreviated as SMAW/MMAW, is one of the most common industrial welding processes because of the ease of operation and low operating costs. It is also called Stick welding or hand welding. (Non-standard name that is common throughout the world).

While Shielded Metal Arc Welding is primarily used to weld base metals such as iron and steel, you can also use this process to weld many other metals. This welding method is commonly used in pipeline construction, auto repair, steel building construction, and industrial manufacturing.

With the versatility of stick welding and low equipment costs, it has also found a place in home workshops. An operator can become practically skilled in Shielded Metal Arc Welding with light training and achieve mastery with practice.

Most new welders jump start as “stick welders” and advance the essential skills with training and experience. Welding times are pretty slow for beginners because of the technique required, changing the consumable electrodes, and cleaning your welds.

When you stick weld, you leave slag; a crust that forms over your bead. You must remove the slag to inspect your weld. Sometimes removing the slags requires a chipping hammer and wire brush.

What is the shielded metal arc welding process?

The gear and techniques used in this process are pretty basic. A ground wire is clamped to the workpiece and connected to one side of an arc welding power source. The electrode cable and the electrode holder are connected to the other side of the power supply.

The welding rod is gripped in the electrode holder, closing the power circuit. When this circuit is completed, the electrical resistance of the workpiece base metals and filler metal create the high amounts of heat required for welding.

In shielded metal arc welding, an electrode composed of filler metal and flux is used for an architecturally perfect weld on various pieces of metal. Within the inner core of an electrode rod, there is a metal alloy intended to weld base metal of the same composition.

To protect the molten solder from atmospheric contamination, silicon-based flux surrounds the metal alloy. Creating a braze with little spatter and no porosity, you must handle the welding electrodes properly and have the welder set at the correct amperage.

The electric arc is used to melt the base metal in shielded metal arc welding. This arc is produced by striking the electrode with the workpiece. The powerful heat formed by the arc swiftly melts some of the base metal, resulting in the formation of a weld.

Soon after arc generation, the electrode is detached from the workpiece but remains adjacent to the workpiece. This electric arc is around 3590 ° C at its center. Filler metal is additional in most welding processes for intensifying the volume and strength of the welded joint.

The weld section is sometimes shielded by either inert or semi-inert gas, known as shielding gas. The ionized gases between the electrode and the workpiece make a trail for a smooth flow of electrons. Consequently, the circuit remains closed (or energized) and therefore the arc is not extinguished.

However, one of Shielded Metal Arc Welding’s benefits is that it doesn’t require a shielding gas.

Voltage Facts for Shielded Metal Arc Welding

In Shielded Metal Arc Welding, the length of the arc is directly associated with voltage and the amount of heat contributed is related to current. The voltage supplied by the power companies for industrial use ranges between 120V to 480V, which is too high to compromise safety.

Therefore, with an arc welding power source, the high voltage input converts to a suitable output voltage range, 20V to 80V, because shielded metal arc welding requires constant power supplies to maintain a relatively constant current even when the voltage varies.

What are the Advantages of Shielded Metal Arc Welding?

Shielded metal arc welding is appropriate for most commercially obtainable metallic elements and alloys. The equipment is quite simple, relatively low-priced, and transportable.

This welding process is supple and can be applied to various joint configurations regardless of the position. (Due to the flexibility it offers, you can use this process from almost any welding position). You can use it in areas where access is limited (you can even bend the electrodes and use a mirror in tight spaces).

Shielded metal arc welding doesn’t require a separate gas shield and it is no doubt a great advantage of this process. It is less sensitive to wind and drafts compared to gas shielded arc welding processes. We use a mobile gas unit with 100 ft. leads for fabricating buildings and other outdoor projects.

What are the Disadvantages of Arc Welding?

Arc welding has a lower deposition rate than GMAW and FCAW. A more skilled welding operator is required than many other welding processors. It is neither suitable for reactive metals such as titanium, zirconium, tantalum, and niobium nor metals with low melting temperatures such as lead, tin, and zinc and their alloys.

The biggest drawback of this process is that you cannot automate it. It produces more slag due to flux shielded electrodes, and repeated replacement of consumed electrodes with a new one makes this process relatively slow compared to GMAW.

Do Shielded Metal Arc Welders Earn good money?

A welder’s pay is usually based on an hourly wage rather than an annual wage, which benefits the welder because the job often requires overtime. The most basic jobs for a welder pay an average hourly rate of about $20 an hour. Still, the hourly rate is not fixed and depends on many other factors such as certifications, additional skills, and total professional experience.

Shielded Metal Arc Welders usually earn $33 to $43 keeping in mind the rate-raising factors. This is an average rate for US-based companies, but there is a regional variation and uncertainty in the labor market. You can explore further online resources for a detailed annual wage rate of each state.  

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