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Metal Fabricating
Friday | 06 January, 2012 | 10:49 am

Custom creations

By Lynn Stanley

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fabricating-custcreations010612-homeCustom creations

Artist turns metal into one-of-a-kind art using a range of fabrication equipment

Artist turns metal into one-of-a-kind art using a range of fabrication equipment

January 2012- Mike Wells, owner of The Wells Company, Mineral Wells, Texas, is an artist. But he doesn’t use water color paper, a paintbrush or piece of charcoal. His “canvas” is metal and his “paints” are heat, chemicals, acids and transparent dyes. Some customers find Wells through his website, but most of his business comes through word-of-mouth.

Wells has had his hand in metal fabrication on and off for most of his life. He earned an Industrial Arts degree from North Texas State University in 1964, but his service as a helicopter pilot in southwestern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta sidelined his interests in metal work. “I ended up back in my home town as a helicopter instructor pilot before going to work for a large metal fabricator,” Wells says. When he got the chance to fly again for a small, independent oil company he took it. 

After 21 years, Wells retired and in 2000 started The Wells Company. “I wanted to limit my metal work to creating custom, one-of-a-kind art pieces,” he says.

Innovative technique
Wells’ flair for bringing metal to life and his mastery of a range of fabrication equipment and hand tools is evident in projects from small mounted pieces and large structures to functional items like a handcrafted wood-burning stove. Featuring an elk on a ¾-in.-thick plate steel door, Wells employed a carbon arc gouger to carve out the animal’s image. “Carbon arcs were originally used in searchlights for aircraft defense systems during World War II,” Wells says.

Powered by 90 psi, once the arc is established and touches metal, the material becomes molten. Air pressure is then used to blow unwanted metal away. “I used a TIG welder to coat the raised image with bronze,” he says. “I was able to shape fine details like the elk’s horns, mouth and eyes using tool and die grinders—some as small as a dental tool.” Wells created a silver frame for the elk using a torch that sprays molten stainless steel.

Wells’ work caught the attention of Clark Gardens Botanical Park, Mineral Wells. He was commissioned to design and build a gazebo for the park’s newly established rose garden. To create the centerpiece, Wells used AutoCad software to develop the design. The result was an eight-sided gazebo with arched entryways made from mild steel with a copper roof. The gazebo, 13 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide, is supported by intricate latticework that uses flat bar to form an X-shape. The latticework frame sports 2,000 individual welds on a 45-degree angle.

Complex shapes
Wells also uses his AutoCad software to create complex, delicate pieces like a butterfly poised on a piece of petrified wood. “I design the shape of the butterfly using AutoCad and CorelDRAW,” Wells says. “With a CNC-controlled plasma torch, I cut out the skeleton of the butterfly from 14 gauge mild steel. I then use the computer-driven torch to do the reverse, cutting the interior pieces of the wings from bronze. I fit the skeleton and wing pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Wells uses a TIG welder with a silicon bronze rod to weld around each individual piece on the top and bottom. This technique creates the pattern and veining of the wings. Wells shapes the butterfly with hand tools he has built then spends several hours polishing the metal to a mirror finish. To achieve the vivid blue that edges the butterfly’s wings, Wells uses a reducing flame to warm the piece evenly. “You want to remove the heat at just the right moment before the true color emerges,” he says. Wells’ range of fabrication equipment and hand tools allows him to tackle practically any project. But his artistic expression is found in his ability to bring the smallest ideas to life.

When the owners of Briar Bend Ranch said they needed a gate, they also mentioned they liked German Shorthaired Pointers. Wells fabricated the double-arched gates from mild steel with the help of a structural roll. He used his CNC plasma torch to cut out the letters for the name along with a German shorthaired pointer and several quail. “I made the dog in several pieces to achieve a 3-D,” says Wells. “I also used a tabletop air hammer, which my friends and I invented, to radius the legs on the dog.” Wells’ concept of a pointer busting a covey of quail that takes flight turned the ordinary into extraordinary.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge,” says Wells of his one-of-a-kind pieces, “but people always seem to like what I come up with.” FFJ

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

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