What is Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)?

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Jun 27, 2019 ·

If you're interested in welding and have wondered, “What is SMAW?”, we're here to help explain. SMAW stands for “shielded metal arc welding.” SMAW welding is used in a variety of applications, including maintenance and repair, construction, industrial fabrication and many more.

SMAW is one of the welding types students learn in the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) welding program, in addition to GMAW, GTAW and FCAW. Here's more information on how SMAW works, what it can be used for and what you'll learn about it at UTI.

How SMAW Works

SMAW welding is one of the oldest types of welding, dating back to 1889 when Charles L. Coffin patented the process. SMAW welding is a manual arc welding process that remains one of the most commonly used welding techniques used today, since it can be used for both repair welding and production and can be used in all welding positions on all ferrous metals. It's also known as flux shielded arc welding, manual metal arc welding or stick welding.

In SMAW, a flux-coated electrode, which is a metal stick or rod held in an electrode holder connected to a power source, is used to form the weld. Electricity passes through the electrode and touches the base metal.

Meanwhile, the flux forms a gas that shields the electric arc between the electrode and the metal that is being welded. This prevents contamination from atmospheric gasses and makes SMAW welding, unlike GMAW welding, suitable for working in the outdoors.

Even though SMAW is one of the most common types of welding techniques used, it requires skill and training to pull off clean, quality SMAW welds. Some problems that can occur when quality is compromised include:

  • Cracking
  • Shallow penetration
  • Poor fusion
  • Spatter
  • Weak welds
  • Porosity

These issues are caused by welding process mistakes like gas bubbles, the use of low voltage or high amperage, dirty metal, using too fast of a travel time, not allowing movement in the weld and using inappropriate metals. Pitfalls like these illustrate why proper training is so vital.

SMAW also requires the removal of “slag,” which is a layer of by-product that must be chipped off after the weld.

What Is SMAW Used For?

SMAW welding can be used for a variety of metal types and various thicknesses and is often used for heavy-duty work involving industrial iron and steel, like carbon steel and cast iron, as well as work involving low and high alloy steels and nickel alloys. SMAW is used in a variety of industries, including:

  • Construction
  • Pipelines
  • Shipbuilding
  • Underwater welding
  • Farm machinery manufacturing

Some of the advantages to SMAW compared to other welding types is that the equipment is easily portable and can be used in a variety of environments, ranging from indoors to outdoors to out on sea on a ship. And even though SMAW is one of the oldest forms of welding, new technology is always advancing SMAW processes and making them increasingly more efficient.

When the SMAW welder is experienced in knowing how to choose the correct electrode, weld speed and arc length (and is working with clean materials), a SMAW welding job results in reliable welding for a variety of industries.

Learn SMAW and More Welding Techniques at UTI

If you're interested in mastering the most commonly used welding technique (and many other valuable ones,) attending the welding program at UTI can help. The program takes just 36 weeks from start to finish. In welding courses like Shielded Metal Arc Welding I and II and Welding Applications, students learn:

  • How to set up and use SMAW equipment and accessories
  • Modes of metal transfer and various rods/electrodes available for specific weld types
  • How to perform basic SMAW welding positions
  • How to perform horizontal, vertical and overhead welding operations
  • How to correctly maintain and service a SMAW welder
  • How to build specific SMAW weld projects

Students learn how to master hand tools and machines they'd find in a shop environment during their coursework, which directly correlates to the skills needed for a career in welding.

“The curriculum utilizes real-life situations, which prepares students for work they would see in a welding profession,” says Brian Masumoto, welding instructor at UTI Rancho Cucamonga. “Students are taught how to diagnose problems they might come across on the job. We also teach the students how to pass a welding certification test by actually performing a test.”

There are 22,500 new jobs in the welding industry expected to be added between 2016 and 2026 to the current 404,800 jobs in the United States, according to data accessed from the Occupational Outlook Handbook in June 2019. If you're interested in pursuing a career in this thriving field, contact the UTI welding program.


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