A Cohort 17 graduate shared his thoughts about our 19-week program on his way to becoming an industry-ready welder. This is his story.

Feb 15, 2021

We’re in week five of the Comprehensive Welding Program here at IAI. It’s a 19-week program that encompasses the entire world of welding. Currently we are neck deep in shielded metal arc welding (SMAW). You might think, oh that’s only one type of welding it must be easy. Wrong answer. You have to learn how to do it in every position, including right over your head. We have five more weeks that continue to run the gamut of every which way you can possibly stick weld.

We’re in the weeds for sure, but the progress happens quickly if you put your head down and put in the hood time. To shake things up from the singular focus on stick welding, we have a fabrication class every week that tests the various skills we have been learning and puts them to use putting things together. It’s nice to have the ongoing well-rounded education vibe while we look ahead to diversifying our welding skills quiver.

Before we know it we will be moving onto gas metal arc welding (GMAW) aka MIG welding. Then onto gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) aka TIG welding. This program is without a doubt a welding boot camp. There are many different welding programs, but this one is truly an immersive welding experience.

March 12, 2021

It’s clear that SMAW welding (aka stick welding) takes a lot of practice to learn and years of experience to master. Frustration comes easily when you watch the instructors and all the YouTube videos you can find and still not do it the way they do it. But frustration is a good sign; if you’re not frustrated you don’t care enough. It takes patience to make such small, incremental improvements every day. I’ve been working on the same weld for a week and I’m still not ready to weld my test plates to earn certification. I’m up to 50 or 60 practice welds and although they’re getting better, I’m still not there yet.

We’re getting close to the end of the stick welding portion of the class. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to moving onto other disciplines of welding. Even though my stick welding still needs a lot of work, my mind is wandering ahead to daydreams of lying down some thick, smooth beads of fluxcore with the MIG gun and walking the cup with the TIG gun. The cool thing about this program is that you get to experience the whole spectrum of welding. The bad thing is we only get 19 weeks to do it. Building the muscle memory and coordination to make consistently perfect welds takes considerable effort. It will all be worth it.

March 25, 2021

Every Thursday afternoon we switch gears from focusing on individual welding skills to the bigger picture of fabrication. The first project we started used the very first skill we learned: brazing. Then it got put on hold until we get to finish the project by TIG welding all the seams. It’s been something to look forward to over the grueling weeks of stick welding. During the past handful of weeks we have been using our stick welding skills to create a Hibachi grill. The cool part about this process is that the level of customization is completely up to us. We are given a basic outline of the minimum requirements, then we have the entire shop full of metalworking tools to do whatever we want to our grill. Some people are learning that sandblasting the entire grill takes a long time. Others are learning that adding more metal to an already heavy grill might be a questionable decision. Some people wrapped up rather quickly, while some are taking extra time to add a slew of cosmetic & functional upgrades.

Having a weekly Fabrication class has been a great way to break up the intense focus on earning qualifications and certifications. It’s easy to get lost in practicing one type of weld for days (or weeks) in a row. Having a class where we get to step back and see welding as a part of a larger whole is a refreshing feeling. This week we were supposed to finish our Hibachi grills — about half of the class put their grill on their showcase table and the rest are still a work in progress. But since the TIG welding portion of fabrication class rolls on, the grills must be finished in extra lab time; well worth it for the more aesthetically-inclined students in class.

April 9, 2021

After what felt more like 10 months than 10 weeks, we finally “graduated” from stick welding and moved onto TIG or GTAW welding. And what a shift it’s been. Going from stick welding to TIG welding is like moving from a chef’s knife to a scalpel. A better way to describe TIG welding might be that it’s like drawing, but instead of pencil lead or ink, you’re using a tiny bolt of lightning to make your mark. It’s a very difficult skill to pick up on and, much like stick welding, your margin for error is very small: slight alterations in your arc length and electrode angle translate to huge inconsistencies in your weld.

TIG welding feels a bit like magic once you get going with it. It’s almost completely silent and you control this extremely shiny, completely mirror-finish weld puddle down seams and close them up smoother than folding an envelope. We started off welding regular carbon steel and this week moved onto stainless steel. A handful of students blew through the stainless steel section (it’s slightly easier to weld than carbon steel) and moved onto aluminum TIG welding. One of the best parts of this section of the program is moving onto new, more technical types of materials. TIG welding truly opens up a different world of welding.

May 25, 2021

Well just as soon as we switched gears into TIG welding (four weeks felt like four days), we were off into the world of GMAW (gas metal arc welding) or MIG (metal inert gas) welding. We hit the ground running with GMAW aluminum, which was a nice transition from TIG aluminum. Aluminum definitely reacts differently than steel while welding and although it might be intimidating at first, aluminum is actually a really great material for welding. Once you get the hang of it, welding aluminum is basically like pushing a really hot little mirror across a surface.

After aluminum, we moved onto the meat and potatoes of MIG welding: solid wire. There are a few different types of MIG welding but it’s all using the same equipment, so once you dial in your technique, it translates across the board. Those weeks move quickly up until the final stretch of the class: FCAW (flux core arc welding) welding. Flux core welding might sound like a different discipline altogether but it’s just MIG welding with a different type of wire. And it’s super duper HOT. The last five weeks of this class have really all blended together, technique-wise, and it’s been the least challenging welding process so far. In fact, the success rate on our flux core bend tests this week was the highest of the entire class time. So it’s been a really nice and relatively easy “off-loading” of the course compared to the grueling slog that was the stick welding months.

This has been a long process but looking back on all of it is really rewarding. Things are coming easier now than they were at first. Just getting more comfortable with molten metal and what it does and how to control it is a huge stumbling point. Having the cross-section of so many different ways to weld metal really informs all of the other processes. At the end of the day, welding is welding, you gotta melt metal, add metal, join metal. There are many ways to do it and simply putting your hands on all of those ways and seeing how they work is a huge part of the learning process. This program has been a deep dive into all of the processes and I feel ready to tackle further gains in any one of them.

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