If you need to decide which type of welding to choose for your next project – or if you are trying to figure out which technique you should start learning – you came to the right place.
Below, I’ll take a look at the three most common welding methods – MIG, TIG, and stick – to see how they compare against each other.
MIG, TIG & Stick Welding: The Basics
At a most basic level, welding is passing a current through an electrode and melting a filler material into a groove or area to seal it so that two pieces of metal become one. There are over 30 types of welding, but, in this article, we’ll focus on the most common three.
TIG is Tungsten Inert Gas and is actually GTAW Gas Tungsten Arc Welding. Stick welding is SMAW, Shielded Metal Arc Welding. The technical names are generally only used by inspectors and officials.
It is easier to perform than others. Not only is the electrode continuously fed through the gun but there is little to no electrode sticking. The inert gas used in MIG welding protects the weld pool from contaminants in the atmosphere.
TIG welding is done by holding a heating torch in one hand and filler metal in the other. Typically shielded by argon gas, TIG uses tungsten to deliver the current to the welding arc.
As the current travels through the electrode making contact with the piece being welded, the electrode metal is superheated and fills the gap or area between pieces. This method yields very strong welds.
MIG vs. TIG vs. Stick Welding: What Are Their Differences?
In terms of ease of use, nothing beats stick.
It’s rugged enough to use on dirty or painted surfaces and it’s great for a beginner who doesn’t know how to weld. MIG is trickier for most newcomers to welding because the shielding gas needs to be aimed properly to protect the weld and the stick out of the electrode must be maintained manually. TIG welding has a technique that is an art form on its own.
For speed, it’s really a toss-up between MIG and stick. TIG is a technique that has its place but it’s slow. Not only is the process more meticulous, but the actual pre- and post-clean can also take some time as well. Stick is fast because you can go right through any kind of contamination or impurity – because of the high heat, it will probably cook right off. MIG is equally fast, though not as forgiving of impurities. That said, in ideal conditions, MIG welding would be as fast as stick welding.
TIG is easily the most expensive of all the three methods. The gas, gun and filler metal along with the special tungsten rods are pricier than the other two methods. Not to mention the fact that you have to have a grinder or belt sander to shape the tungsten. MIG is the second most pricey due to the use of gas. Stick is fairly inexpensive. The only real cost for stick welding is the cost of the machine as electrodes are relatively inexpensive.
All three methods require safety gear but TIG can be used slightly more casually due to its lower heat output.
Which Welding Method Should You Choose?
If you are doing a basic repair of a gate or fusing together two metal parts for your bumper, stick would probably be the way to go. It’s easy and inexpensive. The welds are incredibly strong and you don’t need to worry about any complicated preparation or finishing work.
Most people learned to weld using stick first because of its simplicity. Before trying to weld whole gaps and openings, I recommend getting a piece of scrap and tacking repeatedly. There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking you’re going to run a bead and getting stuck and panicking. One drawback with stick is that a beginner will have a tough time making the weld look good. Using some kind of anti-spatter is recommended.
MIG is a great bet if you need to repair a metal shop chair or mend a piece of lawn equipment. It’s also quite clean but not nearly as rugged as a stick weld. If you have interior projects or tasks, MIG would be a great option.
When learning MIG, I recommend starting on a thicker gauge scrap piece and trying different patterns. Circles, S’s and triangles all produce different welds. The biggest drawback of starting with MIG is learning how to configure the wire speed and voltage.
TIG really is beautiful and the welds it produces are clean and strong. The welds can be just as strong as the other two methods. TIG is amazing for very thin, very fine material. It’s also incredibly clean to weld with.
If you do decide to start with TIG welding, use the ”walking the cup” technique. Use the edge of the torch ”cup” and walk it like you would walk a fridge. The welds from TIG are technical and organized. It is, however, not a quick technique to pick up.
By far the easiest method to get started with is stick welding. That’s not only because of it being easy to perform but also because of less preparation being required. In other words, with stick welding, you don’t have to worry about the condition the two materials you are joining are in before you start welding.
On the other hand, if you want something more challenging – but at the same time artisan – go for TIG welding. It will take you longer to learn and even longer to master, but it will be a very fulfilling endeavor.