March 13, 2014
Editor’s note: This is welder and artist Josh Welton’s inaugural blog post for thefabricator.com. Welton, of Brown Dog Welding fame, will be writing twice monthly. This introductory post highlights important lessons learned in Welton’s welder training.
I’m a big proponent of doing things the “right way.” I know that seems like an obvious statement, but I think too many people equate the right way of doing a thing with the only way of doing a thing (which is usually their way of doing a thing). I’ve worked with plenty of “my way or the highway” guys in the past, and it’s a truly limiting mindset. There is almost always more than one way to skin a cat. The key to having options is knowledge.
First you must understand the process thoroughly. In my career I’ve had a few skilled-trades instructors who got that, and I’m a better tradesman for it. One of them was John Kacir, who is the head of the welding department at Macomb Community College. Another is Tom Soley, who worked at the UAW/Chrysler training center.
It wasn’t always easy to stay awake in their classrooms. Every guy in there just wanted to get out to the weld lab, strike an arc, and melt metal, as is the case in pretty much every welding class ever. But they were both adamant that we understand why we did something . . . instead of just a rule to abide by. When you’re in the real world, situations change and you need to adapt. You can’t adapt without reason, and you can’t reason without fundamental knowledge. Just reciting procedure and quoting rules isn’t enough to be a tradesman. There are too many unique circumstances that require critical thinking to have a “one size fits all” mentality.
John spent a lot of time on wave diagrams, welding theory, machine programming, and even the history of welding process development. At a minimum it gave us a context for what we were doing. And for those of us that really got it, his lessons provided a base of information we could dissect and apply as we gained experience.
Tom created a metallurgy course for Chrysler specifically geared toward welders. He had seen so much downtime and wasted energy because of fundamental misunderstandings of how the welding process affects metal that he was compelled to build this course. There was a lot of theory, but it was always tested and dissected. As an example, it’s always fun to hear an “expert” tell me his method is the only way to weld chrome-moly when I’ve personally thoroughly tested multiple other ways that work, and I did so with Tom.
Rather than tell me I couldn’t do something or hand down a hard and fast rule, John and Tom would tell me why my idea might not be advisable and what the challenges of the task were. Then they’d ask me to try to make it work anyway. Knowledge wielded with skillful hands is a powerful force. The “right way” is the application of this force.