March 20, 2014
Ever wonder about the backstories behind the people with the funny screen names on welding message boards? This is the story of a tool and die welder who discovered a talent for drawing with a TIG torch.
If you spend a little part of each week browsing through the various welding message boards on the Internet, you’re bound to run across a few threads dedicated to metal sculpture. The people who interact on these threads post photos of their work, provide feedback on the work of others, and even share ideas. Many posters include signature lines at the bottom of each post with equipment listings, web addresses, and phrases that are meaningful or funny.
A few additional clicks through the links in those signature lines can reveal just how talented some of these message board artists are. Take Jeff Lockhart, for example. He’s a tool and die welder from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., with a serious talent for metal art.
You could say both welding and art are in Lockhart’s genetic makeup. His grandfather was a welder, and his father is a commercial artist that specializes in water-color painting. Lockhart remembers spending time in his father’s home art studio, where his father would jokingly paint little mustaches on his four children and teach them how to paint and draw.
A self-described dreamer, Lockhart enrolled in a trade school after his freshmen year of high school, where he first began welding. Traditional academics never really interested him, but the trades, particularly welding, challenged and excited him. To this day he has no regrets about the path that he took so long ago and the opportunities that came about as a result.
“I had a knack for it. I could’ve wished that maybe I had gone to college because I’m not making a lot of money, but I am sure making a lot of happiness for myself and anyone else who shares what I am doing,” Lockhart explained.
As gifted a water-color artist as his father is, Lockhart is equally as gifted with the gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) torch, and he has spent the last 22 years as a tool and die welder at the same metal plant. The date he began fiddling around with metal art is one Lockhart remembers exactly. It was Jan. 2, 1999, and his workload for that particular day was light. In his own words, he began, “doodling” with the GTAW torch and was pleasantly surprised by the results. So he tried something else, and it snowballed from there.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a very gifted artist on a two-dimensional sheet of paper. It’s much more natural for me to paint or draw with a TIG torch.”
Unlike most people, who have hobbies or interests that in no way resemble their day jobs, Lockhart’s hobby and day job are almost identical. Is it possible to relax after a 10-hour shift under the hood by … staying under the hood?
It is, said Lockhart, even though the process of giving life to his ideas is slow and arduous.
He finds that pushing around the molten pool is relaxing, and finds stress relief in the familiarity of the motions and in the creativity of each of his unique sculptures.
Part of the process he enjoys most and takes the most pride in is forming shapes and creating details with each slow drop of metal. He refuses to use a grinder to create shape, calling it one of his quirks.
“For me, it’s a kick not to use a grinder. You’ll notice that some of my pieces have been polished or have a patina on them, but for the most part I don’t use grinders at all for shaping. It’s all TIG shaping, drip by drip,” Lockhart said.
His experience has made him a master at manipulating metal. He has developed techniques for just heating certain areas of the metal without actually breaking stainless steel’s oxide layer or metaling the base metal. The fun has been exploring the craft outside of the confines of the tool and die welding realm and pushing limits and boundaries of GTAW’s capabilities.
Therein lies the reward. It’s not about making money—because right now he makes very little money from his artwork. Bringing his ideas to life within the confines of GTAW is a challenge—one he hopes to be able to devote more time to someday, maybe even as a career.
“The real joy for me is actually welding and adding the detail. The joy is in the process. My favorite piece is the one I’m doing, whatever it is that is under my hood.”
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