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Liquid metal

This weekend, after a couple years of cancellations and waiting lists, I took a welding course at a nearby building, design and handwork school. I can now weld (badly) 1/4-inch steel with a stick, TIG or wire-feed machine, and I can cut it (also badly) with an oxy-acetylene torch. It was way cool, and I am free to imagine that with weeks or months of practice I might get pretty good at it. It's just amazing the way you point this sputtering arc at two pieces of solid steel, move it around for a while, and presto, you have one piece of solid steel. I made several conglomerations suitable for lawn art, and welded some of the standoffs for new carrying handles for the school's solar-power-demo trailer. Oh, and auto-darkening welding helmets are the coolest damn thing ever, especially if you wear glasses.

I think that a welding setup is definitely in my future, but no idea what kind. Wire-feed is dead easy, but it's expensive and really for dilettantes (oh, right). Torches are old-school, don't require the really dark lenses, and can do absolutely anything with enough practice, but there's that "enough practice" thing, and there's also the big roaring rush of acetylne burning, depositing fine threads of pure carbon everywhere, and the earsplitting POP when you turn the oxygen up just a hair too high. Maybe when we get a place in the country. And stick welders are cranky beasts, but great if you actually have something you really need to weld.

The school, meanwhile, is really pretty inspiring with people doing crunchy technology and trades of all kinds (I got to know the place by taking a course in making wooden boxes).  The food is also great, but the accomodations (if you don't just spring for a nearby motel, inn, b&b or whatever) range from somewhat better than spartan (bunk beds in a dorm) down to helot (tent platforms in the woods). This time I had one of the cabins, which was very nice for an unheated screened building in late october (luckily it rained, so the temperature stayed no lower than high 40s, which my sleeping bag was fine for); next time I might spring for a room in the dorm.

Oh, and the other thing I learned about welding is that it's great to have a bunch of angle grinders, each with a different grit. You spend a lot of time taking off metal so that there will be a place for the weld filler (stick or wire) to go and make a good joint. And then a lot of time taking off the metal that didn't go there.

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