Weekend Welder | Cruising World

Weekend Welder

Acquiring the skills to weld and fabricate fittings for the boat takes D.I.Y. to a whole new level. "Hands-On Sailor" from our May 2010 issue

weekend welder 368

Learning to weld is kind of practical. Owning the oxyacetylene torch is, well, serious.

Ben Zartman

I took a class at a local community college to learn to weld aluminum and stainless steel and make fittings for the Cape George 31 gaff-rigged cutter that I'm finishing in the yard. So it was with some impatience that I sat through the introductory stuff: oxyacetylene-torch welding and cutting and stick welding, methods that are only good for mild steel and so of very little interest to me-or so I thought. Then we got to the good stuff: MIG welding, TIG welding, and plasma arc cutting, which is used for aluminum and stainless steel. But the "good stuff" was hard, and as I threw out one bad practice weld after another, I realized it might be a long time before I could manage a boat-quality weld.

The things I wanted to build were a big mooring bitt for the foredeck, some smaller bitts to mount aft, and a pair of boom-gallows stanchions. Undeterred, I went shopping for stainless steel, but the prices were astronomical. Finally, I found prices that looked reasonable-until I saw that they weren't by the foot but by the inch!

In despair, I went to a nearby mild-steel supplier. Mild steel is much easier to weld and costs a twentieth as much as stainless steel. The company had all the material I needed, and I bought it on the spot.

"How much was it?" asked my wife hesitantly as we drove away. She doesn't like mild steel because of rust, and she'd wanted me to hold out for better-quality stainless steel.

"It cost 60 bucks!" I crowed. "If they rust out, we can replace them 20 times and still come out cheaper than doing them once in stainless steel!"

Much as she hates rust, Danielle loves a bargain. When she asked, "How will you weld them?," I knew that she'd already accepted the inevitable.

"I've been thinking. I could borrow a welder, but we don't have a 240-volt outlet at the shop. I could rent an engine-powered welder for a day, but I'd have to make sure I had everything cut out and ready to do that day, and I'd still have to figure out how I'd cut the steel."

"But you have something else in mind," Danielle prompted.

"For a little more than the price and hassle of renting a welder, we could buy a torch kit. It both cuts and welds. I can take all the time I need to do the job, it doesn't need electricity, and we can sell it before we go to sea."

We did just that. Our neighbors sold me a set of used tanks. I bought a basic cutting and welding kit and special-ordered a welding tip big enough for quarter-inch steel. Then I dragged everything out into the gravel cul-de-sac at the end of the street. It was summer, and all the grass in the yard was tinder dry. It wouldn't do to start a fire with the cutting sparks.

A few days later, my welded fittings were done and ready to paint. It'd been hot work to torch-weld quarter-inch steel pieces together under the pitiless sun, but it was well worth it to have the project done with so little expense and bother.

Danielle came out to survey the finished pieces while I was prepping them to be painted. "Is that it, then?" she asked. "All those weeks of indecision and price comparing, all those months of classes, and you're done?"

"Done," I said with satisfaction. "All that preparation allowed me to get through it pretty quick."

She glanced past my shoulder at the boat, sitting patiently on its stands above the yellow grass.

"So," she said with an insouciant grin, "would we be at sea right now if you'd taken boatbuilding classes?"

The welding glove I threw just missed her as she scampered, laughing, down the path to the house.


Ben Zartman, a habitual do-it-yourselfer, reports frequently on the progress he's making on his Cape George 31.

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