Arc welding is a fusion process for joining metals. By applying intense heat, metal is melted at the joint between two parts, causing them to intermix - directly, or more commonly with an intermediate molten filler metal called welding rod or electrode. Upon cooling and solidification, a metallurgical bond is created. Since the joining is an intermixture of metals, the final weldment potentially has the same strength properties as the metal of the parts. This is in sharp contrast to non-fusion processes of joining (i.e. soldering, brazing etc.) in which the mechanical and physical properties of the base materials cannot be duplicated at the joint.
In arc welding, the intense heat needed to melt metal is produced by an electric arc. The arc is formed between the actual work and an electrode (stick or wire) that is manually or mechanically guided along the joint. But joining metals requires more than moving an electrode along a joint. Metals at high temperatures tend to react chemically with elements in the air - oxygen and nitrogen. When metal in the molten pool comes into contact with air, oxides and nitrides form which destroy the strength and toughness of the weld joint. Therefore, many arc-welding processes provide some means of covering the arc and the molten pool with a protective shield of gas, vapor, or slag. This is called arc shielding. This shielding prevents or minimizes contact of the molten metal with air. Shielding also may improve the weld. An example is a granular flux, which actually adds deoxidizers to the weld.The extruded covering on the filler metal rod, provides a shielding gas at the point of contact while the slag protects the fresh weld from the air. The arc itself is a very complex phenomenon. In-depth understanding of the physics of the arc is of little value to the welder, but some knowledge of its general characteristics can be useful.
An arc is an electric current flowing between two electrodes through an ionized column of gas. A negatively charged cathode and a positively charged anode create the intense heat of the welding arc. Negative and positive ions are bounced off of each other in the plasma column at an accelerated rate. In welding, the arc not only provides the heat needed to melt the electrode and the base metal, but under certain conditions must also supply the means to transport the molten metal from the tip of the electrode to the work. Several mechanisms for metal transfer exist.