Monday, August 18, 2008

A slag-filled weekend

Want to feel powerful? Grab an oxyacetylene torch and whack a chunk off of a piece of half-inch steel using nothing but fire. It's stunning - it's hard to believe that you are slicing a thick metal plate as easy as warm butter. Well, actually extremely hot warm butter.

The Boy and I spent the weekend at The Crucible in Oakland, attending their Introduction to Welded Sculpture Family Fun Weekend class. We had tried to get in the class a few weeks ago but it was already full. Then on Thursday Mrs Notthat got a call because someone dropped out and she eagerly volunteered us to take their place. (I'm not sure how I should take it that she seemed to really enjoy us being out of the house for the weekend. Think of all the baseball, football, and golf she missed out on.)

This class covers the basics of arc welding, using an oxyacetylene torch to cut metal, and using a variety of frightening tools to finish off your sculpture. This was an unbelievably cool class. The Crucible has been mentioned a couple of times before in this blog - we first found out about them at the Maker Faire in May and then REALLY found out about them at their annual Fire Arts Festival in July.

This is a place that teaches normal people, in our case including kids as young as 12, to use extremely dangerous things. Here's the thing that astounds me - you are pretty much set free after a relatively short orientation where they explain an extremely dangerous thing, point out how to avoid hurting yourself and others, and send you on your way to practice and create. Our instructors, Yort and Yllehs (not their real names) were amazingly patient and calm. They'd see some kid pointng a power tool in exactly the wrong direction and calmly explain the problem to them while encouraging the kid and then letting them get on with their project. I would have been a cowering puddle in the corner.

We had 13 people in the class which was a mix of families and adults there on their own. There were almost as many women as men in the class, but the kids were all boys. In an amazing coincidence I heard someone call my name while waiting for class to start on Saturday morning - it was Ydnas and her daughter Yllom (not their real names). Ydnas is the editor charged with going through my latest manual and marking it up with a red pen. (The fact that she still talks to me says a lot more about her fortitude and much less about my writing skills.) They were there for a neon light class, but Yllom seemed extremely interested in our welding class. (The Crucible has these weekend classes in welding, blacksmithing, glass flameworking, jewelry, and neon lighting.)

Arc welding is very challenging. You have to wear these hoods that completely block out all light until you get an arc going, which is extremely bright. The hard part is getting the arc going. Another hard part is knowing when to stop the arc once you've got it going - it's fascinating to watch but it will melt whatever you are trying to weld very quickly if you are not careful. I was not careful a lot.

Using the cutting torch was a bit easier to do - you don't have to wear quite as dark of glasses - but harder to get nice results. Again, you could easily get lost while watching a thick chunk of metal turn to liquid, melting away much more of what you were working on than intended.

Here are the projects that The Boy ended up with after two days.

It's hard to appreciate how amazing it is that these things all started using scraps of metal. I really wish I had taken progress pictures of the Raiders shield and the name thing - there were times when I had little hope for them, and yet they both came out very nicely. He did very well and enjoyed this class a lot. (There was also this concept of "quenching" where you take a very hot piece of metal and stick it in water to cool it, resulting in a weirdly satisfying hiss. He enjoyed that a lot too.) He wants the blacksmithing class next.

Here is what I came home with:

I'm proud of this bug-like thing (which looks much better at a distance than up close). The peace sign sort of thing, not so much. (Thank you WHM for correctly guessing what it was. I broke this massive belt sander thing while trying to perfect this thing. Yort said "Oh that happens all the time. No big deal." Again, as an instructor I would be the quivering puddle in the corner.)

It was a great weekend. Thank you Mrs Nothat for arranging this and for putting up with all the stiffling quiet while we were gone. We will be taking other classes there - maybe even Mrs can be talked into a class.

In the meantime, I've got to some new tools to buy after I make some room in the garage for the welder. It might be easier to move though.

That's it - move along...


mary ann said...

This is fascinating ~ great report!
And so interesting about the number of women there. Good job both of you.

Danni said...

oooohhhhh I want to do the blacksmith class! With doing my chainmaile I met lots of blacksmiths and am very intrigued by it, I've always had an interest in that :) we could saddle mrs not that with the grandkids and ryan and I could join you :) I don't have school on the weekends :)

DAK said...

Well, I always prefer my doodads to have my name on them. Nice work. I think it's pretty cool that you and yoBehT (not his real name) could have the weekend doing something together that involves hot torches.

Message to Danni: doing your chainmaile? What does this mean? Are you a knight in shining armor?