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Welding

First time welder

By Emily Vasquez

FFJ editors try welding for the first time at Fabtech 2014

December 2014 - Part of being a writer at FFJournal is investigating the latest trends in metalforming and fabricating and delivering our findings to our readers. We poke and prod the welders, fabricators and manufacturers to let us into the hidden world of manipulating metal, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all experienced these processes firsthand. 

We are wordsmiths. We produce vivid descriptions of tools, machines and even artwork. Admittedly, many of us FFJ-1216-webex-welding-image2have never held a welding torch in our hand or witnessed a high-tech machine punch through a piece of stainless steel like butter. That is, not until attending trade shows and conferences like Fabtech and IMTS. 

At this year’s Fabtech in Atlanta, a few FFJ editors finally had the opportunity to pick up the tools they write about daily, including me. Before the day was over I would learn about welding and try to debunk the misconceptions of the trade. 

Thankfully, before actually putting a real torch in my hand, I had the opportunity to practice at Lincoln Electric’s virtual reality training systems station. The VRTEX 360 and the VRTEX mobile training systems simulate welding, scoring and analyzing each attempt, helping students develop proper technique and form. The VRTEX mobile included a helmet that projected a virtual view of the weld, ideal for beginners like myself. I was able to take my time and feel what it was like to weld without fear of burning myself in the process.

Still, it was not easy. I scored 62 percent. Much of my attention went to keeping a steady hand and allowing enough distance so the welding wire could do its job. Despite the low score, it did prepare me for the real thing. I noticed that I needed to slow down and ignore the other elements around me. Lesson here: Patience and practice make perfect.

Later, I approached the 3M welding station. During Fabtech, 3M offered attendees a chance to help create a welded piece to be displayed on the last day of the show. I went up to the instructor and said, “I want to weld but I’ve never done it before.” I was immediately given an oversized jacket and helmet meant for a 6 ft. human. After a two-minute training session, I was handed a torch. 

FFJ-1216-webex-welding-image3.jpg

The challenge was to weld a straight line. The instructions were simple but once I pulled the trigger, all I could see was a bright light. How do they do it? I could hardly make out the predrawn line that was only an inch away. I immediately stopped and surveyed the damage. It looked like a preschooler’s scribble. So I tried again, slower this time and ended up with what you see in the image above. I was battling the noise, the heat radiating from the torch and all the heavy gear that I knew was keeping me from being severely burned. It was clear that welding is not easy, demanding a very keen eye and an unshakeable focus that’s not easy to accomplish. 

Every instructor assured me that fear was holding me back from being an excellent welder. It wasn’t hard to draw a line, and most of the instructors thought I had done pretty well for the first try. It was difficult shaking the fear. 

What was the missing link? Confidence. I felt out of place being a woman in a male-dominated environment and thought I didn’t have the skills to weld. Those fears diminished after approaching several booths and being greeting by welcoming and encouraging instructors. Their biggest concern was for my safety rather than my gender. If I had overcome that fear then, maybe I would have welded better.

Overall, my first experience welding taught me to appreciate the art form that it is. It takes much more than a steady hand to accomplish a flawless weld. Several welders I’ve interviewed have said they enjoy welding because they love escaping the world for just a moment. That kind of focus is admirable for a writer who lives on coffee and whose job it is to follow everything happening around the world. FFJ

 

 

 

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