On Wednesday evening my adventure into welding began. Prior to the first class I had been warned that my building access card wouldn’t be active yet, so I had to ensure that I arrived before 6pm when the doors would be locked. In typical last-minute fashion, I pulled into the carpark with less than 5 minutes to spare but still needed time to change out of my Doc Martins (think: lots of shoelaces!) and into my safety boots. I jumped out of the car, rushed to the boot and, while ungainly balancing on one leg (much, I’m sure, to the amusement of passing cars), managed to lever off one pair of footwear and squeeze into the other before grabbing my welding gear (neatly packed in the morning!) and make a dash for the doors. Fortunately I made it on time… and I now just needed to get through the next 4 hours 🙂
When enrolling, I had, out of curiosity (and, I admit, slight apprehension), asked whether there were other female students in the class and was told there was. However, on this particular evening, all my fellow female students decided to take the night off, so it turns that I was alone in my XX chromosome-ness on this occasion. Although I was a bit self-conscious to begin with, everyone was friendly and approachable, and it turns out the smaller class size worked to my advantage as I could ask as many questions as I wanted… a good thing, too, as I had a lot of questions!
Given the limited amount of time left in the year, it had been suggested that I attempt introductory MIG, TIG and arc welding (all 20hrs each). Being the oldest kind of welding (having been developed in the late 1800’s), I thought we would probably start with arc welding, however, the teacher got us straight onto MIG. For the curious minded out there, MIG or Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) is: “…an arc welding process in which a continuous solid wire electrode is fed through a welding gun and into the weld pool, joining the two base materials together. A shielding gas is also sent through the welding gun and protects the weld pool from contamination… MIG stands for ‘Metal Inert Gas’.”
I was one of two new students to begin on this evening, and after the initial safety induction and course overview in the classroom, we headed straight down to the workshop. We had a brief tour of the tantalising range of bending, cutting, grinding, fusing and other tools and equipment available before heading to the welding booths.
Without ceremony, the teacher switched on the power source and gas, and adjusted the volts, timer and wire feed settings, did a couple of demonstration welds and with little more practical introduction passed the torch to me! I was surprised and slightly alarmed at first and quickly discovered how cumbersome my over-sized welding gloves were while attempting to position the torch nozzle and flip my welders mask down…. but I got there eventually and managed my first, rather unsteady line, of welding. Voila!
For the next little while we practiced putting down welding beads on a metal plate to get a feel for the torch, the speed of the wire feed, the smell, heat, welding mask(!) and correct stance, all while wearing my enormous oversized welding gloves which – because of their bulkiness – were increasingly making my forearm ache. After about an hour I realised I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the evening if I didn’t do something about my gloves. After asking around, I was directed to some rather old, battered, slightly icky but pliant(!) welding gloves from the apprentices’ day classes that I was able to borrow, with the advice that I probably need to hunt down some women’s welding gloves at some stage (which apparently do exist?)
Over the final two hours of the class, my apprehension disappeared and a wonderful sense of enjoyment set in while we progressed from welding beads on a plate to ‘pad welding’ (think: continuous, overlapping welds on a steel plate), to ‘fillet welds’ which involved firstly tacking and then welding two steel plates together in an upside down ‘T’. I practiced the last weld type four separate times and, by the end, managed some fairly decent runs which I was pretty pleased with.
My ‘homework’ before the next class includes finding some ladies size welding gloves (managed to find some Lincoln Electric Jessi Combs branded ones from Total Tools!) and also some MIG pliers for trimming the wire feed…