Hotter than hot: Welding lessons for the DIYer
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Welding is not for the timid.
Temperatures above 7,000 degrees — Fahrenheit? Centigrade? At that point, who cares? About a gazillion sparks shooting off the grinding tool. And then there’s the warning from our teacher not to wear synthetic fabrics because they could melt right into your skin if they catch fire.
Besides, it’s physically demanding work. And when was the last time you had to apply sunscreen to work indoors? (The welder gives off enough UV rays to burn skin.)
But my five-hour beginner’s class in welding ($160) was great fun. At the end, I had welded a steel “pillow” and gained some confidence that I could figure out a simple repair and, with help, maybe make something simple.
I learned the basics of arc welding (or MIG, metal inert gas) with five other people in Matt Jones’ cavernous Molten Metal Works studio in Echo Park. It’s the easiest kind of welding, he says, and the equipment to do it can be rented from home supply stores. This is not a class for aspiring structural welders; it’s for artists and DIY metalworkers.
The process is simple: A wire is worked through a machine — not unlike threading a sewing machine — and into a welding gun. When the trigger is pressed, that wire, heated to high temperatures, melts to weld whatever you’re working on. Then, using a grinder, you smooth and polish the surfaces. Simple but not easy. And pretty noisy when we were all at work. Jones, a furniture maker who studied art at Dartmouth and Stanford, spent the first hour explaining electric current principles, how to use the equipment and how to be safe. As he notes, “There are a whole lot of ways to mess up.” Fortunately, he says, it’s pretty hard to electrocute yourself.
We practiced by welding two 16-gauge sheets of metal together with more or less seamless seams, then inserting a bolt to expand the sheets into a pillow shape. There are more advanced classes, and Jones has open studio time.
One of my classmates, Jeni Erikson, hopes to make custom DJ work stations. Another, Marc Vellucci, is a firefighter and emergency medical technician who hopes to do repairs and dabble in a little art. As for me, I’m not about to shoo away the workers renovating my house, but when they’re done, I might try my hand at a backyard bench.
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Photos, from top: Instructor Matt Jones, left, teaches students Remi Keshta and Paul Davis how to weld; Davis later uses a grinding tool to smooth his weld; Vellucci makes sparks fly during his turn with the grinder. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times