Welded Ostrich pattern
 

Welding

Last winter, as you have all heard too many times, I took GMAW-MIG Welding at the local technical college. I had no idea what the class title even meant.

Allow me to describe the educational process. Every Tuesday and Thursday night I would put on my grubbiest non-acrylic clothing (something about inflammability), my leather hiking boots, and drove out to Truax Field where MATC has their new campus. On the way I would try to reason out what the unstated rules of the class were. Should one match one's clothing by fabric color or by type of stain? Is it tacky that my insulated gloves, mask and safety goggles aren't the same shade of blue? Will lipstick brighten up my look when I'm covered with sweat and metal dust?

 

The welding classes were three hours long. My friend R. and I spent most of that time trying to keep our welding masks on our heads, in a down position for welding, an up position for talking to other people. For example, if you are listening to the instructor, your mask should not suddenly fall over your face when you nod in agreement. Conversely, when he is showing how to do a vertical weld your helmet should not burst apart with a loud noise and have one of its bolts jump into the water barrel next to you. Because otherwise you would be holding your helmet on with one hand and looking like an idiot. Hypothetically speaking of course.

 

 

R. spent much of his time trying to figure out why nothing worked. He didn't believe in stooping to asking the instructor questions; he claimed it was as bad as asking someone for directions. Then he muttered something about his gender being to blame for this.

 

 

I, on the other hand, spent my time asking questions of anyone who didn't run away. I pestered everyone in the class not only about welding problems, but about any technical knowledge they had from their various jobs. Since these were all people in the trades I had a hey-day. How do you cut plastics? How should I have cut that stud? What's the best way to bend steel? What would you use for dealing with cast iron? I have no knowledge of chemistry, much less metallurgy so many of my questions were basic. Why does argon gas make a better weld that CO2? What is foot per second on a MIG welder? What is ionic pentameter? Why is tungsten used in TIG welding? Why do you need gas shielding? What is the electric process behind arc welding?

 

 

Other challenges for me were trying to be non-conspicuous. Particularly while trying to fix the metal bending machine for the third time in three classes after playing, "I wonder if this will work?" The answer was always no. I just never could get it through my head. Ditto for the dropping a crucial red hot piece of metal in a (different) water barrel and having to retrieve it by getting wet up to my shoulders. In front of a lot of other students.

 

 

My 'skill' scraped (or is it scrapped?) the bottom of the class, so to speak. At times my welding resembled molten cat diarrhea on a sheet - not something one would necessarily want to replicate, particularly week after week.

When the instructor asked why I wasn't frustrated by my lack of progress I explained to him what I did for a living (computer programming). He said he noticed I was always happy in class, even when I wasn't having much success welding.

The final night I showed him the crude ostrich sculpture I made. I explained that I had cut the body out of sheet metal with an acetylene torch, attached the bent rod mild steel legs with MIG welds and made a beak out of a part from my old wheel chair. The instructor looked at the sculpture and then at me. He may then have understood why doing a mediocre job in that class was as close to heaven as I've gotten in a while.

 

 
Welded Ostrich
 
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