Types of Welding Electrodes

When molten metal is exposed to air, it absorbs oxygen and nitrogen, and becomes brittle or is otherwise adversely affected. A slag cover is needed to protect molten or solidifying weld metal from the atmosphere. This cover can be obtained from the electrode coating. The composition of the electrode coating determines its usability, as well as the composition of the deposited weld metal and the electrode specification. The formulation of electrode coatings is based on well-established principles of metallurgy, chemistry, and physics. The coating protects the metal from damage, stabilizes the arc, and improves the weld in other ways, which include:

Smooth weld metal surface with even edges.

  • Minimum spatter adjacent to the weld
  • A stable welding arc.
  • Penetration control.
  • A strong, tough coating.
  • Easier slag removal.
  • Improved deposition rate.
  • Covered Welding Electrodes

The metal-arc electrodes may be grouped and classified as bare or thinly coated electrodes, and shielded arc or heavy coated electrodes. The covered electrode is the most popular type of filler metal used in arc welding. The composition of the electrode covering determines the usability of the electrode, the composition of the deposited weld metal, and the specification of the electrode. The type of electrode used depends on the specific properties required in the weld deposited. These include corrosion resistance, ductility, high tensile strength, the type of base metal to be welded, the position of the weld (flat, horizontal, vertical, or overhead); and the type of current and polarity required.

Welding Electrodes
Welding Electrodes

The coatings of electrodes for welding mild and low alloy steels may have from 6 to 12 ingredients, which include cellulose to provide a gaseous shield with a reducing agent in which the gas shield surrounding the arc is produced by the disintegration of cellulose; metal carbonates to adjust the basicity of the slag and to provide a reducing atmosphere; titanium dioxide to help form a highly fluid, but quick-freezing slag and to provide ionization for the arc; ferromanganese and ferrosilicon to help deoxidize the molten weld metal and to supplement the manganese content and silicon content of the deposited weld metal; clays and gums to provide elasticity for extruding the plastic coating material and to help provide strength to the coating; calcium fluoride to provide shielding gas to protect the arc, adjust the basicity of the slag, and provide fluidity and solubility of the metal oxides; mineral silicates to provide slag and give strength to the electrode covering; alloying metals including nickel, molybdenum, and chromium to provide alloy content to the deposited weld metal; iron or manganese oxide to adjust the fluidity and properties of the slag and to help stabilize the arc; and iron powder to increase the productivity by providing extra metal to be deposited in the weld.

The principal types of electrode coatings for mild steel are described below.

Cellulose-sodium (EXX10)

. Electrodes of this type cellulosic material in the form of wood flour or reprocessed low alloy electrodes have up to 30 percent paper. The gas shield contains carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which are reducing agents. These gases tend to produce a digging arc that provides deep penetration. The weld deposit is somewhat rough, and the spatter is at a higher level than other electrodes. It does provide extremely good mechanical properties, particularly after aging. This is one of the earliest types of electrodes developed, and is widely used for cross country pipe lines using the downhill welding technique. It is normally used with direct current with the electrode positive (reverse polarity).

Cellulose-potassium (EXX11)

. This electrode is very similar to the cellulose-sodium electrode, except more potassium is used than sodium. This provides ionization of the arc and makes the electrode suitable for welding with alternating current. The arc action, the penetration, and the weld results are very similar. In both E6010 and E6011 electrodes, small amounts of iron powder may be added. This assists in arc stabilization and will slightly increase the deposition rate.

Rutile-sodium (EXX12)

. When rutile or titanium dioxide content is relatively high with respect to the other components, the electrode will be especially appealing to the welder. Electrodes with this coating have a quiet arc, an easily controlled slag, and a low level of spatter. The weld deposit will have a smooth surface and the penetration will be less than with the cellulose electrode. The weld metal properties will be slightly lower than the cellulosic types. This type of electrode provides a fairly high rate of deposition. It has a relatively low arc voltage, and can be used with alternating current or with direct current with electrode negative (straight polarity).

Rutile-potassium (EXX13)

. This electrode coating is very similar to the rutile-sodium type, except that potassium is used to provide for arc ionization. This makes it more suitable for welding with alternating current. It can also be used with direct current with either polarity. It produces a very quiet, smooth-running arc.

Rutile-iron powder (EXXX4)

. This coating is very similar to the rutile coatings mentioned above, except that iron powder is added. If iron content is 25 to 40 percent, the electrode is EXX14. If iron content is 50 percent or more, the electrode is EXX24. With the lower percentage of iron powder, the electrode can be used in all positions. With the higher percentage of iron paler, it can only be used in the flat position or for making horizontal fillet welds. In both cases, the deposition rate is increased, based on the amount of iron powder in the coating.

Low hydrogen-sodium (EXXX5)

. Coatings that contain a high proportion of calcium carbonate or calcium fluoride are called low hydrogen, lime ferritic, or basic type electrodes. In this class of coating, cellulose, clays, asbestos, and other minerals that contain combined water are not used. This is to ensure the lowest possible hydrogen content in the arc atmosphere. These electrode coatings are baked at a higher temperature. The low hydrogen electrode family has superior weld metal properties. They provide the highest ductility of any of the deposits. These electrodes have a medium arc with medium or moderate penetration. They have a medium speed of deposition, but require special welding techniques for best results. Low hydrogen electrodes must be stored under controlled conditions. This type is normally used with direct current with electrode positive (reverse polarity).

Low hydrogen-potassium (EXXX6)

. This type of coating is similar to the low hydrogen-sodium, except for the substitution of potassium for sodium to provide arc ionization. This electrode is used with alternating current and can be used with direct current, electrode positive (reverse polarity). The arc action is smother, but the penetration of the two electrodes is similar.

Low hydrogen-potassium (EXXX6)

. The coatings in this class of electrodes are similar to the low-hydrogen type mentioned above. However, iron powder is added to the electrode, and if the content is higher than 35 to 40 percent, the electrode is classified as an EXX18.

Low hydrogen-iron powder (EXX28)

. This electrode is similar to the EXX18, but has 50 percent or more iron powder in the coating. It is usable only when welding in the flat position or for making horizontal fillet welds. The deposition rate is higher than EXX18. Low hydrogen coatings are used for all of the higher-alloy electrodes. By additions of specific metals in the coatings, these electrodes become the alloy types where suffix letters are used to indicate weld metal compositions. Electrodes for welding stainless steel are also the low-hydrogen type.

Iron oxide-sodium (EXX20)

. Coatings with high iron oxide content produce a weld deposit with a large amount of slag. This can be difficult to control. This coating type produces high-speed deposition, and provides medium penetration with low spatter level. The resulting weld has a very smooth finish. The electrode is usable only with flat position welding and for making horizontal fillet welds. The electrode can be used with alternating current or direct current with either polarity.

Iron-oxide-iron power (EXX27). This type of electrode is very similar to the iron oxide-sodium type, except it contains 50 percent or more iron power. The increased amount of iron power greatly increases the deposition rate. It may be used with alternating direct current of either polarity.

There are many types of coatings other than those mentioned here, most of which are usually combinations of these types but for special applications such as hard surfacing, cast iron welding, and for nonferrous metals.

Deposition Rates

The different types of electrodes have different deposition rates due to the composition of the coating. The electrodes containing iron power in the coating have the highest deposition rates. In the United States, the percentage of iron power in a coating is in the 10 to 50 percent range. This is based on the amount of iron power in the coating versus the coating weight. This is shown in the formula:

These percentages are related to the requirements of the American Welding Society (AWS) specifications. The European method of specifying iron power is based on the weight of deposited weld metal versus the weight of the bare core wire consumed. This is shown as follows:

Thus, if the weight of the deposit were double the weight of the core wire, it would indicate a 200 percent deposition efficiency, even though the amount of the iron power in the coating represented only half of the total deposit. The 30 percent iron power formula used in the United States would produce a 100 to 110 percent deposition efficiency using the European formula. The 50 percent iron power electrode figured on United States standards would produce an efficiency of approximately 150 percent using the European formula.

Light Coated Electrodes

Light coated electrodes have a definite composition. A light coating has been applied on the surface by washing, dipping, brushing, spraying, tumbling, or wiping. The coatings improve the characteristics of the arc stream. They are listed under the E45 series in the electrode identification system.

The coating on electrodes generally serves the functions described below:

  1. It dissolves or reduces impurities such as oxides, sulfur, and phosphorus.
  2. It changes the surface tension of the molten metal so that the globules of metal leaving the end of the electrode are smaller and more frequent. This helps make the flow of molten metal more uniform.
  3. It increases the arc stability by introducing materials readily ionized (i.e., changed into small particles with an electric charge) into the arc stream.
  4. Some of the light coatings may produce a slag. The slag is quite thin and does not act in the same manner as the shielded arc electrode type slag.

Shielded Arc or Heavy Coated Electrodes

Shielded arc or heavy coated electrodes have a definite composition on which a coating has been applied by dipping or extrusion. The electrodes are manufactured in three general types: those with cellulose coatings; those with mineral coatings; and those whose coatings are combinations of mineral and cellulose. The cellulose coatings are composed of soluble cotton or other forms of cellulose with small amounts of potassium, sodium, or titanium, and in some cases added minerals. The mineral coatings consist of sodium silicate, metallic oxides clay, and other inorganic substances or combinations thereof. Cellulose coated electrodes protect the molten metal with a gaseous zone around the arc as well as the weld zone. The mineral coated electrode forms a slag deposit. The shielded arc or heavy coated electrodes are used for welding steels, cast iron, and hard surfacing.

Functions of Shielded Arc or Heavy Coated Electrodes

These electrodes produce a reducing gas shield around the arc. This prevents atmospheric oxygen or nitrogen from contaminating the weld metal. The oxygen readily combines with the molten metal, removing alloying elements and causing porosity. Nitrogen causes brittleness, low ductility, and in Some cases low strength and poor resistance to corrosion.

They reduce impurities such as oxides, sulfur, and phosphorus so that these impurities will not impair the weld deposit.

They provide substances to the arc which increase its stability. This eliminates wide fluctuations in the voltage so that the arc can be maintained without excessive spattering.

By reducing the attractive force between the molten metal and the end of the electrodes, or by reducing the surface tension of the molten metal, the vaporized and melted coating causes the molten metal at the end of the electrode to break up into fine, small particles.

The coatings contain silicates which will form a slag over the molten weld and base metal. Since the slag solidifies at a relatively slow rate, it holds the heat and allows the underlying metal to cool and solidify slowly. This slow solidification of the metal eliminates the entrapment of gases within the weld and permits solid impurities to float to the surface. Slow cooling also has an annealing effect on the weld deposit.

The physical characteristics of the weld deposit are modified by incorporating alloying materials in the electrode coating. The fluxing action of the slag will also produce weld metal of better quality and permit welding at higher speeds.

Direct Current Arc Welding Electrodes

The manufacturer’s recommendations should be followed when a specific type of electrode is being used. In general, direct current shielded arc electrodes are designed either for reverse polarity (electrode positive) or for straight polarity (electrode negative), or both. Many, but not all, of the direct current electrodes can be used with alternating current. Direct current is preferred for many types of covered nonferrous, bare and alloy steel electrodes. Recommendations from the manufacturer also include the type of base metal for which given electrodes are suitable, corrections for poor fit-ups, and other specific conditions.

In most cases, reverse polarity electrodes will provide more penetration than straight polarity electrodes. Good penetration can be obtained from either type with proper welding conditions and arc manipulation.

Alternating Current Arc Welding Electrodes

Coated electrodes which can be used with either direct or alternating current are available. Alternating current is more desirable while welding in restricted areas or when using the high currents required for thick sections because it reduces arc blow. Arc blow causes blowholes, slag inclusions, and lack of fusion in the weld.

Alternating current is used in atomic hydrogen welding and in those carbon arc processes that require the use of two carbon electrodes. It permits a uniform rate of welding and electrode consumption ion. In carbon-arc processes where one carbon electrode is used, direct current straight polarity is recommended, because the electrode will be consumed at a lower rate.

Electrode Defects and Their Effect

If certain elements or oxides are present in electrode coatings, the arc stability will be affected. In bare electrodes, the composition and uniformity of the wire is an important factor in the control of arc stability. Thin or heavy coatings on the electrodes will not completely remove the effects of defective wire.

Aluminum or aluminum oxide (even when present in quantities not exceeding 0.01 percent), silicon, silicon dioxide, and iron sulfate cause the arc to be unstable. Iron oxide, manganese oxide, calcium oxide, and iron sulfide tend to stabilize the arc.

When phosphorus or sulfur are present in the electrode in excess of 0.04 percent, they will impair the weld metal. They are transferred from the electrode to the molten metal with very little loss. Phosphorus causes grain growth, brittleness, and “cold shortness” (i.e., brittle when below red heat) in the weld. These defects increase in magnitude as the carbon content of the steel increases. Sulfur acts as a slag, breaks up the soundness of the weld metal, and causes “hot shortness” (i.e., brittle when above red heat). Sulfur is particularly harmful to bare low carbon steel electrodes with a low manganese content. Manganese promotes the formation of sound welds.

The conclusion

If the heat treatment given the wire core of an electrode is not uniform, the electrode will produce welds inferior to those produced with an electrode of the same composition that has been properly heat treated.