If you are planning to finally take the plunge and do your first weld, you have stumbled upon the right page. Being a certified welder with 12 years of industry experience, I believe I can help you get your basics right.
Finding yourself torn between MIG and Stick welding is quite natural for a beginner since both methods share many similarities. The easiest way to choose the best method for your application is to consider the following factors: type of metals you intend to weld, skill level, budget, and intensity of the task.
In this article, I’ll try to explain the basics, applications and their individual strengths and weaknesses of MIG vs stick welding. Once you successfully determine which process would best match your skill and requirements, we’ll move on to welder model product reviews.
- MIG Welding in a Nutshell
- Stick Welding in a Nutshell
- 3 Best MIG Welders on the Market in 2020
- 3 Best Stick Welders on the Market in 2021
MIG Welding in a Nutshell
MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, formally known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), is one of the more simple forms of welding. As the name suggests, this process involves the use of inert gas, usually a mix of argon and CO2
To fuse pieces of metal together, MIG process requires consumable electrodes in the form of a spool of wires. By pulling the trigger on a spool gun, the wire needs to be continuously fed at a preselected speed. This leads to the formation of welding current which melts both the electrode and the base metal.
As a result, the melted metals mix together, solidify and merge into a single piece. The welding gun also releases shielding gas during this process to protect the molten pool from atmospheric contamination. Most MIG weldings are done using DC or (direct current) or reverse polarity where the electrode is kept positively charged and the base metal negatively charged.
MIG welders are very simple and straightforward. Most models only come with three settings i.e wire speed, polarity and voltage. The spoon gun itself is a basic “point and shoot” device featuring an On/Off switch. Since you can fit up to 30 lbs. Wire spoons in MIG welders, it will be hours before you have to re-spool the wire.
MIG welding is a highly versatile technique with a wide range of applications. You can weld both thin (as thin as 26 gauge) and thick metals with it if you choose the right filler material for the job.
It’s best used for highly reactive metals like aluminum, copper, and magnesium. You can also fuse stainless steel, carbon steel and nickel of various thicknesses. Not just in terms of material choices, MIG offers amazing flexibility vis-a-vis welding positions as well.
There’s a caveat, though: Rust, corrosion, paint on any form of contamination on the metal at the weld point can drastically affect the quality of weld.
- Can create high-quality, durable with minimal spatter.
- Works a diverse range of materials as thin as 26 gauge.
- Super easy to learn as it’s basically a point and shoot method
- Almost no clean-up required.
- Quick and efficient as you don’t have to continuously change the electrode.
- MIG welder is super easy to operate.
- Cannot be performed outdoors as the wind could blow away the shielding gas.
- Any form of contamination on the metal at the weld point can result in porous welds. Hence, not suitable for general repair work as the metals can have rust or paint on them.
Stick Welding in a Nutshell
It is an electric arc welding process that uses a metal rod or a stick as filler material, hence the name. Some simply call it arc welding but I don’t. There are several types of arc welding methods and stick welding just happens to be one of them. Stick welding is one of the oldest welding techniques and is frequently used for welding steel and iron.
Moving on, the stick or welding rod used in this process is usually covered in a flux material. These rods are available in different lengths and diameters. To produce high-strength welds, it’s very important to pick the right filler rod for your intended purpose.
Stick welding is usually done using reverse polarity or DC current to maintain arc stability. The arc formed between the rod and the base metal produces tremendous heat. This instantly melts the base metal as well as the metal of the filler rod.
Then the molten rod then flows into the workpiece in the shape of droplet and forms beads. These beads finally fuse two pieces of metal together. During this process, the heat vaporizes some of the flux covering of the electrode which releases shielding gas. It mainly helps to stabilize the arc.
The remaining flux forms slag on top of the molten pool, protecting the weld from oxidation and contamination. Hence, there is no need to use an external supply of gas for this method.
Due to the wind-resistant nature of this operation, stick welding is the most feasible welding method for outdoor jobs. It comes handy in repair and maintenance work in farm shops, garages as rust or paint on the metal doesn’t affect the weld quality.
- Ideal for farm shops, and auto body repair.
- Very easy to learn.
- Inexpensive as it doesn’t require inert gas supply.
- Can be done in windy conditions and even underwater.
- No need to attach the ground clamp too close to the welding point.
- The slag requires a lot of cleanup.
- Leaves behind spatter.
- Cannot weld materials thinner than 18 gauge.
MIG vs Stick Welding: Key Differences
Finally, we will put an end to the battle of MIG vs stick welding by contrasting their key aspects side by side. Here we go:
MIG welds are more aesthetically pleasing than stick welds. However, to achieve deep penetration on thicker metals with MIG, you need to turn up the amperage really high. You’ll also have to make sure that the surface is completely free of corrosion and paint, otherwise, the weld penetration could be heavily affected.
Stick welding can be messy as it leaves behind a lot of spatter and slag. Therefore, it requires some cleanup. On the bright side, contaminants like rust, dirt or paint don’t affect the depth of penetration in stick welding. If done correctly, it can produce stronger welds compared to MIG.
Indoor and Outdoor Use
MIG welding can only be performed in controlled indoor environments as the process involves shielding gas. The presence of wind or rain can affect the weld.
Stick welding method is designed to be wind and water-resistant which makes it ideal for outdoor use. The arc can generate lots of fumes and smoke, which is why stick welding should always be done out in the open.
Metals in Use
One of the major benefits of MIG welding is that it lets you work with many different types of metals of various thickness. Don’t attempt to weld thick metals using this method as it can heavily damage your MIG welder. It’s best used on thin metals like copper, brass, magnesium, carbon steel, mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. It works fine on metals as thin as 26 gauge. Just make sure the metal surface is clean, rust-free and unpainted.
Unlike MIG, you won’t have any problem fusing thicker metals (1/16 or greater) with a stick welder. But on the downside, it doesn’t do well with thinner metals. Applying stick method on metals thinner than 18 gauge can cause “burn through”. However, in this case, the quality of weld remains unaffected by extreme weather conditions, dirt, paint or rust on the surface.
Since MIG is a comparatively cleaner and quicker process, it is profusely used for small structure fabrication, mower decks, fences, metal sculpting, DIY garage and garden projects.
However, if you are going to work in extreme conditions, you have to go with stick welding as it handles thicker metals well. Stick welding is ideal for small-scale automotive repair, tube frames, utility trailers, lawnmowers, etc. For the very same reasons, stick welder is ideal for assembling machinery in farm shops.
Ease of Use
MIG welding is a better option if you are still learning the ropes. The process involves operating only one element at a time. You just have to spool the wire, press the trigger and bam! As simple as that.
Stick welding isn’t difficult per se, but it does require the operator to accurately strike the arc without damaging the metal. This could take some practice to get used to.
Use of Gas
MIG welding requires an external supply of inert gas to protect the molten metal from atmospheric contamination. In stick welding, the arc vaporizes the flux covering which, in turn, produces self-shielding gas. Hence, there’s no need for an external source of gas.
Cost of Operation
MIG welders are costlier than stick welders but it’s less portable since you need to continuously feed it with shielding gas. However, for commercial projects, MIG welders generally prove to be more cost-efficient than other forms of welding.
Arc welders are relatively cheaper, plus it doesn’t require an external source of gas which further reduces the operation cost.
Now that I have discussed the capabilities, pros, and cons of each process at length, it’s time to find you a quality welding machine that’ll help you kickstart your project.
So without further ado, here are my top 3 MIG and 3 Stick welder recommendations:
3 Best MIG Welders on the Market in 2020
Here are my in-depth reviews and analysis of 3 MIG welders that are great for both beginners and experienced welders:
It goes without saying that Hobart is synonymous with quality. The 210 MVP is a medium-heavy unit capable of a wide range of welding tasks. Auto body repair, fabrication, metal sculpting, fencing, tool carts, DIY household chores, this equipment can take care of everything you’d expect from a high-quality MIG machine.
I loved how the latest models have ditched plastic and instead, gone with all-metal wire feed components to prolong the machine’s lifespan. The machine requires minimum setup to get started, rendering it ideal for a stationary welding bench setup.
210 MVP comes with everything you’ll need to get started right away. It is equipped with a built-in gas valve. Moreover, the box includes gas hose, dual gauge regulator and a 10-foot long cable with clamp among many other accessories.
The settings on it are simple and streamlined, making the operation a breeze for both seasoned professionals and hobbyists.
Key features include 7 voltage settings along with multiple wire-speed change options. It supports both 115V and 230V and ensures incredible arc smoothness and stability. If you use the SpoolRunner 100 gun with it (sold separately), you will be able to weld ⅜” mild steel and ¼” mild aluminum with ease with this bad boy.
The unit features a selector switch which lets you fit up to 10 pounds of spool (4 and 8” reels). Its quick change drive roll system has 2 grooves on it for 0.030-0.035” wires. I’d gladly recommend it to someone with zero experience in welding. The huge number of amperage and wire-speed options will let you dial in the perfect settings for the task at hand.
You need to be careful with the amperage setting while welding 22 or 24 gauge metal. The highest setting can easily lead to burn through.
If you are in the market for an affordable MIG welder that can smoothly carry out a multitude of tasks, Easy Weld 261 won’t let you down. It’s an ideal device for rookie welders who want to hone their skills with a lower amperage unit.
It comes with a Euro-Connect MIG gun featuring TWECO style consumables. The depth of penetration, bead appearance and quality are almost similar to what’s offered by higher amp welders. However, as an obvious downside, its applications are limited to thin metals.
The unit also supports flux core wire welding and even TIG welding with the help of a separately purchased TIG lead. With 140 amp and DC output, it can seamlessly fuse 11 gauge tubes along with ½”- ¼” mild steel plates. Many users have mentioned that this machine is ideal for 16-22 g thin metals. I’d suggest setting the voltage to 1 and the wire feed speed to 2 for such light gauge metals.
Its lightweight body is armed with a robust case which makes it suitable for outdoor use as well. Despite its small stature, it comes with plenty of power, amperage and wire speed settings to match your prolific welding needs.
What’s really remarkable here is that the dials don’t lock into a set position. This means you can precisely control the voltage and wire speed to produce neat welds.
Doesn’t support gas hookup, hence this unit can be only used for self-shielded Flux-cored Arc Welding which is pretty much the same as MIG welding.
Here’s another low-budget unit that comes with the quality assurance of Hobart. It’s a great machine for small-scale farm, auto body repair, maintenance and garden projects. Its ease of use and portability have made this unit quite a hit among beginners and quite rightly so.
The build quality of the unit is impressive right off the bat. Steel outer shell and all-metal panel makes sure the unit gellatly survives adverse outdoor conditions.
Despite the low amperage and small duty of 20% at 90 amps, it packs enough punch household projects as well as moderate-intensity commercial tasks. At the highest amp setting, it can provide a good penetration on metals up to 5/15 in thickness.
It can also handle ¼” or thinner steel as well as stainless steel with shielding gas and 0.030” solid steel wire. You can also weld mild aluminum without causing burn through by making a few small changes. I’d recommend getting a 0.035” aluminum wire and set the wire feed speed to 60 to get strong aluminum welds with minimal spatter.
It works on US standard household voltage of 120V. So if you are specifically looking for 220V MIG welder, this is not it. Also, the unit only allows 5 voltage adjustments which is not sufficient for intricate welding projects.
3 Best Stick Welders on the Market in 2021
After spending several years learning the nitty-gritty of stick welding and hours on product research, my top 3 stick welder recommendations would be:
If you are planning to get into stick welding but on a shoestring budget, take a look at this one. Zeny is a rugged dual voltage unit which can run both DCEP and DCEN. With the maximum power output of 160 amp, it can stick weld 14 g to 5/16 in sheet metals without any issues.
If needed, you can also run it on a 15 amp circuit breaker, depending on what rod diameter you’re using and how long you will be welding. Just keep in mind that smaller electrodes draw less amperage. It supports 1.6mm to 4.0 mm rods with almost zero sticking issues.
You just have to find the right electrode size and amperage setting for your intended purpose. That’s all. I like the fact that there are no stops on the knob. You can view the amp readouts on the digital screen, allowing you to make precise adjustments for the type of electrode you’re using.
One important thing to note here is that although the description says 60% duty cycle, it’s 60% at 105 amp only on 120 volts but 25% at 160 amp on 240 volts. Just wanted to put it out there to clear the confusion.
60% duty cycle is better than what most models in this price bracket offer. Overall, this entry-level welder does exactly what it promises and is an amazing value for money. If you are looking for a device suited for intensive projects, you will have to stretch your wallet a little more.
The description says that the box includes a 10 ft power cord but in reality, it’s a 5 ft cable. I hope the manufacturer rectifies the misinformation.
Weighing merely 1.95 kg, this one is one of the most lightweight stick welders I have ever come across. They say big things come in small packages and this machine seems to be a great example of this.
The box includes a bunch of useful apparatus such as ground clamp, electrode holder and my favorite, a 30A adapter cord that’s long enough to be used just about anywhere.
The unit supports dual voltage (110v-220V) which lets you use the device on a wide range of metals without the hassle of additional tools. Like the previous product, this welder is also rated for 60% duty cycle which not only reduces the welding time but also prolongs the lifespan of the machine.
When plugged into the standard 15 amp household outlet, it works great on 3/16” mild steel, ¼” steel angles with the help of 6011 and 7018 rods on 125 amp. It can also handle stainless steel, cast iron, and even aluminum as long as you choose the correct electrode for the job.
My only beef with this welder is the power cable length. Like the one you get with Zany, this cable too runs a bit short.
Easy Weld 298 is a 90 Amp inverter stick welder which is perfect for welding mild steel and light sections of a workpiece for household chores and small automotive repair works. It can hold up to ⅛” rods and with the right rod size, you should be easily able to join ⅜” pipes.
If you face issues using a ⅛” thick rod due to the small amp out, try a 5/32” rods to get a deep penetration. You can also weld stainless steel with it, provided you choose a 3/32” stainless steel electrode for the job. My point is, if you can figure out the right electrode-amperage combination, you can get a lot of use out of this compact machine.
The unit is equipped with all the basic adjustments i.e amp adjustment knob, process selector switch, voltage indicator as well as a thermal overload indicator to ensure safety of both the user and welder.
Weighing around 13.74 lbs, Easy Weld is as lightweight as most contemporary inverter stick welders. For the ease of portability, it comes with a carrying handle too which is a really nice touch.
The unit has a switch for TIG welding but no gas valve. I’m not sure how one can perform TIG welding with this if there’s no gas hookup.
As you can clearly see, there’s no one-size-fits all approach in welding.
In conclusion, while stick welding is an easier technique to master for a rookie and can be performed in adverse outdoor conditions, it can’t weld super-thin metals. MIG welding has a diverse range of applications but it demands stringent indoor conditions. To sum up, if you are a hobbyist who needs a welder only for occasional repair chores, don’t think twice and go for a stick welder.
But if you want to step up your welding game and will be mostly working under controlled conditions, choose MIG. You won’t regret it. That’s all for today.