Introduction: Strike an Arc Exactly Where You Want It to Begin--stick Welder

Picture of Strike an Arc Exactly Where You Want It to Begin--stick Welder

When using a stick welder it is often not easy to begin an arc exactly where you want it. Some risk damage to their eyes by peeking out from under the hood. But, a carbon rod allows starting a bead exactly where you want it to begin.

The piece of steel in the photo is about 3 inches across. I ground the paint away so an arc can start easily. The arrows were made with a felt tip pen. This Instructable will show how to start an arc in the center area between the four arrows.

The portion with paint removed at the lower right corner of the photo is only a place to attach the welder's ground clamp.

Step 1: Prepare and Positon a Carbon Rod

Picture of Prepare and Positon a Carbon Rod

Welding supply houses usually sell carbon rods. These come with a heavy copper foil on them. Touch the foil to a grinding wheel from the tip back a couple of inches. Peel the foil away from the rod.

Touch the tip of the carbon rod to the steel just behind the point where the bead is to begin. Be sure to wear welder's gloves.

Step 2: Cross the Electrode Over the Carbon Rod

Picture of Cross the Electrode Over the Carbon Rod

Cross the electrode over the carbon rod from behind the carbon rod as shown in the photo. Without moving the placement of the carbon rod or the electrode, shake your head once to flip your welding helmet down to cover your face so you are ready to weld.

Step 3: Start the Arc

Picture of Start the Arc

For purposes of the photo, the welder was not turned on, but notice that the electrode has been slowly pulled upward until the tip of the electrode comes up onto the carbon rod. At this point the arc will begin on the carbon rod. Once the arc begins, feed it down the carbon rod and onto the steel.

Step 4: The Result

Picture of The Result

The heat from the welding arc obscurred much of the arrows I drew with the felt tip pen. In this photo you see the beginning of the bead I started and I darkened what was left of the lines again with the felt tip pen, but I did not change their original position.

After a while slag will coat the carbon rod and it will not work as well as it ought. A slip joint plier works well as a tool for scraping the slag from the carbon rod. Just place the rod in the jaws and twist lightly.


fozzy13 (author)2012-03-28

Awesome tip. I may have to try that sometime soon. I'm just learning to weld with a cheap stick welder..

Phil B (author)fozzy132012-03-28

You will like this very much, especially if you do not have an auto-darkening helmet. It allows you to start an arc exactly where you want it and allows you to start and arc easily when the current is a little lower than would be ideal. The only problem is that it requires an extra hand, unless you engineer a holder for the rod. That could be even a piece of wood with a hole for the carbon rod and a magnet is attached to the wood.

I hope all goes well for you. Enjoy your welder. If something goes wrong, you can always grind out the old weld and do it over. ;-)

Thank you for looking.

thematthatter (author)2008-08-12

can i ask a simple question? How do people trace designs on the steel with the welding rod.

Phil B (author)thematthatter2008-08-12

Your question could mean a couple of different things. If you mean, "How do people write their name, etc. on a piece of plate with a welding rod?" some probably do it free hand. Some mark the steel with soapstone. It leaves a white mark that can usually be seen while welding. If you mean, "How do people follow the seam to be welded?" they may be able to see it, but not always. They may use their hand dragging on an edge to make a straight path. MIG welding does not give much light and it is easy to wander from the seam. Some lay down a piece of wood to follow with the heal of their hand because they cannot see where they are welding. If you mean, "How do people cut intricate patterns with a welder?" the kind of cutting one can do with a welding rod is pretty coarse and rough. Intricate patterns are usually done with a plasma cutter now. Some of these allow inserting a design into the machine and it is able to read and reproduce the design on the steel. If you have ever watched American Chopper on TV, they have a machine that can cut intricate patterns in three dimensions. They program it like a computer.

skaar (author)Phil B2011-12-17

have you run across any pens with inks that shine? like the marker tape used on safety vests, if it shone bright, it'd be lots easier to see, perhaps a glitter pen...

Phil B (author)skaar2011-12-17

I have not seen any such pens. Welder's chalk does show up fairly well when using a stick welder.

thematthatter (author)Phil B2008-08-13

when i was in high school we had a metal bench that the AG class had welded designs in like an Indian head (our mascot) and other pictures and text that was welded into the metal bench.

2 stroke (author)thematthatter2010-11-18

i dont have welding class this semester thogh

Phil B (author)thematthatter2008-08-13

The people who did the welding may have drawn the outline of the images with soapstone (welder's chalk). It would be hard to follow with a MIG welder, but a stick welder throws enough light that the person welding could follow the lines. Still, it would take some skill born of practice.

2 stroke (author)Phil B2010-11-16

i do it free hand i wrote my initials under my schools welding table its easy stick welding mig is a little harder to write with oxy fuel is easiest but i used stick

rimar2000 (author)2009-01-11

Phil B, this seems very useful. I will try it. Can I use a chalk to mark the point? (I write all this without translator!)

Phil B (author)rimar20002009-01-11

You will not even need chalk. Just touch the carbon rod to the steel slightly behind where the arc is to begin. You can use chalk to show where the bead should run, though. An automatically darkening welding hood is a great help. They are expensive for most of us, but so very nice. Your English is far better than any Spanish I have gleaned. Enjoy your vacation.

2 stroke (author)Phil B2010-11-16

im saving up for an an auto helmet

Phil B (author)2 stroke 2010-11-16

They are great and less expensive all of the time. About 10 years ago some of the really cheap ones were not totally dependable, according to what I was reading. Some have told me they do wear out eventually.

2 stroke (author)Phil B2010-11-18

yeah the cheap ones flash u my friend had one flip is better the the cheap ones

bigliptak (author)2008-09-28

I'm a really novice, like I just bout a stick welder on ebay, and haven't made my first weld yet. I'm looking to weld tubes to modify seat stays on a recumbent bike. Is stick welding the way to go? Granted you have welding gloves on, but isn't there a hugh risk to being zaped by holding the carbon rod when starting the arc? AKA isn't this kind of risky business, if not just asking to be eltrocuted/burned?

co2wms7whcc (author)bigliptak2010-07-26

toss your carbon and get some thin steel rods with a flux coating, that is if its steel to steel... MIG would probably be best for anything bike related though.

Phil B (author)bigliptak2008-09-28

Thin tubes are difficult to weld with a stick machine, as are any thin materials. If the material is flat and you can get at the back side, you can hold or clamp a backing plate from the junked frame of an aluminum screen door or storm window against it and that will absorb some of the excess heat so you do not blow holes in the steel. Even then I find I need to dial down the welder's amperage fairly low and terminate the arc after a second or two. More than that and I have blown a hole in the metal I was trying to weld. And, this is with 1/16 inch 6013 rods. Once I saw plans on the Internet for a DIY recumbent bicycle from two old diamond frame bikes. The author did not try to weld the frames, but made sleeves from parts of the frames he did not need and brazed them to join sections of the new frame. Brazing is much more forgiving and quite strong, especially with a metal sleeve covering the joint. A carbon arc torch can be used on a stick welder for brazing. I did an Instructable on how to make your own carbon arc torch. You can search for it by my user name or by words like "carbon arc torch." Electrical currents from a welder can be dangerous, but you are talking about 40 or so volts at the electrode. Your telephone line runs 50 volts. You can grab ahold of its terminals with a bare hand and feel absolutely nothing. (Watch out for the 90 volt alternating current ringer signal. That will give you something to remember.) If you are wearing dry welder's gloves there is no danger from holding a carbon rod as shown in the photo. If it makes you feel better, drill a hole in the end of a piece of 1 x 2 pine and make yourself a handle for your carbon rod. A friend of mine held a welding electrode (rod) in his bare hands while he inserted it in an electrically live stinger. I have worked with electricity and I am not quite ready to do that, but he said there is absolutely no problem. He was holding the flux coating, not the bare end of the electrode. Welding your own projects is a lot of fun and very satisfying. The neighbors in the farming community where I was raised in eastern Iowa all had welders. My father would never buy a welder because most of the neighbors were very poor welders. He always hired someone with lots of experience to weld on his machinery. Those guys to me were like alchemists. They could make something out of nearly nothing. My welding is not great, but it has been a long time since one of my welds has broken. I would be better if I had reason to weld nearly every day. Have fun, but welding bicycle stay tubes with a stick welder will lead you to a lot of frustration and disappointment, especially with a stick welder.

darnocpdx (author)2009-03-27

First, as long as you don't complete the circuit you don't need to worry about touching the rod bare handed (unless you're welding at the time, then it does get hot.) If your rod is sticking you're most likely doing one of two things wrong. 1) You need to increase your amps. 2) You're work angle is wrong. If your just starting, it's probably a combination of the two If your machine is set correctly and your welding surface clean, simply dragging it along the surface kinda like striking a match should start an arc with little practice. And you can't weld if the flux is missing, you need the gas shield that the flux provides to make the weld possible. I toss any stick that missing flux, it's not worth trying to weld with. This might be a nice little cheat, but it wont improve your skill as a stick welder. Only practice will do that. Though really if you're looking to tinker, spend a few extra bucks and go with a MIG set up. Stick welding is kind of like the chess of welding, easy in concept, but hard to master. Just my two cents as a professional welder. Though really it wouldn't need to be a carbon arc rod. Any conductive material would suffice (copper, gold, silver, aluminum).

Phil B (author)darnocpdx2009-03-28

Thank you for your comments. I am not a professional welder and have very little training, other than reading coupled with trial and error. I am always grateful when someone well-trained shares his knowledge. My first welding machine was a 115 volt 50/70 amp unit. It was a big step forward for me and did a lot of things, but it was also very limited. Often it needed a little more power and starting an arc was difficult without sticking the electrode. The carbon rod was a big help to get a start and get the metal hot enough to weld. The idea for the carbon rod came from a Forney book on welding for farm and ranch applications. The authors suggested it for filling in the lynch pin hole in a tractor drawbar after the hole had worn to an egg shape. The carbon rod allowed starting an arc in a very limited space. I adapted it to any other situation where it is difficult to start an arc in precise confines. I have noticed I want to master procedures I observed in my formative years, even though better ways are available today. It does not make rational sense, but it is a driver for me. I have tried a MIG welder at some factory demonstrations. They are nice. I still like the stick welder because I can attach a carbon arc torch for heating metal in order to bend or braze it, too. I could not do that with a MIG welder. (I did another Instructable on making a carbon arc torch.) Anyway, thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

darnocpdx (author)Phil B2009-03-28

I only suggested MIG because for most hobbyists it is the easiest to learn. After all to do a decent weld in MIG is 80% in the set up of the equipment. And a lot of the imperfect techniques can be compensated by adjusting the machine. This isn't so much the case with stick. In stick it's much more of a skill or even talent per say. It requires a steadier hand, though you do weave with stick, it's not nearly as fast or as wide (when compared with the size of the electrode) a weave than MIG . But both MIG and ARC welding have their place. And it's part of the welders job to understand when to use which for which applications. For example, repairs outside lends itself to stick, where the material can be dirtier and there is less gear involved. Need to make a 3 foot long weld in a shop, you're better off using MIG. Super thin material measured in gauge sizes MIG. In a windy/wet environment--stick. Underwater--stick. Personally I prefer gas techniques (oxy/ace) for heating and bending. More control and a wide variety of tips and heads for adjusting your flame to what you need plus the ability to cut. Though if you're really serious about learning to weld, look into taking a few evening classes at a local community college. There great, and in many cae they have "open" shops where you can use their space as a temp. shop. I know of a guy that does this to build custom BBQ trailers since he doesn't have the shop space at his house to do it. rimar---soap stone or a scribe is the mark of choice for welding. Personally I like a scribe, but I defer to soapstone because I loose my markers too often.

Phil B (author)darnocpdx2009-03-29

I you want to see some of my welds, you can go to: Look especially at Steps 8, 10, and 13. I am pretty well satisfied for what I need to do.

Phil B (author)darnocpdx2009-03-29

My brother-in-law recently bought a new Miller MIG welder for his stepson. It is capable of a dual 115/230 input voltage. The feed rate and heat settings are automatic after you set the thickness of the steel you are welding according to the thicker piece of the two. While his stepson was welding my brother-in-law turned the heat and feed rate knobs wildly, but the machine continued welding at the correct settings it had determined, once it knew the thickness of the metal. My brother-in-law is very impressed with the machine. I do not know the model number.

LCobb (author)2008-09-19

I saw this last night and today I immediately marched into the local welding shop and spent all of 65 cents for one of these carbon rods. It really works!!! I have been trying to learn to stick weld off and on for months - this will speed up the process for sure. Thanks for posting this tip - it's even more helpful than when I discovered auto-darkening helmets !!!!

Phil B (author)LCobb2008-09-20

L, Thanks for your comment. You made my whole day. I am glad my explanation and pictures are clear enough for you to understand. I was not completely happy with one of my pictures, but it appears to have worked for you.

gritz (author)2008-08-11

As a week-end welder who struggles with the rod sticking in the wrong place and multiple attempts to start, this should be not only a time saver ..... but keeping your blood pressure down too. On my next project I'll be using this simple and easy trick. I appreciate ......

Phil B (author)gritz2008-08-11

Thanks, gritz. I meant to mention that it is also useful for welding thin materials where enough heat to start an arc can also be too much to prevent blowing holes. I am thinking of my experiences with 3/4 inch square tubing. This is also useful for those times when the tip of the electrode becomes much overheated and the flux falls off at the end. It is nearly impossible to strike an arc with those rods without sticking, unless you use a carbon rod. Sometimes it is useful to have both hands free to hold the stinger or to brace yourself or to hold a piece of the work. I once adapted a cheap Vise-Grip type plier with a flexible holder for the carbon rod. That allowed me to place the carbon rod and still have both hands free.

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Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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