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Metal Fabricating
Wednesday | 01 February, 2012 | 4:54 pm

Resource for repair

By Nick Wright

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fabricating-repair020112-homeResource for repair

One rule: ‘If it’s metal, we’ll fix it’

One rule: ‘If it’s metal, we’ll fix it’

February 2012- The Metal Museum in Memphis, Tenn., is the only institution in the United States that is dedicated solely to the preservation and advancement of metalworking methods and art. Much of its exhibits and commissions are rooted in timeless, traditional practices, such as blacksmithing and forging.

However, when the museum hosts its annual Repair Days, during which the museum’s staff, resident artists and specialists fix anything from aluminum-boat patch jobs to iron patio furniture, no fabrication and modification method is off-limits.

Kevin Burge, in repair and conservation at the Metal Museum, says during Repair Days, “we generally have three arc welders running,” as well as a MIG and TIG welder running all weekend for repairs.

“Sometimes it’s nothing more interesting than fixing lawn furniture or cast iron, aluminum or steel,” he says. In 2011 “somebody brought in an old Coast Guard lifeboat that had been modified. It used to have a steam engine but someone modified it to put a gas engine in it, and he wanted to restore it.”

Burge and others restored the boat by welding a patch to the hole where the propeller shaft came through. “They had this big aluminum boat turned upside down in the back and had six guys working on it having the time of their life.”

Repair Days started in 1979 as a fundraiser, says Stephanie Swindle, marketing and exhibitions coordinator at the Metal Museum. “We do repairs year-round but decided to have one big event where people could come and have items repaired by volunteers who come from across the country to donate their services to the museum and the community.”

In addition to its Repair Days and other events and exhibitions, the Metal Museum offers classes, apprenticeships and educational resources for students, metalsmith associations and others looking to pursue a career or hobby in metalworking, Swindle says.

Year-round requests
The museum regularly gets repair requests for items old and new, which often requires modern fabrication methods. Burge says the museum is most active in repairs because most shops won’t touch certain pieces.

Repairs are up to the client, whether during Repair Days or if clients bring metal items into the museum. Issues arise regularly when applying modern methods to works that weren’t used for the original fabrication.

For a dented 1930s motorcycle gas tank, the client could not find a local mechanic or shop willing to attempt a repair. Because Burge couldn’t work from the inside, he TIG welded pins, which he used to pull the dent out. The tank is fairly thin, so “TIG welding was the way to go,” he says. “Much like they do in the auto industry.”

In one instance, a client brought in a reproduction Tiffany lamp that had been damaged during a move. It was made from pot metal, a mishmash of aluminum, tin and other low-melting point metals, something Burge had never welded. “It was pretty much deemed a lost cause,” Burge says, noting he oxy-acetylene welded it with no problems.

The museum repaired a bronze statue that had fallen over at a nearby country club because the steel bolts anchoring it to the ground weakened from rusting out. “I was actually able to clean out the threads and replace the hardware with stainless so it wouldn’t happen again then fixed all the cracks from the impact,” Burge says. “I TIG welded it together with a silicon-bronze filler rod and had to do some patina matching” to match the areas that were polished after the repair.

Most of the time, Burge says, the client isn’t concerned about compromising the historic integrity of a piece. “They’re more concerned about whether that andiron is going to hold logs up back in the fireplace.” FFJ

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Last modified on Thursday | 23 February, 2012 | 11:19 am

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