My dad hated his job but he loved his profession and his unique talent that made him good at what he did. Perhaps you feel the same way – perhaps you hate your boss and/or coworkers, your working hours, your environment or your commute. But, like my father it probably isn’t welding that you hate – you may realize as he did that working at a job you don’t like can lead you to believe you hate your entire field when it is really other environmental factors that you loathe.
If this sounds familiar let me tell you a little more about my dad. He took the talents that made him good at his profession and turned them into his hobby. This hobby eventually led to self-employment and gave us all a father that was happier and around much more often.
Now, my dad was an accountant and his hobby and eventual job was financial advising (I never said it was an exciting hobby!), but if I were asked to find an equivalent in the welding industry it would be making metal sculpture.
We all know someone who has some junkyard art, ie. a mailbox made out of tractor gears or a robot lawn ornament made from recycled kitchen utensils or even a cowboy weenie roaster (google image that last one for a laugh). People like recycled metal sculpture because there is a romance to wondering where and by whom the metal was used. Plus, a creative and well-thought-out piece can be as intriguing as any oil or pastel painting.
The first step is to decide which type of ornaments or sculptures you would like to create. What is often novel are items that are ornamental and functional – like unique house numbers, artistic garden gates or ornamental boot scrapers.
In the case of metal welding, the possibilities really are endless. Besides the many varieties and thicknesses of metal, the metal can be cut, shaped, colored or polished. Once you master the art of metal sculpting you can also mix mediums and use concrete, wood or stone with your welded works.
After deciding what sub-genre of art to make you will need to make a detailed pattern on paper and gather materials. Remember that you can buy junkyard metal at a discount and that generally clients will get a kick out of discovering what comprised their specific work.
Look for pieces of metal that are no more than an eighth of an inch thick otherwise you may run into difficulty as an amateur sculptor to shape the metal.
Most sculptors use a torch or die grinder to cut out the metal. After a piece is cut you will need to polish and smooth the edges with a metal wheel grinder. The final step is to spray it with an acrylic coating that will give it a glossy finish and will protect it from rust.
As you progress, take classes, talk to other sculptors (ArtMetal, an online forum and social network for metal artists, is a must if you are interested in the field) or read books you will be able adjust your techniques and undertake more challenging pieces.
Many professional sculptors who have training in art rather than welding outsource their electric welding work. This is an opportunity for you to either cut outsourcing costs and sell cheaper items at a greater profit, or pick up some outsourcing work from a sculptor you admire who doesn’t have the skill you possess.
If you are still interested, a quick search of your area should find some classes on making metal sculpture (classes like this one) or you can order videos and books that give you step by step instructions on planning, troubleshooting, completing and selling your works.
The products you create can be sold at craft fairs and flea markets, small retail shops and online. As you gain popularity you should also begin to take customized orders from neighbors and fans.
While I can’t promise that learning to make metal sculpture will lead to self-employment as it did for these two men, I can promise that it can be a way to make a few extra bucks and that it will be challenging, fun and may even teach you to love welding again.