Introduction: Convert a Wire Feed Welder to a Stick Welder

About: EmmettO is a general mad scientist, blacksmith, metalcaster and former Unix admin. Now he fixes darn near anything that people throw at him and breaks things that need to be broken.

Disclaimer! This is a potentially hazardous project to undertake. Electrical currents inside a welder can be deadly! If you choose to undertake this project you are doing so at your own risk. Every effort should be made to protect yourself from electrocution. Welders can hold onto an electrical charge even after they have been switched off. Do not assume the welder is discharged just because it is turned off. It is also possible to damage your welder if this is done improperly. I am not responsible for any injury or damage incurred if this instructable is followed. All instructions are at your own risk!

Converting a wire feed welder to a stick welder is not very difficult to do if you are able to identify a few wires and drill a few holes. Only a few materials are needed. My setup can now use wire or sticks. This is good for me because I have a giant stick welder that I use for heavy work and therefore have rods for when I run out of wire or if I want to weld alloys etc for my portable welder.

There are many different models of wire feed welder so this is not a specific step by step process. The specifics of what I did may not apply to your welder and I tired to write this with that in mind. I did try to give the thought process that I went through while trying this so that it could be translated into most kinds of welder. You milage may vary.

It's easier to find sticks for welding different material than it is to find flux core wire for the same alloys.
Sticks are a little easier to build up large welds.

Wire feed welders are designed to use a very thin electrode (wire thin) and can't handle thicker electrodes.
Makes the welder a little harder to move around because of the added cable.

This is my first instructable, any positive suggestions are welcome.

Step 1: Materials

To complete this conversion you will need the following items.

Wire feed welder with a variable wire speed. Preferably one that can be turned down to 0.
Electrode holder. A 200 amp rated holder is plenty. $10-15
Approximately 6 ft of 04 sized welding cable $4
A low voltage switch. I scavenged one off equipment I had but they usually cost $2.
Low voltage wire (about a foot max.)

Alligator clip jumper wire.
Screwdriver to take the case of the welder off.
Wrenches or pliers
A sharp knife or utility knife.
A drill and drill bits for metal.

Helpful items to have

Small crush on battery terminal $1
Soldier and soldering iron. This instructable can be completed without soldiering but will require electrical tape or some other mechanical connection method.
Screwgun to make assembly and disassembly faster.

Step 2: Open Up Your Welder and Trace Wires

My welder is a Lincoln Electric Weld Pak but most wire feed welders should be similar. It has a ground line and a wire feed line. The ground line is a braided copper cable. The wire feed line is slightly more complicated. It consists of a tube that the wire travels through to get to the tip and the switching wire to activate the welder. Most wire feed welders will not start the welding current until this switch is activated. The problem is that they are momentary switches, you have to hold them down to keep them activated. It might be feasible to simply replace this switch with a SPST switch but I decided to add a switch to the welder chassis. 

1. Down to business! The first thing you need to do is unscrew the cover of the welder. Mine had twelve screws that I had to take out. All of them were in plain sight. I think welders are still considered serviceable so I wouldn't expect any hidden screws or odd bits being required here.

2. Locate the point where the Wire feed line enters the chassis of the welder. There will be two signal wires that come out from this point. Trace them back to wherever they go. Mine went to a small circuit board. This is the relay that switches on the power to the transformers.

3. Locate the positive terminal wire. The ways to identify this wire are by it's size (should be a heavy gauge wire) and it should lead into the wire feed system. My welder had a handy bolt that connected several feeds together. It had heavy heat shrink tubing over it so I had to cut the tubing off to get to it. Don't electrocute yourself doing this! You want to find a place in the positive feed to connect your new cable to. If no connections are readily available, you may have to cut the wire and put in a bolt similar to the one in the picture.

These steps so far are mainly exploratory. You may want to open up your welder and just look first and then try and plan what you're going to do.

Step 3: Confirm You Have the Proper Switch Wires

On some old wire feed welders the power did not switch on and off with the wire feed. If you have a welder like this you do not need to do this step. Your welder will go hot as soon as it turns on.

Be very careful with this step! It could damage your welder if done improperly.

1. Turn your wire feed down to 0.

2. Attach the alligator clip jumper to the terminals you suspect are the switching wires.

3. Make sure your hands are away from the inside of the welder and away from the ground terminal and the wire feed line.

4. Plug in the welder.

5. Turn on the welder.

6. You should hear the transformer engage immediately. The welding terminals are live at this point so treat them as if you are ready to weld with them. If the wire feed advances the wire then your welder does not have a wire feed speed of 0. Immediately turn off the welder if the wire advances.

7. If the wire does not advance, turn up the wire feed speed slowly until you see the wire advance slightly. Then back the speed down to 0.

If the wire feed speed did not go down to 0 and you had to turn off the welder in step 6 then there is no simple way to complete this project. If you have a good knowledge of electronics and electricity you might be able to locate a point on the relay circuit where only the main power is engaged but not the wire feed.

Step 4: Attach a Switch

1. Locate a place on the welder you can attach the new switch. On mine there was plenty of space on the bulkhead in between the wire feed system and the electronics. I just flip up the door to the wire feed apparatus and flip the switch.

2. Soldier or otherwise attach a piece of the low voltage wire to each of the terminals. Make sure the wires are long enough to reach the point on the chassis that you will mount your switch to.

3. Soldier or otherwise attach your wires to the switch.

4. Drill a hole for the switch to fit through. I had to drill smaller holes for screws to mount my switch.

Step 5: Add Your Electrode Holder Wire

1. Now Drill a hole where you want the new wire for your electrode holder to come out. I had mine come out just below the wire feed mechanism. I can roll the wire up and stuff it inside the cabinet so I don't have an extra cable dangling around. 

2. Run your welding cable through the hole.

3. Strip the welding wire back slightly and attach the battery terminal connector by crushing it on and/or soldering it on.

Step 6: Attach the Wire

 1. Make sure the welder is turned off, unplugged and discharged before touching the feed lines! I used a screwdriver to discharge mine by shorting the ground and positive.

2. Unbolt the connection you've chosen or if there isn't one available, add a bolt.

3. Add the battery terminal to the connection and tighten it down.

Step 7: Finishing Steps

Now you can close up the Welder and attach the electrode holder to the new wire. Don your safety equipment and test it out!

Remember, The welder is likely to only be able to handle thinner electrodes. I tried a thick 6011 electrode and it wouldn't arc well. Then it drew so much current it blew the breaker in my house! Thin electrodes work fine. I've even welded with stainless rod on this setup.