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Thread: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

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    Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    I have also been trying to find an apprenticeship here in Calgary Alberta to start a career in welding or preferably metal fabrication. There have been several obstacles that have limited the number of jobs that I could apply for, such as my inability to drive; but what has really surprised me these six years is how few companies have brought we in for an interview, and non have hired me despite my success at SAIT with a welding technician and CWB certification, when that is equivalent to two years of experience.
    I am still applying but I have also purchased, built, and worked with quite a bit of my own equipment to try to run my own business of metal fabrication. I own a miller multimatic 215, a Hypertherm power plasma 45xp plus a 4' x 3' CNC plasma cutting table, oxyfuel torch, a drill press, hand drill, 4.5" angle grinder, propane forge, EvenHeat LB heat treatment oven, 90 lb anvil, and a good number of hand tools and manual metal shaping tools.
    There are some people other than my relatives who know what I can do and have asked me to do a bit of work for them, but I have not been very successful in the sale of my work or service through a page on etcy. I have sold some jewelry but not so much my wrought iron and plasma cut artwork, or custom knives. Many people have been very impressed with what I post on Facebook, and are encouraging me to sell it, but that has not been successful. i have thought about bringing it to the farmers market, but what market would be most suitable to sell this kind of work?

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    I posted this in
    Re: What path to take
    The biggest problem is a a shop.
    Where I live is M1 zoning is need or I purchased a ranch and post a sign {Smith welding and farm repair}.

    This why I say portable welding no shop need or employees w/OSHA. The Insurance is cheaper too.
    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    I have also been trying to find an apprenticeship here in Calgary Alberta to start a career in welding or preferably metal fabrication. There have been several obstacles that have limited the number of jobs that I could apply for, such as my inability to drive; but what has really surprised me these six years is how few companies have brought we in for an interview, and non have hired me despite my success at SAIT with a welding technician and CWB certification, when that is equivalent to two years of experience.
    I am still applying but I have also purchased, built, and worked with quite a bit of my own equipment to try to run my own business of metal fabrication. I own a miller multimatic 215, a Hypertherm power plasma 45xp plus a 4' x 3' CNC plasma cutting table, oxyfuel torch, a drill press, hand drill, 4.5" angle grinder, propane forge, EvenHeat LB heat treatment oven, 90 lb anvil, and a good number of hand tools and manual metal shaping tools.
    There are some people other than my relatives who know what I can do and have asked me to do a bit of work for them, but I have not been very successful in the sale of my work or service through a page on etcy. I have sold some jewelry but not so much my wrought iron and plasma cut artwork, or custom knives. Many people have been very impressed with what I post on Facebook, and are encouraging me to sell it, but that has not been successful. i have thought about bringing it to the farmers market, but what market would be most suitable to sell this kind of work?

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    It makes sense that mobile welding would be more successful than a non commercial welding shop. With mobility you could offer more services to people in terms of repairs rather than manufacturing/ fabrication. I haven't done any repairs outside my employment as a maintenance worker. The service I have mentioned to others is fabrication of custom metal hardware, tools, and art.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    You ever called to find out why you were not selected for the jobs?

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    I have contacted the recruiter or president after an interview, when they end up not getting back to me after telling me that they could meet with me and have me show them what I can do. Most of the time they don't give me an answer to why it was canceled.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Here are my thoughts based off having a metal art business in Virginia. Since you are in Canada, your market is probably quite a bit different. I also have a full time job so that takes a lot of pressure off me in running the art business.

    You will never get rich in the metal art business. Can you support a family? Maybe. It depends upon the type of art.

    I have a shop in Etsy and have done pretty well there selling my bells and sculptures. I have had my shop there for about 9 years. I also sell at art shows within about a 2 hour radius. Additionally, I have work in two different galleries.

    Etsy has pretty much been flooded with people making and selling knives and plasma art.

    If you can get in on the early edge of certain trends you can probably do well. For a while people were selling plasma cut gnomes. That trend might be slowing down.

    The individual sign market might be OK, but they require more time per item than selling a standard design.

    Art shows are a whole different animal. I started out at the local farmers markets and then slowly worked my way up to some better shows. I am still not in the high end shows. That is partly by choice. The really good art shows require frequent travel involving a thousand miles or more. I am not ready to do that full time yet. There are also high fees to get into those shows. The type of items and setup are vastly different from farmers markets.

    In regards to getting a job at a fabrication shop, the places near me are dying for good help. Whether they can't find people due to salary or work conditions, I do not know. I am sure it is partly both.

    It sounds like you have a decent selection of tools to start with. The problem might be in finding something to focus on. Instead of being a generalist, what specifically can you offer the local businesses that make them want to use you or your company over existing companies?



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    Last edited by psacustomcreations; 01-13-2022 at 03:13 PM.
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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    You need to be an artist more than a welder. Internet is good for a gallery then you need to figure out how to take custom order or project etc. Commercial art,,,, who dun the sign, and a little about outdoor advertising as its called. Maybe some indoor. Some of it is less "busy" than that and would certainly blend ideas. 3 ways to sell. 1, cause they want it,, 2, cause they need it, 3,,, cause it makes them money.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    If you post pics of your knives, artwork, etc we can offer advice on that.

    The fabrication business is different in that your local market and businesses will be different from my area. But it may be similar to others on here so let them know where you are located and where you have applied.

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    Last edited by psacustomcreations; 01-13-2022 at 03:15 PM.
    Millermatic 252 MIG
    Miller Dynasty 200DX TIG
    Miller Spectrum 625 Plasma
    Altas 12x36 Metal Lathe
    Bridgeport Milling Machine
    www.psacustomcreations.com

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Another aspect and one of the most important is how well do you understand business and running one?

    Tbone pointed out that having $100,000 come in the door does not mean you are making any way near that.

    Have you taken business classes? How well do you understand tracking costs? How well do you understand business taxes? Are you tracking every mile driven, every penny spent?

    I spend maybe 30% of my time behind the computer or doing aspects of running my business. The rest is in the shop making items. Can you do that or can you pay someone to do parts of that work?

    Providing a service is very different from making and selling a product.

    Sent from my SM-G996U using Tapatalk
    Millermatic 252 MIG
    Miller Dynasty 200DX TIG
    Miller Spectrum 625 Plasma
    Altas 12x36 Metal Lathe
    Bridgeport Milling Machine
    www.psacustomcreations.com

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    I had plan to mobile repair till 2018 in retirement.
    I was setup for stainless steel and bucket repair.
    For adds simply drive down street to restaurants and earth moving companies. Handing out my card/line card. By end of I would have work to do.

    I would never again do any construction work. I did that work for forty years and it is a real pain. Everyone is trying to a error in your work.

    Repair they happy after finished the job and most time they hand you cash.
    Construction you bill wait 30 days for a rubber check if you lucky.

    Remember if you take cash report it to IRS so they take there cut of the action too. 🎬

    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    It makes sense that mobile welding would be more successful than a non commercial welding shop. With mobility you could offer more services to people in terms of repairs rather than manufacturing/ fabrication. I haven't done any repairs outside my employment as a maintenance worker. The service I have mentioned to others is fabrication of custom metal hardware, tools, and art.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Most I know in business never took a class in business.
    You quickly figure it out. Do not spend money and it is all profit.

    The classes have one drawback the cost of tracking everything.

    Most work you need to know how to quote a job.

    Dave

    Quote Originally Posted by psacustomcreations View Post
    Another aspect and one of the most important is how well do you understand business and running one?

    Tbone pointed out that having $100,000 come in the door does not mean you are making any way near that.

    Have you taken business classes? How well do you understand tracking costs? How well do you understand business taxes? Are you tracking every mile driven, every penny spent?

    I spend maybe 30% of my time behind the computer or doing aspects of running my business. The rest is in the shop making items. Can you do that or can you pay someone to do parts of that work?

    Providing a service is very different from making and selling a product.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    I have contacted the recruiter or president after an interview, when they end up not getting back to me after telling me that they could meet with me and have me show them what I can do. Most of the time they don't give me an answer to why it was canceled.
    You used the term recruiter. They may not have positions available. The recruiter my be building a portfolio to match folk with opening as the occur? Are the recruiters directly affiliated with the specific companies.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    It makes sense that mobile welding would be more successful than a non commercial welding shop. With mobility you could offer more services to people in terms of repairs rather than manufacturing/ fabrication. I haven't done any repairs outside my employment as a maintenance worker. The service I have mentioned to others is fabrication of custom metal hardware, tools, and art.
    You mentioned your inability to drive so I suppose that rules out mobile work correct?


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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Out of all the equipment I have, my forge and heat treatment kiln used to make professional grade knives, and mabe some other tools that would include alloy steel, are probably the tools that are most comparable to commercial tools used by local metal fab/smithing companies. I have thought about forging a set of high quality alloy steel kitchen knives comparable to Cutco knives.
    my plasma table allows me to cut the perfect shaped blade if I choose not to forge it, and the EvenHeat heat treatment kiln is a commercial kiln that does an excellent job of hardening and tempering specialty alloy steels ideal for blade smithing.
    You can see some photos of some of my work on the "what path to take" thread, and I'll post some other pictures of some knives on this thread.
    Last edited by ChrisCramer; 01-13-2022 at 05:53 PM.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    ....what has really surprised me these six years is how few companies have brought we in for an interview, and non have hired me despite my success at SAIT with a welding technician and CWB certification, when that is equivalent to two years of experience........


    Many people have been very impressed with what I post on Facebook, and are encouraging me to sell it, but that has not been successful. i have thought about bringing it to the farmers market, but what market would be most suitable to sell this kind of work?
    So a couple of things stick out to me here.

    I'm not really up on certification lingo, but there's nothing that's really equivalent to 2 years' experience *except* for 2 years' experience. The welding classes I've taken have had humongous, gigantic holes in them where you don't learn anything about what it's like to work in a shop. Just how to make a weld. That's great, but hand a fresh-out-of-school guy a 1/4" electric die grinder or a 4.5" grinder with a cup brush, without any instruction on how to use it, and watch them almost gut themselves. Or ask them to find 27-13/16" on a tape measure within 5 seconds and they can't do it. These are the obstacles that shops face when hiring new guys. It's nobody's fault except for the teaching institutions', who are either too short on time or too short on liability insurance to do the job right. And so just like when I was learning, guys today are still doing 70%+ of their learning on the job, on their employer's dollar, and tearing up their employer's equipment in the process. That's one reason that it's a little harder to hire directly into the trade from fresh. It's really costly to bring in rookie blood, to the point that many shops just won't do it even if they're behind on their workflow.

    Another thing that stuck out to me is that you can't drive. Is this a physical disability, is it that you're too young for a license, or did you get busted with a DUI, or what? You don't have to answer, but if it's a DUI and those shops are running your criminal history, well, that's a giant flashing neon sign to them that they should keep looking. This business is dangerous enough for sober people. I would never, ever, ever hire somebody who had to be driven to work because they got busted driving drunk. No offense meant if this is the case, but it's generally a sign of a person with poor judgment. I'd rather my competition hire the alcoholics.

    Finally, on the art selling front, I have to admit that I have no idea where would be the best place to sell. To me it's kinda like residential work; a few people doing it in one area goes a LONG ways. There's only so much market for it, and the buyers are nitpicky and cheap (in general). You have to be REALLY good at it to make a living, either good at quantity or good at quality output. The former takes a lot of mechanization; the latter takes a lot of talent.

    Consider who these people are who are telling you that you should sell your work. Are they well-respected art critics, or are they your cousins and friends who are just being nice? Have these same people bought from you, and then also passed your name on to other people who are now buying from you as well? Is your stuff on centerpiece display in some rich people's houses in the area who *bought* it from you (as opposed to being gifted it in exchange for the display opportunity)? Depending on the answers to these questions, you might find that your art should stay a hobby. Or that you should be talking to very exclusive dealers.

    Finally, do the math on your art. A very intricate piece of art that's worth $30,000 and only has $200 worth of steel in it is great, but not if it took you a year to make. Be hardnosed with yourself. I don't know the labor rates in your area, but if your average welding shop is getting $80/hr plus materials, for example, how many hours did you have in your piece of art? What will it sell for? Would you be better off working at McDonald's? If so, then what you have isn't a business opportunity, it's a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, just be realistic.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    If you are not able to drive, then doesn't that pretty much require welding and fabrication customers to come to you?
    Do you have adequate parking and space for different vehicles and equipment? How much shop space do you have? Can you have multiple customers projects in your space at the same time?
    How good are you at social media? Do you have good Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tik-Tok accounts that are dedicated to your business? Not personal accounts. That way the customer is seeing the appropriate material. How frequently are you updating them? Do you have a website?
    Do you have business cards?
    I am not sure how they do things up there, but here you can place business cards on bulletin boards at many small businesses such as grocery stores, agricultural stores, hardware stores, welding supply stores, etc.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Yeah, my inability to drive doesn't allow me to travel with any equipment, and a lot of job postings require a driver's license. That isn't the only thing that stops companies from hiring me. One reason why a company that was considering to hire me decided not to take the chance, was because I told them about my epilepsy. I rarely have seizures during the day, so from my point of view that is not a big risk, but they are most likely worried about liability. I don't always mention my epilepsy, but I definitely wouldn't want to loose the job because of that.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    That is why I am looking for a way to use my skills and equipment at home as a side job to my current position as a maintenance worker.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Oh, yep, that's the answer to why you're not getting hired. They can't come out and say it of course, because it could be considered discrimination, but there's your answer. Bummer! I would keep up with your art and go with psa's recommendations for getting it out in front of the public's view.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by tbone550 View Post
    So a couple of things stick out to me here.

    I'm not really up on certification lingo, but there's nothing that's really equivalent to 2 years' experience *except* for 2 years' experience. The welding classes I've taken have had humongous, gigantic holes in them where you don't learn anything about what it's like to work in a shop. Just how to make a weld. That's great, but hand a fresh-out-of-school guy a 1/4" electric die grinder or a 4.5" grinder with a cup brush, without any instruction on how to use it, and watch them almost gut themselves. Or ask them to find 27-13/16" on a tape measure within 5 seconds and they can't do it. These are the obstacles that shops face when hiring new guys. It's nobody's fault except for the teaching institutions', who are either too short on time or too short on liability insurance to do the job right. And so just like when I was learning, guys today are still doing 70%+ of their learning on the job, on their employer's dollar, and tearing up their employer's equipment in the process. That's one reason that it's a little harder to hire directly into the trade from fresh. It's really costly to bring in rookie blood, to the point that many shops just won't do it even if they're behind on their workflow.

    Another thing that stuck out to me is that you can't drive. Is this a physical disability, is it that you're too young for a license, or did you get busted with a DUI, or what? You don't have to answer, but if it's a DUI and those shops are running your criminal history, well, that's a giant flashing neon sign to them that they should keep looking. This business is dangerous enough for sober people. I would never, ever, ever hire somebody who had to be driven to work because they got busted driving drunk. No offense meant if this is the case, but it's generally a sign of a person with poor judgment. I'd rather my competition hire the alcoholics.

    Finally, on the art selling front, I have to admit that I have no idea where would be the best place to sell. To me it's kinda like residential work; a few people doing it in one area goes a LONG ways. There's only so much market for it, and the buyers are nitpicky and cheap (in general). You have to be REALLY good at it to make a living, either good at quantity or good at quality output. The former takes a lot of mechanization; the latter takes a lot of talent.

    Consider who these people are who are telling you that you should sell your work. Are they well-respected art critics, or are they your cousins and friends who are just being nice? Have these same people bought from you, and then also passed your name on to other people who are now buying from you as well? Is your stuff on centerpiece display in some rich people's houses in the area who *bought* it from you (as opposed to being gifted it in exchange for the display opportunity)? Depending on the answers to these questions, you might find that your art should stay a hobby. Or that you should be talking to very exclusive dealers.

    Finally, do the math on your art. A very intricate piece of art that's worth $30,000 and only has $200 worth of steel in it is great, but not if it took you a year to make. Be hardnosed with yourself. I don't know the labor rates in your area, but if your average welding shop is getting $80/hr plus materials, for example, how many hours did you have in your piece of art? What will it sell for? Would you be better off working at McDonald's? If so, then what you have isn't a business opportunity, it's a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, just be realistic.
    I understand that experience is what companies look for since most education does not include the hands-on training you get when working in the field. However the technical hands on training involved in a technical school like SAIT Polytechnic is all done by registered journeymen, and includes the use of many more tools than a MIG, TIG, and stick welder. It still would be missing a whole lot of experience gained in the field, but completion of the provincial Practical and Theory exams of the first two years of the Alberta apprenticeship program gives you CWB certification which many people see as evidence of a certified welder. Technically I have all the technical training that is needed for a wire feed welder, and just need the hours of experience.

    What additional skills would you expect Second year welder to have? I have included my portfolio in numerous applications to show what I have learned in my own experience working at home. For example the welding, plasma cutting, grinding and polishing, forging, heat treatment, silversmithing, etching/engraving, Soldering, 3d modeling, etc. Most of those skills other than the welding were learned by studying the fundamentals, learning online, and practicing through my own work.

    It is not only my friends and family that comment on my work, several companies that brought me in for an interview, chose to do that because of the impression I made with the portfolio, and a number of people online have contacted me with interest in my art or knives but are hesitant to make the purchase because they have no review and I have just opened the etsy shop. It may also be because the alloy metals I use are much harder which makes them more expensive. Not everyone understands the metallurgy, so they don't understand the prices.
    It doesn't take long to fabricate a knife. To work at production rate I usually use my cnc table to cut the blade which is alot faster than forging. I definitely understand that it is not realistic to make a living off of metal art, because of what you said about how much money you make per hour spent on the product, but I don't intend to use this as my main career path. A hobby can still be used to make money. most of my metal artwork is not as big and time consuming as a sculpture.
    Last edited by ChrisCramer; 01-13-2022 at 08:01 PM.

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  25. #21
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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisCramer View Post
    What additional skills would you expect Second year welder to have? I have included my portfolio in numerous applications to show what I have learned in my own experience working at home. For example the welding, plasma cutting, grinding and polishing, forging, heat treatment, silversmithing, etching/engraving, Soldering, 3d modeling, etc. Most of those skills other than the welding were learned by studying the fundamentals, learning online, and practicing through my own work.
    Chris, unfortunately after hearing more about your condition, I don't think it's your skills or lack thereof that are the stumbling block for your particular situation. Which is what I think I said above.

    But since you asked about skills a second year welder should have, and since your Canadian program is quite different than anything in my area, let me ask you about 2 of the 3 things I mentioned above. I won't ask the tape measure question. These were just random examples picked from thin air, but I'm curious, so I wonder what type of training you got.

    1) Did they specifically give you time on an electric 1/4" die grinder? Not talking about air. If so, what are the particular dangers of that tool as you recall?

    2) Did they specifically give you time with a 4.5" or bigger angle grinder with a cup brush? If so, what are the particular dangers of that tool as you recall?

    FYI, I wouldn't expect a 2nd year welder to have any knowledge whatsoever of anything on your list beyond the first 3. With the exception of soldering, the others are all specialized skills which are unnecessary for general welding jobs. I would add the oxyfuel torch to your list of 2nd year welding skills, though, and I would also expect to see a person who was able to proficiently run stick, MIG, Dual Shield, and Flux Core in all positions. I personally don't have any need for TIG, so I'd let that process slide if we were talking about my company. I'd also heavily favor a person with a basic knowledge of rigging and lifting of heavy assemblies, as well as the ability to run a forklift and use basic mechanical tools to include impact guns.

    All of this is moot for your particular situation, of course. Just continuing your line of inquiry and maybe shedding light on helpful related skills for someone else who comes across this thread one day.

    As far as your art business goes, by all means, if you can make a little money at it, go for it! Just be careful that it doesn't turn into a tail-wagging-the-dog situation where you lose the fun of it once you start chasing profits.

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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Quote Originally Posted by tbone550 View Post
    Chris, unfortunately after hearing more about your condition, I don't think it's your skills or lack thereof that are the stumbling block for your particular situation. Which is what I think I said above.

    But since you asked about skills a second year welder should have, and since your Canadian program is quite different than anything in my area, let me ask you about 2 of the 3 things I mentioned above. I won't ask the tape measure question. These were just random examples picked from thin air, but I'm curious, so I wonder what type of training you got.

    1) Did they specifically give you time on an electric 1/4" die grinder? Not talking about air. If so, what are the particular dangers of that tool as you recall?

    2) Did they specifically give you time with a 4.5" or bigger angle grinder with a cup brush? If so, what are the particular dangers of that tool as you recall?

    FYI, I wouldn't expect a 2nd year welder to have any knowledge whatsoever of anything on your list beyond the first 3. With the exception of soldering, the others are all specialized skills which are unnecessary for general welding jobs. I would add the oxyfuel torch to your list of 2nd year welding skills, though, and I would also expect to see a person who was able to proficiently run stick, MIG, Dual Shield, and Flux Core in all positions. I personally don't have any need for TIG, so I'd let that process slide if we were talking about my company. I'd also heavily favor a person with a basic knowledge of rigging and lifting of heavy assemblies, as well as the ability to run a forklift and use basic mechanical tools to include impact guns.

    All of this is moot for your particular situation, of course. Just continuing your line of inquiry and maybe shedding light on helpful related skills for someone else who comes across this thread one day.

    As far as your art business goes, by all means, if you can make a little money at it, go for it! Just be careful that it doesn't turn into a tail-wagging-the-dog situation where you lose the fun of it once you start chasing profits.
    The training I received included the use of a 4-1/2" angle grinder with a grinding wheel, cutting wheel, flap disc, and wire wheel/cup brush. The main danger of a wire wheel and cup, is the rapid spreading of the wires as you run it over the metal you are grinding. those wires spreading at such a high speed can cause high damage to your eyes or your skin. PPE is always required when using a grinder with any accessory.
    Use of a die grinder will also spread fine shards of metal rather than metal dust, and if not handled with stability or used too aggressive it will catch on the edges of the metal and cause aggressive kick back. The use of a die grinder was not included in my training, I purchased one after I had already used a Dremel rotary tool for quite some time.
    The program I took included time to specifically train us how to do GMAW, and FCAW fillets and butt joints in all directions, as well as gf 1 and 2 with SMAW and GTAW.

  28. #24
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    AWS offered a free online safety course. Not sure if it flies in Canada, but it is free and perhaps you could add it to you resume

  29. #25
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    Oct 2016
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    Calgary Ab
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    Re: Starting and running a metal fabrication business

    Thank you for your understanding of my situation, and the recommendations. There are just a lot of people who misjudge/ underestimate my capability despite my condition - that is why I was quick to defend my skills.

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