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Equipment for manual metal arc (MMA or SMA) welding


Although the manual metal arc (MMA) process has relatively basic equipment requirements, it is important that the welder has a knowledge of operating features and performance to comply with welding procedures for the job and, of course, for safety reasons.

Essential equipment


The main components of the equipment required for welding are:

  • power source
  • electrode holder and cables
  • welder protection
  • fume extraction

Tools required include: a wire brush to clean the joint area adjacent to the weld (and the weld itself after slag removal); a chipping hammer to remove slag from the weld deposit; and, when removing slag, a pair of clear lens goggles or a face shield to protect the eyes (lenses should be shatter-proof and noninflammable).

Power source

The primary function of a welding power source is to provide sufficient power to melt the joint. However with MMA the power source must also provide current for melting the end of the electrode to produce weld metal, and it must have a sufficiently high voltage to maintain the arc. A constant current (drooping) characteristic is used.

MMA electrodes are designed to be operated with alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) power sources. Although AC electrodes can be used on DC, not all DC electrodes can be used with AC power sources.

As MMA requires a high current (50-300A) but a relatively low voltage (10-50V), high voltage mains supply (240 or 440V) must be reduced by a transformer. To produce DC, the output from the transformer must be further rectified. To reduce the hazard of electrical shock, the power source must function with a maximum no-load voltage, that is, when the external (output) circuit is open (power leads connected and live) but no arc is present. The no-load voltage rating of the power source is as defined in IEC 60974-1 and IEC 60974-6 and must be in accordance with the type of welding environment or hazard of electrical shock. The power source may have an internal or external hazard reducing device to reduce the no-load voltage; the main welding current is delivered as soon as the electrode touches the workpiece. For welding in confined spaces, you should use DC or AC with a low voltage safety device to limit the voltage available at the holder to less than 48V rms.

There are four basic types of power source:

  • AC transformer
  • DC rectifier
  • AC/DC transformer-rectifier
  • DC generator

AC electrodes are frequently operated with the simple, single phase transformer with current adjusted by means of tappings or sliding core control. DC rectifiers and AC/DC transformer-rectifiers are controlled electronically, for example by thyristors. Modern power sources called inverters use transistors to convert mains AC (50Hz) to a high frequency AC (typically 50 kHz) before transforming down to a voltage suitable for welding and then rectifying to DC. Because high frequency transformers can be relatively small, principal advantages of inverter power sources are undoubtedly their size and weight when the source must be portable.

Electrode holder and cables

The electrode holder clamps the end of the electrode with copper contact shoes built into its head. The shoes are actuated by either a twist grip or spring-loaded mechanism. The clamping mechanism allows for quick release of the stub end. For efficiency the electrode has to be firmly clamped into the holder, otherwise poor electrical contact may cause arc instability through voltage fluctuations. Welding cable connecting the holder to the power source is mechanically crimped or soldered. Electrode holders should conform to IEC 60974-11.

It is essential that good electrical connections are maintained between electrode, holder and cable. With poor connections, resistance heating and, in severe cases, minor arcing with the torch body will cause the holder to overheat. Two cables are connected to the output of the power source, the welding lead goes to the electrode holder and the current return lead is clamped to the workpiece. The latter is often wrongly referred to as the earth lead. A separate earth lead may be required to provide protection from faults in the power source. The earth cable should therefore be capable of carrying the maximum output current of the power source. For guidance see DD CLC/TS 62081.

Cables are covered in a smooth and hard-wearing protective rubberised flexible sheath. This oil and water resistant coating provides electrical insulation at voltages to earth not exceeding 100V DC and AC (rms value). Cable diameter is generally selected on the basis of welding current level. The higher the current and duty cycle, the larger the diameter of the cable to ensure that it does not overheat (see BS 638 Pt 4). If welding is carried out some distance from the power source, it may be necessary to increase cable diameter to reduce voltage drop.

Care of electrodes

The quality of weld relies upon consistent performance of the electrode. The flux coating should not be chipped, cracked or, more importantly, allowed to become damp.


Electrodes should always be kept in a dry and well-ventilated store. It is good practice to stack packets of electrodes on wooden pallets or racks well clear of the floor. Also, all unused electrodes which are to be returned should be stored so they are not exposed to damp conditions to regain moisture. Good storage conditions are 10 degrees C above external air temperature. As the storage conditions are to prevent moisture from condensing on the electrodes, the electrode stores should be dry rather that warm. Under these conditions and in original packaging, electrode storage time is practically unlimited. It should be noted that electrodes are now available in hermetically sealed packs which obviate the need for drying. However, if necessary, any unused electrodes must be redried according to manufacturer's instructions.

Drying of electrodes

Drying is usually carried out following the manufacturer's recommendations and requirements will be determined by the type of electrode.

Cellulosic coatings

As these electrode coatings are designed to operate with a definite amount of moisture in the coating, they are less sensitive to moisture pick-up and do not generally require a drying operation. However, in cases where ambient relative humidity has been very high, drying may be necessary.

Rutile coatings

These can tolerate a limited amount of moisture and coatings may deteriorate if they are overdried. Particular brands may need to be dried before use.

Basic and basic/rutile coatings

Because of the greater need for hydrogen control, moisture pick-up is rapid on exposure to air. These electrodes should be thoroughly dried in a controlled temperature drying oven. Typical drying time is one hour at a temperature of approximately 150 to 300 degrees C but instructions should be adhered to.

After controlled drying, basic and basic/rutile electrodes must be held at a temperature between 100 and 150 degrees C to help protect them from re-absorbing moisture into the coating. These conditions can be obtained by transferring the electrodes from the main drying oven to a holding oven or a heated quiver at the workplace.

Protective clothing

When welding, the welder must be protected from heat and light radiation emitted from the arc, spatter ejected from the weld pool, and from welding fume.

Hand and head shield

For most operations a hand-held or head shield constructed of lightweight insulating and non-reflecting material is used which conforms to EN175. The shield is fitted with a protective filter glass, sufficiently dark in colour and capable of absorbing the harmful infrared and ultraviolet rays. The filter glasses conform to the strict requirements of EN 169 and are graded according to a shade number which specifies the amount of visible light allowed to pass through - the lower the number, the lighter the filter. The correct shade number for MMA welding must be used according to the welding current level, for example:

  • Shade 9 - up to 40A
  • Shade 10 - 40 to 80A
  • Shade 11 - 80 to 175A
  • Shade 12 - 175 to 300A
  • Shade 13 - 300 to 500A

Note: The current ranges are different for other processes.


For protection against sparks, hot spatter, slag and burns, leather gloves should be worn. Various types of leather gloves are available, such as short or elbow length, full fingered or part mitten. Other protection such as leather aprons may be required depending on the application.

Fume extraction

When welding within a welding shop, ventilation must dispose harmlessly of the welding fume. Particular attention should be paid to ventilation when welding in a confined space such as inside a boiler, tank or compartment of a ship.

Fume removal should be by some form of mechanical ventilation which will produce a current of fresh air in the immediate area. Direction of the air movement should be from the welder's face towards the work. This is best achieved by localised exhaust ventilation using a suitably designed hood near to the welding area.

Further information

Please refer to:
IEC 60974-1: 2012 Arc Welding Equipment - Part 1 Welding Power Sources
IEC 60974-6: 2010 Arc Welding Equipment - Part 6 Limited Duty Arc Welding Power Sources

EN 169: 2002 Personal eye protection. Fillers for welding and related techniques. Transmittance requirements and recommended use.

EN 175: 1997 Personal protection : Equipment for eye and face protection during welding and allied processes.
IEC 60974-11: 2010 Arc Welding Equipment - Part 11. Electrode holders.

This Job Knowledge article was originally published in Connect, January 1996. It has been updated so the web page no longer reflects exactly the printed version.

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