‘Adventures’ in Welding, Part 2

Yet More Cautionary Tales to Brighten Your Day

If you haven’t read the first post in this series, check it out here…https://garysweldinginc.com/2017/10/19/adventures-in-welding-and-other-cautionary-tales/

Just to recap, last time, we shared a few harrowing “adventures” that we have had in the welding biz. So, let’s get down to even more welding shrapnel (brass tacks??), shall we?

I was reminiscing the other day about the one time we had gone down to Casper to cut and join some pipe. It was my dad, Gary, my sisters and I. This would have been when I was in my late teens. The pipe was large diameter, 12-inch inside diameter pipe originally made in the 1920s for a water line project. There were over 30 miles of pipe in the yard – we cut and joined it in 40-foot sections for a total of 2 miles of it for the customer. The pipe ends were dresser sleeved, so before we could begin welding, we had to cut off those ends. This was where my job came in.

Pipe beveler

Once we got to the yard, we were given specific tasks to work on. My task was to use the pipe beveling machine with the cutting torch to bevel the pipe ends. My dad set up the beveler and showed me how to use it and once I tried my hand at it, easy peasy. This was my first time using a pipe beveler and it struck me as purely awesome! I love a good cutting torch. And it’s not because I use them a bunch, because I don’t. My main job for the welding company has always been in the office. No, rather my fascination with a cutting torch stems from the fact that it harnesses gases (oxygen & acetylene in this case) and a mere spark to cut through metal – think about that for a second: a gas you breathe can cut through metal.

If you aren’t familiar with a pipe beveler, imagine this (or see the pic to the right): The pipe beveler was set up on a ring gear that sits over the pipe like a saddle. The whole contraption moves slowly around the pipe, while the torch was held by an arm on the beveler so that it sits at an angle. My biggest job was to make sure the oxygen and acetylene hose was kept clear of the cutting area and to make sure the ground was clear for the section of pipe that was cut off.

I can’t remember exactly, but I was probably 3 or 4 pipe ends in when I forgot all about the hose. I think I was watching to make sure the sparks didn’t catch the long grass in the yard on fire  – also, there may have been a little ADHD going on. Not good. So this particular time when the pipe end fell off, it fell directly onto the oxy-acetylene hose – MOLTEN HOT SIDE DOWN, NATURALLY – and promptly burned through the hoses like a hot knife through butter. {palm to face} Well crap!!!!! I just stood there like a deer in the headlights, not knowing what to do. The hoses were hissing quite a bit and my dad came running over and was shouting something about causing an explosion while he was turning bottles off, grabbing hose and yelling for me to flip the pipe end out of the way. It was a moment or two of chaos, but lucky us, there was no explosion or fire.

I felt bad. That section of perfectly good hose – completely ruined. That was the day that I found out that hose could be cut and new ends made – good thing! But I could have caused a major catastrophe if Dad hadn’t caught it in time. I think that was the end of me being in charge of the pipe beveler…I was reassigned to another area. Probably a good thing for all of us 😉

Which brings me to another fond memory of working out in the field…

This was while I was working for Dad as a laborer one summer during my college years. We had been working on this particular project – an elevated walkway out at the customer’s location – all summer long. One of my co-workers and I had the job of painting the entire walkway and supporting pipes. That was hot, grueling work. The paint was so thick, we had to stop frequently to wash out the brushes (yes, hand painting with brushes and rollers! The paint was some special type and it was too thick to spray paint).

One day, I decided to walk the length up top and see the new drop-down walkouts our company had installed at various places along the walkway. Dad had showed me how they worked, and I was all admiration. They were like little draw bridges. Each one had a special wire winch with a crank handle on it to draw the walkout up and a locking mechanism to keep them locked and upright when not in use. Very safe and a cool feature.

For whatever reason, that probably has very little to do with actual reasoning (ADHD remember), I decided to try one myself, just to see how it worked again. Normally, I can be trusted with machinery and metal alone, but this time? Not this time. My older, wiser coworkers were working on various projects nowhere near me and the boss man had just left to head back into town for supplies. I was all alone with nothing but sheer {treacherous} curiosity to guide me. It’s at times like these that I wish my brain would project a flashing neon sign across my eyelids: TRAIN WRECK AHEAD – ABORT MISSION!

But hey what would be the fun in that? Experience is a much better teacher (or a cruel mistress, because let’s be honest – both work in this case). And you, dear reader, wouldn’t get to sit back and smile at my stupidity, would you?

What I didn’t realized until later was that, if you wanted to lower the walkout, you FIRST had to be firmly holding on to the crank handle to ease it down. Duh – that’s how those normally work. Dad had showed me that part, but I forgot. Those walkouts were heavy enough that gravity would just take over and they would drop fast once the latch was released.

But I had blissfully forgotten all of this in my 20-something haze of idealistic daydreaming.

So you all know what comes next…I reached over the edge and flipped the locking mechanism and boom!! That handle was spinning for all it was worth as the walkout fell open. Out of instinct, I reached out to grab the handle as I realized I was supposed to be holding it before releasing the latch. Ooops! It was too fast and I couldn’t grab it…instead, the spinning handle just smacked down my hand and arm in three places before I could get away from it. In hindsight, it was a good thing I wasn’t able to grab the handle, or I might have really gotten tangled up.

It had hit my hand and arm so hard, I was sure something was broken. The back of my hand and thumb were turning bluish purple and swelling rapidly. Everything from my forearm down alternately throbbed and felt numb. All I could think of was “Something is definitely broken and Dad left already!” I was still on the walkway when two of my co-workers were coming to find me and saw the look on my face. “What happened?” one of them asked and then he cracked a joke. I don’t even remember what, because by that point, I was crying a little, just wanted to go home and was probably as white as a sheet. He saw that it was serious and they walked with me into the customer’s break room. They called my dad for me and asked him to come back and pick me up.

In the meantime, they were asking if I could move my fingers and my hand at all. I could a little bit, so they didn’t think anything was truly broken, but I would still need to go to ER.

Dad came and got me and took me to the hospital. They did an xray and everything appeared fine – no breaks – but I would need to wear a brace and follow up with an orthopedic specialist in a few days to make sure there were no hairline fractures. And at my follow-up, my doctor said he couldn’t see any fractures. He thought it was just a series of contusions, probably deep enough to bruise the bone. I asked him about the indents in my arm – yep, I had nice actual dents. He said those would fill out again in time.

A long time…I had those things for years & still have a sort of scar on my arm from one. Not quite as bad as it was right at first, but they were definitely still there long after the accident. But at least I didn’t break anything. I now have profound respect for walkouts and winches (and gravity…).

Okay, enough telling on myself…

Time to tell on some of my co-workers. undefined

I remember one guy telling me to be very careful when using the wire brush wheel on the grinder. It had shot wires through his shirt like little arrows when he was using it before. Luckily, never piercing the skin. There is a right way and a wrong way to use a wire wheel. He did it the wrong way.

Once, while down in a ditch welding pipe, one of our welders was hit on the head & neck with a large pipe wrench that someone above (not with our company) had dropped on him out of sheer carelessness.

Another co-worker of mine started using the wire wheel on the grinder and was wearing a longer, baggier shirt. While buffing out some metal, the grinder kind of jumped up after hitting some irregularities in the metal and promptly wound itself up in her shirt (to see an example of this happening, see the YouTube video below from the BackYardScientist).

The same co-worker, when she was just new to the job, had taken an extention ladder and set it against the shop wall to access a storage area. She was alone. The ladder started to slip down the wall, since there was no one on the floor end to catch it. So she slide to the floor with the ladder. Luckily she wasn’t up too high.

I have seen the occasional worker stare at arc welds. Which – if you want to have relatively healthy vision long into your golden years – is just plain dumb. Don’t even look at the reflection of the arc weld…that can be just as bad. I have only accidently seen an arc and afterward, it felt like I had sand in my eyes. That’s not a fun feeling. Protect your vision with proper helmet and lenses, have a curtain around your weld area or look away when in the presence of welding.

Ever seen the “Cylinder Two-Step”? I’ve mentioned this in the blog before, but not having your bottles secured can be a real issue in a welding shop or in the back of the truck. I have seen people walk by unsecured bottles, accidently bumping them and causing them to wobble precariously. I like to call the ensuing scramble the “Cylinder Two-Step” as the person hugs the bottle, keeping it from falling over. It can be humorous to watch, but probably isn’t the safest thing to do…always secure those puppies & save the two-stepping for the real dance floor 😉

I have also witnessed workers wearing shorts, short-sleeved shirts, or improper shoes. Those workers are usually sent home to change before they can begin work. Sparks are going to fly and they will most definitely land on you. Having your arms and legs covered really helps! Wear cotton or wool. Wear layers. Wear shirts that have metal buttons or snaps. A fire-retardant shirt is helpful. Wearing a leather apron or jacket will save your clothes, too. Heavy leather welding gloves with long gauntlet cuffs will protect your hands and arms. These measures can really cut down on burns. Occasionally you will get a rogue spark down your socks, in your ear or somewhere else – it happens to all of us, so consider that your initiation rite. If you do your part and wear your protective gear, you can save yourself some hassle though.


Here are some curated and reviewed YouTube videos on what can happen when you aren’t being careful in the shop (or the field).

And just one more thing – don’t become an MSHA or OSHA cautionary tale. Wear your PPE, look both directions, always practice appropriate safety measures! Your family and friends will be thankful to have you a bit longer, and not having accidents is also less painful 😊

https://youtu.be/aXmtHo5bJ88 – From the BackYardScientist – some safety tips and demonstrations on what not to do with common shop tools and equipment.

https://youtu.be/oJRSkBSb5S8 – A very informative video on grinder safety. Lots of good info. But beware, the end of the video is for the strong of stomach only. It has pics from people who have had grinder accidents…quite graphic, but effective in reminding one to have proper PPE and guards in place before using a grinder.

https://youtu.be/r7srRiQebq0 – Also a serious one – a warning not to clean your welding surfaces with chlorox or brake cleaner.

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