MIG Welding Electrodes Wire Selection Guide Chart and the Basics

To start, the chart below shows the electrodes covered on this page. It is a list of the most commonly used wires, gasses and what base metals they weld.

If you want to learn a lot more then keep reading for more information!

Base Metals to Weld Electrode Classification AWS Electrode Alternatives Most Commonly Used Shielding Gas
Carbon Steels and Mild Steels ER70s-6  n/a C25 (25% Carbon Dioxide and 75% Argon) or 100% Co2
Stainless Steel Grades:
301, 302, 304, 305, and 308.
ER308L ER308LSi C2 or 2% Carbon Dioxide and 98% Argon
Stainless Steel Grade 309 –
Welding Carbon Steel to Stainless Steel
or Low Alloy Steels
ER309L  n/a C2 or 2% Carbon Dioxide and 98% Argon
Stainless Steel Grades:
304,305, 308, 310, 312,
314, 316, 317, 321, 347 and 348.
ER316L ER316LSi C2 or 2% Carbon Dioxide and 98% Argon
Aluminum Grades:
2014, 3003, 3004, 4043, 5052,
6061, 6062 and 6063.*It may also be used to weld cast Aluminum grades:
43, 214, 355 and 356.
ER4043  n/a 100%Argon
Aluminum Grades:
5050, 5052, 5056, 5083, 5086,
5154, 5356, 5454, 5456.
ER5356  n/a 100%Argon

 

ESAB brand MIG welder electrode

MIG Welding Electrodes Names and Proper GMAW Filler Wire Terminology

MIG welding electrodes are known by a variety of names but all mean the same thing. This is typical welding terminology slang vs. what is the correct or proper name used for the process or electrode. We have come to accept the slang terms but if you are looking for something specific then you need to know the exact name to search for. MIG welding electrodes are officially called GMAW electrodes or Gas Metal Arc Welding electrodes.

How to Choose the Right MIG Welding Electrode

When choosing the proper MIG wire or electrode you need to match the type of wire to the type of metal being welded. Some other considerations are the type of transfer, position to be welded, and resistance to abrasion or heat. Most of the time when working as a welder the welding engineers will specify the weld size and electrode type to be used. In that case you have no need to worry about selecting the proper electrode. But if you are a business owner, student or at home welder, then just use the above table or chart and to be sure talk to your local welding supply store about proper electrode selection. They know the best up to date products for the job and will also advise on what gasses to choose! It all comes down to knowing what products that is available at the time. Can’t go wrong there, now can you?

The Details of Gas Metal Arc Welding Electrodes, Wire Designations and What You Need to Know!

Electrodes designations are a mystery for most welders. They just seem to be familiar with a single electrode and that is the ER70S-6. The majority of welders only know is that it is used for welding most carbon steels.

The manufactures of these electrodes use a simple code to identify the type of electrode. The designations used and covered here are AWS or American Welding Society designations. There are many other designations for the same electrodes depending on the group who writers the designation. AWS designations are the most commonly used so that is what is being covered.

The designation is pretty standard but there are some basics you need to understand to know what the wire is meant for. The most obvious is that most MIG welding electrodes are also designed for TIG welding. Hey, filler metal is filler metal as long as the right shielding gas is used. That is why you see the designation “ER” and it stands for “electrode” or “filler rod” that can be used in either MIG or TIG welding. In TIG welding it can be either used by adding it manually by hand or in the case of orbital welding it is feed into the joint by a feeder system like a MIG welder. That is with the exception that a robot is doing the welding. Here are the electrodes:

ER 70S-6 MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses

Carbon steel or mild steels are typically welded with a ER70s-6” electrode using either 100% Carbon Dioxide gas or C25 gas that is 25% Carbon Dioxide and 75% Argon mixture. If you are welding a higher grade of carbon steel the minimum tensile strength is what usually changes. For example if you are welding high strength steel the “ER70S-6” would be a “ER90S-6” instead. The change in the strength of the steel is what would be different.

GMAW_ER70S-6_Label

GMAW ER70S-6 welding wire label

If you are welding most steels, then the ER 70s-6 is the most widely used filler wire or electrode. Now, if you are wondering what those letters and numbers mean…

Then for example the code on the label ER 70S-6 represents the following:

ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.

70– A minimum of 70,000 pounds of tensile strength per square inch of weld

S -Solid wire

6– The amount of deoxidizing agent and cleansing agent on the electrode. This is a copper coating on the electrode (there are different types)

 

Stainless Steel MIG Welding Electrode Selection and Choices

Stainless steel has a variety of electrodes because it is used on a wide range of projects that require different types of stainless steel grades. Stainless Steel is also commonly welded to Carbon steel on the same jobs. For example a stainless steel brace that is welded to the building that holds stainless steel piping. Here are the different types of stainless steel electrodes. Stainless Steel is typically welded with the electrode classes and they are:

  • ER308L
  • ER309L
  • ER316L

ER308L and ER308LSi MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses

GMAW Stainless Steel MIG weld

GMAW Stainless Steel MIG weld (c2 e308)

These stainless electrodes are mostly used for lower grade stainless steels 301, 302, 304, 305, and 308. This is not the shiny stuff most people think of as stainless steel. It is typically used in industrial applications and it does get some rust spots from time to time.
The picture on the left is a 304 stainless steel welded with a ER308L series wire.

The wire designation is as follows:

ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.

308 – The grade of the Stainless Steel Electrode.

L –Low Carbon. Carbon content is what gets the rust spots on stainless.

Si– (Optional) Sometime “Si” is added and that means high silicone content. Basically it helps the weld wash into the metal better. Kind of like turning up the heat and holding the sides longer.

ER309L and ER309Si MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses (Welding Dissimilar Metals)

The 309 series has a multi use designation because it is used to weld stainless steel to mild or stainless to carbon or low alloy steels. It welds stainless steel grades 304 through 310 when needed or welds dissimilar metals together where needed. The down side of using this electrode to weld steel to stainless is that the weld appearance is rough. It does the job but no matter how high you turn up the machine it feels like it is running cold. No matter what you do the welds seems to look rough compared to welding stainless steel to stainless steel. The gas used most of the time is the same C2 or 2% carbon dioxide and 98% Argon. There are many other choices (some are better) for gas but the C2 is the most common used. Here is the electrode designation:

  • ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.
  • 309 – The grade of the Stainless Steel Electrode.
  • L –Low Carbon.
  • Si– (Optional) Sometime “Si” is added and that means high silicone content. Basically it helps the weld wash into the metal better. Kind of like turning up the heat and holding the sides longer.

ER3016L and ER316LSi MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses

These stainless electrodes are mostly used for higher grade stainless steels mainly in the food industries and marine applications. The base metals the ER316 welds are stainless grades 304,305, 308, 310, 312, 314, 316, 317, 321, 347 and 348. As for gasses the C2 (2% carbon dioxide and 98% Argon) is the most widely used. There are many other mixtures to choose from and that all depends on you welding supplier has to offer. The wire designation for the ER316L and the ER316LSI are as follows:

  • ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.
  • 316– The grade of the Stainless Steel Electrode. This is food grade and true marine grade. But nowhere the best grade of stainless.
  • L –Low Carbon. Carbon content is what gets the rust spots on stainless.
  • Si– (Optional) Sometime “Si” is added and that means high silicone content. Basically it helps the weld wash into the metal better. Kind of like turning up the heat and holding the sides longer.

Aluminum MIG Welding Electrodes Choices and Wires

Aluminum Electrodes selection for MIG welding is pretty straight forward. There are two typical choices and they are:

  • ER4043
  • ER5350

Now there are other choices but is rare to need any other electrodes. As for gas choices it is always 100% Argon gas. If you are welding aluminum thicker then 1/2 of an inch then you may want to try a Argon Helium mix. In most cases 100% Argon is what most shipyards, power plants and fab shops use no matter what the thickness of the aluminum is. Here are the aluminum electrode designations:

ER4043 MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses

The ER4043 is the most commonly used MIG filler wire. It welds aluminum grades 2014, 3003, 3004, 4043, 5052, 6061, 6062 and 6063. It may also be used to weld cast aluminum grades 43, 214, 355 and 356. The gas used is always 100% Argon and in rare cases a helium/Argon mix may be used on base metals thicker then ½ of a inch. The electrodes designation is as follows:

  • ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.
  • 4– The series of the aluminum. This electrode is made from a 4000 series aluminum.
  • 043 – This number indicates the amount of silicone added to the electrode. 4000 series of aluminum alloys have silicone added to make that grade.

ER5350 MIG Welding Electrode Designation and Uses

The ER4043 is the most commonly used MIG filler wire. It welds aluminum grades 5050, 5052, 5056, 5083, 5086, 5154, 5356, 5454, 5456.The gas used is always 100% Argon and in rare cases a helium/Argon mix may be used on base metals thicker then ½ of a inch. The electrodes designation is as follows:

  • ER– An electrode or filler rod that is used in either a MIG wire feed or TIG welding.
  • 5– The series of the aluminum. This electrode is made from a 5000 series aluminum.
  • 356 – This number indicates the amount of Magnesium added to the electrode. 5000 series of aluminum alloys have Magnesium added to make this alloy.

Most Widely Used MIG Welding Electrode Sizes

Typical MIG welding electrodes are a solid wire ranging from a thickness of .023 to .045. Some are much thicker for heavy industrial applications. The most common sizes most welders use are:

  • .023
  • .030
  • .035
  • .045

For most fabrication shops the .035 with is the most common. If you are a at home welder then use a small diameter electrode whenever you can. The smaller the electrode the less power you need from your machine to run. Just remember when it comes to MIG welding a single electrode size welds a wide range of metal thicknesses because it is the machine set-up that determines the metal thickness that will be welded.

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