March 5, 2010
Josh Welton at Work
By Josh Welton
My wife, Darla, and I started Brown Dog Welding in the spring of 2008.
It came out of my desire to weld. As a millwright at Chrysler, we did the majority of the fabrication and maintenance welding in the plant, and that's the part of the job that really grabbed me. I worked with some extremely talented welders, plus Chrysler and the UAW had an amazing technical training center. I'd find myself there as often as they let me, doing pipe welding, aluminum TIG welding, and testing for certifications.
Welding became more than part of the job, it was my hobby too. So I began putting together a "shop" out in my garage.
As clichd as it sounds, I started by making friends and family gifts for Christmas in 2007. I made a wine rack from old car parts for Darla and keychains for my brothers and sisters. I posted some pictures online, and those generated a lot of interest. Later that winter I did some side work and put the money earned into building a Web site. Now I've sold pieces to every corner of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and even Israel.
If you'd like a sculpture made of your hot rod, motorcycle, pet, or, really, whatever, chances are I can make it happen. I like to take chunks of metal, nuts and bolts, and scrap steel and create pieces that have heart and soul.
I also do custom and personalized TIG-welded stainless steel belt buckles, keychains, dog tags, pendants, and aluminum vases.
Another part of Brown Dog Welding is fabrication and welding repair. TIG welding is my specialty, from aluminum sheet or tubing to cast aluminum to stainless or mild steel. The scale of the projects can be limited by my shop's size, and as of right now I don't have the equipment to do a lot of bending and forming.
I do some mobile welding as well: stick, TIG, and MIG.
Without a doubt it's my Miller Dynasty 200DX. This was my first "big" purchase, and by far my favorite. Typically, it sits on my bench plugged into a 220 outlet, but I've also got a 110 plug for it, which comes in handy to move the light, 45-lb. machine to work sites, whether to TIG or stick weld. I TIG weld all of the sculptures, so the Dynasty is always humming.
Oh, and my Dewalt shop radio! The MP3 player is busted, so I've usually got it set to the local classical music station. I still dig Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine, but Chopin and Rachmaninoff seem to keep me in a better frame of mind while welding.
Bra for a Cause
The metal art and welding is the easy part. The business end is a pain! Darla handles most of the paperwork, the bills, the packaging, and so on. I wouldn't have a clue.
I guess standing out from the crowd is another challenge. Especially with the sculptures. I'm under no illusion that there aren't many talented artists doing similar work, either nuts and bolts bikes, or scrap metal figures, or what have you. And that's not including the mass-produced, "built to a blueprint junk that comes in from Thailand. I try to put a unique spin on what I do; I try to market it in a different way; and I like to think my pieces have a "look to them that stands out. Everything I do is one-off, no two pieces are the same, and I pride myself in that.
I'm hoping that at some point in the future I can sustain my family on the day-to-day operations of this business alone. I can't say that two years ago I thought I'd be working on the projects I currently have, so I'm not really sure what to imagine I might be doing in another two years! Hopefully, the good word will continue to spread.
ADVICE FOR WOULD-BE SHOP OWNERS:
Be transparent and keep a clear line of communication open with your clients, and keep strict books on your finances.
And don't ignore viral marketing. Honestly, it's all I've done (advertising-wise) up to this point. I'm on a lot of different Web forums, and I fully utilize social media, from Facebook to Twitter. But you've got to be real and personable. Prepared statements, robotic writing, and spamming don't get it done. It takes a lot of effort and creativity to get it right, but the payoff can be worthwhile.