Jack of Many Trades

A Little Destruction

Originally posted: 2011-03-04

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Image by Public Domain Photos via Flickr"]Manual Metal Arc welding (MMAW)[/caption]

In my welding class this week, we embarked on a second week of training in arc welding. I'm not particularly fond of this style of welding; last week I did it without a breathing mask and quickly found myself with a migraine. It's also full of stops and starts and can be difficult to handle elegantly. I definitely haven't produced anything I was really pleased with, though I did manage some fairly straight lines.

While practicing my straight lines for three straight hours, however, I got bored. I did some T joints for a bit, and I noticed that the steel was getting somewhat hotter than it was supposed to. Hot enough that if I wasn't careful, it was melting a bit along the edges.

Now, what a good welding student would have done at this point would have been to go out and turn down the arc welding machine. Was that what I did? Oh lord, no.

No, I wanted to see how much steel I could melt.

This was not particularly thin stuff. It was at least half an inch thick, part of an I-beam that had been cut down for practice. I had to get in closer than was probably safe to see what I was doing and keep the arc right up against the melted steel.

What I had to show for it in the end was a glowing glob of melted steel and the feeling that I was making progress with my instinctive reaction to sparks. I tend to pull away from sparks, and obviously that's not so good for the weld. This time I was sufficiently interested in what I was doing that it didn't occur to me to worry about them.

Welding is always about the balance between destruction and creation, melting and shaping and making strong connections. Too much heat and you go clean through, you burn holes. Too little and the weld isn't strong. You have to melt steel just a little bit to weld it, and you have to be unafraid of a little bit of destruction so that you can build.