I currently work in an L shaped shop and the side branch of the bay is occupied by a machinist who has fitted a wall and sliding door so he can heat his area; we welders keep the bay door open for ventilation.
It made me think of my days as an apprentice welder(resident caveman) in a machine shop. The boss really resented paying to heat the shop and woe to he who opened the door to clear out any fumes or smoke we might have produced. One cold day we opened the door for a few minutes to clear out some smoke and the boss came storming in from his office next door demanding to know why the heat was even on if we were going to need to vent the shop at ANY point during the day. I was new on the job and shaking in my boots. The machinist was working at his bench and without even looking up from his work quietly said that he needed the heat on to hold tolerances. The boss was instantly quiet, did an about turn, and walked away without making another sound. It was such a change in the boss’s demeanor that I had the ridiculous thought that maybe the machinist had incriminating pictures of him!
I was reading about a fellow on an online forum trying his hand at hand scraping and made me think of my own hand scraping experience:
I was an apprentice welder in a machine shop, which made me the resident cave-man, but did a little delicate work sometimes. I remember doing some hand scraping exercises(läppen) and submitting a small standard to the machinist for inspection. I spent a couple hours on it and agonized about how accurate it was…made sure it LOOKED good too… He looked at if for 0.5 seconds, said, “OK,” and handed it back….no detailed critique…no, “‘atta boy!”
Pass…get back to work. It ended up in the scrap bin.
I know that the production engineer I work for had something to be proud of when I heard one machinist warn another that his automated test rig would “fink” on them if their parts were out of spec.
I was thinking about stereotypes tonight. There’s the common and obvious form that attributes negative traits to a group but I’m talking about the funny phenomenon of the kind that makes a positive, though equally spurious, suggestion.
What made me think about this was seeing a jeweler named Mordecai on TV. I thought that for a lot of people that name would be a credential on its own and had a good chuckle. I’m sure you’ve heard somebody, maybe an Archie Bunker-esque relative, say something stupid like, “Sure, he’s a good machinist; he’s German!” I use this example because it happens that I know a German machinist who really hates people assuming he can work miracles in record time simply because of where he did his apprenticeship.
I had an experience of my own many years ago. I was in a job interview and the interviewer said to me, “Cameron is a Scottish name, right? Good, you’ll be thrifty with my money.” He wasn’t joking. I was surprised and though I wasn’t offended, it convinced me that the man was a mush-head and I didn’t want to work for him….I do wish I had the gumption to reply to that remark with, “Yes I will, and if you need a good mechanic, I’d like to recommend my friend Hershel….”
I remember, several years ago, talking with a machinist over lunch and what came up in the conversation was his dislike of how most welders have a “sloppy” manner of working. He isn’t one of these fellows who wastes time being considerately more accurate than a job calls for; he is a practical man. And though he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what made him feel that way, I figured there had to be something to it.
The thought that occured to me was what I figured to be the biggest, most fundamental difference between our trades: Machinists worked metal by removing material while welders worked by adding it.
I think that this influences a tradesman’s psyche. One of the joys of being a welder, depending on your type of work, is that there are often situations where you can deal with poor fit-up by simply filling the gap. What does a machinist or joiner do when they make a piece too small? Make another and hope the boss doesn’t notice the lost time.
Surely this makes a lot of us, compared to other trades, appear to take a fast and loose approach to layout work. In the case of an unmotivated welder, he may never develop the ability to accurately fit work together if his job never requires it. The truth is that there are a lot of welding jobs where you can be considered a great fabricator with a degree of skill that wouldn’t qualify you to make coffee in a cabinet shop.
If you’re an impatient welder, then a little time working with wood is a cheap way to force yourself to be accurate. It will broaden your horizons and round you out as a person and tradesman.