‘Like sewing, but with fire’
Nine men, one woman gather to learn about welding
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.