Picking up the torch

July 30, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Confession time. At last year's FABTECH International & AWS Welding Show in Chicago, I had the opportunity, along with several of my co-workers, to try welding. Sue from ESAB graciously invited us to the company's Solutions Tour Truck Booth to suit up and weld under the guidance of a professional welder. Unfortunately, my schedule was so packed that I had to refuse. Right.

Truth is, I'm a little claustrophobic (ask the anesthesiologist who put me under for my recent surgery), and was concerned about wearing a welding helmet, but the main reason I refrained from taking advantage of the opportunity was a four-letter word—fear.

I have the utmost respect for welders, but I fear their job, and fear can lead to shaky hands, a slip of the torch, and & well, you get the picture.

I've regretted that decision, and today, I'm vowing to track Sue down at this year's show in Las Vegas and ask for a second chance. I'm ready to face down my fear.

My reasons go beyond simple determination to conquer a fear. Laid up in bed recovering from surgery, I watched HGTV and some episodes of "House Hunters". In one episode, a couple was looking for a home that would accommodate a metal art studio. The husband, a metal artist, let the cameras inside his studio. Lo and behold, I watched him use a Hobart machine, and in the background was a red Lincoln Electric machine.

I'm thinking, "How cool is that?" I'm accustomed to seeing welding machines in shops and plants, but not in the average Joe's home.

Somehow this made welding a little less intimidating for me. I"ll leave it to a psychologist to figure out why.

And then a couple of days ago, I was reading more about the student welding competition that will take place during the Las Vegas show and felt inspired.

Six finalists, selected from 24 student welders that participated in the SkillsUSA Championships in 2007 and 2008, will compete in the Weld-Off this year and only three will qualify to advance to the SkillsUSA U.S. Open Weld Trials in 2009. The U.S. Open Weld Trials Champion will represent the United States at the WorldSkills Competition in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 2009.

The AWS Skills Competition Weld-Off, sponsored by the American Welding Society (AWS), requires welders to demonstrate their skills by completing standard test weldments (plate and pipe), sheet metal projects in aluminum and stainless steel, and a pressure vessel. Welds will be judged by AWS Certified Welding Inspectors for soundness and appearance. Written skills and welding code interpretation also will be considered.

The Weld-Off takes place in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Show attendees can view the contestants in action and witness the excitement of the three-day competition.

Among the winner's prizes is a four-year scholarship sponsored by The Miller Electric Manufacturing Co. worth $40,000 from the AWS Foundation.

"This competition is a way for students to test their welding skills in a competitive environment that is both exciting and educational," said Dennis Marks, managing director, education services, AWS. "These students are passionate about welding and we are excited to watch them grow into the future leaders of this industry."

I'll be among the spectators for part of this competition, and I plan to watch carefully, hoping to learn by osmosis and feel a little more confident when I try my own hand at welding.

If you've read this far, you deserve to know what really influenced my decision to give welding a shot. My esteemed publisher was among those who donned the gear and wielded the torch last year. I can't let Ed outdo me.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

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