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Q: I am hoping you could shed some light on a topic that seems popular on forums.

Why are 6011 stick electrodes not specified or not used for root
passes and pipe welding in general (other than AC pipe welding)? Do 6010 rods have better mechanical or operating properties than 6011? I know for
higher strength pipe, there are higher strength XX10 rods. However, for 60,000 tensile, what is the advantage of 6010 over 6011?

A: E6010 and E6011 are two American Welding Society (AWS) classifications for Shielded
Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) electrodes (stick electrodes). These two types are very
similar. Both are mild steel (60 ksi minimum tensile strength) electrodes with a cellulosic
based coating for all-position, multiple applications welding. They have similar arc or
operating characteristics and mechanical properties. The main difference between the two
is with the recommended welding polarity. E6010 electrodes are intended for direct current
(DC) only. While E6011 electrodes can be used on alternating current (AC), as well as
DC. More specifically, an E6010 electrode has a high cellulose sodium type coating and
an E6011 electrode has a high cellulose potassium type coating. The latter helps keep
the arc ignited as the welding output alternates from positive to negative. In perhaps over
simplified terms, an E6011 electrode is like an E6010 electrode designed to operate on AC
polarity.

Figure 1: Graph of Welding Output on DC+ or DC- Polarity

Your question leads to a more general discussion of DC vs. AC welding output. In most
cases, DC is the preferred welding polarity. Whether it is DC+ (electrode positive or
reverse) polarity or DC- (electrode negative or straight) polarity, DC produces smoother
welding output than AC. Figure 1 is a graph of DC welding output vs. time. The output is
at a consistent current level all the time. All electrodes can be operated on DC
polarity. For more critical welding applications, such as pipe welding and / or welding on
higher strength, low alloy steels, DC polarity is used almost exclusively.

Therefore, referring back to your question, it is logical that only E6010 electrodes would be specified for a more critical application such as pipe welding, and not E6011
electrodes. Note that for stick welding in general, DC+ polarity is most commonly used. It produces a good bead profile with a higher level of penetration. DC- polarity
results in less penetration and a higher electrode melt-off rate. It is sometimes used, for example, on thin sheet metal in an attempt to prevent burn-through.

On the other hand, with AC output, the welding current alternates from positive flow to negative flow and back again. In North
America, electricity alternates at a rate of sixty times per second or 60 hertz (while most other global regions produce electricity at
50 Hz). Figure 2 is a graph of AC output, often referred to as an AC sine wave graph. Note that 120 times per second the welding
output crosses the centerline, representing zero amperage or no output. While this state of no output occurs for only a split
second, the result is that with many electrodes the arc tends to frequently pop out or extinguish on AC polarity. To overcome this
problem, some electrodes are designed specifically to operate on AC. They have certain elements in their coating which help keep
the arc ignited as the output goes through periods of low and no output (loosely represented by the red zone on the figure 2
graph).
However, the resulting arc still tends to have more fluctuation or flutter than it does on DC polarity. Figure 3 lists the various types
of coatings and currents, per the AWS A5.1 Filler Metal Specification for mild steel covered electrodes. Note the electrodes that
are intended for DC only and those that can be used on both DC and AC. Note also that the polarities are listed alphabetically
rather than by primary and secondary recommendation.

Figure 2: Graph of
Welding Output on
AC Polarity

Table of Various Stick Electrode Coating Types and Currents