Welding students preserving the past for the future

October 5, 2011

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Earlier today I made the final edits to an article to be published next week (Oct. 11) on thefabricator.com. Written by welding instructor and quality manager Carl Smith, a frequent contributor to the Web site, this article, "Don’t junk it; make it better,"  is about welding to extend equipment life and improve products—in this case, using aluminum bronze welding wire.

While the technology and applications described in the article are interesting, what captured my attention is the overall concept of taking something that might be considered old, defective, and obsolete and making it useful for years to come. In a sense, some students in South Whidbey, Washington, are doing just that as they work on a rather unique project.

As documented in the South Whidbey Record, South Whidbey High School’s metalwork and woodwork classes have plenty of practical projects in the works, but there are some impractical projects, too, such as the Admiralty Head Lighthouse restoration, which began in February 2011.

To prepare for this project, instructor Chad Felgar held a welding contest to determine his best welders. Each student had a task—welders, grinders, supervisors, and even public relations.

"'We found their best skills and what they would offer to the project,' Felgar said. 'We ran it like a job site; like a business.'" 

According to the report, the restoration project was divided between Whidbey Island’s three high schools. Coupeville High School had the roof, a conical shape. Oak Harbor was in charge of the curved windows and circular viewing area. Both rested on top of the 1-in.-thick steel tube—a circular formation 8 feet in diameter that supports the windows and roof—that South Whidbey finished welding together recently.

All that's left of South Whidbey's portion is grinding the welds, installing a small door for the tub, and painting. Final assembly of all three pieces will take place at one of the schools before being delivered to the lighthouse at Fort Casey

The article noted the demise of what are commonly called "shop classes" in many high schools but also noted that some districts in Washington have created separate vocational and technology schools to teach students about engineering, auto mechanics, welding, drafting, and woodworking—skills some of today's employers are finding to be in short supply. (You can read about this issue in the blog posts "Racing to find skilled workers," "Manufacturing for the best minds of tomorrow," and other posts on The Fabricator Blog.) 

However, what I found especially heartwarming about the lighthouse project is what Felger had to say about it: "The lighthouse has been there 100 years, so this is going to be there another 100 and we want it to look nice."

I wonder if it's occurred to the students who participated in this project that years from now, their descendants will be visiting the lighthouse and seeing their work? I think that's very cool.

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Vicki Bell

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