When storing stick welding electrodes, good practices can make a big difference in how long they stay in reliable condition and in the quality of the welds they make.
In this article, I write about their storage and offer tips about how you can store the electrodes if you weld at home.
Table of Contents
- Can stick welding electrodes go bad?
- What is the shelf-life of a welding electrode package?
- What welding electrodes are sensitive to moisture?
- How can you store electrodes that aren’t moisture-sensitive?
- How to store welding electrodes at home?
Can stick welding electrodes go bad?
Stick welding electrodes can go bad if you don’t follow proper storage conditions or handle stick electrodes without care. The electrodes’ life expectancy can shorten faster than expected and become unusable when the flux covering shows signs of decay.
Stick welding electrodes (or rods) have a sensitive and brittle flux coating. The flux material has many functions such as:
- Generates shielding gases protect the molten metals from the air.
- Generates slag material that cleans and insulates the weld metal.
- Stabilize the arc and direct it to the desired path.
- Provides additional elements to improve the weld metal.
With poor handling, you can crack the flux and receive faulty welds as a result. Furthermore, if the damage is too much and small pieces chip off, the rods become unusable, and you will throw them away.
Moreover, the flux material is sensitive to moisture. Exposed rods will absorb humidity from the air. Depending on the flux type, moisture absorption can lower the rods’ quality to unusable levels.
Humidity isn’t the only pollutant the flux material can absorb. Dust, oil, and grease must not come in contact with the flux either. These pollutants will interfere with the shielding gases and find their way into the weld metals.
As a result, you will end up with several welding defects such as porosity or hydrogen embrittlement.
What is the shelf-life of a welding electrode package?
The self-life of a welding electrode package is the storage timespan from the production date until the electrodes will deliver high-quality professional welds.
The packages’ self-life period depends on their packing type, the storing conditions, and how sensitive flux the electrodes have.
Types of stick electrode packages:
- Paper packages that do not protect the rods well from moisture or mechanical damage.
- Plastic packages have much lower moisture absorption than paper ones.
- Airtight sealed canisters and vacuum-sealed bags are the best types. These airtight types are the only suitable packages to store hydrogen-sensitive rods such as the E7018 the right way.
Recommended storage conditions
The right electrode packaging storage conditions are essential for critical and all other professional weldings.
Furthermore, if you weld at home, you want to store the rods correctly if you want them to perform as intended.
As long as you store the electrodes under the manufacturer’s recommendations, they can keep their good working condition.
Basic electrode packaging storage recommendations are:
- Always keep the packages indoors and protect them from any water damage.
- Keep them at a temperature between 40-120°F (4-48°C).
- The temperature must not fluctuate at high rates.
- Keep them at low humidity of 50%.
- Avoid high-temperature variations to avoid concentrating moisture on their surface.
If the above conditions are met, rods in sealed canisters and vacuum-sealed bags last around 5 years and in other packages around 1-2 years. Always as per the manufactures recommendations for critical and professional work.
What welding electrodes are sensitive to moisture?
The most moisture-sensitive welding electrodes are the low-hydrogen electrodes such as the E7018. If these electrodes absorb moisture from the air, even for a short time, they will not provide safe welds for critical work.
Manufacturers design low-hydrogen rods to weld steel sensitive to hydrogen embrittlement. For example, medium-carbon, low-alloy, and already hardened steel.
Hydrogen embrittlement means that hydrogen trapped in the weld and the surrounding area can lead to cracking. But only if the metal takes stress, either internal from shrinkage or external from the weldment’s service conditions.
That happens because the extreme heat of the arc breaks down the absorbed moisture into hydrogen and oxygen that end up in the weld.
While hydrogen embrittlement is the worse welding defect, other defects and bad arc characteristics caused by poor electrode storage are:
- Hard arc striking.
- Unstable arc.
- Frequent or even continuous porosity.
- Nonmetallic inclusions caused by excessive oxygen.
- More extensive spatter.
- Difficulty removing the slag covering on the bead.
- Uneven consumption (fingernail) of the rod when moisture concentrates in the flux unevenly. Fingernailing will force the arc to point to the weaker side.
Low-hydrogen rods must be used within a narrow timespan after opening their packaging. Exposed low-hydrogen rods must be are rebaked in welding rod ovens.
These moisture-sensitive rods and their usage periods for critical work are shown in the following table.
Other electrodes sensitive to moisture
All welding electrodes that don’t weld mild steel have flux coverings sensitive to moisture. For example:
- Stainless steel rods must be handled like low hydrogen rods, especially the EXXX-15 type.
- Cast iron rods are sensitive to moisture contamination and should be kept away from it.
- Aluminum rods are even more sensitive than the previous rods. Their flux will absorb moisture at fast rates and form hydrated oxides. As a result, aluminum rods will give terrible welds with extreme levels of porosity.
If you leave these rods unprotected, their flux will decay at fast rates, and you cannot recondition them to their original condition.
As an extreme example, the following E4043 aluminum rod, which I left outside and found many days later.
Manufacturers always supply these moisture-sensitive rods in airtight sealed containers or heavy-duty vacuum bags, which provide excellent protection.
How can you store moisture-sensitive electrodes?
After opening their package, the only correct way to store moisture-sensitive electrodes is to put them in a welding electrode oven. No other solution is safe enough for critical or professional work when using these rods.
When you open a low-hydrogen rod package, you must use the rods within a specific period or store them in a holding rod oven to prevent moisture absorption. This way, you won’t have to rebake them. Rebaking rods requires heavy-duty rod ovens.
The temperatures to store rods in ovens are precise. If the temperature is lower, the rods will not be 100% safe from absorbing moisture. Store the rods at higher temperatures, and the flux will deteriorate, and you can’t do any critical work with them.
The following chart is a general example of rod oven’s storing temperatures of moisture-sensitive rods. Every manufacturer mentions their own precise temperatures for each rod they produce.
|Electrode type||Storage oven temperature|
Exx15, Exx16, Exx18
|250°F-300°F (120° to 150°C)|
|Stainless steel EXXX-15||225°-260°F (105° to 125°C)|
|Cast iron||215°-230°F (100° to 110°C)|
Furthermore, Weldpundit has a more in-depth article on welding rod ovens, rebaking, and temperatures.
How can you store electrodes that aren’t moisture-sensitive?
When storing welding electrodes that don’t have low-hydrogen flux, things are much easier.
Cellulosic rods such as the E6010 and the E6011 are the most comfortable rods to store. It is normal for cellulosic flux to have at least 4% moisture in their flux.
If you store cellulosic rods in high temperatures, their flux will deteriorate, precisely the opposite of low hydrogen rods.
In the original package, cellulosic rods are stored at 40-120°F (4-48°C) with 50-70% humidity.
After opening the package, keep the rods in sealed plastic tubes. They will protect the rods enough from physical damage and losing or absorbing moisture.
Rutile rods such as the E6013 and the E7014 can absorb moisture from the air if left exposed for a long time.
However, rutile rods are not as sensitive as low-hydrogen rods. They work great, except if they are meant for critical work, which is rare.
In the original package, rutile rods are stored at 40-120°F (4-48°C) with 50-70% humidity.
After opening the package, store rutile rods in rod ovens if they will weld something with demanding service conditions. The oven’s temperatures for rutile rods are relatively low at 100-130°F (38 to 55°C). Otherwise, store rutile rods like cellulose rods in their own sealed containers.
How to store welding electrodes at home?
For home welding, electrode storage is not strict except if you are welding something critical, for example, a trailer. Ensure you store the welding electrodes indoors at a stable temperature, low humidity, and away from water.
If the rods come in a can package, you can restore them in the package. It is reliable enough to keep them safe. If the package was from paper or plastic, you can use welding rod containers or seal them in your own vacuum bags.
What is a welding electrode storage container?
A welding electrode storage container is a simple and sufficient solution for storing electrodes. They are affordable, and you can buy a couple of them at a local hardware store. However, you can make your own electrode containers from plastic tubing.
Electrode containers are easy to make from cheap PVC tubes, or you can weld metallic containers as a home project. Ensure that they are airtight.
Furthermore, if you have some kind of airtight box that is big enough for the rods, you can use it as a welding container.
If you place some silica bags in rod containers with rutile rods, they will hold them extra dry.
Can you use a vacuum sealer machine to store electrodes?
You can use a vacuum sealer machine to store welding electrodes, and it is a great solution if you want to store them for an extended time in moisture-heavy environments.
You can put the rods in plastic or, even better, an aluminized bag and seal them with a home vacuum sealer. The sealer will absorb all the air from the bag, ensuring no moisture will affect the rods.
The downside is that if these bags are accidentally struck, the rod flux will not be protected.
Remember that you should never store different types of rods in the same container or bag. For example, E7018 rods with E6010 rods. All of them will certainly go bad.
If you want to weld critical work with low-hydrogen rods at home, you need to have a proper rod oven.
If you use low-hydrogen rods for non-critical welding, you can store them like rutile rods but in their separate container.
Of course, there is no reason to buy these rods for common welding. There are efficient, cheaper, and easier-to-use rods for home welding.
Welding rods can go bad. Correct storage and handling are essential to preserving their life expectancy and performance.
Low hydrogen rods are very sensitive to moisture, and you must store them in rod ovens when out of the box. Rod ovens are the only correct way to avoid the notorious cold cracking defect when doing critical work.
Storing rods at home is easy if you are not going to use moisture-sensitive rods. With basic rod storage, you can preserve common rods for years without turning bad and with good results for home projects.
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