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1 Introduction
2 Basic Welding Circuit
3 Arc Shielding
4 Nature of the Arc
5 Welding Processes

5.1 Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)

5.2 Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)

5.3 Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)

6 Selection Of The Welding Process


Arc welding is one of several fusion processes for joining metals. By applying
intense heat, metal at the joint between two parts is melted and caused to intermix
- directly, or more commonly, with an intermediate molten filler metal. Upon
cooling and solidification, a metallurgical bond is created. Since the joining is an
intermixture of metals, the final weldment potentially has the same strength
properties as the metal of the parts. This is in sharp contrast to non-fusion
processes of joining (i.e. soldering, brazing etc.) in which the mechanical and
physical properties of the base materials cannot be duplicated at the joint.

Fig. 1 The basic arc-welding


In arc welding, the intense heat needed to melt metal is produced by an electric
arc. The arc is formed between the actual work and an electrode (stick or wire) that
is manually or mechanically guided along the joint. The electrode can either be a
rod with the purpose of simply carrying the current between the tip and the work.
Or, it may be a specially prepared rod or wire that not only conducts the current
but also melts and supplies filler metal to the joint. Most welding in the
manufacture of steel products uses the second type of electrode.

2 Basic Welding Circuit

The basic arc-welding circuit is illustrated in Fig. 1. An AC or DC power source,

fitted with whatever controls may be needed, is connected by a work cable to the
workpiece and by a "hot" cable to an electrode holder of some type, which makes
an electrical contact with the welding electrode.

An arc is created across the gap when the energized circuit and the electrode tip
touches the workpiece and is withdrawn, yet still with in close contact.

The arc produces a temperature of about 6500ºF at the tip. This heat melts both the
base metal and the electrode, producing a pool of molten metal sometimes called a
"crater." The crater solidifies behind the electrode as it is moved along the joint.
The result is a fusion bond.

3 Arc Shielding

However, joining metals requires more than moving an electrode along a joint.
Metals at high temperatures tend to react chemically with elements in the air -
oxygen and nitrogen. When metal in the molten pool comes into contact with air,
oxides and nitrides form which destroy the strength and toughness of the weld
joint. Therefore, many arc-welding processes provide some means of covering the
arc and the molten pool with a protective shield of gas, vapor, or slag. This is
called arc shielding. This shielding prevents or minimizes contact of the molten
metal with air. Shielding also may improve the weld. An example is a granular
flux, which actually adds deoxidizers to the weld.

Fig. 2 This shows how the

coating on a coated (stick)
electrode provides a gaseous
shield around the arc and a slag
covering on the hot weld
Figure 2 illustrates the shielding of the welding arc and molten pool with a Stick
electrode. The extruded covering on the filler metal rod, provides a shielding gas at
the point of contact while the slag protects the fresh weld from the air.

The arc itself is a very complex phenomenon. In-depth understanding of the

physics of the arc is of little value to the welder, but some knowledge of its general
characteristics can be useful.

4 Nature of the Arc

An arc is an electric current flowing between two electrodes through an ionized

column of gas. A negatively charged cathode and a positively charged anode create
the intense heat of the welding arc. Negative and positive ions are bounced off of
each other in the plasma column at an accelerated rate.

In welding, the arc not only provides the heat needed to melt the electrode and the
base metal, but under certain conditions must also supply the means to transport
the molten metal from the tip of the electrode to the work. Several mechanisms for
metal transfer exist. Two (of many) examples include:

1. Surface Tension Transfer® - a drop of molten metal touches the molten

metal pool and is drawn into it by surface tension
2. Spray Arc - the drop is ejected from the molten metal at the electrode tip by
an electric pinch propelling it to the molten pool (great for overhead

If an electrode is consumable, the tip melts under the heat of the arc and molten
droplets are detached and transported to the work through the arc column. Any arc
welding system in which the electrode is melted off to become part of the weld is
described as metal-arc. In carbon or tungsten (TIG) welding there are no molten
droplets to be forced across the gap and onto the work. Filler metal is melted into
the joint from a separate rod or wire.

More of the heat developed by the arc is transferred to the weld pool with
consumable electrodes. This produces higher thermal efficiencies and narrower
heat-affected zones.
Since there must be an ionized path to conduct electricity across a gap, the mere
switching on of the welding current with an electrically cold electrode posed over
it will not start the arc. The arc must be ignited. This is caused by either supplying
an initial voltage high enough to cause a discharge or by touching the electrode to
the work and then withdrawing it as the contact area becomes heated.

Arc welding may be done with direct current (DC) with the electrode either
positive or negative or alternating current (AC). The choice of current and polarity
depends on the process, the type of electrode, the arc atmosphere, and the metal
being welded.

The variety of shielding gases used in arc welding can be a confusing

topic. However, the use of an external shielding gas is a necessary component for
some processes, as it is a requirement for surrounding and protecting the arc and
molten weld metal from contamination by the atmosphere. Shielding gas can also
increase the smoothness of the arc and operator appeal. But they also increase the
complexity of welding equipment, with the addition of a gas cylinder or bulk gas
supply and the necessary gas apparatus (i.e. regulator / flow meter (or flow gauge)
and gas hose). Not to mention the complexity of needing to change the type of
shielding gas when you need to weld on a different type of material and/or with a
different arc welding process. In some cases, different shielding gases can be used
with the same process and material, each with its own benefits.

Some arc welding processes do not use an external shielding gas, but instead
provide their own shielding system, via slag coverage of the weld and gases
produced from chemical reactions in the arc. These include the Shielded Metal Arc
Welding (SMAW) process, Self-Shielded, Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW-S)
process and Submerged Arc (SAW) process. The main arc welding processes that
do require an external shielding gas are the Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)
process (aka TIG), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) process (aka MIG), Metal
Cored Arc Welding (GMAW-C) process (aka metal core) and Gas-Shielded, Flux-
Cored Arc Welding (FCAW-G) process (aka flux-cored with gas). The variety of
shielding gases used with these processes are large, particularly with binary blends
and ternary (three part) blends and the percentages of each gas type in the blend. In
addition, gases can vary depending on the region of the world in which you are
welding. Therefore to simplify this article, it will only discuss the most common
shielding gases used in the U.S. welding market.

The most common shielding gases used for these main arc welding processes
include argon (Ar), helium (He), carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2). While
Ar, He and CO2 may be used by themselves (i.e. 100%) for certain applications, in
other cases the four gases are mixed together in different combinations to form
shielding gas blends. These blends are expressed as a percentage (e.g. 75% Ar /
25% CO2 or 75Ar/25CO2). Sometimes they are even expressed in shorthand
terms, such as “75/25”. However, this is making the assumption that it is known
which two gases the percentages are referring to (and they are not always the
same, as is the case, for example, with 75/25 for carbon steel and 75/25 for nickel

Each of these gases has different properties which effect how they respond under
the heat of a welding arc. These include their reactivity, ionization potential and
thermal conductivity. Reactivity effects whether or not a certain gas or gas mix can
be used with certain materials. These properties also affect the various shielding
gases’ operating characteristics, as well as effect bead shape and penetration
profiles. A detailed discussion of each of these properties, as well as the attributes
of each shielding gas and gas mix, is beyond the scope of this article. Table 1
summarizes common shielding gases used for these main arc welding processes by
base material type. In the case of the MIG and metal core processes, it also
identifies shielding gases depending on which mode of metal transfer is being
used. Footnoted are common alternative gases. This table is not meant to be an
exclusive list of shielding gases used for arc welding. Other gases (e.g. hydrogen)
and many other gas mixes of different percentages and combination of gases are
also used in the welding industry. Table 1 is simply meant to be a quick summary
of the most common gases used for common types of base materials in the U.S,
welding market.
5 Welding Processes
• The number of different welding processes has grown in recent years. These
processes differ greatly in the manner in which heat and pressure (when used)
are applied, and in the type of equipment used. There are currently over 50
different types of welding processes; we’ll focus on 3 examples of electric
arc welding, which is the most common form of welding.

• The most popular processes are shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), gas metal
arc welding (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW).
• All of these methods employ an electric power supply to create an arc which
melts the base metal(s) to form a molten pool. The filler wire is then either
added automatically (GMAW) or manually (SMAW & GTAW) and the molten
pool is allowed to cool.

• Finally, all of these methods use some type of flux or gas to create an inert
environment in which the molten pool can solidify without oxidizing.
5.1 Shielded Metal Arc Welding
5.1 Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)

SMAW is a welding process that uses a flux covered metal electrode to carry an
electrical current. The current forms an arc that jumps a gap from the end of the
electrode to the work. The electric arc creates enough heat to melt both the
electrode and the base material(s). Molten metal from the electrode travels across
the arc to the molten pool of base metal where they mix together. As the arc
moves away, the mixture of molten metals solidifies and becomes one piece. The
molten pool of metal is surrounded and protected by a fume cloud and a covering
of slag produced as the coating of the electrode burns or vaporizes. Due to the
appearance of the electrodes, SMAW is commonly known as ‘stick’ welding.

SMAW is one of the oldest and most popular methods of joining metal. Moderate
quality welds can be made at low speed with good uniformity. SMAW is used
primarily because of its low cost, flexibility, portability and versatility. Both the
equipment and electrodes are low in cost and very simple. SMAW is very flexible
in terms of the material thicknesses that can be welded (materials from 1/16” thick
to several inches thick can be welded with the same machine and different
settings). It is a very portable process because all that’s required is a portable
power supply (i.e. generator). Finally, it’s quite versatile because it can weld many
different types of metals, including cast iron, steel, nickel & aluminum.

Some of the biggest drawbacks to SMAW are (1) that it produces a lot of smoke &
sparks, (2) there is a lot of post-weld cleanup needed if the welded areas are to look
presentable, (3) it is a fairly slow welding process and (4) it requires a lot of
operator skill to produce consistent quality welds.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) Photo
5.2 Gas Metal Arc Welding
5.2 Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)

In the GMAW process, an arc is established between a continuous wire electrode

(which is always being consumed) and the base metal. Under the correct
conditions, the wire is fed at a constant rate to the arc, matching the rate at which
the arc melts it. The filler metal is the thin wire that’s fed automatically into the
pool where it melts. Since molten metal is sensitive to oxygen in the air, good
shielding with oxygen-free gases is required. This shielding gas provides a stable,
inert environment to protect the weld pool as it solidifies. Consequently, GMAW
is commonly known as MIG (metal inert gas) welding. Since fluxes are not used
(like SMAW), the welds produced are sound, free of contaminants, and as
corrosion-resistant as the parent metal. The filler material is usually the same
composition (or alloy) as the base metal.
GMAW is extremely fast and economical. This process is easily used for welding
on thin-gauge metal as well as on heavy plate. It is most commonly performed on
steel (and its alloys), aluminum and magnesium, but can be used with other
metals as well. It also requires a lower level of operator skill than the other two
methods of electric arc welding discussed in these notes. The high welding rate
and reduced post-weld cleanup are making GMAW the fastest growing
welding process.
Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) Photo
5.3 Gas Tungsten Arc Welding
5.3 Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW)
In the GTAW process, an arc is established between a tungsten electrode and the base
metal(s). Under the correct conditions, the electrode does not melt, although the work
does at the point where the arc contacts and produces a weld pool. The filler metal is thin
wire that’s fed manually into the pool where it melts. Since tungsten is sensitive to
oxygen in the air, good shielding with oxygen-free gas is required. The same inert gas
provides a stable, inert environment to protect the weld pool as it solidifies.
Consequently, GTAW is commonly known as TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding.
Because fluxes are not used (like SMAW), the welds produced are sound, free of
contaminants and slags, and as corrosion-resistant as the parent metal.

Tungsten’s extremely high melting temperature and good electrical conductivity make it
the best choice for a non-consumable electrode. The arc temperature is typically around
11,000° F. Typical shielding gasses are Ar, He, N, or a mixture of the two. As with
GMAW, the filler material usually is the same composition as the base metal.

GTAW is easily performed on a variety of materials, from steel and its alloys to
aluminum, magnesium, copper, brass, nickel, titanium, etc. Virtually any metal that is
conductive lends itself to being welded using GTAW. Its clean, high-quality welds often
require little or no post-weld finishing. This method produces the finest, strongest
welds out of all the welding processes. However, it’s also one of the slower methods of
arc welding.
Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) Photo
6 Selection of the welding process
The selection of the joining process for a particular job depends upon many
factors. There is no one specific rule governing the type of welding process to be
selected for a certain job. A few of the factors that must be considered when
choosing a welding process are:

• Availability of equipment
• Repetitiveness of the operation
• Quality requirements (base metal penetration, consistency, etc.)
• Location of work
• Materials to be joined
• Appearance of the finished product
• Size of the parts to be joined
• Time available for work
• Skill experience of workers
• Cost of materials
• Code or specification requirements

6.1 General guidelines for selecting one process over another

When selecting one process over the others, it is often useful to examine
the principal pros/cons of each type of welding covered in this lecture:

Welding Process Advantages Disadvantages

SMAW Cheap Major post-weld cleaning

Portable (no gas required) Relatively ‘dirty’ method
of welding (sparks/fumes)
Versatile (can weld various Requires moderate skill
metals & thicknesses)

GMAW Fastest of all 3 processes Requires shielding gas

Versatile (can weld various Minor post-weld cleaning
metals & thicknesses)

GTAW Highest quality welds Requires shielding gas

No post-weld cleaning Slowest of all 3 processes
Versatile (can weld various Requires high degree of
metals & thicknesses) operator skill
Examples of Welds
Weld Ideographs

The ideograph is the symbol that denotes the type of weld desired, and it
generally depicts the cross section representation of the weld. The following
figure shows the ideographs used most commonly.
Fillet Weld Symbol Example
SMAW (“Stick Welding”) Examples

Photo 1: Stick Welding a Large Hopper

Photo 2: Stick Welding Mild Steel Square Tubing
GMAW (“MIG Welding”) Examples

Photo 3: Fillet MIG Weld

Photo 4: U Groove MIG Weld
GTAW (“TIG Welding”) Examples

Photo 5: Fillet TIG Weld (4130 Structural Steel Tubing)

Photo 6: TIG Welded Formula Car Upright Assembly
Photo 7: TIG Welded Formula Car Suspension Assembly
Copyright notice:

Much of the previous information and photo slides were taken from Larry Jeffus’
and Harold Johnson’s Welding Principles and Applications. This book contains a
wealth of knowledge concerning the various electric arc welding
processes summarized in these abbreviated lecture notes.