On a southbound drive on I-85, approaching the Duluth exit #107, Stone Mountain comes into view. The enormous Confederate monument carved into the rock has something in common with the car we’re driving. Both have been made possible by welding techniques. The year 2019 is the 100th founding anniversary of the American Welding Society. This nonprofit organization promotes techniques of joining and cutting metal. Every day we use products that wouldn’t exist without welding. Cars, railroads, airplanes, ships and many more pieces of machinery ranging all the way to household appliances depend on ways to cut metals and joining metal pieces by applying heat.
When Gutzon Borglum threw down his hammer in frustration and left the Stone Mountain project in 1925, completion of the monument seemed impossible to some. It was a welding technique, using thermo-jet torches, that enabled a company from Massachusetts to burn tons of rock away every day during the 1960’s. Torches and plasma cutters develop more than 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit, melting even the hardest rock and metal with ease.
In April of 1912, RMS Titanic sank because an iceberg had punched a long gash in her side. The plates holding the ship together were riveted. Welded joints often turned out brittle at the time. But rivets were no match for a mountain made of ice. The welded hulls of today’s ships can withstand a much bigger bump than the one that killed a splendid ocean liner.
Simple MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding is quite within the reach of the hobbyist for home repair or vehicle restoration. It quickly became one of my favorite pastimes after an investment of just $500 for a 110V welder and $80 for gloves and a self-darkening face shield. No gas bottles are needed. Flux core inside the welding wire shields the workpiece from oxidation during the process. One’s first attempts to join metal tend to result in a spattered mess. But with some practice, nice smooth flowing welds can reunite busted brackets on a trailer or fix the broken steel on patio furniture. With gloves and mask in place, touch the joint with the pistol tip and pull the trigger. It’s awesome to watch the metal melt and fuse into a new workpiece. During this 100th anniversary, we can celebrate the fact that our world would look vastly different without welding technology.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.