Best Stick Welder Reviews 2017 – Buying Guide

Stick welding, also known as Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is the most common type of welding. It works by melting the metal and the electrode, which is coated in flux, forming a pool of molten metal which then cools to form a joint. As the bead is laid the flux coating from the electrode vaporizes to form a shield around the weld. In addition, it also provides a layer of slag both of which serve to protect the weld from outside contaminants.

Stick welding is one of the first and the most popular welding method around. It’s easy to learn, relatively cheap and with inverters becoming so commonplace these days, it’s becoming more and more portable.

SMAW is still the go-to method for many industries including ANYTHING that involves working outside, which is where a huge portion of jobs are. If you want to get into the welding industry it’s vital that you learn stick welding and to get the best results you need the best stick welder. Keep reading for detailed reviews and an in-depth buying guide to help save you time and money.

Best Stick Welder: Top 3

EVERLAST PowerARC 140

4.3/5

Weight: 25 lbs

Size: L20″ x W5″ x H12.5″

Power Input: 120V/ 240V

Power Output: 140A

Duty Cycle: 60% @ 110A

Thickness: 3/16″ mild steel

Warranty: 5 year

Review

Amico 160 Amp DC Stick Welder

4.7/5

Weight: 18 lbs

Size: L22″ x W9″ x H13″

Power Input: 115V/ 230V

Power Output: 160 A

Duty Cycle: 60% @ 160 A

Thickness: 1/4″ Mild steel

Warranty: 1 year

Review

Hobart Stickmate LX235

4.1/5

Weight: 104 lbs

Size: L18″ x W13″ x H19″

Power Input: 230V

Power Output: 235A/160A

Duty Cycle: 100% @ 100/65A

Thickness: 1/2″ Mild steel

Warranty: 5/3/1 year

Review

Everlast PowerARC 140

4.3/5

Weight: 25 lbs

Size: L20″ x W5″ x H12.5″

Power Input: 120V/ 240V

Power Output: 140A

Duty Cycle: 60% @ 110A

Thickness: Up to 3/16″ mild steel

Warranty: 5 year

Review

For the ultimate in versatility and reliability the EVERLAST PowerARC 140 is a top contender for the best stick welder on the market.

Featuring both stick and TIG welding capabilities this machine produces high-quality welds at an affordable price. This allows you to weld a wide range of metals from dirty, grease soaked steel to wafer thin aluminum. Your only problem will be finding new projects to tackle.

The EVERLAST PowerARC 140 may be small but it certainly packs a punch. Equipped with 120/240 dual voltage and using IGBT inverter technology you’ll be able to weld almost anything and take it almost anywhere. Furthermore this dual stick/TIG welder outputs a solid 140 amps for both processes allowing for a duty cycle of 60% at 65A for 120V and 60% at 110A for 240V.

If you’re looking for a stick welder and want the option to expand your skills through TIG, the EVERLAST PowerARC 140 is highly capable of producing both strong, heavy duty stick welds and gorgeous, aesthetically pleasing TIG welds.

Amico 160 Amp DC Stick Welder

4.7/5

Weight: 18 lbs

Size: L22″ x W9″ x H13″

Power Input: 115V/ 230V

Power Output: 160 A

Duty Cycle: 60% @ 160 A

Thickness: 1/4″ Mild steel

Warranty: 1 year

Review

The Amico 160 amp DC stick welder packs a lot of power into a tiny, convenient package making it the best stick welder for portability.

Featuring both 115V and 230V input options the Amico 160 is not only portable but extremely versatile making it the go-to rig for welders of all skill levels. Measuring 12.5 x 9 x 22 inches and weighing around 18 lbs, you could practically put this thing in a backpack and go. Despite being so small this machine actually has a pretty good duty cycle. Using the maximum power output you can weld for 6 minutes of every 10.

The 10 foot electrode holder and 10 foot ground clamp only add to its capability. The controls on this machine are simple and straightforward. There is an infinite control for amperage and an LED display to show the settings.

If you’re in the market for a great quality, highly portable stick welder without spending a ton of cash the Amico 160 amp DC stick welder is the right choice.

Hobart Stickmate LX235

4.1/5

Weight: 104 lbs

Size: L18″ x W13″ x H19″

Power Input: 230V

Power Output: AC 235A/ DC 160A

Duty Cycle: AC 225A @ 20%/ DC 150A @ 20%

Thickness: 1/2″ Mild steel

Warranty: 5/3/1 year

Review

Hobart is known as a top brand in the industry and after reviewing the Stickmate LX235 it’s easy to see why: they produce top quality products for a fraction of the cost of a Miller or Lincoln.

Unlike the previous two, the LX235 is a transformer welder which means it is a beast. Weighing 104 lbs and with dimensions to match, it is not a welder you want to be lugging around.

The control panel on this machine is what really make it shine. It features infinite control to allow you to adjust the amperage by as little as 1 amp increments. It has an output selector switch making it easy to switch from high to low output and from AC to DC. It also boasts a high duty cycle of 100% at 100A for AC and 65A for DC so you can weld continuously for hours.

Although slightly more expensive than the other two discount brands, when you buy a Hobart you know you’re getting a great machine will excellent customer support and unprecedented warranty. The Hobart Stickmate LX235 is the best stick welder with both AC and DC abilities.

How to Choose the Best Stick Welder?

Advantages

Versatility

There is a reason why stick welding is still the most common type of welding today. It’s versatile! There’s not much a good quality stick welder can’t do. From dirty outdoor pipelines to sterile manufacturing plants, stick welding is the way to go for many welders – both inexperienced and professional.

If you weld outside, SMAW is the only real option which is why it’s the preferred method for maintenance, construction, farm work, auto repair as well as a host of other industries. Furthermore it’s the best process for out-of-position and overhead welding because you can get into tight spots that a MIG or TIG torch are unable to reach,

best stick welder

Portability

Old-school stick welders used to weigh hundreds of pounds and you needed a cart to lug your machine around with you. It was extremely inefficient and time consuming. Fortunately these days, with the introduction of inverters stick welders can weigh less than 20 lbs while still putting out the power needed. This makes it ideal for transporting around when your buddy eventually asks to borrow it.

Stick welders with transformers (old school) are still available but the point of a stick welder is to be used in almost any situation so, if you are going to transport it around, for the sake of your back, get the best stick welder with inverter technology. It actually costs less and you’ll have the added benefit of portability.

Suitable for All Positions

Overhead, vertical, out-of-position, tight spaces, deep corners. Whatever the job requires, a stick welder is more than capable. In these positions stick welding is preferred because of the variety of electrodes available. Each rod has different distinct properties that is unique to each situation.

The 7018 electrode was designed specifically for overhead welding. It has a lower amount of iron powder which allows the weld puddle to solidify almost instantly, preventing drips of molten metal from sliding down your neck.

best stick welder positionsNo Gas

One of the main benefits of stick welding is the absence of gas required to produce clean, strong welds. Instead the rods are coated with deoxidizers and other ingredients that serve the same purpose as shielding gas which helps protect the weld from atmospheric contamination.

The lack of gas is a major reason for its portability. Instead of lugging up your huge welder and a tank of gas, just grab your inverter welder and a couple of rods and you’re ready to weld anywhere.

Ideal for Outside

Because no gas used in stick welding it is the ideal method for any type of outside work. Wind, rain, hot, cold, it doesn’t matter when stick welding because there is no gas to blow away. The flux from the rod protects the weld from any outside contamination so you’re only limitation is your proximity to a power source.

Great penetration 

If you’re welding thick metal then stick welding is the way to go. It penetrates deep and is forgiving under less-than optimal conditions. Rusted or painted metal? No problem for the best stick welder. There are three main factors when determining the depth of penetration.

Electrode Type: Of course it also depends on what electrode is used for the weld. Each class of rod has its own unique properties and characteristics. Some can penetrate deep while others can’t. For example, the standard E6010 typically has a deeper penetration while the E7024 electrode is much more shallow. That’s why choosing the correct rod is a critical skill when learning SMAW.

Electrode Diameter: If you weld with two different size electrodes with the same current on the same piece of metal the smaller electrode typically penetrates deeper. When the same current flows through both electrodes, the concentration of power is greater in the small rod. As a result the smaller electrode will have much deeper penetration.

Polarity: With stick welding as well as most other processes electrode + provides a much deeper penetration because the current is focused on the base metal rather than the electrode. Alternately electrode – produces a shallow weld because the current is focused more on the electrode.

best stick welder penetration

Inexpensive

Unless you’re buying a multi-process welder, stick welding is the cheapest welding method to get started with. You can pick up the best stick welder for around $150. While it’s no professional rig,  it’s decent quality and it will last for years.

Although you don’t have to get the best. If you know that you’ll only be using your welder for occasional light-repair work there are several highly-rated sub $100 welders.  While there are a few good ones, there are a lot of crappy ones too, so be aware of that. These are usually low powered, cheaply made and potentially unsafe. Before buying one of those please be sure to check the reviews and do some proper research.

Another reason to consider stick welding is the consumable cost. They’re cheap! There’s no torch to replace and you can get 5 lbs of welding rods for less than $15. That’s it. For less than $200 you can get set up with enough supplies for a month and start welding today.

Variety of Electrodes

Here’s the fun part: deciding which electrode is right for each job. With stick welding there are several types and sizes of rods are suitable for different applications.

If you need to weld dirty metal with deep penetration in a flat position an E6010 rod is preferred. However, if you used the E6010 for overhead welding you’d get a nice neck-full of molten metal. For that’d you’d use an E7018 because it solidifies almost instantly.

See the chart below for an explanation of each electrode type.

best stick welder electrodes

Easy to Use

In theory stick welding is a simple procedure. You plug in your welder, ground your work then strike the arc. Easy right? So easy a kid could do it.

While it is the most basic form of welding and it’s relatively easy to get started, it takes a lot of practice to become a pro.

Disadvantages

Slow

One of the biggest disadvantages of stick welding is the speed of the process itself. Especially for beginners, it can be a tremendously slow task.

In addition, you have to constantly replace the electrodes every few minutes after you burn down to the nub. It may seem insignificant but if you weld all day, replacing the rods every few minutes can be a real hassle. Especially during those long hot afternoons.

Wasteful

As mentioned above, stick welding uses, err, sticks or rods/electrodes as the filler material which need to be changed when it runs out. After an 8 hour day of welding you’ll have a nice collection of nubs under you.

The ends can be recycled obviously, but stick welding not only wastes material it wastes time spent changing the rods after every couple of inches.

stick welding wasteful

Hard to Master

I said before that stick welding is easy, and its true. The basic theory of stick welding is the easiest to learn. That’s why its been around since the 1800s. But when it comes to the actual application it’s a whole new ball game.

From selecting the proper electrode to correctly compensating for rod burn to knowing the precise speed to weld, stick welding is an art form that only the true professional can take advantage of.

Even people who have been welding for years have a hard time with stick welding if they aren’t practiced. It’s a skill that takes time and focused dedication to be good. Even then you’re only just good enough.

Not Suitable for Thin Metal

If you need to weld thinner metals then look elsewhere because stick welding is not for the faint of heart.

That’s not to say it can’t be done but if it’s a regular occurrence there are much more efficient methods. If stick is all you have and the metal isn’t too thin+, then there are some steps you can take:

  1. Use the smallest diameter rods possible
  2. Knock the flux off the rod so there is less filler
  3. Low amperage
  4. Move fast
  5. 6011 rod works well
Clean-up Required

You may not have much to clean up before you start the weld but you certainly will after.

During the process flux burns off the electrode to create a layer of slag that protects the weld from outside contaminants. This looks like a layer of black gunk that can easily be scraped off with a steel brush. Furthermore you’ll get spatter and bits of metal dust all over your work area, which doesn’t seem like much at the time but when you wipe your finger over it at the end of the day, you’ll see the mess. It’s not really an issue if you’re already working in a shop but I just thought I’d mention it.

Electrode Type

Choosing the right electrode for the job is one of the most important aspects of stick welding. Each rod has it’s own unique properties that work best for certain applications.

Without going too deep into the technical side here is a list of the 7 most common electrode types and what they’re used for:

Electrode Common Usage
6010 Considered an all position welding rod. It penetrates deep with the ability to weld through dirty, greasy metal. Used with DC only. Arc is tight which may be difficult for beginners.
6011 Is also considered an all position rod but with the added benefit of both AC and DC capabilities. Basically it’s the AC cousin of the 6010.
6012 Works well when gap bridging between two joints is required. These electrodes are meant for fast and shallow penetrating welds on a flat work piece. Lots of clean-up required.
6013 Produces a soft, clean arc with minimal spatter and moderate penetration. Great for welding clean, new sheet metal.
7014 Offers minimal penetration and are designed for use on carbon and low alloy steels. Contains a higher amount of iron powder which increases deposition rates. Can be used at a higher amperage.
7018 One of the easiest electrodes to use, it contains a high amount of flux and iron powder. They produce a smooth, quiet arc with decent penetration and a minimal amount of spatter. Commonly used on thick metals like structural steel.
7024 Contains a high amount of iron powder which increases deposition rates. Performs best with quick flat welds at least 1/4 inch thick.

What you Need to Consider

Power Requirements

Before you decide anything else you need to make sure you know what type of welding you’ll be doing and how much power it will require. Another consideration to keep in mind is size of electrode you’re using. The bigger the rod the more power you need. Here’s a handy calculator to help you figure it out.

Output – Measured in amps, output is probably the most important consideration when choosing the best stick welder. If the welder is too weak you’ll waste time and energy doing multiple passes when only one is needed with a more powerful machine. Look for a welder with a maximum output of at least 100 amps. You’ll quickly outgrow anything less.

Input – Measured in volts, you need to have the right amount of power to get the most out of the best stick welder. The standard North American has a single phase power source which is about 110-120V, plenty for most hobbyist stick welders. However, there’s another option –  220/240V. This is for the big boys, the heavy welders that need a lot more power to run to its maximum potential. This higher input uses triple phase power which allows for much higher amperage welds while maintaining a smooth clean arc.

Current Type

When choosing the best stick welder it’s important to know what the output current is. There are three types of welders to look for when it comes to current: alternating (AC), direct (DC+/-) and both.

AC – Alternating current is usually found on low-cost, entry level welders. It’s also the current used when your material becomes magnetized by friction which causes arc blow. Finally it’s used if AC is the only power source available. Those three situations are the only reason to ever use alternating current.

DC – Direct current is the most commonly used type. It can be used in almost every situation except when the material becomes magnetized as explained above. DC power provides a smoother more stable arc, easier starts, fewer arc outages, less spatter and easier vertical and overhead welding.

With DC you also have two polarities that offer distinct welding characteristics –  negative and positive.

DC negative –  Less penetration, more deposition.

DC positive – Higher penetration, less deposition.

AC/DC – For the ultimate in control look for the best stick welder with both AC and DC capabilities. This keeps your options open just in case.

Inverter VS Transformer

There are two distinct categories when it comes to stick welders – inverter and transformer. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but inverters are slowly but surely taking over the industry and becoming the go-to choice.

Inverter – These days there is no reason not to go with an inverter welder. They are much more portable (~20 lbs) making them easy to transport from job to job. As a result, less space is needed which makes it ideal if you’re a hobbyist with a small shop. In addition, they also produce higher quality welds with a smooth, stable arc.

Inverters can also save you money in the long run. The efficiency of an inverter welder far exceeds that of a transformer. While the initial cost may be a bit more, the money you save in energy costs adds up in the long run.

Transformer – These types of welders are heavy-duty and built like tanks. People are still using their transformer welders 50 years after they bought them. They tend to take up a lot of space but they’ll last forever.

The initial cost is relatively low but because they are so big they use a lot of power. If you only weld occasionally and have the space available a transformer welder might be the best stick welder for you. They’re powerful, built to last and cheap: the three best things you want in a welder.

Duty Cycle

Duty cycle is the amount of time you can use your welder before having to let it rest to cool off. This is measured in 10-minute cycles. For example the AHP Alpha 160ST has a duty cycle of 60% @ 160A. That means you can weld constantly for 6 minutes before you need to rest for 4 minutes with an output of 160 amps.

When choosing the best stick welder make sure it has a long duty cycle. While this isn’t so important for hobbyists who aren’t in a time crunch, it can get pretty annoying when you can only work in 3 minute bursts. A long duty cycle ensures that you can weld longer without the possibility of overheating you machine.

Multi-Process

Whats better than a high-quality stick welder? How about a high-quality TIG and stick welder packed into a single box. Or even better yet a MIG, TIG and stick welder rolled into a nice package.

While you can still find plenty of single process stick welders out there, more and more they are becoming the exception rather than the rule. With rapidly advancing technology they are able to cram so much machinery into these units that it just makes sense to get a machine that does it all. Sure you’ll be paying a lot more but in return you have a lot more options available to you.

If you know exactly what you are going to weld and you don’t think you’ll need anything more than the best stick welder then by all means go with what you know. But if you want to keep all your options open and learn valuable skills in the meantime then consider an MTS (MIG, TIG, Stick) welder.

Portability

With inverter welders becoming much more common the need for portability is also increasing. More and more people are becoming freelance welders going from job site to job site for work, so choosing the best portable welder is critical.

If being portable is a main priority of yours then you must get an inverter welder. The difference in size and power is huge. A good quality inverter weighs anywhere from 10 – 20 lbs while the equivalent power from a transformer weighs 90+ lbs.

Easy Controls/ Display

For beginners it’s vital that they have access to easy-to-use controls and big, readable displays. Fortunately stick welding is so basic almost all welders have easy controls.

At the most basic level you’ll have an on/off switch, a knob that adjusts the amperage and a small display to tell you the amperage. That’s really all you need. But if you do want more there are other options. All are easy to understand and simple to use, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some have a duty cycle warning, some have a switch to go from AC to DC and some just have a single amperage knob. This one is really up to the individual.

Cost

Since stick welding has been around since the beginning of time (or so it seems) it’s by far the cheapest method for joining metal together.

You can get a cheap 100 amp welder for around $60 on Amazon but with something that inexpensive you’re getting fairly low quality machine. If, however, you can budget around $200 you can get a solid stick welder that will last you for years to come. That’s considerably cheaper than any other process. In addition, you only have one type of consumable to buy – electrodes – which are also inexpensive especially on bulk orders.

Safety Features

Precautions must be taken to ensure your personal safety, thankfully today’s welders are built with safety first in mind.

Thermal Overload Protection – This ensures your welder automatically shuts off when it gets too hot. Sometimes you get so caught up in your work time just flies by and you forget to rest. With thermal overload protection you never have to worry about getting distracted because as soon as the welder gets too hot it shuts off completely until it’s cool enough to be restarted.

Duty Cycle Indicator – Similar to the overload protection in that it prevents overheating. An indicator lights up, getting brighter and brighter as your approach the end of the duty cycle. If you’re vigilant and can keep an eye on the light then it’s a pretty useful feature, if not the thermal overload protection kicks in anyway to keep your welder from overheating.

best stick welder

Tips for Choosing the Best Stick Welder

Know What You’ll be Welding

The most important aspect of choosing the best stick welder is knowing the type of metal you’ll be welding and its thickness. The last thing you want is to buy a brand new machine only to find out it isn’t powerful enough for the job you need it to do.

I always recommend at least a 160 amp welder. It’s powerful enough for almost any hobbyist task and it’s inexpensive enough to not break the bank.

Budget Considerations

This isn’t as important as other welding processes because its so cheap already. However, if you are on a tight budget look for a unit with as much power as possible without any extra features. These extra features can add up quickly when all you really need is to stick two pieces of metal together as efficiently as possible.

Check Craigslist

Craigslist and other classified ads are a goldmine for used welding equipment. People upgrade or lose interest and they just want to get rid of their welder to free up space. Often times they’ll used the best stick welder once or twice and then let it collect dust in the corner of their shop. This is a great opportunity to pick up a slightly used welder as bargain prices.

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option to complete newbies because if you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s easy to get ripped off. But then again, if you’re getting a good deal its not that big of a loss.

Research

Before you buy do plenty of research. You should know what type of metal you’ll be welding and its thickness, power output requirements, power availability, inverter or transformer, safety features and a host of other considerations.

Miller has an informative guide to help you do proper research: here.

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