how does shielded metal arc welding work
how does shielded metal arc welding work

Shielded Metal Arc Welding, commonly known as SMAW, is a welding process used to join metals together by creating an electric arc between a covered electrode and the metal being welded. This method has been around for decades and remains popular for its simplicity and versatility. By using a consumable electrode coated with a flux, SMAW creates a protective shield around the weld, preventing contamination and producing strong, high-quality bonds. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of Shielded Metal Arc Welding and discover its inner workings.


Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), also known as stick welding, is a widely used welding process that involves the use of a flux-coated electrode to create an electric arc between the electrode and the workpiece. This arc generates the heat necessary to melt the electrode and the base metal, creating a strong and durable joint. SMAW has been used for many years and continues to be a popular welding method due to its versatility, portability, and cost-effectiveness.

Definition of shielded metal arc welding

Shielded metal arc welding, also known as manual metal arc welding or stick welding, is a welding process that uses a flux-coated electrode to create an electric arc between the electrode and the workpiece. The flux coating on the electrode provides protection to the molten weld pool, preventing oxidation and contamination. This process creates high-quality welds in various materials, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.

History of shielded metal arc welding

Shielded metal arc welding traces its roots back to the late 19th century when carbon arc welding was first developed. This early form of welding involved using carbon electrodes to create an arc. However, it was not until the early 20th century that the development of coated electrodes revolutionized the welding industry. These coated electrodes provided a protective flux coating, allowing for more controlled and efficient welding. Over the years, advancements in electrode and power source technology have further improved the process, making shielded metal arc welding widely adopted across industries.

Components of Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Power source

The power source in shielded metal arc welding provides the necessary electrical current to create and maintain the arc. It can be either a direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC) source. DC power sources are commonly used due to their stability and ease of control. AC power sources, on the other hand, are used for certain applications like welding aluminum. The power source is often portable, allowing for flexibility in welding locations.


The electrodes used in shielded metal arc welding are made of a metal core wire with a flux coating. The flux coating plays a critical role in the welding process by providing protection to the molten weld pool. It also contains various chemicals that help control the weld characteristics and improve the quality of the weld. Different types of electrodes are available for different materials and welding applications.

Electrode holder

The electrode holder, also known as the stinger, is the device used to hold and connect the electrode to the welding power source. It provides a secure grip and allows for easy manipulation of the electrode during welding. The electrode holder must have good electrical conductivity to ensure a stable arc.

Ground clamp

The ground clamp is another essential component of shielded metal arc welding. It is used to create an electrical connection between the workpiece and the welding power source. The ground clamp ensures that the current flows through the desired path, completing the electrical circuit.

Cables and connectors

Cables and connectors are used to connect the power source, electrode holder, and ground clamp. They transmit the electrical current and maintain a stable connection between the components. The cables must be capable of handling the required current and be properly insulated for safety purposes.

Process of Shielded Metal Arc Welding


Before starting the shielded metal arc welding process, proper preparation is essential. This involves cleaning the workpiece to remove any dirt, rust, or contaminants that could affect the quality of the weld. It is also important to determine the appropriate welding parameters, such as electrode type, current settings, and travel speed, based on the material and joint to be welded.

Striking the arc

Once the workpiece is prepared, the arc is struck by tapping or scratching the electrode against the workpiece. This creates a short circuit, allowing the current to flow and initiating the arc. Striking the arc requires precision and practice to ensure a stable and controlled start.

Maintaining the arc

Once the arc is struck, it is crucial to maintain a suitable arc length and angle for proper welding. The arc length refers to the distance between the electrode tip and the workpiece. It should be maintained within a specific range to ensure stable and effective welding. The arc angle, on the other hand, refers to the direction in which the electrode is tilted relative to the workpiece. The angle influences the shape and penetration of the weld.

Deposition of filler metal

As the arc is maintained, the flux coating on the electrode melts and forms a protective slag over the molten weld pool. The molten electrode metal also melts and mixes with the base metal, creating the weld. The size and shape of the weld bead can be controlled by manipulating the electrode’s position and travel speed.

Slag removal

After each pass, the slag needs to be removed to inspect the quality of the weld and make additional passes if necessary. Slag removal can be done by chipping it off with a hammer or wire brush once it has cooled.

Cooling and solidification

After the welding is complete, the welded joint needs time to cool and solidify. This allows the weld to achieve its maximum strength and durability. Proper cooling is essential to prevent cracking or distortion of the welded joint.

Advantages of Shielded Metal Arc Welding


Shielded metal arc welding is a versatile process that can be used on a wide range of materials, including carbon steels, low-alloy steels, stainless steels, and cast iron. It is suitable for both thick and thin materials, making it a preferred method in various industries.


One of the significant advantages of shielded metal arc welding is its portability. The power source and equipment are relatively compact and can be easily transported to different locations. This makes SMAW an ideal choice for field welding or repair work where mobility is essential.

Low cost

Shielded metal arc welding is a cost-effective welding process. The equipment required is relatively simple and affordable, making it accessible to a wide range of welders. Additionally, the use of coated electrodes reduces the need for expensive shielding gases used in other welding processes.

Simple equipment

The equipment required for shielded metal arc welding is straightforward and easy to operate. The power source, electrode holder, and ground clamp are the primary components, making it suitable for beginners or those with limited welding experience. This simplicity allows for quick setup and ease of use.

Suitability for outdoor use

Shielded metal arc welding is advantageous for outdoor applications as it is not affected by wind, rain, or other weather conditions. The flux coating on the electrode provides a shielding gas that protects the weld pool from atmospheric contamination, allowing for reliable and consistent welding in outdoor environments.

Disadvantages of Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Low efficiency

Shielded metal arc welding has relatively low efficiency compared to other welding processes. This is because a significant portion of the heat generated is lost to the surrounding air, resulting in lower energy transfer to the weld. This inefficiency can lead to higher energy consumption and longer welding times.

High skill requirement

Shielded metal arc welding requires a high level of skill and experience to produce high-quality welds. The welder must have the ability to strike and maintain a stable arc, control the welding parameters, and execute proper techniques. This skill requirement can limit the accessibility of SMAW to those who have undergone proper training and apprenticeship.

Slow deposition rate

The deposition rate of shielded metal arc welding is relatively slow compared to other welding processes. This is due to the limited amount of filler metal that can be deposited with each pass. Slow deposition rates can be a disadvantage when large volumes of welds or time-sensitive projects are involved.

Environmental concerns

Shielded metal arc welding produces fumes and smoke during the welding process, which can contain harmful substances such as metal oxide particles and welding fumes. These fumes and smoke can be hazardous to the welder and those in the surrounding area if proper ventilation and fume control measures are not implemented. Proper safety precautions and ventilation systems are necessary to minimize the environmental impact of SMAW.

Safety Precautions for Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Personal protective equipment

Welders performing shielded metal arc welding must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from potential hazards. This includes welding helmets with proper eye protection, flame-resistant clothing, gloves, and safety shoes. PPE helps protect against arc radiation, sparks, heat, and other potential injuries.

Work area preparation

Before starting shielded metal arc welding, the work area should be prepared to minimize hazards. This includes removing flammable materials, ensuring proper ventilation, and organizing the workspace to avoid tripping hazards. Proper lighting should also be in place to ensure clear visibility of the welding area.

Fire prevention

Shielded metal arc welding produces sparks and heat, which can pose a fire hazard if proper precautions are not taken. Fire extinguishers should be readily available in the workspace, and any flammable materials should be kept away from the welding area. Adequate fire safety protocols should be in place to prevent and respond to fire emergencies.

Electrical safety

As shielded metal arc welding requires the use of electrical power sources, it is essential to follow proper electrical safety precautions. This includes inspecting cables and connectors for signs of damage, grounding the welding equipment, and ensuring proper grounding connections to avoid electrical shocks or accidents.

Ventilation and fume control

Proper ventilation and fume control are crucial when performing shielded metal arc welding. The welding area should have adequate airflow to dissipate welding fumes and smoke. Local exhaust ventilation systems or fume extractors can be used to capture and remove welding fumes, protecting the welder and others from exposure to harmful substances.

Common Applications of Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Construction industry

Shielded metal arc welding is widely used in the construction industry for various applications, including structural steel fabrication, welding of beams and columns, and bridge construction. Its versatility and portability make it suitable for on-site welding, allowing for efficient and reliable welds in construction projects.

Repair and maintenance

Shielded metal arc welding is often used for repair and maintenance work. It can be used to fix damaged or worn-out metal components, repair machinery or equipment, and restore the integrity of structures. The portability of SMAW makes it ideal for repair work in remote or hard-to-reach areas.


Shielded metal arc welding is commonly used in the shipbuilding industry due to its versatility and ability to weld a wide range of materials, including steel and aluminum. It is used to join various components during ship construction, such as hulls, decks, and bulkheads. SMAW is also suitable for underwater welding, making it essential for ship repair and maintenance.

Pipeline construction

The construction of pipelines requires the welding of long sections of pipe. Shielded metal arc welding is often used for pipeline construction due to its portability and ability to weld in various positions, including vertical and overhead. It can be used to create strong and durable welds in both onshore and offshore pipeline installations.

Automotive sector

Shielded metal arc welding is used in the automotive sector for various applications, such as the fabrication of car frames, repair of vehicle components, and assembly of exhaust systems. Its versatility and cost-effectiveness make it a preferred welding method in automobile manufacturing and repairs.

Future Developments in Shielded Metal Arc Welding

Improvement in electrode materials

Ongoing research and development efforts are focused on improving electrode materials for shielded metal arc welding. The goal is to develop electrodes that offer better arc stability, higher deposition rates, and improved weld quality. Advancements in electrode technology can lead to increased efficiency and productivity in SMAW.

Automation and robotics

Automation and robotics have been playing an increasingly significant role in the welding industry, and shielded metal arc welding is no exception. The integration of robotic systems and automated welding equipment can enhance the precision, efficiency, and repeatability of SMAW. This allows for higher productivity and the ability to perform complex welds with minimal human intervention.

Reduction of environmental impact

As environmental concerns continue to grow, efforts are being made to reduce the environmental impact of shielded metal arc welding. This includes developing and implementing better ventilation systems and fume extraction methods to minimize the release of welding fumes and smoke into the atmosphere. Additionally, research is being conducted to find more environmentally friendly flux coatings and electrode materials.


Shielded metal arc welding is a versatile and widely used welding process that offers numerous advantages and has a long history in the welding industry. Its simplicity, portability, and cost-effectiveness make it suitable for a wide range of applications, from construction to automotive manufacturing. While it does have its limitations, such as slower deposition rates and higher skill requirements, ongoing developments are addressing these issues and improving the efficiency and quality of shielded metal arc welding. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see further enhancements in electrode materials, automation, and environmental sustainability within the SMAW process.