Like any welding process that the industry has ever recognized, stick welding is not without debates on the choice of techniques, materials, and setups. ‘Push or Pull’ is one of the top arguable topics which leaves a large number of welders undecided. If you are one of them, I just got the answer.

Between push and pull technique, backhand or pull technique is by far the better of the two as slag is a common issue in stick welding. By pulling, you can prevent the slag from getting trapped in the weld puddle. The push technique is not recommended for any stick welding position except vertical.

Is that all? Not by a long shot, particularly for those who are accustomed to either one of these techniques! Both of them are useful enough to stay relevant in the discussion.

Today, I’ll explain what it means to push and pull and which technique suits you better. Moreover, I’ll offer you practical tips to help you become comfortable with stick welding.

What Is ‘Push’ or ‘Pull’ in Stick Welding?

Known as Shielded Metal Arc Welding or SMAW, stick welding is called thus as it sounds for the electrode used in the process is a stick or at least looks like one. This welding process uses electricity and melts the ‘stick’, the electrode which is a metal filler, and the metal joint simultaneously to fuse two metal pieces together filling the joint with whatever filler the stick comes with.

As you start the process, you either drag or push the stick on the metal joint which is why the drag or push is an inevitable part of the job. You can use mild steel, stainless steel, chrome, cast iron, nickel based alloys, and aluminum for this type of welding activity. Aluminum is the last choice though skilled welders can have their way around it. So, what stands as the better technique between ‘pull’ and ‘push’? Let’s find out the details.

Push or Pull Stick Welding – Which One Is Better

The Drag/ Pull/ Backhand Technique

I’ve learned that welders around the world don’t follow the exact same technique, the drag or pull technique is the one to have received the nod on most occasions when it comes to choosing the better one. It is safe to say you would see more people use the drag or pull technique than those who choose the push method. There is an obvious reason.

Pulling or dragging is the technique that comes to the mind of an experienced welder who is engaged in welding processes or applications that involve slag. Stick welding is one of the methods where you have to deal with slag. I know you’re going to ask what slag has anything to do with the drag technique.

If you choose to push instead of pull while working on a stick welding project, you almost have nothing to do to avoid running over the plenty of slag produced in the process and having it trapped badly in the weld puddle. Now with slag in the puddle, you cannot really expect to get your welds without some sorts of defects.

This issue alone makes the pull technique the only choice which few welders would argue. Although some hardworking fellas might suggest that there are effective ways around the problem, you shouldn’t ignore the easier (pull) and choose the more challenging (push) of the two stick welding techniques.

Not to essentially highlight the benefits of the drag technique, I can say that a large number of welders prefer pulling to pushing even when they take on projects like MIG welding tasks where slag is the least of their worries. I must admit I cannot tell for sure why many MIG welding professionals like to pull. I found this from what I’ve learned from a few aficionados.

The push technique lets welders see which direction they’re following. The pull technique allows them to see the point where they started from. This particular ability also lets them see their beads just as they’re produced. Wouldn’t you appreciate it if you could see how your weld turned out immediately after you had created?

What’s the benefit of being able to see the weld as it’s produced? Let me describe two situations. You have the chance to look at the weld only to discover that the settings are incorrect and that you got to do it over again. Again, you can watch what happens as it happens and rest assured if the weld is going well, needless to say the settings are right.

Which situation seems favorable? I know you would point at the second one. One more benefit to this technique is that pulling makes it possible for welders to ensure deeper and better penetration than pushing does. However, the result for this specific matter may vary depending on the metal being welded.

The Forehand/ Push Technique

I know I’ve spoken against pushing in stick welding so far. But that doesn’t overrule the truth that pushing is widely known for creating a flat and aesthetically great weld. Moreover, welds created by the push technique cover more of the metal’s surface area. This usually accounts for a weld that is stronger than the one created by the pull method.

As I mentioned above, you can watch the entire bead while producing it if you pull. You’ll find yourself having a limited view of your welding direction which could be critical for some applications, particularly the complex ones.

I don’t think you’ll face any problem while welding anything like a corner joint because in that case, you can easily tell where you’re going without looking. What if your welding project involves a few pieces of metal without a straight line? I’m talking about the irregular material.

Adopting the pull technique, you’ll only have to stop every few seconds after starting to weld to see your direction ahead. But with the push technique, you can have your eyes on the direction ahead, so welding irregular metals like the ones with winding lines becomes easy.

Push or Pull stick welding: Which Technique Is Better?

After all those facts I’ve presented, I still suggest that pulling is what makes the right choice for the MOST part of your stick welding endeavors. In addition, this technique works better than its counterpart for other types of welding processes except MIG welding where certain metals like aluminum should only be handled with the push technique.

Did I say anything about flat or overhead welding? Maybe, you could do some welding vertical up at some point. It is the only exception where you’ll find the forehand or push technique exceptionally useful.

Well, this should bring us to the conclusion which I wish I could draw. But I think you can only BENEFIT from the pull technique and lay down some great welds just like the way experienced welders can achieve if you are capable of doing right by the basic elements of stick welding. Shouldn’t I go ahead with a little overview of all those steps at this point?

How to Get Better at Stick Welding?

What are those elements anyway? You need to set the current, adjust the length of the arc, manipulate the electrode, and pick up the right travel angle and speed. The quality of your weld, I mean, the overall result depends mostly on these areas. However, it all begins with the preparation of the metal being welded.

Preparation of the Metal

I bet you’ve heard that rust, dirt, or unwanted things on metal cannot be much of a problem when you stick weld it. Oh, that is only a plausible theory, not essentially something that eliminates the need for cleaning and prepping the material properly.

A regular wire brush should be enough. Otherwise, you may want to use a grinder and remove all the rust, dirt, or grime from the surface of the metal. To emphasize the need, I believe you shouldn’t leave the material unclean because those things may lead to all sorts of problems, not to mention the lack of inclusion or fusion, cracking, and porosity.

There is more to this stage. Keep the spot where you’ll have the work clamp clean. Make sure that the electrical connection you’re relying on is solid as it is critical to the stability and quality of the arc.

Try to find yourself a good spot that allows you to take a good look at your weld puddle. You can position your head right off to a side and definitely out of the fumes, so you have no difficulty laying the weld in the joint while maintaining the arc position properly on the puddle’s leading edge. You need to stay as comfortable and cautious as possible during the process.

Here comes the actual job. Remember all those basics I mentioned a few moments ago? Getting the right settings for those elements may not be easy, especially for those who have little to zero experience. The learning curve is undeniable. But I promise you don’t have to tire yourself out before becoming adept at stick welding.

Current Setting

For anyone to be sure if their welding machines need to be adjusted for DC positive, or negative, or AC, the choice of the electrode is critical. Unless you can choose the electrode correctly, you might end up setting up the machine the wrong way only to fail in the intended application. Take these points into your consideration.

  • You can expect about 10% more or better penetration with electrode positive than with AC at a set amperage.
  • You should choose electrode negative and DC straight polarity for thinner metals.

The type of electrode you have and its diameter are important to get the correct settings for amperage. Look at the enclosed materials or the box it came in to know the operating ranges of your chosen electrode. You could use the following instructions, should you avoid further complications with the amperage setting.

  • For each .001-inch of your electrode’s diameter, you should set 1 amp.
  • Flat welds can be manageable, but overhead work accounts for about 15% less heat
  • Keep adjusting the amps of the machine by no more than 5 to 10 amps at a time. This range should help you get the ideal setting eventually.

Too low amperage causes the electrode to become sticky as you strike an arc. Also, the arc may go out as you try to maintain its length. The absence of the right arc length may cause it to stutter. Let’s know what happens when the amperage is too high.

After having an arc ongoing while the puddle looks too fluid and hard for you to control, the electrode might char as only half of it is exhausted. You may hear an unusually loud sound coming from the arc. In addition, the flux properties which are what make the electrode so important could be affected in an undesirable way.

Arc Length

When you want to find the correct length of the arc, look at your electrode and the application it is intended for. Try to maintain the length, so it doesn’t exceed the core or the metal part of your electrode, the diameter of that core actually.

Should you have a 6010 electrode that measures 1/8 inch, the distance between the electrode and the surface of the base material should be about 1/8 inch. It means you won’t be allowing the arc to be longer than that.

The arc, if allowed to exceed the recommended length or not properly maintained, gets too much of the voltage and produces spatter and lower the deposition rates, all leading to porosity and undercuts. I know you would try to avoid those results by all means.

It is not surprising to see some beginners lengthen arcs with the hope of having a better look at the arc or puddle. A good way to avoid using too long arcs is to move your own head as required as you see fit.

Your body position is very important because that is what may have something to do with the length and consistency of the arc. A properly controlled arc brings serious benefits like narrow beads with improved appearance and reduced spatter.

Travel Angle

Regardless of the different positions such as horizontal, flat, and overhead, you’re going to use the drag or pull technique. So, hold your electrode maintaining a position that is perpendicular (90°) to the joint. Tilt the electrode’s top in the travel direction about 5° to 15°. While doing it vertical, you want to tilt the electrode top 0° to 15° away from the travel direction.

Manipulation of the Electrode

You shouldn’t abide by any hard and fast rule to manipulate the electrode. With practice and close observation of others’ work, you can easily develop a style on your own to get the expected results in terms of weld quality.

If the material you’re working with is as good as 1/4 inch or even thinner, you don’t need to weave your electrode. In a case like this, the bead can be way wider than required. You should only look for a straight bead.

Think of a little manipulation for thicker material. Move your electrode side to side to make a series of circles that overlap partially, so you can create a bead with the required width. A good example of this kind of manipulation can be a ‘Z’ or semi-circle pattern.

Don’t create the side-to-side motion in a way that it exceeds the electrode core’s diameter by two times. Stringer beads or multiple passes may be required for a wider area.

Welding with a vertical position requires you to weld all the sides of the metal joint. Don’t worry about the middle part. To allow the weld puddle to catch up, move slowly across the middle portion of the metal joint. During the process, you should take a slight pause at the joint’s sides to make sure that you get a solid tie-in to the metal’s sidewall.

A common mistake that most beginners make is that they move ahead too quickly without holding the electrode as long as they should. Do you remember looking at your weld that reminds of fish scales? If you do, it was the lack of patience.

Travel Speed

If you can keep your arc quite in the leading portion of your weld pool, there is nothing wrong with the travel speed. Divide the weld pool into three portions, and the arc needs to be in the first one. Why can’t you afford to go wrong about the speed?

  • Too slow travel speeds result in a convex and wide bead without much of the penetration.
  • Slow speed may cause cold-lapping in which your weld looks like simply sitting on the material’s surface.
  • Too fast speeds lead to poor penetration, creating a highly crowned or an extremely narrow bead.
  • Fast travel speeds can also cause undercut or underfill in which the outside area of your weld appears to be recessed or concave.

Since you already know exactly when to rely on the pull or backhand and push or forehand technique and the best practices to benefit from your pulling or pushing effort, I would like you to have a few more tips before I finish.

Additional Read: Best 110V Stick Welder Reviews

Final Thoughts

Most welders believe 6011 is not a bad selection where the weld quality needs to be standard. However, you’ll do well with 7018 which produces a better and stronger weld.

Let’s return to the talks about slag, the foremost reason why you’ve come to read this article. Don’t forget to remove the slag because welds without slag look better and can easily be put to quality inspection. With the slag removed properly, making a second pass or layer of weld on the metal becomes a breeze.

Finally, I can’t guarantee that I’ve been able to provide all the information you wanted to obtain from this article. So, write to me if necessary. I’ll have more information for you. Safe pulling/ pushing!

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