One of the things people most enjoy when they visit
my workshop is having a go with my MIG welder. Its exciting and fun. Welding has a
macho image – heavy duty materials and specialised protective clothing.
This is because huge things like bridges and ships are welded together.
Its seen as something you need a lot of training to master. But I was
convinced I could get people to do a strong weld with just a few minutes
The weld wouldn't look pretty, but it would be quite
strong enough to hold things together. Welding doesn’t have to be for
bridges, its just as useful on a tiny scale. I think of my MIG welder as a
glue gun for metal. My prototypes are tack welded together – each tack
weld only takes about a second. The tacks can be effortlessly cut with an
angle grinder if I later discover they are in the wrong place, and equally
if they are in the right place can be properly welded to make a really
strong connection – stronger than any glue.
Welding is fun – the molten metal, the sparks and
the smells – and its satisfying making such a strong joint so quickly. I
never went on any course, I just bought a MIG welder 30 years ago and
gradually got more confidence. Now I often just hold the part I’m
tacking on, rather than spend time clamping it in exactly the right
position beforehand. And though I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners, I
often wear no special clothing, not even a mask – I just screw my eyes
tightly shut and pull the trigger.
MIG isn't the only sort of electric welder, the other
types are stick welding and TIG welding. Stick welders are the cheapest,
and use flux coated rods instead of a shielding gas, but it takes practice
to strike the arc and get a good weld. TIG welders have a gas shielded
tungsten electrode which simply provides the heat, a filler rod is fed
into the molten weld pool. This also require some practice. MIG
welders are much the easiest to use and best for beginners.
Because of the lack of commitment to practical
subjects and also the numerous health and safety issues schools and
colleges now rarely teach welding, so I usually encourage people to buy a MIG
welder and teach themselves. Remember a MIG welder is just a glue gun for metal. Don't
buy a really cheap one or one that uses no gas, pay £400-500. In the UK
Machine Mart have an industrial range which I think is OK. You will need
an auto darkening helmet as well (c£50). If you have
problems go to a nearby car repair place (small independant ones are
best). They have mechanics who use MIG welders and are usually keen to
As a welding evangelist, I’ve been keen to try
running a welding workshop for a while. Brighton Hackspace were keen to
support me and Brighton mini makers fair provided the opportunity.
Beforehand, there were a few health and safety issues
to sort out, mainly the heat, sparks, fumes and UV light of the arc. I
bought masks, leather aprons and TIG gloves (thinner leather than normal
welding gloves so easier to use). I also brought along my boilersuits. To
blow away the fumes, we did the welding outside in a gazebo. To protect
against the light, I bought a welding screen and auto darkening helmets.
Also, I obviously had a fire extinguisher and first aid kit in the gazebo
- and a bucket of water to cool the welded metal.I had originally hoped anyone over 10 could have a go but there was
a last minute problem with the insurance so we had to restrict it to over
18s. This is a list of the materials I brought along:
Spare gas cylinder for welder
Tip cleaner and spare tip
Auto darkening helmets (we had 5 which was great)
Spats to protect feet
First aid kit
Bucket of water
Weights, G-clamps and magnetic clamps
Scrap steel to weld
Small bits of steel plate
White board and markers
The assembled booth looked completely mysterious. It
was in the shade so people could see nothing through the welding screen.
Despite this, brave people did ask if they could ‘have a go’ and to my
delight, they all obviously enjoyed the experience. Over half managed to
make a decent weld. It was a perfect fit working with the Brighton
Hackspace, because when people were keen to take welding further we
suggested they join up. We even had one of their welding machines to show.
I had asked for an assistant and Mike Penwolf was
brilliant. We ran the workshop as a double act. One of us dressed the next
participant while the other supervised the actual welding. We had 5 masks
in all and Mike had the idea that the next 4 participants could watch so
they had more of an idea when it came to their turn. This worked really
By the afternoon word had spread and we had a queue
– people queued for up to an hour! By this time I was quite glad of the
welding screen to limit the numbers a bit.We did a two hour session in the morning and 2.5 hours in the
afternoon. I forgot to count how many people we taught, Mike thinks it was
over 40. It was mostly men, but at least 8 girls.
I didn’t like the green screen. Another time I
would have a waist high barrier along the front of the Gazebo and a low
green welding screen, maybe 300mm high on the front of the table, which would need to
be set back a metre from the front. Spectators would then see the sparks
and light and people in helmets, but not the actual arc.
Even though there were two of us, we both found
repeating the instructions so many times exhausting and numbing. There was
quite enough demand for the workshop to run continuously all day. So
another time it would be better with a team of at least four welders as
Mostly though I hope my experience will encourage
other people who can weld to run similar workshops. People were so
delighted to try it, so the workshop is very satisfying to run.