One of the best ways to learn...
One of the best ways to learn any task is with a mentor or teacher helping you along the way, coaching you through the rough spots.
While the axiom "you can't teach an old dog a new trick" may apply to man's best friend, a general application to people is a bit lacking in imagination, in my opinion. It is actually possible to get people to think differently about many different topics. But sometimes it takes a different strategy in your approach to your audience.
The new trick I am referring to is welding.
The old dog I am referring to is racers.
For years we have been told that quality welding can only be done with heavy, power-hungry machines in industrial settings, and much of the empirical data set supports that notion. This equipment is costly, hard to operate, and must be based in a shop that has many other pieces of equipment critical to the process. The data tells us now, however, that this scenario is not altogether true.
The newest machines available from the major players in the welding industry-Miller, Hobart, Lincoln, ESAB, and many others-are portable and offer features that make the welding process, either MIG or TIG, much more user friendly. This is nothing but good news for the Saturday night racer.
That said, I do not want to imply that anybody can walk up to a new machine and start making quality welds and fabricating race car parts. There is still a level of skill that needs to be developed, but the new machines work so much better when it comes to arc control, selecting power for specific applications, and flexibility in electrical power supply requirements that it makes the process much more enjoyable.
Running a simple bead on a...
Running a simple bead on a sheet of aluminum. We used samples of aluminum to get a feel for holding the TIG torch above the surface to be welded and applying a bit of filler rod as we pushed the bead along.
Several months ago I was invited to a special media welding school sponsored by Miller Electric. At this school, we were instructed in welding theory and machine application and given the opportunity to actually use the equipment in an environment not so different from the garages all across the country where Saturday night racers toil while maintaining and preparing their cars for races each week.
So, on the appointed day, I boarded a plane just prior to sunrise and flew into the Los Angeles area. A short cab ride later, I was standing in a Miller welding facility that was equipped with a large meeting room set up like a classroom. There was a lab area that had many different steel welding tables, and the newest blue machines from Miller were set up along the walls of the lab, ready for the media students to start making sparks fly.
From the conversations that ensued as the participants started to file in, it became clear that there was a broad spectrum of skills present in the room. There were guys who had a good deal of car building skills-involving suspension, interior, body and paint-and even a few of us who had a good deal of experience fabricating parts and using welders.
A few had little or no welding experience. This cross section of skills is not so different from that of many racers across the country. There are new racers who want to learn all the tricks and skills, racers who over time have gained the skills required, and there are those in between.
When the class started, the instructor, Ed Bogner, began with a very basic explanation of how electricity is generated. I have to admit to wincing. Was I going to have to sit through an explanation of basic sixth-grade science for the next several hours?
Here, another teacher works...
Here, another teacher works with a student, offering pointers as to the hows and whys of TIG welding. It's all about spaced repetition: laying a bead down, looking at the weld, and making changes in your technique until you get it right.
What started out as a very basic discussion on electric generation morphed into a concise explanation of the fundamental differences in AC and DC power. This was linked to explanations of current wave forms, how and why the wave forms are important to the function of the weld machines, how these wave forms can be manipulated, and why that is important to the final strength and durability of the welds. Bogner did a good job of tying all of the details together to show how power type and the cleanliness of the electrical power were critical to the weld.
You would think this whole classroom portion would be a multi-hour commercial for Miller products and why they are superior to other manufacturers' products. It never was. Data was presented as to the welding process, the reason(s) for a specific electrical wave form, and how this was manifest in the actual weld and the need for a clean, strong, well-executed weld joint. There was never a comparison between brands of welder, nor was there a demonstration of how certain tasks could be accomplished within and between weld machine brands.
The majority of the morning class was dedicated to TIG theory and application. As in any other endeavor, it is important to understand the basics to really understand the end result. The information was presented in a clear, concise, and usable format. In fact, the information presented gave us a very good understanding of how the TIG process works and what is happening while you are welding.