March 13, 2003
I once worked for an ironworker general foreman named Wheeler. He was a great guy to work for because he was good with the men, and he knew his stuff. When he told you something was to be done, you knew there was a good reason for it, and that he had thought it out carefully. That's what it's all about in the field, knowing your stuff.
On the jobsite time is money, and the knowledgeable worker will make maximum use of his or her time. Many people think that welding simply is laying down a bead. And although there are welders who do just that, simply laying down a bead is not close to being a fair representation of the welding trade.
Another guy I worked with was a crusty old WWII veteran named Ralph, whose favorite saying was "there are welders, and there are dobbers. A welder knows about theory, metallurgy, and hands-on skill. A dobber shows up at work and slops down beads, without a clue as to how they are affecting the steel." (That's not quoted totally correctly, because I left out about 15 curse words.) It's easy to be a dobber. It takes work, study, and skill to be a welder. That's why welders sometimes are referred to as craftsmen, technicians, and even artists.
I have written in the past about what I feel is the best question welders can ask themselves. It came from the late great Duane McLaughlin. Anyone who ever met him can probably picture him today looking into his or her eyes and asking so seriously, "Do you know your weld is your signature?" (See Summer 2002 World of Welding IN MEMORY at www.welding.org).
Duane was a 35-year welder, inspector, and teacher from Rock Island Pipefitters Local #25. His enthusiasm for welding was contagious. Talking with him for just a couple of minutes gave you a sense of pride about being involved in welding.
It is true, whether you are doing nuclear code work or repairing a fence, the weld you put down is your signature. It reflects your character, craftsmanship, and dependability. Are you going to slap down a quick uneven bead just because no one will ever see it? Or are you going to put down the same quality bead on every joint, no matter what? A true craftsman will answer the latter.
Just tonight on the radio I heard rock star Ted Nugent on the Fox News Network commenting about celebrities. He said that he had more respect for a good welder than he did for any celebrity. What a compliment to our trade.
Some of the old hands who influenced me in both the shop and field had some of the following sayings:
These sayings come from "old salt" welders, who have been around awhile and know the meaning of quality work and the feeling of accomplishment when the job is done right. Welding is more than just a job; it gets in your blood. Weld long enough, cut yourself, and you'll bleed flux!
Welding can be a contradiction of terms:
No, I haven't lost my mind; these sayings are true. (Actually, I lost my mind a long time ago, but the sayings are still true.)
1. It's the same today as it was fifty years ago because of the basics. Relaxing your hand, watching the puddle, and using the correct travel speed, rod angle and temperature are still the most important things a welder must do, just like before.
It's completely different now than it was 50 years ago because there have been so many improvements and discoveries in the different processes and supplies. While welding in WWII was done in the flat position, using rods with no flux, we now use rods with flux to stabilize the arc, form a shielding gas, and even add iron or alloys to the weld pool.
2. All welding processes are the same in that each process is designed to join two materials together. Seems as though every time I look around, there is another definition of welding, but almost all agree with the part about joining.
The processes are different in the way by which the joint is achieved. The most common method is by electricity, which is used to create heat to melt the material. The three most common electrical processes are shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), gas metal arc welding (GMAW), and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW). In the field these are called stick, MIG and TIG welding, respectively.
There are many other processes such as resistance welding, friction-stir welding, electron-beam welding, laser welding, and even explosive welding.
3.Welding can be done with little or no bookwork when learned on the job in the shop or field. A good craftsman can show and explain welding to an apprentice, and, after practice, the apprentice can become a good welder.
Welding requires extensive research and bookwork to advance the welder's knowledge. Advance your knowledge, and you will advance your position. If you are allergic to bookwork, don't let this scare you. Many welding manuals are available, and you don't have to read them from cover to cover. You can pick and choose what you study in welding. Many times just skimming through and selectively reading can be very beneficial. The more journals you own, the better equipped you will be to advance your knowledge.
And now with Web sites like www.thefabricator.com, you can jump on the Internet and stay up-to-date with the latest welding innovations.
4. Welding requires heavy concentration, especially when welding critical welds. Many welded joints are critical because people's lives literally can depend on them. Should the welded joint fail, someone could be injured or killed by being crushed or by falling.
Or a weld may have to be cut out and re-done at the expense of the contractor. I once had to weld lifting eyes on a 50-ton coal hopper. The job required 1-in. fillet welds with 7018. Had my welds not been true, there is no telling what could have happened when the hopper was being raised to the fifth floor. I dang sure had to concentrate on my welds then! That means watching the welds tie in as I welded and then visually checking each one afterwards. (The welds were also X-rayed to make sure I had done them right.)
Welding can be done with hardly any concentration at all on non-critical welds that are repetitive. Some welds are done so often —over and over again— that you could do them while standing on your head and gargling purple peanut butter. They are very simple in nature, require little effort, and each one is the same as the other. You still have to be mentally alert enough to weld correctly, but it doesn't take much skill to perform repetitive welding.
It is up to the shop owner to provide some form of variance to keep the worker from going insane. The big auto companies realized this long ago and began moving workers to different workstations. This is more of a challenge to smaller companies with fewer workstations. In this case incentives should be offered to keep the worker motivated.
Welding is a very diverse, and fantastically interesting field with unlimited opportunities in research, planning, practical application, science, and theory!