As a bench jeweler I have spent countless hours with a torch in hand soldering and occasionally fusing silver and other non-ferrous metals. A few years back I was struck with the inclination to work larger. Therefore I enrolled in a welding class to explore the various processes of welding steel.
There are three methods used to weld; stick, mig and tig. Each is just a bit different from the others. Initially, several people told me that I would love tig. They had reasoned that because tig had the potential to create the cleanest joint, a jeweler would naturally appreciate the precision inherent to the process. However, tig is the only one of the three techniques that requires the use of both hands so all components being joined must be meticulously balanced in place. As a jeweler I have spent a large percentage of my life balancing small parts on soldering pads. Therefore the ability to hold a part in place with one hand and either a mig gun or clamped welding rod in the other was something I found to be immensely satisfying! Needless to say I spent most of my time mig and stick welding.
In addition to welding I also had the opportunity to use a hand held plasma cutter. The plasma cutter was certainly fun to cut with. The major drawback was the slag it created while cutting. Even in the best of circumstances a plasma cut edge is unrefined and hours of grinding are necessary to produce an edge that a jeweler would find acceptable.
Overall the most difficult aspect of working on a larger scale was the clean up. Jewelers live in a world of extreme precision. They are used to seamless transitions between joints, solder for the most parts flows to create a smooth transition with no visible lump or bead. Welding does leave a visible seam, which can certainly vary in appearance depending on the skill of the individual doing the welding.
My experience with welding was quite enjoyable. I do not weld frequently, but it is nice to have the skill set to do so when a project does arise. None of us know what the future holds in store, perhaps I will begin welding again someday down the road.