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welding video  

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 training. 

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 help.

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

Boiler suits


Auto darkening helmets (we had 5 which was great)

Spats to protect feet

Fire blanket

Fire extinguisher

First aid kit

Bucket of water


Welding screen


Hazard tape

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 well. 


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 tutors. 

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.




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