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What Kind of Metal Do You Need for Welding?

Different welding processes work for different types of metal. Each type of welding process has advantages and disadvantages. Tractor Supply's team of expert welders have created these handy charts to help you determine what type of metal you need to complete your welding project.

What type of metal do you want to weld? Different welding processes work for different types of metal. See chart below.

Metal Type Welding Process
  Stick MIG Flux Wire AC-TIG DC-TIG Resistance Spot
Steel X X X   X X
Stainless Steel X X X   X X
Aluminum X X   X    
Cast Iron X          
Copper/Brass         X  
Magnesium Alloys       X    
Titanium         X  


What thickness of metal do you want to cut with a plasma cutter? You will need a powerful enough plasma cutter to cut the desired metal and thickness.

Maximum Cutting Depth Air Force™ 250/250a Air Force™ 400 Air Force™ 625
Steel 1/8" 3/8" 3/4"
Stainless Steel 1/16" 1/4" 1/2"
Aluminum 1/16" 1/4" 3/8"
Cast Iron 1/16" 1/4" 3/8"
Copper/Brass 1/16" 1/8" 3/8"
Magnesium Alloys 1/16" 3/16" 1/4"
Titanium 1/16" 1/8" 1/4"


What are your welding skills? Certain types of welding require more skill than others.

Welding Process Stick MIG Flux Wire AC-TIG DC-TIG Resistance Spot
Skill Level Moderate Low Low High High Low

Optimal Welding Conditions

Decide where, and in what conditions, you will be welding. For example, a process such as stick or flux-cored welding can be used in windy, outdoor conditions, while flux-cored welding is good for out-of-position work. Keep in mind the following guidelines:

    • Stick and flux-cored welding can be used safely outdoors in windy conditions.
    • DC stick or wire feed welding is good for out-of-position welding.
    • Stick and flux-cored welding can be used with rusty, painted, and dirty metals.

Q and A: Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Welding

  1. What materials can be welded with a stick welder?

    You can weld mild steel, stainless steel, cast iron, hard surfacing, and aluminum

  2. What are the advantages of an AC stick welder?
    • An AC stick welder is versatile and economical
    • It welds thick materials (3/8"-1/2")
    • It is easy to change electrodes for different base metals
    • It welds cast iron and hard surfacing
    • It can cut and gouge
  3. What is the advantage of an AC/DC stick welder?

    The AC/DC welder has the same advantages as AC welder, plus DC for better control of the arc and minimal spatter.

  4. What is the disadvantage of stick welding?
    • It's too hot for thin materials
    • It can't adjust to lower amperages for thinner materials
    • It is limited to materials over 1/16" thick
  5. What is the advantage of a wire feed welder such as MIG or flux-cored?
    • It is able to weld thinner materials (24 gauge — 24/1000" — with select models)
    • It reduces spatter
    • There is no slag left on weld for reduced clean up
    • It is versatile, especially the 115 volt models
    • It can weld with stainless and aluminum wires
  6. What is the advantage of the flux cored welding process?
    • You are able to weld in windy conditions where shielding gas would be blown away.
    • It is deep penetrating similar to a 6011 stick electrode.
  7. What is the spool gun used for?

    The gun is used mainly with aluminum wire because the feed length for the wire is less than six" compared to ten ft with a MIG welding gun. The spool gun reduces the feeding problems with soft aluminum wires. It also can be used with other wires(solid and flux cored) where the 20 ft. length is an advantage.

  8. What is the advantage of stick welding compared to wire feed welding?
    • It is economical for thicker mild steel materials (3/8"-1/2")
    • You have easy electrode change over for different base metals
    • A wider variety of materials can be welded
    • It is available in AC and DC models
    • Gives you the ability to weld cast iron
    • Many hard surfacing rods are readily available
  9. What is the advantage of continuous wire feed welding compared to stick welding?
    • Easier to operate (like a hot glue gun)
    • You can weld thinner materials
    • You can use solid and flux cored wires
    • Makes it easier to weld aluminum
    • Can be used with spool guns
  10. What is the advantage of a welder/generator over a standard stick welder?

    It is portable and can be used as a generator.

  11. What materials can a plasma cutter cut?

    A plasma cutter can cut any electrically conductive material, including steel, stainless, aluminum, copper, brass, and galvanized metal.

  12. How does a plasma cutter differ from an oxy-acetylene cutting torch?

    A plasma cutter uses electrical arc and compressed air to cut VS heat from burning gases. It also uses electricity rather than oxygen and acetylene. Plasma cuts all electrically conductive materials where oxy-acetylene is limited to ferrous materials.

  13. What is the advantage of a TIG welder?
    • It is a stick and TIG welder in one
    • It can weld thinner gauge aluminum, copper, brass, stainless steel, steel and titanium
    • It provides a superior weld bead appearance.
  14. What's the difference between gas welding and gas brazing?
    • Gas welding is fusion, where the steel welding rod actually melts with the steel base metal to become one piece of metal.
    • Gas brazing is actually adhesion, as the final bond is between two distinct pieces of metal. Once the base metal is heated, the brass filler rod is deposited on top of the base metal and the two pieces adhere or stick together.
  15. How long does this set of cylinders burn?
    • With a 0 cutting tip and 1/2-inch steel, standard burn times are as follows:
      • Size # 1: 30 minutes
      • Size # 2: One hour
      • Size # 3: One-and-one-half hours
      • Size # 4: Two hours
  16. Can I rent or lease a cylinder through the Thoroughbred Industrial Cylinder Exchange (T-Bred) program?
    • T-Bred does not lease or rent cylinders, or accept leased or rented cylinders for exchange. Customers verify ownership of the trade-in cylinders in order to participate in the exchange by signing the "Customer Ownership Acknowledgement Form."
  17. Are these cylinders safe?
    • All cylinders in the T-Bred program are approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
  18. How much do these cylinders weigh?
    • Full Thoroughbred cylinders vary from 8.5 to 82 pounds when full. Consult the Thoroughbred Industrial Cylinder Exchange brochure for information on the weights of all cylinders offered through the program.