Who’s the Best?

To be a successful welder you have to have an exceptional level of self confidence. Balancing the properties of various metals against the properties of heat, amperage, corrosion, wear, and other factors sometimes requires quite a bit of willingness to “just go with it” with all of the skill you can muster. Of course there are consequences if you make a wrong move, sometimes at the risk of permanently damaging the project at hand.

One time I had a customer bring me a piece of art that he wanted repaired. The piece was very valuable, from the early 20th century, and I had a hard time deciding what metal it was made of. After several hours’ research, I discovered that it was made of pot metal, which is bad news in the welding world. The customer was adamant that he wanted it repaired, so I “went with it” and did a little destructive testing, which revealed that the connections between two pieces were actually made with lead. The testing was very risky because there was no turning back, but the results were good, because I was able to make the repair (no kidding) with a soldering iron. I was relieved, the customer was ecstatic, and I could relax knowing I’d saved the day.

Does this make me “the best?” No, it makes me a lot of things, but not the best. I think being “conscientious” is better than being the best. Being able to work through a problem WITH a customer is a skill that actually makes it easier to work with various metals. It’s not the metal that counts. It’s the customer’s need.

A lot of welders deal with that by being cocky about it. It’s easy to be cocky if you’ve successfully made it through questionable scenarios a million times. It’s easy to proclaim you’re “the best” if you’ve got a long winning streak. However, welding is a lot like baseball, because eventually God and the odds will catch up with you, usually at the same time. Humility is a grand trait in baseball AND welding.

Every welding situation is different. Every metal welds differently (aluminum and mild steel are at opposite ends of a very crowded spectrum). Every time you weld the same piece of metal, it welds differently. There are so many factors to consider that the baselines they teach in welding school are only good enough to get a production welding job, where you’re welding on new metal, doing it the same way all day long. Experience and “continued education” are what make a better welder. There is just no substitute.

Experience brings a lot of knowledge they can’t teach in welding school. Keeping that experience “fresh” is highly important. If it’s been a week since I’ve welded using one process or another, I notice a difference in the quality of my work for the first little bit, while I get back into the groove. It might not be a difference my customers notice, but I notice it and I don’t like it. Sometimes I’ll grind away perfectly “acceptable” work because I know it could be better. .

But in the world of welding, who really is the best? Any welder that quickly raises his hand and says “I am” should immediately be sent to weld rusty sea walls until he understands otherwise. I am here to say I’m “pretty good” at the things I do, and hold myself to a high standard. However, there are situations when I find myself in the presence of people who are better than me at certain things, so I close my mouth and pay attention.

I spend a lot of time reading and researching the ways different people deal with metals. A good friend of mine is a welding engineer who shares his welding journals with me when he’s done reading them. He recently reminded me of the humility required to be successful in this line of work, when he asked me for advice on welding aluminum. Here’s a man who’s welded his whole life, built entire pipelines and given himself the education and experience necessary to be a top notch welding engineer at a huge company. If anybody should be cocky it should be him! But he’s smart enough to know that unused experience gets rusty, and he asked me for advice. That act alone showed me that to be the best, you have to ask for help once in a while.

I’m here to tell you I don’t know it all, but I do know enough people that collectively probably do, and we work together to make the welding world a better place.

On that note, I would like to introduce our new company motto: