Stick welding, also known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), is a useful skill to have in a DIY tool box, regardless of where other skills fall on the DIY/crafter-to-professional spectrum. Stick welding is one of the most popular methods of welding for at-home and professional users because it is approachable, versatile, and functional.
In addition, this welding method can be done on the move, which is why farmers and people in similar industries swear by stick welders. The tools are great for keeping in trucks for those who tow regularly and might need to make a quick repair.
However, despite the fact that stick welding itself isn’t hard to learn, finding the right welder for your needs and budget can feel overwhelming. With so many options from which to choose and a plethora of technical jargon to learn, the research process might lead consumers to forego this versatile tool. We did the research to help DIYers easily find the best stick welders for their needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Hobart Stickmate 160i Stick Welder
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Yeswelder ARC-165 DS Stick Welder
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Forney Easy Weld 100 ST Stick Machine
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE: Lotos Technology LTPDC2000D 3-in-1 Welding Machine
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Lincoln Electric AC225 Stick Welder
- BEST FOR FARM USE: Miller Electric Multimatic 215 Multiprocess Welder
- HONORABLE MENTION: Miller Electric Thunderbolt 210 DC Stick Welder
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Stick Welder
Welders are complex tools, and finding the right one to match welding needs and experience level entails balancing a host of key considerations; this is especially true for those who are looking for a welder for beginners. Understanding each of these considerations can help buyers get the best value for the money. It’s easy to choose a tool that’s too advanced, powerful, or expensive for most needs. Equally risky is getting something that doesn’t match a user’s skill level.
Voltage Input and Amperage Output
In layman’s terms, think of volts as providing the “pressure” that moves the electrical output, which is measured in amps (A). Amperage, colloquially known as “heat” in the welding community, is a measure of penetration that varies with the material and the thickness of a material being welded. Increasing the amp output on a stick welder will provide more heat, and therefore the ability to weld thicker material.
However, amps are powered by volts, and it’s important to meet the minimum voltage threshold to create the arc. It’s also key to ensure that the system can handle gradually increased loads as a user increases the amps. Keep in mind that as volts increase (and therefore amps), the width of the weld bead will increase and flatten.
The duty cycle refers to the length of time that the stick welder will weld at a given amperage; it’s represented as a percentage of a period, usually 10 minutes. So, a duty cycle of 50 percent at 200 amps means the welder can run at 200 amps for 5 minutes. Once the first 5 minutes have passed, the heat overload sensor will turn on, but it just means that the machine is starting to cool down. Duty cycle is not of much concern if most of the welds are quick.
Both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) welders create an electric arc between the rod (the metal being welded) and an electrode. The heat generated by the arc turns the rod into molten metal that can weld joints and cracks as well as seal nearly any other metal gap.
DC stick welders have a constant current, with a constant charge (positive or negative) that flows in a single direction. The result of the consistency of input for DC welders is that they have a smoother output, less spatter, and are more suitable for thin metals that could otherwise burn through. However, DC welders require internal transformers and are more expensive.
On the other hand, AC stick welders have an alternating electric current that reverses its charge and direction multiple times per second. The rapid polarity changes make AC welders great for welding magnetic metals and aluminum because they help remove oxide from the surface of the metal and are less likely to result in arc blow. AC machines usually cost less than their DC siblings.
Inverter vs. Transformer
Inverter welding machines are older than those with transformers and rely on their ability to invert a higher AC output to a lower DC output. DC welders require transformers that have internal inverters that are used to amplify the DC input current rather than lessen the incoming AC, which is what regular inverters do. Transformers can be bulky and expensive, but they’re worth it for those with multiple power welders or other heavy-duty machines.
There are four main types of welding:
- Gas metal arc welding (GMAW/MIG): This type of welding, also known as metal inert gas (MIG) welding, relies on a continually fed wire that turns into molten metal as it passes through the handpiece. GMAW/MIG welders require a shielding gas to protect the weld from airborne particles. This is the most common method and the easiest to learn.
- Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW/TIG): This method differs from MIG in that it doesn’t have a handpiece that continually feeds the wire. In fact, the best TIG welders often fuse two pieces of metal with no wire or rod, although this is not something most recommend trying without significant prior experience. TIG welding isn’t beginner-friendly, but once mastered, it can help experienced welders complete some pretty amazing projects.
- Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW): This method is better known as stick welding and is the simplest to set up and use of the four methods. Although it’s not quite as easy to learn as MIG welding because it doesn’t have a handpiece, it’s still accessible to people with no prior welding experience. However, rod welding is a slow process no matter how skilled the operator.
- Flux-cored arc welding (FCAW): Like MIG welding, FCAW has the advantage of a continuous-feed handpiece. However, unlike MIG welders, FCAW welders have a flux-coated wire that aids the shielding gas and allows the welder to work indoors or in windy conditions.
Our Top Picks
The best welders on the market excel in these key considerations and provide favorable performance-to-price ratios. Each of the recommendations is versatile and durable so welders can rely on them for years to come.
This dual voltage stick welder is ideal for an at-home, on-farm, in-studio, or other type of user at any skill level. The Hobart 160i is equipped with the company’s patented Hot Start technology, which makes starting this stick welder a breeze. Don’t underestimate the value of starter technology of any sort; getting a reliable arc is one of the more difficult aspects of stick welding, especially for beginners.
Another area where the Hobart Stickmate 160i stands out from the crowd is in the fact that it was built with portability in mind. It is lightweight, and it has a small footprint and a convenient shoulder strap for carrying along onto a jobsite. However, it requires some patience because of its 30 percent duty cycle, which is the biggest drawback of this versatile stick welder.
- Output: 160 amps
- Duty cycle: 30 percent at 160A
- Current type: DC
- Weight: 15 pounds
- Lightweight and portable; small footprint and convenient shoulder strap
- DC input creates stable, easy-to-manage arcs
- Dual-voltage input
- Live duty-cycle indicator
- Comes with everything needed to start
- Fairly expensive compared to other stick welders
- Comparatively low duty cycle
Get the Hobart stick welder at Tractor Supply Co.
This inexpensive stick welder punches well above its pay grade in two important areas: safety and portability. The Yeswelder ARC-165 DS is equipped with overcurrent and voltage fluctuation protection, both of which also safeguard the welders’ power source. Another unique safety feature of the ARC-165 DS is that it monitors the amperage in real time and adapts the arc force accordingly, which minimizes the risk of splatter, overheating a surface, and getting the rods stuck in the molten-metal puddle.
Although the Yeswelder stick welder lacks the built-in carrying strap of the Hobart 160i, it makes up for it with an incredibly lightweight design. The ARC-165 DS weighs 4 pounds less than the Hobart 160i while putting out 5 more amps, which makes the size of this budget pick even more impressive. However, the portability is slightly compromised by a short warranty period and the caution that it might not be as durable out in rough farm terrain. Still, those on a budget who need a stick welder for quick fixes will appreciate its price and portability.
- Output: 165 amps
- Duty cycle: 60 percent
- Current type: AC
- Weight: 11 pounds
- Affordability doesn’t come at the expense of reliable performance
- Light weight makes it highly portable
- Inverter technology allows use at high operating speeds
- Digital control display
- AC welders cause more molten splatter than DC
- May not be as durable, especially in rough terrain
Get the Yeswelder stick welder on Amazon.
The Forney Easy Weld, as the name suggests, is easy to use and ideal for anyone making their first foray into the world of welding. It is approachable in terms of skill level, plus it’s budget-friendly. The Easy Weld has precise amperage control and relies on a relatively low 90A max delivery, which is easier to control during slow, methodical welds. Furthermore, the modest maximum power output reduces the incidence of liquid-metal splatter, which makes it safer and easier to clean up after use. However, the downside to the modest output is that this welder isn’t great at handling welds with thicker materials.
Those who get the hang of stick welding with the Easy Weld can give TIG welding a try by purchasing a few reasonably priced accessories, all of which are conveniently manufactured and sold by Forney Industries. To top it off, the Forney Easy Weld is as portable a stick welder as it is affordable.
- Output: 90 amps
- Duty cycle: 30 percent
- Current type: DC
- Weight: 9.6 pounds
- Convenient integrated carry handle
- Affordability doesn’t come at the expense of quality
- Includes how-to manual for novice welders
- Capable of TIG and stick welding
- Low power delivery can be limiting for welds with thicker materials
- Scratch-and-stick start method
Get the Forney stick welder on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
The Lotos 3-in-1 welder is one of the most versatile in its price range and certainly one of the highest quality as well, especially in terms of built-in technology. This versatile welder combines the value of three separate machines into one sturdy package that can move from place to place. However, keep in mind that this welder weighs in at more than 40 pounds, so moving it isn’t going to be as easy as for most of our other welders on this list. Still, considering this combines three tools in one, it’s an impressively compact package.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Lotos LTPDC2000D is the fact that it also has a 50-amp plasma-cutter feature that can cut right through the metal. Plasma cutting becomes more useful as welders improve their skills and is handy for a variety of professional, hobbyist, and crafting tasks. Regardless of the mode used, getting the arc started is easy thanks to the no-touch pilot for the plasma cutter and automatic arc for the stick-welding mode.
- Output: 200 amps welding; 50 amps plasma cutting
- Duty cycle: 60 percent
- Current type: DC
- Weight: 43 pounds
- Stable arcs across welding modes
- Capable of cutting through 0.75 inches of material
- Can be used on clean, dirty, or even rusty surfaces
- No-touch pilot and precision amperage control
- Foot-pedal control requires addition purchase
- Heavy machine won’t be as easy to move as other options
Get the Lotos stick welder on Amazon or at The Home Depot.
Lincoln Electric was founded in 1895, and the AC225 Stick Welder is its longest-running and best-selling model for a reason. This Lincoln stick welder is used by mechanics, hobbyists, DIYers, and professionals around the country who cite its signature reliability. Studio spaces and workshops often involve moving objects and heavy materials, and the sturdier the welder, the better.
Of equal importance to the reputation the AC225 has earned is the notoriously smooth arc. Welders in several industries appreciate the AC225’s arc because it allows them to use a variety of electrodes that are suited to specific metals, such as stainless steel or other types of hard-facing wires. The full-range amperage-output control dial offers precise control over a weld and improves stable output.
While the AC225 comes with a National Electric Manufacturers Association (NEMA)-certified 6-foot power cord and a 10-foot welding cable, the fact that it weighs more than 100 pounds all but guarantees it won’t move around much once it’s installed. Once it’s in place, though, it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- Output: 225 amps
- Duty cycle: 20 percent
- Current type: AC
- Weight: 109 pounds
- Sturdy build with a classic design
- Stable, easy to install, doesn’t take up a lot of space
- Backed by a reputable manufacturer
- NEMA and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certified
- Quite heavy at over 100 pounds; not a portable option
- High minimum amperage output of 40 amps
Get the Lincoln Electric stick welder at The Home Depot.
Farm equipment is made from a variety of materials, and farmers and ranchers never know what they’re going to need to fix on the fly. This is especially true for small commercial farms that often operate on a time-sensitive basis; thankfully, that’s where the Miller Electric Multimatic 215 steps in. It can support stick-welding jobs as well as TIG and MIG welding tasks, plus it includes all the accessories needed to get started with TIG welding when ready.
The versatility of the different modes is complemented by the precision control the Multimatic 215 gives the user. Miller’s patented Auto-Set Elite feature allows for configuring of the voltage and wire speed individually, which ultimately leads to professional-level accuracy in determining the amperage output. Users can adjust the welder based on the thickness of the material they are welding, the welding method they’re using, and the type of material to get the best results. However, all this advanced technology comes with a hefty price tag.
- Output: 200 amps stick; 210 amps TIG; 230 amps MIG
- Duty cycle: 20 percent
- Current type: DC
- Weight: 38 pounds
- 3 welding modes in 1 tool, including stick, TIG, and MIG welding
- Easy-to-read LCD display
- Built-in thermal overload protection combined with automatic cooling system
- Separate gas hookups to switch between modes easily
- Advanced technology comes with a big price tag
- Heavy for the size
- Comparatively low duty cycle for stick welding
Get the Miller Electric Multimatic stick welder on Amazon.
This Miller stick welder is a good choice for those looking for a do-it-all welder that doesn’t weigh too much, cost too much, or do too much of anything. This isn’t a bad thing. Miller is a reputable company, and the Thunderbolt 210 DC Stick Welder is designed to combine reliable technology with durable materials in a way that consistently provides solid welds in situations where stick welding is appropriate. While it may not be the very best in any one category, it’s hard to find a welder that scores as well as this one in all of our main categories of consideration.
The 210A output is on par with top-performing at-home stick welders, and the 20 percent duty cycle allows a user to weld at maximum power for 4 minutes. While this may seem like a small amount of time at first, 4 minutes of straight welding is not necessary for most farm fixes and DIY uses, especially with 210 amps of power. However, despite the small size, the included carrying case only has storage for the cables and clamp, which makes transporting the Thunderbolt 210 a cumbersome task.
- Output: 210 amps
- Duty cycle: 20 percent
- Current type: DC
- Weight: 15.5 pounds
- Combines power with portability
- Reliable hot-start technology and durable materials
- Automatic voltage regulator
- Amperage control
- 10-foot power cord leaves a bit to be desired
- Carrying case doesn’t cover welder, only stores cables and clamp
Get the Miller Electric Thunderbolt stick welder on Amazon.
All things considered, those looking for a versatile welder that can meet the demands of a diverse set of work environments can look to the Hobart stick welder. Between the convenient shoulder strap, internal voltage regulation, and compact footprint, it’s clear that the Stickmate 160i was thoughtfully designed from a welder-first rather than a mass-market perspective. If the Hobart Stickmate 160i is out of a buyer’s price range, they may want to consider the Yeswelder stick welder; it offers similar performance levels at a lower price, although it sacrifices some points for durability.
How We Chose the Best Stick Welders
We conducted in-depth research into a variety of stick welders at all price points to ensure that we accounted for as many high-quality welders as possible. We relied on our previous experience researching and testing the best welders as a point of departure for the investigation.
By looking at customer satisfaction and specification sheets, plus prior hands-on testing experience and third-party reviews, we were able to select the top picks. The recommended stick welders have met exacting standards for performance, value, and reliability. Final selections took into account key considerations such as the warranty and reputation of the manufacturer and the versatility of the built-in technology in expensive and budget welders alike. Lastly, we made sure that our selections were made from premium, long-lasting materials.
The Advantages of Owning a Stick Welder
Stick welders are versatile and surprisingly easy to learn how to use. Since stick welders aren’t meant to be used for aesthetic welds, there’s no need for extreme precision or specialized craftsmanship to make strong, usable welds. Stick welding can be used for both metal alloys, such as nickel and copper, as well as ferrous metals, which include iron and steel.
Also, a stick welder is the go-to choice for all sorts of hobbyists, from model-rocket builders to sculptors. This broad compatibility is crucial to the overall versatility of stick welders. Furthermore, stick welders don’t require any external gas fuel, unlike their TIG counterparts, which makes them safer to use in outdoor and windy conditions and is another reason AC/DC stick welders are ideal for portability. Stick welding is also quite cost-effective, especially since it can make simple fixes for would-be big expenses, such as a nonstructural crack in a trailer frame.
- Stick welders provide simple, portable fixes.
- Users can self teach how to use a stick welder.
- The method works with a variety of metals and maintains its usefulness throughout one’s journey from novice to advanced stick welder.
- Stick welding works for quick fixes on rusty or debris-covered metal.
Safety Tips for Using Stick Welders
Stick welders often reach temperatures well over 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough to cause serious injury. All welders are serious tools that become dangerous when operated incorrectly. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently injure yourself or someone else as a result of making a preventable safety mistake. Following a few key tips and tricks can help reduce the likelihood of having to make a trip to the emergency room, instead of the hardware store, during your next project.
- Always wear the appropriate clothing, including leather welding gloves, fireproof boots, leather clothing on your torso, and a headpiece.
- Make sure that a chosen welder is certified by NEMA or UL. Both of these organizations independently test and certify safety standards for all types of arc welders.
- Ensure that the welder is properly grounded and installed; double-check the power source and make sure it can handle the increased load.
- Whenever possible, operate in a firesafe space by using firebricks and an insulating mat instead of welding directly on the concrete floor, which can cause an explosion. Also, ensure that any flammable material is out of range.
Stick welders are expensive tools that aren’t to be taken lightly, neither during the purchase process nor once you own them. Buyers should be up to date on how to find, use, and maintain the best welder for their needs.
Q. What should I look for in a stick welder?
Aside from the core considerations listed above, keep an eye out for stick welders with hot-start technology, precise amperage control, dual voltage input, and those that meet unique portability and space requirements.
Q. What is the best budget stick welder?
The Yeswelder stick welder is the best budget stick welder because it offers high performance and high-quality materials for a low price.
Q. Can stick arc welding be used both indoors and outdoors?
Yes, one of the many advantages of stick welders over their gas-powered counterparts is the fact that the former can be used both inside and outside. However, we don’t recommend using a stick welder anywhere other than an indoor workshop because of the tiny bits of liquid-metal splatter that stick welding may cause. Don’t get this stuff anywhere near a living room, kitchen, or even garage.
Q. How can I be safe when working with a stick welder?
Many consider stick welding to be one of the safest methods of welding because it doesn’t require a flame or external gas source. The most important thing is to be steady and use common sense. Once the machine is heated up, it’s best practice to treat it as if it will ignite anything that comes within a few inches.
Q. What is the difference between a stick welder and a wire welder?
One of the drawbacks of stick welding is the fact that the stick, which is what the user melts onto the surface to create the joint, makes it a start-stop process. Wire welders rely on lengthy spools of thin gauge and usually require an external gas to create the shield. However, because the wire is on a spool, it can simply run out at a higher rate instead of repeatedly having to pause and put the electrode down to get a new stick.
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