Salvaged sentiments

By Gretchen Salois

A one-man fabrication shop combines practicality and art

March 2012- Artist and welder Daniel McCauley of Dan’s Custom Metals, Newark, Ohio, learned the art form and technique of welding as a child in his grandfather’s machine shop. “I was always up there and got interested because I could take raw materials and make something,” McCauley says.

McCauley’s scrap art is created with material he finds in scrap yards. He creates custom scrap art pieces including, most recently, a dragonfly and a vine-climbing monkey as well as one-of-a-kind vehicle and motorcycle parts.

An unlikely source of inspiration, McCauley’s vine-crawling monkey is a standout piece in his shop. He began by cutting exhaust pipe behind the flange and cut it in half for the ears. “Keeping the exhaust pipes [for the legs]original s-bend form allowed for the monkey to take materialization,” McCauley says. McCauley used a metal chop saw to cut a front sway bar from a car to make its arms. The head is an oxygen tank cap and the body is an old muffler. In need of fingers and toes, McCauley scoured the shop, finding an extra 1/2-in. rebar, which he heated and bent to create the fingers and toes, suspending the monkey from its vine, which is made of larger diameter rebar.

“Sometimes I’ll use a torch to heat a piece of metal to give it a slight bend,” he says, noting this particular rebar did not require angle and bend reworking. McCauley finished the piece with a clutch of bananas created from railroad spikes.

Technique behind the talent
When building a sculpture, McCauley uses a MIG wire feed welder to tack everything together. “If it’s for an inside application or a customer that wants different things added in such as stainless, I’ll use a TIG welder,” he says. To weld stainless pieces together, he uses 100 percent argon as a shield gas. When MIG welding with regular steel, he uses 75 percent argon and 25 percent carbon dioxide. This percentage combination can be crucial. If welding stainless, using the 75/25 percent combination would result in impurities in the welding, weakening its structural integrity.

The methods McCauley employs depend largely on the type of metal. If welding cast iron together, McCauley determines where the weld needs to be placed then increases the temperature of the surrounding area until it becomes orange. “Heating a larger portion than just the weld area is needed due to the physical properties of the metal. The surrounding area needs to be hot in order for the metal to accept the weld due to its porous state,” he says. “If you used a MIG welder when welding a piece of cast iron to mild steel, the weld wouldn’t adhere the mild steel completely to the cast iron because the cast iron is not hot enough to accept the weld, making a weak bond. I use old-school methods derived from my grandfather’s techniques that I was taught at a young age.” McCauley says when he welds cast aluminum with an acetylene torch, he has to heat up both pieces until almost molten then add filler rod to combine the two pieces.

No assembly line
McCauley also hand hammers custom-made motorcycle seat pans for bobber-style bikes. “I use 16-gauge sheet metal to make my seats. It’s thin, but the shaping of the metal gives its rigidity,” he says. McCauley customizes designs into the seat pan and custom fits it to fit the individual customer. “Generally, there’s not a whole lot of comfort with this style of bike because of the frame being rigid [because of no suspension]. I can provide a seat pan that doesn’t cause any discomfort, fits you and contours to your body,” he says.

“I never make two things the same—never make patterns or jigs,” he continues. “I feel that if you’re going to do something custom, it’s important to be one-of-a-kind, made specifically for that individual.” When hammering out seats, McCauley has a shot bag filled with steel beebies and uses multiple mallets to shape the metal. “I also use my English wheel to shape and stretch the metal to form its shape. Essentially, I take a flat piece of metal after the customer decides the outside design, shape and start forming the metal to the customer’s wants and needs,” he says.

When creating handlebars, he uses different-sized tubing and different types of steel such as mild and stainless. Always using seamless tubing ensures the finished product does not have any imperfections. “I have a rolling tubing bender, which essentially is comprised of three dies, one on top and two on the bottom,” McCauley says. “By adjusting the tension, this allows me to make the radius to the tubing I need to fit the customer’s needs.” McCauley finishes TIG welding handlebars together because it creates a nicer finished product. “I love to be able to show off the quality of my welds and the craftsmanship of my work,” he says.

“My goal is to be able to provide a product that stands out from the rest,” McCauley says. “What better way to have something made just for you then by coming to someone who is passionate about their work and what they do for a living.” FFJ


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