My name is Denise Poeltler, PE; I have been a Civil / Structural Engineer for 28+ yrs. and a Certified Welder for 4 months (as of 10/09)
To complete my welding projects (sculpture pieces, lamps, furniture) I use a MIG welding machine and a TIG welder as well as a drill press, handheld grinders, a chopsaw, plasma cutter, cutting torch, small clamps, big clamps, magnets, measuring devices, silver streak marking pencils, a table vise, long-sleeve jacket, lots of gloves, a big helmet with flames on it, a broom and a fire extinguisher.
Prior to February 2009, I had no idea how to weld. As an engineer I’ve designed steel frames for construction projects, but my knowledge of welding was limited to specifying weld sizes for steel connections. My engineering practice involves preparation of calculations and details for wood construction, reinforced concrete, and masonry walls.
I’ve watched other people weld on TV shows like Junkyard Wars, Mythbusters, and Dirty Jobs. I thought—“I can do that. It looks easy.“
For engineering, the first requirement is to get a B.S. degree from an accredited university then pass the Engineer-in-Training (EIT) exam. Next, you work three years for a licensed civil engineer and pass the Professional Engineering exams. For welding, trade school instruction is essential to learn how to produce a strong, defect-free weld using any of the three welding processes: MIG (GMAW), TIG (GTAW), and Stick (SMAW). A certificate of completion from a trade school is nice to hang on the wall but a welder’s true worth is measured by passing a welding test plate certified and approved by the American Welding Society (AWS).
I completed my MIG certification for vertical (3G) and overhead (4G) welding within two months after my first welding lesson. I’m still practicing TIG welding in anticipation of getting my cert for that process.
Welding requires courage, patience, problem-solving skills, dexterity, spatial reasoning, attention to detail, focus, a steady hand, and a sense of humor. Anyone possessing these qualities will be a successful welder.
I don’t recall my first day as the owner of the Flying Buttress because it occurred over 25 years ago. I DO remember my first full workday in my welding workshop because it was two weeks ago. I started fabricating 5 lamps in sequence. Each lamp has 37 separate components that must be welded together then welded to a lamp post. To begin, I plug-welded 20 solid steel balls to 5 base plates, ground off the excess welds, tack–welded 30 pieces, and cleaned up the workshop. It was a wonderful day!
I still haven’t worked out a routine between welding and engineering. I’d like to be in the workshop at least 4 hours in the afternoon and keep the morning open for engineering projects and inspections. As for welding, my challenge is to avoid injury. I’ve already had a couple of incidents with the chopsaw.
“Take your time, think about what you’re doing, and direct the sparks away from your clothes.”
Take a welding class to see if it suits you and be careful! Be prepared to be around things that are hot, noisy, sharp, and dangerous. By the way, the danger is part of the appeal.
It is the biggest thrill for me to create something out of hunks of steel. I have so many ideas for future projects! I’m constantly inspired by little triumphs in my workshop. This is all new to me (and scary) and since I am alone I have to figure out stuff by myself. I’m learning new things all the time—that’s the best part.