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Building Welding Experience on the Job

So now that I’ve given a brief description of my crazy welding career, and believe me, I have left many things out including: bar-fights, near-death close calls, seeing good men get badly hurt and die, getting badly hurt twice myself, meeting great people from all over that I’ll always remember, meeting sorry assed people I’d just as soon NEVER remember, more bar-fights, great bosses, sorry-assed bosses, and so many lessons learned.

I’ve worked in every kind of weather and conditions welding with Mig, Flux core or Stick. I’ve welded in forty below wind chill factors and next to seventeen hundred degree blast furnaces. Some welding jobs were dangerous and scary as hell while others were so easy I couldn’t believe I was getting paid so much to do em! Of the four main processes, the only one I didn’t use was Tig.

I had to learn it once I started teaching the trade. I love welding with Tig on small projects and art pieces but it ain’t for me as far as doing it all day long cause it’s too tedious. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before, I admire someone who is good with Tig welding and they usually make a ton of money, I just like moving around on buildings to break the monotony. And that is why ninety percent of the time I was stick welding, with the majority of my experience 7018 welding rods.

After thirty-five years with a couple of bad falls in the welding trade I take prescription and over the counter meds to manage the pain. Luckily it only hurts when I’m awake! J  I’ve made a fortune, and blown a fortune. Seen great times, hard times and am thankful to God I’m still be on this side of the dirt! I would not trade my welding career for any other job or amount of money this world has to offer. The freedom, friends and especially the students I’ve taught from all walks of life are something I will always cherish!

 Before I start in about Stick Welding, (SMAW / Shielded Metal Arc Welding) I wanna hit on safety not just in welding and welding processes, but in the projects you work on. Safety has to be number one whether hobby welding, art welding, fabrication shop welding or welding in the construction field! The link listed in the first of these Processes articles is from the American Welding Society’s online brochure on Safety in Welding. Every welder, plant manager, shop owner, welding instructor etc. should read this thoroughly! I can never emphasize enough the importance of safety in welding. NEVER get in the “comfort zone” where your mind drifts and doesn’t focus on welding safety! It only takes a split second to change your life for the worse putting you, or someone else in a world of HURT forever!

Oxy/Acetylene welding was outdated by the time I got in the trade around 1974. I did actually use it a couple of times, one to quickly weld a chain link onto a column where we needed to chain a bottle up, and I brazed a crack in a diesel fuel tank (another quick repair) for a front end loader they needed really bad at a power house. They needed it because there was a concrete gang (crew who poured and finished the concrete on the floors that had been welded) of about fifteen men who could not go to work until an embankment was cleared.

Whether in the shop or field time is money and there aren’t too many General Foremen out there that like to see fifteen men standing around doing nothing while getting paid. It makes the boss man real cranky! If you’ve been around many jobs I’m sure you have had some really great bosses and some really sorry-assed bosses. Well, this boss was in the latter category and he decided to take his frustrated anger out on me with a real nice question and answer time that went something like this…

“Let’s GO?” Him.

“Where we going?” Me.

“You’re going to get fired if you don’t hurry up!” Him.

“I am hurrying!” Me.

“Then why are you spending so much time brushing that damn crack? I would have already been brazing it by now!” him.

“Well I’m sure not stopping you, go ahead and then we’ll watch it leak like a sieve!” Me.

That’s when he told me to haul my ass back up to the Iron Workers welding gang I had come from. About forty-five minutes later my Pusher (foreman of our gang or crew) tells me I’m to go back down to the Operating Engineers (they’re the guys and gals that operate cranes, forklifts, elevators, back-hoes etc. on construction jobs.) Seems Mr. Impatient General Foreman had not only NOT fixed the crack, but blown a nice hole in it which would now delay the job even more. Much to his chagrin, I seemed to be the only person on the whole danged job that could braze thin gauge steel.

I started to mouth off but the look on his face told me I better keep my pie-hole shut. Then it hit me. Instead of seeing a boss treating me like crap, I saw a guy with a load on his back who needed my help. I realized he must have a million problems going on at the job along with this one and it changed my whole perspective. And I’ll be danged if he didn’t ask me half-way nicely if I could fix his screw up! Funny how a positive attitude can shed a whole new light on a situation, and although it took a little longer than he’d have liked (I had to build up the edge of the hole, cool it down, build up the other edge, cool it down, etc until I joined the built up sides together.) you’d have thought I was his best buddy when they filled that tank and it didn’t leak.

That was a diesel tank which meant we still had to be careful but not near as much trouble as working on a gasoline tank. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER cut or weld on a gasoline, or ANY tank that has stored something flammable unless you absolutely know what you are doing!!! Me and that guy got along pretty danged  well the next couple of years until he laid me off while I was on my dadgummed honeymoon!!!

There is Brazing and there is Braze Welding. About all I ever did was Brazing and including that diesel tank I probably did it about one other time in the field. In my welding class I teach Brazing because it is a great preparation for Tig welding. It is also very nice for art projects as it comes out smooth with a gold color.

Brazing is very similar to Oxy/Acetylene welding. It is done at temperatures of 840 degrees and above. Similar to soldering, it is done by heating the base metal and then adding another metal to the surface. Instead of coalescing (becoming part of the base metal) through melting like in arc welding, it adheres to the surface of the base metal. Think of it as a STRONG coat of paint that is not part of the parent metal but is attached to the parent metal. The brazing rod melts at a temperature lower than the base metal and adheres to the surface. It makes for a very strong joint sometimes as strong as the base metal itself. It’s advantageous in that two dissimilar metals can be joined together.

 Although I don’t teach Oxy/Acetylene welding because it is pretty much obsolete, I have my students learn Brazing because it is an excellent precursor to Tig (GTAW) in the method and steps that are used.  

The chain link I brazed was another case of being in a hurry which is never good on a job. Getting in a hurry in the welding field causes corners to be cut, concentration to be broken, and can lead to defects and accidents. Don’t get “in a hurry!” There is a big difference between working quickly and hurrying! We needed to quickly add a link so we could chain up our oxygen and acetylene bottles.

There were no welding machines around so I grabbed a torch and welding rod to Oxy/Acetylene weld the link.  In Oxy/Acetylene welding you heat the base metal with a torch and feed the welding rod into the weld pool. So I melted into the column (parent metal), melted into the chain link, and then added filler metal so that they all joined and became one grasshopper. (By the way, ALWAYS check with an engineer before you go heating, cutting or welding on a column. Columns are load bearing meaning they distribute weight from the top of the building down to the ground. You do not want to weaken a column by heating, cutting or welding it!

Next I discuss working with the good ol 6011 electrodes and stick welding. (SMAW) 6011 is sometimes called the “farmer’s rod” or “all purpose rod “because it is widely used on the farms and ranches and for general repair. And you can jump right into it with a very small amount of money if you wanna grab a crackerbox. Just be careful because a cheap crackerbox is usually AC and has gotten many a new or careless welder hurt, maimed or killed! We’ll talk about keeping that from happening next.


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