I came, I saw, I welded

October 9, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

The credit for this headline goes to my publisher, Ed Youdell, who suggested it when I told him about my brief attempt at welding at the 2008 FABTECH International & AWS Welding Show with Metalform that ended Oct. 8.

Ed also deserves some of the credit for my attempt. As I explained in an earlier post, Ed welded at last year's show. I had the opportunity and chose not to. The fact that he did and I didn't has bothered me all year to the point that I vowed to track down Sue Bartholmew from ESAB at this year's show and see if the opportunity still existed. It did.

At the 2007 FABTECH, ESAB's welding trailer was located in the exhibit hall. I didn't see it inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, where this year's show was held, so, thinking that there was a good chance I actually wouldn't have to weld, I approached Sue. With a big smile on her face, Sue let me know that the trailer was parked across from the entrance to the Convention Center. She also let me know that she was aware of my blog post about why I didn't weld last year and how I regretted not doing so.

Sue told me that the welding trailer was available for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. I looked at my schedule and realized that if I was at the trailer early the next morning, I could weld and still make all my appointments. My schedule offered no excuse. It was time to put up or shut up.

As is usually the case in Las Vegas, the next day dawned sunny and dry. No storms shutting down the welding trailer. Maybe I was channeling Elvis—after all, we were in Vegas—because my next thought was: it's now or never.

As I approached the trailer, I circled it to see if anyone attending it was available. I walked up to yet another smiling face and introduced myself.

The gentleman bearing the smile was expecting me. He explained that I would be MIG welding using a MigMaster 250. He described the equipment, including the protective clothing, and welding terms, such as push and pull, stickout, and burnback.

I suited up, beginning with the helmet, which was easy for even a newbie like me to learn to adjust to fit.

Although the welding coat hung down around my calves, I wrapped another coat around my waist to serve as an apron and offer more protection. Then my instructor helped with the gloves, making sure to tuck my sleeves inside them.

I watched while he tack-welded two rectangular pieces of carbon steel together at a perpendicular angle. He then demonstrated the "c" motion I was to use to weld the seam.

I flipped down the front of my helmet, took the gun in hand, positioned it at the seam edge, and pulled the trigger. My husband had cautioned me not to jump when the arc started, and I didn't. So far, so good. I slowly began the welding motion while my instructor gave me advice about how to move the gun and at what speed. When I reached the end of the seam, I released the trigger, flipped up my helmet, and marveled at just how bad I had done.

My instructor said it wasn't bad for a first try. The pattern was relatively smooth, but I had not done a great job attaching the top piece to the base. The welded piece clearly would not hold up under pressure.

So we tried again, and again, and again, until I had to leave for an appointment. My instructor was very patient, encouraging me and giving me very helpful tips along the way. Those tips are firmly etched in my brain, and I will remember them the next time I try to weld. I'm sure I also will think about them every time I hear bacon frying.

In the meantime, my respect for welders, which was considerable before I attempted to weld, has grown. Even MIG welding, which according to welding instructor and author Marty Rice is one of the easiest processes to learn, requires instruction and lots of practice.

In his article for thefabricator.com "MIG welding—The basics and then some," Marty said, "Most people can learn to run good beads with MIG in just a few hours." I clearly need a few hours—maybe more than a few.

At the show, I observed several presentations from arc welding equipment vendors. These vendors talked about product improvements, many of which are designed to make welding simpler and more foolproof. That's great. The simpler and more foolproof, the better. However, no matter how simple and foolproof the equipment, the weld will be only as good as the skill of the welder who makes it.

We need more skilled welders, but that's the topic for another post.

Thank you, ESAB & and thank you, Ed.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209