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What Is Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW)? The Beginner's Guide

Jun 27, 2019 ·

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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 is a type of welding used in a variety of applications, including maintenance and repair, construction, industrial fabrication, and more.

SMAW is one of the welding processes students learn in the Welding Technology program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI), in addition to GMAW, GTAW and FCAW.

SMAW is one of the oldest types of welding, dating to 1890 when Charles L. Coffin patented the process. SMAW is a manual arc welding process that remains one of the most commonly used welding processes. It can be used for both repair welding and production, and it can be used in all welding positions on all ferrous metals.

Stick Welding​

SMAW is also known as “stick welding.” This is because 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 being welded. This prevents contamination from atmospheric gases and makes SMAW, unlike GMAW, suitable for working outdoors.

How SMAW Works​

Now that you know the basics of what is SMAW welding, keep reading for more details about how it works.

SMAW Process​

SMAW uses the heat of the arc to help melt the top of a consumable covered electrode and base metal. Both the electrode and item being welded are a part of an electric circuit. This circuit also includes the power source, welding cables, electrode holder and ground clamp.

The cables from the power source are attached to the work and electrode holder. Welding begins when an arc forms between the base metal and tip of the electrode. The surface of the work and electrode tip are melted.

Metal then forms on the end of the electrode, transferring from the arc into a pool. Filler is deposited when the electrode is consumed. The arc in SMAW gets extremely hot — temperatures can exceed 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit!

SMAW Voltage​

Voltage is one of the main variables in arc welding. Some welding processes are able to use a preset constant-voltage system to maintain this, but with SMAW welds, voltage is regulated manually. This is done by moving the stick closer to or farther from the work.

SMAW Welding Current​

Constant current power sources are used for most SMAW and other manual welding processes. This provides a consistent preset current and maintains the amperage setting.

SMAW Polarity​

With SMAW welding processes, reverse polarity is almost always used. It helps provide the best bead profile and penetration, and it also reduces excessive spatter, which are droplets of molten material that are generated at or near the welding arc.

SMAW Components​

Some of the basic tools used when stick welding include:

  • Arc welding power source (welding machine)
  • Electrode lead cable
  • Electrode holder
  • Leads
  • Cables
  • Cable connectors
  • Ground clamp
  • Chipping hammer

As with any other welding process, safety equipment is used by the welder. This includes a helmet, gloves and protective clothing.

What Is SMAW Used For?​

SMAW can be used for a variety of metal types and various thicknesses. It 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

SMAW equipment is easily portable and can be used in a variety of environments, from indoors to outdoors to on a ship at sea. And even though SMAW is one of the oldest forms of welding, new technology is always advancing 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.

Advantages of SMAW​

There are a number of advantages to SMAW welding, including:

  • Lower equipment cost: Compared with other welding methods, SMAW equipment is simple and inexpensive.
  • Lightweight and portable: SMAW equipment is easy to transport, making it a convenient method to use.
  • Built-in shield: Since the flux-covered electrode generates its own protective gas, no additional exterior shielding gas is needed, so SMAW can be done outdoors.
  • Versatile: SMAW can be used on a variety of different alloys and metals, as well as done in numerous positions.

Disadvantages of SMAW​

While there are many advantages to the SMAW process, there are some disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • Lower productivity rate: Unlike semi-automatic or automatic welding processes, SMAW is manual, which can translate into lower productivity.
  • Less deposition: Deposition is the amount of welding material deposited per unit of time, and SMAW projects have a lowered amount in comparison with others.
  • Spatter and slag cleanup: With SMAW, slag (a layer of byproduct) needs to be removed after welding. It can also produce more spatter, which can make it a messier process.

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.


What Does SMAW Stand for in Welding?

SMAW stands for “shielded metal arc welding.”

What Is the Difference Between SMAW and Stick Welding?

SMAW is commonly referred to as stick welding due to the flux coated electrode that has a metal rod (aka “the stick”) at the core.

What Is the Difference Between GMAW and SMAW?

Gas metal arc welding, or GMAW, uses an electric arc formed between metal and wire electrode. A continuous solid wire electrode is sent through the gun and a shielding gas protects the process from contaminants in the air.

SMAW, on the other hand, uses a flux-covered electrode that produces a gas shield when heated, so it doesn’t rely on an external gas like GMAW. SMAW welders also require new electrodes periodically, while GMAW has a wire electrode fed automatically.

SMAW Welding Classes

If you’re interested in learning the SMAW process as well as other valuable welding techniques, attending the Welding Technology program at UTI can help. The program takes just 36 weeks from start to finish.

In 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 use 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.”

Welding Campus Locations

Learn more about SMAW and other major arc welding processes at UTI. When you attend one of the UTI campus locations offering the program across the country, you’ll get the training and hands-on experience you need for a career in welding.

Find out more about each individual location by clicking the links below:

You can graduate in just 36 weeks from one of these campuses prepared for the industry.1 Welders are in demand — the U.S. is expecting over 452,000 welders to be needed by 2030.50 If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this thriving field, request more information today.

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

50) The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that total national employment for Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers will be 434,900 by 2031. See Table 1.2 Employment by detailed occupation, 2021 and projected 2031, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,, viewed October 13, 2022. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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