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AC/DC Stick Welder: Reviewing the Top 8 Units

Do you need that AC/DC stick welder? Well, yes, of course. More tools equal better, right? We must have ALL the tools.

However, a few things might allow you to live without the latest and greatest in the stick welding world.

For instance, if you are a woodworker that never touches metal? Yeah, you can skip this purchase.

But then, your workbench has metal legs and shelf supports. If they break, you can’t work with wood. Maybe you should stick (ha – see what I did there?) around anyway.

Stick Welding is Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW). Widely used, it employs an electrode (the “stick”) and current to create welded joints in metals. It is simple, easy to learn, versatile, and useful.

The most common use is in the maintenance trades and construction to weld iron and steel. Many home mechanics also use it for repairs around the house, fixing that old trailer frame, and making steampunk regalia.

AC/DC – Whosee- Whatsee

Even people that have worked with SMAW for years don’t understand how it works — they know that an AC/DC stick welder gets the job done.

We’ll be introducing some standard terms in this section that will appear in bold type. You will see these terms used, and no one ever seems to define them, so we will do that first.

Stick welders work either with alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Current creates an electric arc (this is where the name comes from) between the stick (electrode) and the metals you are fusing. The area where the arc is formed is called the weld pool.

AC/DC Stick Welders
Diagram of stick welding area, with terms
Image from US Army via Wikipedia under Public Domain

The electrode provides filler metal for the joint and bead. The joint is the seam where the two metals join. The bead is the material left behind by the electrode that forms the bond.

While MIG, TIG, and Arc welding are in the “stick welding” basket, there are differences.

The four basic types of welding

MIG Welding is Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW). They use a continuously feeding electrode through the handle or “gun.”

MIG welding fuses metal using the melting electrode, rather than melting the metal you are fusing. A gas bubble protects the weld from the air and other contaminants. Both the gas and the electrode wire are consumable.

TIG Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW), uses a tungsten electrode, which is non-consumable.

TIG Welding melts and fuses the metals. Separate rods can create filler or fuse two different metals. The gas also protects from contaminants and requires tank refills.

Stick Welding, as mentioned earlier, is Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW). The single electrode (stick) is heated and melts. The process creates intense heat that also melts the workpiece, making the seam.

This process uses flux-coated electrodes to produce a shield around the joint to keep contaminants out. The rods melt, so you’ll want to keep a steady supply of them on-hand.

Arc Welding, also known as Flux Core Welding, uses a continuous-feed wire (like MIG welding). The wire has a flux core that generates the protective gas shield around the weld.

In dual-shielded welding, a secondary gas is externally added for more protection against contaminants.

DC Stick Welding Explained

In DC welding, the electrons flow in one direction, delivering constant polarity, which may be positive or negative.

Although most electric welding machines allow the user to switch from AC to DC manually, knowing a bit about each will help you decide which is better for your garage.

Many welders use DC polarity for most welding jobs. There are always advantages and disadvantages. One of the benefits is that DC polarity can weld delicate items such as remote controls and cell phone batteries.

With the stable arc and smoother output come greater versatility.

Advantages of DC Stick Welding

We’ve already discussed a couple of advantages of DC stick welding. There are many more:

  • More stable and easier to learn
  • Easier starts (better-looking beads)
  • Works well even during inclement weather (wind and rain)
  • Produces less splatter/slag
  • Equipment is relatively inexpensive and cost-effective
  • Rod changes are quick and easy to shift to different metals
  • The ground clamp can attach farther from the welding area
  • Better on thinner metals than TIG

The most significant advantage of DC stick welding is the ease of learning. With a small amount of practice, a novice welder can learn to lay a sweet bead. That opens the door to doing new projects or fixing that old cast iron patio set.

Disadvantages of DC Stick Welding

There is always the obligatory list of disadvantages with anything, and that includes DC stick welding.

  • An internal transformer is required, making a DC welder more costly
  • Don’t produce enough high-intensity heat to weld aluminum
  • No fix for arc blow

Although a considerably shorter list, if you plan to make an aluminum table, they may be a deal-killer.

AC Stick Welding Explained

With AC welding, the electron flow constantly switches directions, which results in polarity changes at a rate of 120 times per second.

When the polarity shifts, this results in a period of zero amperage output. With an inexperienced welder, this can cause an uneven bead.

There are special electrodes for AC stick welding that keep them from extinguishing during the zero-output phase. Welders will still have more flutter and fluctuation than they experience using DC polarity.

Advantages of AC Stick Welding

There are some applications where AC stick welding offers extreme advantages over DC. Some of them include:

  • Can use in higher voltage applications
  • Fixes arc blow problems experienced with DC
  • Works better when welding magnetized parts
  • Supports welding at a higher temperature
  • Offers deep penetration of plate metals

Even though AC is often a secondary choice for welding, it does offer some unique advantages over DC welding. It may be the only power supply available, so learning a bit about it may save your project.

Disadvantages of AC Stick Welding

This list is pretty small.

  • Creates more splatter
  • Bead is not as smooth due to changing polarity and zero-output phases
  • More challenging to learn and master
  • Not as reliable as DC welding

Short and sweet. If you are buying a welder and finance are short, don’t be afraid to opt for the AC-only machine.

It will serve you well for most home-use applications. You will have a more significant learning curve due to the difficulty of using AC over DC.

8 Best AC/DC Stick Welder Picks

When shopping for any new tool, it helps to know all the particulars. When you spend your hard-earned money, you want the best of the best.

1. Lincoln Electric AC225S Arc/Stick Welder

The Lincoln Electric AC225S Arc/Stick Welder includes many features only seen on larger welders. The user-friendly operator interface is easy-to-use.

This AC-only machine can deliver 40 to 225 Amps but does need an input source of 220V.

This unit will provide a smooth AC arc on various metals, including cast iron, steel, and stainless steel. Cables are hard-wired to the unit for ease of setup and long for versatility.

2. Amico ARC-160D Stick ARC IGBT Inverter DC Welder 

The AMICO ARC-160D is a professional-grade model that is small at only 16 pounds but delivers a robust payload of welding capabilities.

Although designed to work from a 230V power source, it ships with a converter that uses 115V household current.

The design of the power source provides a stable arc. As the electrode becomes shorter, the response speeds up, making this a highly effective welder.

Fully adjustable for a harder or softer arc, this machine offers professional ability in a household package.

Additional features include an 8-foot power cord, an input power adapter, and a 10-foot cable on the 200 Amp Electrode Holder.

Automatic selection detects input voltage allows easy shifting between 100~250V/50~60Hz input power. Adaptable for many custom welding needs.

Advanced safety features include over- and under-voltage protection, over-load, and over-current protection.

3. CANAWELD Stickwelder 161 D Arc Welder

The CANAWELD Stickwelder 161 D is an AC/DC stick welder or TIG welder. This efficient, medium-duty welder uses low power consumption and is perfect for working in any weather.

Dual power capability allows operation on 240V or 120V, and no power loss experienced with portable generator use. The leads can be up to 165 feet long without any power loss.

Safety features include thermal protection against overloading and a fan cooling system. This lightweight machine is easy to transport to job locations.

4. Simder Stick/Arc Welder 160Amp

The Simder 160Amp Stick/Arc Welder is an easy-to-use little dual voltage welder excellent for beginners.

It is lightweight and perfect for jobs around the house and garden but may bog down a bit on heavier applications. With an LCD, it is easy to set up and, at just under 12 pounds, is one of the lightest welders available.

Safety features include thermal overload and anti-stick protection. The machine has anti-skid feet to keep it from sliding during use or transport.

This unit ships with welder’s gloves, which generally must be purchased separately.

5. Amico MMA-200 Dual-Amp AC/DC Inverter Welder

The Amico MMA-200 Dual-Amp AC/DC Stick Welder is a sportier version of their ARC-160D with many of the same base features.

The power source offers a stable arc, which gets more responsive as the electrode gets shorter. Adjustment allows for making the arc harder or softer.

The operation uses 230V, but a pigtail to switch to 120V is included. This unit will perform equally well on generator power.

Safety features include voltage fluctuation compensation for over- and under-voltage protection and overload protection. A fan cools components and materials during welding to reduce contaminants entering the weld plane.

The ease of operation, easy-to-read LED display, and one year warranty combine to make this a good machine for the novice or professional welders.

6. Amico DC-160A DC Inverter Stick Welder

The Amico DC-160 DC Inverter Stick Welder is a DC-only unit. It is best for home and lighter work. Ease-of-use and the steady arc supplied by the DC inverter make it a great beginning machine. 

This unit is the equivalent of plug-and-play. When you open the box, you have everything you need to start welding except electrodes and safety gear.

The digital LED display makes setup easy. This welder has a high duty cycle, which allows for longer operation without needing cool-down breaks.

The welder runs on 115V household current but also includes a pigtail adapter to operate on 230V current. Like other Amico welders, this machine is lightweight at just 18 pounds, making it easily transportable.

The one drawback of this unit (aside from the DC-only operation) seems to be the electrode holder, which isn’t as high quality as other Amico products.

7. Lincoln Electric K1297 Dual-Phase AC/DC Stick Welder

Lincoln Electric offers the K1297 AC/DC Stick Welder as one of the most versatile in the market.

This professional-level welder includes dual-phase operation and broad output ranges. If you need top-tier performance, this machine can deliver it.

The output ranges in AC vary from 40 to 225 Amps, and from 30 to 125 Amps for DC operations. This welder runs with 230V input power, so consider that if your garage only has standard 100/115V household current.

8. Lotos LTPD2000D Stick Welder

Lotos Technology offers a multi-purpose machine with its LTPDC2000D. This machine is a TIG or Stick Welder and a plasma cutter. It has a weld depth that allows welding of material up to a half-inch thick.

When cutting, the tip doesn’t touch the surface, which translates to efficient cuts and minimum slag. It can run on 220V or 110V (pigtail sold separately) and a 10-200 amp range for welding with dual voltage.

The unit is capable of hands-free on/off, but the foot pedal sells separately. The machine is lightweight and portable and has a three-year warranty.

While Lotos did include many great features, the accessories for those are missing. The pigtail to convert from 220V to 110V and the foot pedal is available separately.

Don’t Forget Your Safety Gear

Welding produces high-heat, high-noise, and high-intensity bright light. Please be sure to use rated safety gear, including hearing protection, a rated welding helmet or shield, and rated welding gloves.

Read all materials that come with your welding equipment, including safety advisories and all the boring stuff.

This video, while long (23 minutes), explains in great detail everything about stick welding. If you are new to AC/DC stick welding, it may benefit you to set aside the time.