Metal fabrication is not what most people would consider a dream job. It’s a dangerous job with molten metal and sharp grinders and saws. It takes a lot of skill and a steady hand to become a good welder. But the outcome can be beautiful. It’s an art form as well as hard work.
I was first introduced to building with metal when my uncle built a huge spider on a web out of metal. My family admired it when we went over to his and my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The entire time I was visiting i was wondering how he made that all by himself.
Metal fabrication isn’t just welding two pieces of metal together. It is a process of cutting, shaping and creating using machines and various exotic aloids of metal. People have been using metal metal for jewelry, armour and tools for thousands of years. Metal fabrication represents one of the oldest elemental skills, being dated back to 7000–3300 BCE.
Metalworking was highly praised in the ancient world. It was an almost spiritual skill. It was used by South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh and can be traced back to ancient Egyptians making jewelry out of raw metals.
In early history, only seven metals were known: gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron and mercury. At first, the most popular metal to be put to practical purposes was copper, which is found in a fairly usable form. Many different cultures, independently of each other, learned how to smelt copper, applying heat and reducing agents to separate the metal from ore. Gaining the ability to work with metal is so transformative to a culture that we say it ushers in a new age, marking the end of the “stone age.”
Technology has continually advanced the field. A hydraulic press was dated back to 1770 and was used to pound metal with more force than any person could. Improvements in welding over centuries have improved our ability to make bonds and the more recent invention of the angle grinders gave people the ability to cut and shape with ease.
After I saw my uncle’s metal spider, I spent the following months in my garage building things. I’d rummage through the garage finding new materials to make things out of. I leaned how to use hand tools and I became really good with them.
Metalworker and YouTube personality Jimmy Diresta recommends five basic tools to get started in the field: a band saw, die grinder, metal nibbler, flux core welder and a press break. For any beginner, knowing your tools are key to a safe work environment.
What not many people know about being a metal fabricator is, it includes a lot of math. We have to measure everything and we make cuts in the metal that has to be exact lengths or the whole piece is ruined.
I decided to build a tiny fishing rod for my uncle because he used to fish. It was very detailed and took weeks to make. He was shocked I made that and honored that I gave it to him. It made me realize that metal work could be more than just a fun hobby. People value what you can create.
There are many different types of metal fabricators. There are welders, fitters and many more, but a good metal fabricator will know a little about everything. Although there are different types, we need a variety of skills to achieve a good outcome.
For each type of metal fabricator there are different educational routes and classes. My local technical college offers hundreds of classes for engineers of all types. The average for a metal worker in British Columbia is about $30.90 Cdn. But can vary based on the work done or the skill of the fabricator.
I want to learn more and keep making things, so I’ve been experimenting with welding and other metal fabrication techniques ever since. I’ve discovered what I want to do as a career.
Being a metal fabricator may not be the highest paying job and it can be dangerous at times but it’s a form of art. We build and sculpt and create new things. It’s beautiful.