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Burning Steel: an Intro to Welding

Tables, chairs, skyscrapers, cars, ovens, and billboards. What do these all have in common? Welding. The smell of burning steel, stinging sparks flying in the air, the deafening roar of the electrode as it burns down to a nub. Welding is an art capitalized on by fabricators and construction workers, but what most people don’t know is that welding only refers to one process: heating a metal until it reaches its melting point which combines the molecular construction within.

Welding is not as simple as one may think. There are many different processes of welding including popular ones such as Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Oxyacetylene, and Gas Metal Arc Welding. All of these different processes take a very long time to learn, and certain ones are better than others for specific situations.

Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) is a “wire feed” welding process, meaning the torch that is held will be connected to the welder which looks similar to a chest, and inside the welder, there is a wire spool which is on average 325 feet in length per pound. GMAW is most commonly used when fabricating large-scale projects such as buildings or boats due to its affordability and ease of use. 

Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) is an electrode process. The torch used for this form of welding is made to hold a 12-14 inch long electrode. These electrodes are made of a tungsten core, coated in a carbon alloy to prevent it from melting too quickly. SMAW is commonly used for medium-scale projects like tables or pipelines.

Oxyacetylene is a very tricky kind of welding. It is a blowtorch that can be combined with a filler rod which you will feed into the flame slowly, and control it minutely to direct the weld puddle and properly fuse the metals together. Oxyacetylene is not only used for fusion though, it is actually more commonly used as a cutting torch, breaking apart metals and removing welds that were improperly created.

Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW or TIG) is possibly one of the hardest to learn. Controlling voltage output with a foot pedal, this takes very precise hand-eye coordination and patience. Like Oxyacetylene, you use a filler metal to feed into your tungsten rod. If you mess up and accidentally touch the filler metal to the tungsten, the metals will combine and send an electric shock up through the machine and can cause physical harm to you if you are not careful. 

Welding is a field of work that involves years of blood, sweat, and tears. To go into this field is to commit to endless hours of physical labor and stress, knowing that your mistakes could cost lives. Being a welder is not a job; it is a lifestyle.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

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