‘Like sewing, but with fire’

Nine men, one woman gather to learn about weld­ing

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - NEWS - By Patty Houli­han Patty Houli­han is a free­lance re­porter for the Daily South­town.

If you ever get the chance to wield a weld­ing torch burn­ing at 5,000 de­grees, re­mem­ber one piece of ad­vice: make sure you’re com­fort­able.

With scorch­ing hot metal in front of you, show­ers of sparks fly­ing around your body and tanks of gas pres­sur­ized up to 2,400 pounds per square inch at your back, you’ll­want to be able to cut a nice straight line.

And of course you’ll want to come through it in­tact.

“Weld­ing is in­tim­i­dat­ing. It’s like sewing, but with fire,” Day­monGast told a group of nine­men and onewoman at their first adult weld­ing class this month at Lin­coln-Way East High School in Frank­fort.

“The most im­por­tant thing is to be able to work com­fort­ably, and for that, you need to make sure you’re pro­tected,” he said.

Gast, a cer­ti­fied weld­ing in­struc­tor for Lin­coln-Way School District 210, reg­u­larly opens the doors to shop class for any­one who wants to learn the ba­sics of weld­ing, no ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary. Over five weeks, stu­dents tackle shielded metal arc weld­ing (also called stick­weld­ing), gas metal arc weld­ing (MIG), gas tung­sten arc weld­ing (TIG), plasma arc cut­ting, oxy-fuel torch cut­ting, oxy-fuel gas weld­ing, braz­ing and sol­der­ing. At a cost of $150, the class fills up fast. The cur­rent ses­sion had a wait list of 40 peo­ple.

The course was launched in 2008 to bring in mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, a way of spread­ing the word about the district’s vo­ca­tional ed cour­ses and gen­er­at­ing sup­port for them, too.

So far, 200 area res­i­dents have tak­en­the class, rang­ing fromthose who’ve never touched a torch to those who want to brush up on decades- old skills they first learned when they were in high school. The class also draws peo­ple with an artis­tic bent look­ing for a new medium.

Un­der the flu­o­res­cent lights of a small class­room tucked in the back of the school, mid­dle-aged men in sweat­shirts and work boots as­sem­bled for Gast’s ini­tial lec­ture, mu­chof which fo­cused on safety.

The bulk of those who signed up were trades­men — me­chan­ics, re­pair­men, a pip­efit­ter — or worked in fields like con­struc­tion man­age­ment. But at­tor­ney John Lose­man also was among the stu­dents.

“I like to see how things work,” he said.

Julie Grand, the lonewoman in the group and a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher from New Lenox, said she’d ex­per­i­mented with a weld­ing course at a com­mu­nity col­lege but wanted to learn more. “I’m in­ter­ested in do­ing jewelry or some kind of gar­den art,” she said.

At Gast’s in­vi­ta­tion, each ex­plained his in­ter­est in tak­ing the class. Air­craft me­chanic Ken Jansen, of Frank­fort, said he’d had some train­ing, but now that he had an old car hewas re­pair­ing he wanted to be able to do his own weld­ing.

Keith Weglarz, a con­struc­tion project man­ager and home in­spec­tor from Mo­kena, said his fam­ily owns a vine­yard in­Wis­con­sin, where there’s al­ways some equip­ment that needs to be fixed, and he wanted to do more of it him­self.

Me­chanic Bill Good­man of New Lenox said he’d learned to weld in high school and had only done a bit over the past years.

“I want to get up to date on the lat­est equip­ment, and I fig­ured I’d prac­tice on your stuff,” he said.

Gast nod­ded with a smile. “If our stu­dents haven’t bro­ken it,” he said, “it’s pretty good stuff.”

In fact, the weld­ing class­room at Lin­coln-Way East is a well­out­fit­ted shop, with ex­pen­sive equip­ment like the line of $3,000 trans­former rec­ti­fiers sit­ting un­der each booth along one wall that are used for arc weld­ing.

Gast says it points to sup­port from the Lin­coln-Way ad­min­is­tra­tion and school board. “They’ve been very en­thu­si­as­tic about help­ing kids in the trade,” he said. “So many schools have done away with com­pre­hen­sive ed­u­ca­tion that it’s a shame, so we are re­ally lucky to have this pro­gram.”

There are about 200 stu­dents en­rolled in weld­ing at Lin­col­nWay East and Lin­coln-Way Cen­tral. For the adult class, about 10 of them turned up to help out, many of them earn­ing com­mu­nity ser­vice hours for the ef­fort. “Some don’t even need the hours,” Gast said. “They call the shop their se­cond home.”

Ev­ery­one wore pro­tec­tive gear: a cot­ton jacket coated with flamere­sis­tant ma­te­rial, a skull cap that ideally comes down low on the sides (“You want to keep sparks out of your ears,” Gast said), safety glasses and the iconic welders hood with its im­pen­e­tra­ble black glass shield.

Against the faint hum of air ducts over­head, Gast spent much of the first class pro­vid­ing de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions about tech­nique. Since a lot of it had to do with safety, it­prob­a­bly doesn’t hurt that Gast has 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence, or that he went to col­lege on a schol­ar­ship for steer wrestling at the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee and spent some time on the rodeo cir­cuit.

Some­times he shared anec­dotes about weld­ing gone wrong. Plac­ing his hand on a pair of tanks, one filled with oxy­gen, the other acety­lene, Gast of­fered step-bystep in­struc­tions for open­ing the valves as well as tips for clos­ing them.

“Iwas on a farm one time when one of the hoses caught fire,” he said, ges­tur­ing be­hind him­self.

“What do you do in an emer­gency like that? You turn off the valve real quick.”

It was one of dozens of in­struc­tions he shared on oxy-fuel torch cut­ting be­forehe let stu­dent give it a try.

His first time with the torch was “cool,” said John Filipek, of New Lenox, who re­pairs of­fice equip­ment. The torch didn’t weigh much and wasn’t hard to han­dle, he said. “The trick­was not to hold it too close and not to hold it too far away.”

Lose­man, the at­tor­ney, had never set foot in a weld­ing shop be­fore.

“There’s a lot to fig­ure out,” he ad­mit­ted.

“Noth­ing’s ever as sim­ple as it seems.”


In­struc­tor Day­mon Gast demon­strates a weld­ing tech­nique for an adult weld­ing class ear­lier this month at Lin­coln-Way East High School in Frank­fort.

In­struc­tor Day­mon Gast teaches an adult weld­ing class Nov. 13 at Lin­coln-Way East High School.

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