A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Welding Rod Sizes

welder setting up plasma cutter

Welding Buddy Experts

June 27, 2022
Different welding rod sizes

You're at the store, standing in front of the racks of different welding rods, and you have no idea what size you need. You know you need a smaller rod for thin metal and a larger rod for thicker metal, but beyond that, you're lost. What about when you're joining different types of metals? Some metals require a specific welding rod to create a strong joint.

Welding is a delicate process that requires the right equipment and practice to perfect. Therefore, the type of welding rod you use is one of the most important factors in determining the quality of your weld metal. This blog post will discuss the welding rods available and how to choose the right rod size for your project. 

Introduction to Welding Rods 

In welding, you need a welding electrode, otherwise known as a welding rod. It's a coated metal wire that helps create the electrical arc. Welding electrodes come in two varieties: consumable and non-consumable. 

A consumable welding rod melts down when welded and fuses onto the weld bead. Thus, whether your parent metal (base metal) is mild steel or carbon steel, your consumable electrode must be the same as it acts as a filler material.

Meanwhile, a non-consumable electrode is tungsten or carbon and does not melt during welding. Instead, it conducts electricity to create the arc that melts the metals being joined. They don't act as fillers, so you’ll still need a consumable welding rod for your weld.

Welding rod 6011

The Codes on Your Welding Rod Matter

If you've ever seen a welding rod with many letters and numbers and wondered what they meant, wonder no more! These codes are used to classify the weld rod sizes and types. So next time you're at the store, you'll know exactly what to look for. Here's a quick breakdown of what each code means.

Tensile Strength

Welding electrodes are categorized by tensile strength, determined by the first two or three digits of the four or five-digit numbering system. 

For example, an electrode with a tensile strength of 60,000 pounds per square inch would be denoted by the number 6011. If tensile strength is higher, the welding rod gets thicker. Generally, you use thicker electrodes for thicker base metals. However, it is important to choose the right weld rod for the job, as using an electrode with too high tensile strength can make welds more brittle. 

Welding Position

The second to the last digit of your welding rod are welding positions. The number 1 type of weld rod can be used in all positions, making it the most versatile option. However, weld rods with the number 2 are limited and can only be used in the flat and horizontal positions, such as butt welds. Meanwhile, the number 4 weld rod is designed for flat, horizontal, vertical down, and overhead positions. 

Coating and Current

The last digit tells the type of coating and current that you should use for your metal. For instance, 1 in welding rod 6011 means the coating is cellulose potassium. Thus, the welding current should be either direct current reverse polarity, alternating current, or direct current straight polarity.

Knowing the right rod size and type of weld rod is critical for any welding project, so familiarize yourself with these codes before starting your next project.

Other Factors to Consider When Picking the Right Welding Rod Size 

Decoding the numbers on your welding rod can classify the type and size of your arc welding. However, there are other main factors at play when choosing your welding rod sizes, such as:

The Thickness of the Base Metal

An external factor when considering your welding rod sizes is the thickness of your base metal. If the welding rod is the same thickness as the base metal, it will conduct heat more easily and can cause warping. To avoid this, choose a welding rod that is slightly thinner than the base metal. By doing so, you can prevent your base metal from welding defects. Additionally, weld slowly and carefully to avoid any accidental distortion

Here's a chart of welding rod sizes compatible with its base metal thickness.

Welding Rod SizesBase Metal Thickness
1/16“ or 1.6 mmLess than 3/16“
1/4“ or 6.4 mmMore than 3/8“
1/8“ or 3.2 mmMore than 1/8“
3/16“ or 4.8 mmMore than 3/8“
3/32“ or 2.4 mmLess than 1/4″
5/32“ or 4.0 mmMore than 1/4″
5/64“ or 2.0 mmLess than 3/8

If you're new to stick welding, you might wonder what weld rod sizes are the most common. The three most common weld rod sizes are 3/32" (2.4mm), 1/8" (3.2mm), and 5/32" (4mm). These sizes will be enough to weld most projects that you come across. However, there are weld rod sizes that are smaller in rod diameter, such as 1/16" (1.6mm) and 5/64" (2mm). These sizes can be more challenging to weld with than the common sizes and even more challenging than welding with the biggest welding rod sizes. 

Amperage for Stick Welding Rods

We all know that one size does not fit all when welding. The same is true for your stick welding rod's amperage, AKA the strength of the current. You want to set it high enough to get the best penetration and fusion for the job at hand, just a step before too much heat gives you defects.

A helpful tip is to test the amperage on similar scrap metals if you're new to welding to find the right setting. That way, your arc welding won’t produce any welding defects. Too much or little amperage can cause problems, so it's important to get it right. Then, you can weld away with confidence once you've found the right setting. 

A man holding welding rods


The numbers on a welding rod can tell you everything about how it should be welded. This includes information such as tensile strength, welding position, type of coating, and current necessary for distinguishing different types from each other, so no mistakes are made when trying to work out which one is right. But other external factors such as base metal and amperage are also crucial in getting the right arc for quality welds.

Picking out welding rod sizes can be confusing and tedious at first. Still, by understanding the different factors that come into play when selecting an electrode, you can confidently choose the best option for your arc welding. Be sure to check out our other welding guides for tips on choosing the right tools and accessories for your next welding project. We've got everything you need to start or advance your career in metalworking.

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