There is an aura around welding stainless steel which ends up scaring a lot of beginners from even trying it out. Even when I was about to try welding it for the first time a lot of people on the internet and even in real life advised me to be really careful and how difficult it can be. I want to try to cover all the basics related to welding stainless steel which I hope will give you more confidence to deal with the issue.
Can you stick weld stainless steel? Although welding stainless steel can face some complications, if you take the necessary precautions like choosing the right electrode and properly cleaning the workpiece then you don’t need to worry. The method you end up choosing also depends on a couple of factors like your intended result, skill level, and comfort.
CAN YOU WELD STAINLESS STEEL WITH A STICK WELDER
Before we go to address whether it can be welded or not, it is really important to understand what stainless steel actually is. The reason it has grown in popularity is because of its rustproof quality and the fact that it can withstand extreme temperatures. The metal gets this quality because of the presence of chromium ranging anywhere from 11 to 30% depending on the grade of the alloy.
ISSUES WITH WELDING STAINLESS STEEL
The reason why welding stainless steel is considered to be difficult is major because of its thermal properties. It can retain heat very easily which can lead to warping if excessive heat is applied to the metal. Another problem that can arise is the scratches and blemishes which can scar the surface, stainless steel is very prone to them.
The metal is not really that difficult if you know what you are doing or if you have had some practice before. You don’t get to hide your mistakes when working with stainless steel and that is one of the reasons why it is considered to be difficult.
Another issue that causes problems is something known as sugaring, which basically means discoloration but it can also indicate that some quantity of chromium has been removed from the metal. This can lead to the metal being more prone to rusting and corrosion.
Stainless steel can also show signs of oxidation and burn throughs because of its thermal properties. The heat tends to concentrate around the weld pool because the heat from the arc not spreading out enough.
Even with all the issues which I just talked about, stainless steel can absolutely be welded. You can use either stick welding, MIG, or TIG. The process you end up choosing depends on your comfort level and the results you are looking for.
TYPES OF STAINLESS STEEL WHICH CAN BE WELDED
There are very few grads of stainless steel that are considered completely unweldable, a lot of the varieties you can weld using any of the welding methods.
- Austenitic stainless steel type is considered to be the preferred choice for welding because of the low thermal and electrical conductivity. The 303 and 316F are considered to be unweldable while grades such as 201, 202, 205, 216, and 304 can be welded.
- Among the ferritic stainless steel varieties only the 430F, 430FSe, and 18-2FM are considered to be unweldable while the more popular types like the 405, 409, 430, and 442 can be welded through any of the preferred methods.
- When we come to the Martensitic Stainless steels only the 416Se and the 416 Plus X and 420F come in the nonweldable category. This category consists of the 403, 410, 414, 416, 420 among others and these can be welded.
HOW TO STICK WELD STAINLESS STEEL?
If you are a beginner, stick welding might be the best method to choose because of its low-cost setup and the fact that you don’t need a lot of other equipment to operate it. You don’t need to use gas or a torch or any foot pedals, as long as you have a welder and the right electrodes for the job. There are some tips through which you should be aware.
One of the things which a lot of people don’t address is the fact that the metal piece you will be working on is very prone to moving on the welding table, you can avoid this by clamping the metal to the workbench.
The most important thing to keep in mind is choosing the right electrode for the job, some of the most common electrodes recommended for welding stainless steel are 316, 308, 312, and 309. If you are not sure about which electrode to use for a particular grade of steel, make sure to ask a professional or the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Warping can also cause a lot of problems when it comes to welding stainless steel, one way to prevent this is by using clamps and backing bars. You can use brass or copper and clamp it behind the welded area. This serves a dual purpose, it can help prevent burn through and also act as a heat sink, meaning it will absorb some of the heat.
Also, make sure to properly clean the surface before you start the weld, stainless steel is especially sensitive to carbon steel. You also have to clean the equipment before using it as any carbon steel on them can transfer to the stainless steel and lead to rusting.
You can also try pre-heating some grades of stainless steel, I am not sure about this but I have heard from some people that it helps to prevent cracking.
CAN YOU STICK WELD THIN STAINLESS?
It is tough difficult to weld thin sheets of stainless steel especially using stick welding, a lot of people seem to struggle with anything less than 2mm/ 12 gauge in thickness. It is because of the lower level of control that the MMA arc provides for such applications.
If you are planing to weld thin materials with stick, read this article I wrote.
CAN YOU STICK WELD STAINLESS TO MILD STEEL?
Although the preferred choice is MIG and TIG welding for this process, using stick welding is also possible and the end result is not too shabby. The most important factor here is going to the electrode selection.
If for example, you are going to weld a 304 stainless steel to let’s say A36 Mild steel then I would suggest going for an E309 rod. One thing to keep in mind here is that the working angle has to be extenuated a little, other than that the rod works like any other drag rod. You can try out a work angle of about 65 Degree as it will help with a good tie-in and the stainless steel will also receive more heat.
You have to be careful here because of the difference in the thermal conductivity of the two metals. If on the other hand, you were to use a 7018 here, the result would have a lot of slag and there will be a lack of fusion as well. That’s why it is crucial to choose the electrode carefully.
Keep in mind one thing that welding two different metals can be very tough and the end result can a lot of times turn out to be weak.
WHAT ROD SHOULD I USE FOR WELDING STAINLESS
The most important part of welding stainless steel is to use the correct electrode for the job. You need to use stainless steel electrodes otherwise the weld will not go penetrate properly. Another thing to keep in mind is to use a similar grade of electrode to that of the workpiece, if not similar then a grade higher.
Some of the most popular electrodes which are used to weld stainless steel are the 316, 308, 312, and 309. I would recommend consulting the manufacturer or an expert about the correct electrodes to use for the job.
Those E308L-16 rods from Amazon should do the trick in most cases.
CAN I USE 7018 ROD?
Although I have heard of people using electrodes such as 6011 and 7018 for welding stainless steel, I wouldn’t recommend it at all. You can never trust the final weld quality in terms of its strength and the material will lose its corrosion resistance. You can maybe use the 7018 for practicing purposes but never for actual projects.
WHAT ELSE CAN I WELD WITH STICK WELDER
Stick welding is the most popular welding method all over the world, one of the reasons for it being the relatively low starting costs and its versatility. While stick welding can be used with a lot of stuff it is not recommended to use it with thin sheet metals. It works best with thicker pieces of metal.
You can use stick welding with everything ranging from stainless steel to cast iron, chrome, and nickel-based alloys. Aluminum might not be the best choice for stick welding, but it can be done. You can read more about stick welding aluminum here.
ALTERNATIVE WELDING METHODS FOR STAINLESS STEEL
As I stated before, any of the three popular methods can be used to weld stainless steel, and the method you end up choosing depends on the final result you are looking for, what equipment you have, and what you are comfortable with.
TIG welding might be the most widely used method for welding stainless steel as it offers a higher quality weld when it comes to aesthetically pleasing welds. The reason why this method is preferred is because of the low heat input making it a better choice for welding thinner pieces. TIG offers a better-looking final bead, and it’s really precise.
MIG welding on the other hand is suitable for people who don’t really care about the look of the final weld. It is a good method when it comes to efficiency and cost factors. It can also be time-efficient because of the speed of the welding process. Besides stick welding, this method is very popular among repair and maintenance work.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If you don’t have a favorite welding method yet, it can get confusing about which one to go for while welding stainless steel. On top of this, the aura around this topic is pretty scary for newcomers. Hopefully, this article makes you feel more confident about tackling stainless steel. I will go through some of the most common queries that people have related to the topic, hope it helps.
Although stainless is known for its anti-corrosion properties, it can still rust when exposed to extreme conditions. Some of these extreme conditions can be brought on during the welding process, namely high temperatures. This can lead to the chromium being destroyed and making the metal prone to rusting. One way to avoid this is to take the proper cleaning precautions and keep an eye on the heat input while welding.
As I stated earlier, the easiest and the most effective way to avoid warping is by using a piece of brass or copper and clamping it to the back of the welded area. This leads to the creation of a heat sink.
Welding two different metals can be tricky especially for beginners and a lot of people claim that TIG and MIG might be the way to go.
I have talked about this before and the choice of method is entirely up to you. Each method has its pros and cons and the final decision depends on your skill level and the final result you are looking for.
To sum it all up, welding stainless steel is not that scary as it seems to be. Some things you should always take into account, like keeping carbon steel particles away from the material and choosing the correct electrodes. You should also keep in mind that warping can occur while doing the weld. Almost all grades of stainless steel can be welded and the method you choose is entirely up to you, keep in mind the pros and cons of different techniques.
Like with all things in life, the key to successfully welding stainless steel is practice.