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Unlock your Inner Mr. T – by Mastering Metal

As a kid, I occasionally had the pleasure of catching episodes of The A-Team when I was allowed to stay up late. The show had plenty of action and comedy, at a level ideal for a ten-year-old boy. But my favorite part was always the inevitable scene where the team would harvest a bunch of scrap metal parts or an old van, and start cutting, grinding and welding them together into a new contraption. Cut in the form of a montage with the A-team theme song playing in the background, Mr. T and his teammates would send showers of sparks and precise beams of flame shooting around their workshop as they brilliantly created some new weapon or vehicle that was critical to succeeding in their mission.

Since then, I’ve always wanted to gain the magical Power over Metal that the A-team had. But even as my woodworking experience grew, my metalworking skills did not advance beyond using a hacksaw to cut the odd long bolt down to size. Metal was a forbidden material – unknown, too hard to cut and too fussy to join together to allow for practical use.

That all changed in the year 2005, when I was building my first custom house. It was a modernist design in a new urban neighborhood, and the architect I had hired took advantage of that freedom to plan some really cool details into the place. Exposed steel railings, bolts, and brackets were to be blended in next to loads of wood and natural stone, highlighting the airy and sun-filled living spaces. It all sounded great, until I sent the design over to a Boulder-based metalworking contractor, and he sent me back a quote for $15800.00, about four times my budget of $4000 for that part of the project.

“Damn!”, I said, “If this guy is billing out his metalworking time at $60.00 an hour, that’s a sign that I need to finally learn the craft myself.  How hard can it be?”

Here’s some of that staircase metalwork

So began my saga of metalworking, and in the years since then I have profited immensely from the new skill. Tens of thousands of dollars have been saved and earned, and many interesting things have been invented that I never could have created from wood alone.

After building the steel staircase railing systems at that house, I was immediately recruited to do a similar railing system for someone’s rooftop patio. Then I started creating garden accents like steel gates and unusual plant holders. I used the expanded set of ideas to design even more metal architectural details into my second custom house project. Then I went on to more relaxing projects: welding up an enormous steel lumber rack and permanently attaching it to a 1984 Nissan pickup truck, creating structural parts to help straighten up the sagging foundations and floors of historic houses, making signs for Mrs. Money Mustache’s real estate sales business, building some of my own workout equipment, and even making a custom shower curtain rod for the new shower in the Foreclosure Project house. Right in the middle of making this article, my garage door opener ripped its attachment bracket in half due to improper installation, and I was able to fix it with.. welding!

Besides being an enjoyable skill to learn, welding and metalworking gives you an aura of mystery due to the fact that hardly anyone knows how to do it these days. I could barely spark up my welding machine when working in the posh custom home neighborhood without catching the attention of passers by who would walk over and say, “You’re a WELDER?? Could I have your business card? Because I have a project I’d love you to take a look at.”  Another one of my work crew with welding skills was recruited away from underneath me, to spend the winter on a Florida Key, crafting an elaborate balcony and patio system for a financial tycoon’s new seaside mansion.

Because of this shortage and appeal to high-end clients, I believe that metalworking would make an ideal side-hustle for a person who already enjoys building things. It would also make a great business for a younger person who wants to earn enough between college semesters to get out of school debt-free. Heck, with the right business skills, metalworking is a way of getting a professional-level income without the need for a college degree. Higher hourly rates, sparse competition, and interesting projects all seem to be common among self-employed welders. And with very little training and no licensing required, it’s easy to pick up.

So just in case this appeals you, now or sometime in the future, I’m going to plant a Welding Recipe in your head. You can use it today, or you can file it away for later when you quit your day job.

Stuff You Need:

Just as I summarized in an earlier article on getting started in carpentry, the basics of creating cool things from steel are the identical for those in woodworking: Design, measure, cut, attach.

Here’s a hasty design sketch I made for a metal table for clamping together long boards to speed the process of gluing them into large sheets for furnituremaking. I ended up building this thing, picture later in this article.

The design stage for steel is slightly different, just because you don’t have as much freedom to carve and trim things on a table saw like you do with wood. So you focus on mostly straight stock widths, cross-cut at various angles, and attached together in simple arrangements. With basic metalworking tools, you won’t be making yourself a curvaceous supercar. But you CAN certainly make a nice Mad-Max-style dune buggy, go-kart, or even a bike or trailer.

In exchange for the reduced cutting flexibility, you get enormously greater strength: you can zap two 1/8″ thick inch pieces of steel plate together for 15 seconds on the welder, and the resulting joint will already be strong enough to support a small truck.

With steel, you buy long tubes of the material by specifying wall thickness, shape, and size. I drew this sketch for you of the most common types:

Some standard formats of available steel

The crappier the building, the better the source of fresh steel

A few basic metal pieces can be found right in the hardware section of Home Depot and Lowe’s. But for serious projects, you’ll want to find a metal shop. Look up “welding” in your local business directory, and you’ll end up at a friendly old sheetmetal building in the industrial section of town where the guys have grease on their cheeks and awkwardly peck away on a beige 486 running Windows 95 to ring up your order. There you’ll probably find the best prices on steel, and will be available in lengths of up to 24 feet. I get my raw materials at “Mountain View Welding”, shown at left.

With knowledge of design and materials, the last step is the tools. They’re surprisingly simple:

A Grinder:

My grinder has the concrete-cutting blade on it in this picture, metal cutting is lower left, sanding wheel is lower right.

This is the official Mr. T. tool. Its a dead-simple handheld rotary tool that simply spins a 4.5″ disc around extremely fast (about 11,000 RPM). The disc has rough parts that hit the steel at high speed and cause it to break off in dust-sized pieces. Because of the energy involved in each tiny collision, the broken fragments are instantly heated to white-hot temperature, so they appear as a glorious shower of sparks that shoots across your workshop, lighting it up like a KISS show. The sparks aren’t as dangerous as they look – they will bounce off a flannel shirt and extinguish themselves before they even hit the floor. But you still don’t want to grind steel in the presence of exposed gasoline or other flammable things. Also, don’t use your grinder with the blade guard and side handle detached like I do. It’s much more dangerous like that.

By fitting different discs to the grinder, you can cut, smooth, and polish steel. You can also throw on a diamond blade and cut through rocks, tile, and concrete as if they were butter. Or a sanding wheel to destroy any thickness of old paint on wood within seconds. So it’s a versatile tool. Dangerous too – keep those fingers away from the 11,000 RPM.

Cost: $30 – $75 … Harbor Freight Tools Example, Home Depot Example

A Metal Chop Saw:

Like a single-purpose stationary grinder with a massive 14″ cutting wheel, this low-tech behemoth can make rapid and fairly clean cuts across the pieces of tube steel shown in my diagram above. It clamps the tube in place, and you lower the cutting head down to make the chop. There is an angle setting, allowing you to make corner joints and other useful cuts.

Cost: $100-$200 … HFT Example, HD Example

A Welder:

This is my welder – looking pretty beat up after six years of heavy use, but still fully functional

The king of your metalworking kit is of course the welder. There are many types available, and I agonized over them for quite a while before deciding. But I’ll save you the hassle and just tell you the best type for high rewards and low effort: a 120 volt wire-feed flux core welder.

The way this welder works is that a thin wire of special metal alloy is slowly fed through the gun-style handle that you hold in your hand when you squeeze the trigger.  Simultaneously, a giant (but very low voltage) electric current is passed through the tip of the metal alloy and forced to jump into the piece of metal you want to weld. The electricity jumps across the gap, creating a spark that is hot enough to melt steel, and then a tiny pool of liquid metal forms at the junction of the two pieces you are joining. It’s a mixture of the metal of the two pieces, plus a bit of your alloy, plus some “flux” in the wire which helps keep the reaction smooth.

Cost: $200-$450 … HFT Example  , Lowe’s Example

Safety Equipment:

Welding with this type of equipment creates a bunch of jumping hot sparks. They burn for longer than the grinder sparks, so you need to do it on a non-flammable surface like a concrete patio or a piece of metal or cement-based tile backerboard set up on sawhorses to form a convenient work bench.

You also need a pair of puffy heatproof welding gloves to protect your hands from the sparks and ultraviolet light from the welding spark (I actually got a mild sunburn after welding all day once with some exposed skin).

And most importantly a welding visor. This is simply a plastic shield that keeps sparks off off your face, which has a lens as dark as about 20 pairs of sunglasses stacked together. The dark lens allows you to look at the welding spark and the molten steel (about as bright as staring directly into the Sun), comfortably, to control your work easily. In the olden days, these visors were permanently dark, meaning you couldn’t see your work until you actually started the welding spark. Nowadays, the visors are “auto-darkening”, which means the glass is clear until it detects bright light. At that point, a liquid crystal layer in the glass is instantly charged, turning it black so your eyes do not even notice an instant of brightness. When you stop the bright spark, the glass instantly lightens again.

Cost: about $60 - HFT Welding Visor, Gloves

And of course, these things can usually be found on Craigslist as well – I just provide the new product links for comparison so you know the base value.

Technique:

We’ll leave the details of designing a specific metal thing for another article, but let’s just focus on how to join two pieces of steel together.

  1. Clamp ‘em – you want your pieces to be locked into exactly their final angle, since as soon as you weld them, they will be joined forever. So you set them in the appropriate positions on your work table, and clamp them down, using spacers and blocks of wood or metal as needed to get the right position.
  2. Connect the neutral wire somewhere – welding requires you to form a complete electrical circuit from the machine, through your work, and back to the machine again. So you clamp its alligator clip to part of your work.
  3. Lower your visor, position the gun, brace yourself and squeeze the trigger. You’re welding! Sparks are flying, a quiet sparkling firecracker sound emerges from your work, and a small amount of hot smoke is swirling about. You see the small orange pool of molten steel forming at the tip of your gun. You keep squeezing, and slowly move the gun, which makes the pool of liquid metal spread along the joint. The area you left behind rapidly cools, and becomes a strong bond. The more slowly and accurately you control your liquid pool, the better the quality of your welding.

After your joint is complete, it will need quite a few minutes to cool back down before it’s safe to touch (since you had it at over 2000 degrees F while welding). But even before cooling, the joints can be smoothed with an abrasive wheel on the grinder, or buffed to a nice shine with a spinning wire wheel brush (on grinder or cordless drill). Here’s an example of a rough joint just after I welded it, and the same joint after a minute or two with the grinder:

Berore: Ugly. After: Ready to Admire (or Paint!)

 

After the welder and grinder work is complete, metal projects can be painted just like a car – with automotive primer in spray or brush-on form, and then any sort of finish. Or, they can just be left to form their own protective layer of rust, a look that is deliberately cultivated in many modern outdoor steel projects.

Here’s that clamping table, converted from sketch to reality. It is squeezing together a bunch of formerly-crooked 1×6 beetle-kill pine boards to become the lid of a casket for the company “Nature’s Caskets”. Note the 1″x2″ rectangular tube steel.

After understanding these fundamentals, there are finer points that can be polished up by searching around on YouTube. But as with many of my introductory articles, my goal here is to show you that this new skill is fun, relatively easy and inexpensive to get started with, and for the right people, a profitable addition to a self-sufficient lifestyle.

 

  • Financial Samurai April 16, 2012, 5:59 am

    That is some very cool shiznits MMM! Metalwork is very in right now in Noe Valley, one of the hottest SF housing markets. All the young rich internet folks are digging the metal staircases and simplicity designs.

    S

    Reply
  • Amy April 16, 2012, 6:08 am

    Color me impressed – I’m still trying to figure out IKEA furniture :)

    Reply
  • GE Miller April 16, 2012, 6:26 am

    Who’s Mr. T? Don’t you mean to say B.A. Baracus?
    The inevitable scene you describe in each A-Team episode was called the “making it scene”.
    The A-Team was very mustachian. They built a bunch of shit out of nothing, didn’t make much money but never had money problems, carpooled, fought suckas all day, and were often misunderstood.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2012, 9:16 am

      Good point – I always think of him as Mr. T. but you’re right that he’s B.A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus in the show. Recently, I discovered he made a rap album for children called “T’s Commandments” in the late 80s. I found a copy of it online and now make family and friends listen to his inspirational messages (“Don’t talk to Strangers” is particularly moving).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EzM5i6zNbA

      “Don’t Talk….to Straaaangers / ’cause you neva’ know / who you might be talkin’ to..”
      Ahh yes, that is some classic shit, I still find occasion to sing that classic chorus least a week when the topic of talking to strangers comes up.

      Unfortunately, his rap skills do not measure up to his construction skills as the lyrics are a stretch and the flow is pretty stunted. Much more successful are his voice-over skills, as I think he kicked ass playing the fatherly cop guy in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

      Reply
      • Jimbo April 16, 2012, 9:22 pm

        That record is a hit at my parties! My parties, however, are not a hit… ;-)

        Aaaah, the 80’s. A simpler time, when one could market products at children directly, with no shame or need to do it covertly…

        Reply
  • Erin April 16, 2012, 6:47 am

    Great article. Thanks for laying out the tools & price links. My husband is above-efficient in carpentry, plumbing, minor electrical, wood-working, floors, dry wall, paint, etc, but the one thing he has been wanting to get into is welding. I like that you laid out the costs! Just shot him an email that said he could get into the welding business for approximately $500. He’ll be into this :)

    Reply
  • Stephen April 16, 2012, 7:07 am

    I wasn’t aware of this mental barrier until this week. I was commenting to someone about how it would be neat to learn a few more basic repair skills, like welding. He laughed and said he didn’t consider welding a basic repair skill. Having helped out with welding a bit in college (building a life-size, walking, human-powered mechanical elephant out of box steel), I can vouch for the fact that it’s a lot easier than people think.

    Reply
  • October MacBain April 16, 2012, 7:38 am

    I took a free Welding for Artists class (three nights) this Spring at the university where I work and had a great time learning and doing ARC and Oxy-Acetylene. I got experience on both, plus the plasma cutter and spot welder. It’s easy and quick to learn the basics, and anyone can do it. My class was about 50/50 men and women in probably their 30s to 50s.

    When it comes up again next year, I’m doing it again!

    I found an introductory Power Point from a university welding course that might be of interest to those thinking of getting in to welding with no previous experience.
    http://www.egr.msu.edu/~pkwon/me477/welding.pdf

    Reply
  • rjack April 16, 2012, 7:48 am

    MMM – Many thanks for this article!

    Can you use the metal chop saw to also cut tile? If not, how do you usually do straight cuts on tile?

    I look forward to your metal design article. It is not clear to me how to determine which metal to choose to be certain that what you are building has enough rigidity/strength.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2012, 9:08 am

      This metal saw would not work well on tile, since it doesn’t have a water-cooled blade system. To cut tile, you need this: http://www.harborfreight.com/25-horsepower-10-inch-industrial-tile-brick-saw-95385.html

      For smaller cuts on tile, you can do dry cuts with a diamond blade on a grinder, as shown in the grinder pic on this article (it creates a lot of dust, so do it outside).

      Regarding strengthh – you can get an intuitive idea of the strength just by playing with the material – take a length of it, put it between two bricks on the ground, and walk between them to see how flexible it is. Or if you have a project in mind, you can propose it on the DIY section of the forum here and send me a note to take a look. I’m sure you can harness the wisdom of the Mustachian community for advice. There are also engineering tables out there if you’re designing something really serious, like a house with steel structural supports.

      Reply
  • mike crosby April 16, 2012, 8:54 am

    When I look at the welders that you linked to, they both appear to draw a lot of amps. Did you run higher amp wire and breaker for the welder?

    I admire you taking on metal working. My fear would be structural integrity and not being to code. I would think I’d have to learn a lot more than just joining metals together.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2012, 8:59 am

      Good question – the welding machines in this article only draw 15 amps or so – the maximum amount most household circuits can provide. But they step down the voltage (an electric welder is effectively just a giant transformer) which multiplies the available current. 120 volts at 15 amps is equivalent to 12 volts at 150 amps, then you just have to subtract a small percentage for transformer losses.

      There are many larger welders that do require more power. 240 volt units plug into a dryer or range-style plug, and give you several times more output. But I haven’t needed this extra power. It would be useful for welding really big things, like structural beams or truck frames.. but for the household stuff I’ve made, I don’t even use the highest setting on my 120 volt welder.

      Reply
  • The Masked Investor April 16, 2012, 9:03 am

    Way cool. What woudl you learn in a welding class?

    Reply
    • Jared Chmielecki April 16, 2012, 11:27 am

      In a welding class, you learn:
      – a 120v welder is only good up to about 1/8″ thick steel.
      – flux core welding looks like crap, so get a machine you can add a bottle to later on and use solid wire with a gas shield. It looks much better, and requires no grinder cleanup, saving so much time that it is actually more cost effective if you are working on any sort of volume at all.
      – the most dangerous tool a welder uses IS THE ANGLE GRINDER! The discs WILL explode if you twist or lose your grip on them, and the flying fragments have removed eyes, and in rare cases cut arteries killing people. They also like to grab any loose clothing or hair, wind it up, and then start taking away skin. The welding-web.com forums have a safety sub forum where you can learn more in depth safety procedures. Be aware the attitude of that forum as a whole is very negative and condescending to hobby welders.
      – The most important lesson you can pick up in welding school is how to tell if a weld is good or not. Mig / wire feed welding is quite easy to create a good looking but very weak / poor penetration weld that WILL fail.
      – And another excellent aspect of a welding class – I took a community college mig welding intro class years after owning my welding tools ( toys) and I learned a LOT. I also used way more $$$ in consumables practicing in class than the class actually cost. IE, if I had to buy the various steel, aluminum, and such that I used up in the class, it would have cost me like double the tuition cost. And this ignores the fact that I got to use good quality welders, plasma cutters, oxy torches, angle grinders and such. It taught me which tools I could accept the crap harbor freight quality for, and which tools I wanted good quality.

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2012, 11:55 am

        Speaking of condescending, I have to say that Jared’s advice, while useful, already contains a bit of welding elitism.

        For example – I was told that whole story about the problems with flux core welding, so I bought the higher-end machine and even bought a C02/argon tank and all the regulators to allow me to do MIG welding. 6 years later I’ve never even bothered to hook the gas kit up, because my flux welds are plenty nice, grinding is fun, and most importantly, toting around a C02 tank and extra hoses makes your welder less portable. I want something I can carry in one hand, climb a 32 foot ladder with, and set beside me to make stuff on a rooftop if I have to.

        Also, I’ve never had anything I’ve welded break apart, ever. Metal is a ridiculously strong. Even when I made my lumber rack from thin-walled 3/4″ square steel, loaded it with 600 pounds of deck lumber, and drove it around town, it didn’t so much as creak. Similarly, while I acknowledge that grinders are potentially dangerous, I’ve never had so much as a scratch from my dozens of hours of reckless grinding. Now a HAMMER, on the other hand – THAT is a dangerous tool! (Broke the tip of my own thumb bone 3 years ago).

        My advice: sure, take a course and suck up all the knowledge you can. But people who do stuff for a living tend to become extremists about it, and all of a sudden you hear them telling you everything from Harbor Freight is crap (it’s not), or you need a $2500 mountain bike to take your first trip off the paved bike path, or you need the iPad 3 in order to browse your first web page, or any number of things. This article is meant to be a simple introduction to show how simple metalworking can be, and yet the techniques here have allowed me to make some pretty fancy stuff already. So let’s not get overly high-end right off the bat.

        Reply
        • El-D April 16, 2012, 10:44 pm

          “My advice: sure, take a course and suck up all the knowledge you can. ”

          You should probably re-iterate this. Even wire-feed isn’t quite as easy as lowering your visor and watching the sparks fly.

          I agree that it’s easy as far as things go, but I suspect that the non-engineers among your audience won’t immediately recognize a good weld. I can just hear those staircases coming down.

          Reply
          • Bearded Apprentice September 23, 2014, 8:51 am

            I think “introduction article” stated many times covers that. And if a beginner is starting w a staircase there isn’t any article that can save that type.

            Reply
  • Poor Student April 16, 2012, 9:43 am

    I haven’t done any welding since metal shop class in high school. But I worked with a pile driving company in the summer and so I worked with a few welders.

    One of them had a new decked out Nissan truck. That told me that thee welders were earning quite a bit. Interestingly one of the welders drove an old 80’s car of some sort, suggesting closet Mustachian.

    This is something i would like to be able to for my own benefit. I am not sure what sort of workout equipment you made yourself but that is something I would like to do as well.

    Reply
  • Andre April 16, 2012, 10:36 am

    Mr. T was also a bad ass Clubber Lang in Rocky III.

    Reply
  • Mike B April 16, 2012, 10:42 am

    I thought this article would be about listening to angry music while being a badass. The metalworking stuff is even more interesting, however.

    I was taught welding in college by the metallurgical engineering dept’s all-around badass metal guru. I started with oxy-acetylene torches just pushing puddles around on a piece of metal. Then I learned to add filler material to the puddle. Once I mastered that, I started joining two pieces together. If you can get a decent looking weld with oxy-acetylene, you can weld anything.

    Also, don’t be afraid of craigslist for welding equipment. I’ve seen $4-5000 Tig welding setups for a few hundred dollars. Frequently contractors will buy a welder for one project, then sell it afterwards for a fraction of the price.

    –Mike

    Reply
    • Jen April 17, 2012, 7:53 am

      And I thought it was gonna be about investing in gold :)

      Reply
      • jlcollinsnh April 17, 2012, 8:32 am

        Ha!

        and a great title for a gold article it would be!

        Reply
  • Shawn April 16, 2012, 11:10 am

    I have had some rudimentary stick welding experience and imagine that a wire feed welder would make the stick welder seem like a dinosaur.

    I have always been hung up on the notion that i needed an oxy-acetylene torch
    (for cutting) to be good at metal fabrication. This notion has stopped my dreams of welding more than once. I never considered using a chop saw! I suppose a table saw type exists for fabrication of sheets of metal?

    Reply
  • Jenna April 16, 2012, 1:45 pm

    I got my husband a welder for his birthday one year. We were living in Wichita temporarily for work and had a really cool apartment in the “Old Town” area with cement floors and brick walls. We had a two bedroom apartment and it was just the two of us. We stored our bicycles and he practiced his welding skills in the spare bedroom (with the door closed and the window open He only tripped the breaker once LOL! :) What was nice about that was there’s a lot of aerospace industry in Wichita and there’s a place called “The Yard” that sells all sorts of metals that are surplus aircraft (mostly) materials and we were walking distance from it. He’d walk down there, get a few pieces and then bring them back to the apartment to practice haha.

    Reply
    • Jeremy April 16, 2012, 7:48 pm

      That sounds amazing! I never thought I’d tell my wife I want to move to Wichita.

      Reply
    • DB April 17, 2012, 12:07 am

      Speaking of The Yard, I went to college at OU and when we needed several pieces of 1/2″ aluminum plate, roughly 10-12″ wide and similar in length, for one of our engineering projects, I believe that might be the place we got it from. We talked to the guy that runs the engineering machine shop at OU and he had a list of several metal suppliers that they use regularly. Surprisingly, our cheapest option was to order the metal from Wichita and have it shipped. This is probably not as easy to do with other materials or with full size pieces of material, but it worked for us.

      Reply
  • Patrick April 16, 2012, 1:58 pm

    Very cool article…I’d also be interested in the design article when it comes up.

    Reply
  • Brian April 16, 2012, 2:06 pm

    Great article.

    A friend taught me to weld and I was able to make an iron fence for our house. It made a huge improvement. The welder was borrowed.

    I’ve been considering getting some equipment and have been leaning towards oxy-acetylene because you can cut and weld with it. How come you didn’t go for that?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 16, 2012, 2:44 pm

      Oxy-acetylene welding is definitely more manly and A-team like.. but it’s also drastically more complicated to get set up, a bit harder to learn, and less portable. Then you have to take your tanks to a special shop whenever they need refilling.

      The whole joy of a flux-core welder like I use is you can walk down the street with it in your hand, plug it into any electrical outlet, and ZAP, you’re welding! And yet it’s good enough to build almost anything I’ve ever needed to build.

      Having a cutting torch or a plasma cutter would be handy for making things like curvaceous vehicles and boats, or those native art flute-piper statues that all the tourist art galleries have on display. But so far, I haven’t needed to make those things. For smaller things, a grinder with the usual abrasive cutting wheel works pretty well.

      Reply
  • Andre (SF) Nader April 16, 2012, 2:08 pm

    This is why I love this site. This article is something I wouldn’t have expected at all on a early retirement/personal finance site. You immediately got my mind running with the possibilities of what I could build if only I had a had a welder.

    In just a few months I’ll be a first time home buyer, I am sure that will give me plenty of opportunity to try my hand at some metal work.

    Reply
  • Susan April 16, 2012, 2:59 pm

    Cooool, thanks MMM! This has been on my wish list for several years, and it’s good to read some facts about the costs of it. Now it’s time to do something about it.

    Reply
  • jlcollinsnh April 16, 2012, 5:46 pm

    Looks like we’re both channelling our inner Mr T. His picture is in my latest too, but in a different context.

    anyway, hope to have you and your skills around the post-Armageddon campfire:
    http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/armageddon-and-the-value-of-practical-skills/

    Reply
  • James @ Critical Financial April 16, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Welding has always been on the list of skills I want to learn, but I never realized you could make such good money doing it! Even more incentive, I’ll have to learn this soon!

    Reply
  • Walt April 16, 2012, 7:49 pm

    Just found this site – pretty cool.

    I actually owned a couple muffler shops for years but foolishly never learned to weld.

    Each shop had a wire-feed + gas welder, and that’s what everyone used. Except the oldest mechanic. He never used it – he’d weld stuff together with an oxy-acetylene cutting torch and an old coat hanger.

    Reply
  • JaneMD April 16, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Alas I am not ready for this step. I just purchased my first hacksaw to fit my metal shower caddy into my bathtub. I also have an intense fear of injuries, but that probably has alot more to my job. I know welder isn’t the most dangerous job out there. I’m sure that is something like underwater electric saw wielding lumber jack or gas station clerk.

    Reply
    • October MacBain April 18, 2012, 6:42 am

      Jane, you can do this! I was so nervous walking into the three-day class I took. I thought I’d be the only woman there. I knew NOTHING about welding. The class was about 50% women, all of them middle-aged, and learning just like me. The first time I fired up the Oxy-A torch, I jumped at the spark. The second time, less jumping. The third time, no flinch at all.

      Just find someone who knows how to weld and ask them to walk you through it and let you practice a little. You’ll be welding in an hour.

      Reply
  • Ryan April 16, 2012, 9:55 pm

    I have owned an arc welder, a mig welder and now an oxy-acetylene set up. The latter is the most versatile and with small tanks is the most portable too, especially if you have to weld somewhere far away from an electrical source. Since I’m restoring an old truck with plenty of “impure” metal, I went for the fancy Henrob torch, but you can buy one at Harbor Freight for around $200. The tanks and fuel are another matter of course. Be careful of the grinder and don’t forget the safety goggles!

    Reply
  • PK April 17, 2012, 12:02 am

    MMM, do you do much work with aluminum? I’m in the process of building a CNC router and was wondering if you thought it was worth aiming for the extra stiffness with this first machine, which would be required to cut aluminum.

    I’m building it as much to improve my skills as to use it to build other things, but I’ve got plenty of wood projects planned. Thanks!

    Reply
  • LR April 17, 2012, 5:10 am

    Just wanted to say that I really think this is the best financial blog in existence.

    The quality of writing is consistently excellent. Mrs MMs frequent interjections are also a stroke of genius and add genuine warmth and perspective.

    A quality affair all round. I hope you continue to grow!

    Reply
    • eva April 17, 2012, 11:59 am

      +1. I have zero interest in welding, but this is pretty cool. Also, Mrs. MMM is awesome and I would love to hear more from her on the blog.

      Reply
  • lurker April 17, 2012, 6:14 am

    you sure do a lot of cool work for a retired dude…

    Reply
    • lurker April 17, 2012, 8:01 am

      not to mention the excellent and funny writing, which is extremely hard to make seem as easy as you do on this blog. clearly you just don’t have time for a full time job working for the man! all the best Mr MMM.

      Reply
  • Djoly April 17, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Wow… Didn’t know mind-reading was also one of your skills, MMM. Three days ago I came across a design for a bee-hive lift (amateur beekeeper here) that requires welding, a skill I don’t have (yet).

    So I started the YouTube search while kicking myself that I never asked my late father to teach me a bit of his welding trade. I inherited his metal chop saw, which he built from scratch back in the 60’s during his lunches while employed as a welder of submarines. That saw still runs like a champ, could withstand a nuclear attack, and looks like a piece of outsider-art sculpture. But not as much as the fully adjustable oil painting easel he built for himself after he retired; a collection of scrap angle iron, cast-off shower curtain rods, slightly used pipe fittings and a recycled office trash can. His paintings were’nt so hot but that easel belongs in a NYC gallery.

    Anyway, yesterday I was speaking to someone at the local community college about learning and using their welding kit. Came home and LO!! – Mr. MM is all over the ultra coolness of welding knowledge.

    I know it’s a touch self-centered to think you were spurred to cover this topic simply because you knew I was in need, but come on… just between you and me… didn’t you get a little twitch before deciding to post this one?

    That was me, and I promise not to be (too) annoying. But stay tuned… literally ;-)

    Thanks for the great blog!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 17, 2012, 2:05 pm

      Thanks Dave!

      Actually, I keep a little printout of the sticker design you made for me a few months ago (http://picturedance.com/joly_mmm_stickers_v2.jpg) next to my desk at home. And late at night, when everyone else in my house was asleep, one of the little blue men started talking to me, telling me it was finally time to do this welding post I had planned for many months.

      So it wasn’t telepathy, since that’s just silly voodoo stuff. It was actual talking little blue men on a piece of standard laser printer paper.

      Reply
      • Djoly April 17, 2012, 2:24 pm

        Good to know my minions are at work!

        When they started talking, did they use a lot of swear words? If so, they were probably channeling my old man. His true artistic medium was profanity and he worked it like Picasso. I learned all the good ones from him much to my mom’s dismay.

        Another reason I enjoy your blog so much; the occasional sprinkle of sentence enhancers!

        Reply
  • Zany Caswell April 17, 2012, 5:10 pm

    Do you know what kind of welder (like what kind of training, skills, etc.) gets paid 60 dollars an hour? I looked up average salaries for welders and they seem to top out around 45K a year, which is a lot less than 60 dollars an hour.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 18, 2012, 6:41 am

      True – the $60/hour was just what a self-employed welder might charge. This doesn’t translate directly into annual salary since your working hours would vary. But from a financial independence/early retirement perspective, it works well: you work a couple hours for someone on the weekend, you charge $120. Much better than picking up side work as a grocery bagger!

      Reply
  • Ademac April 18, 2012, 7:12 am

    Interesting, No one has mentioned boiler maker. That is the trade of making things with metal.

    Got a couple in the family and know a few more. Want anything made I just supply the metal and beer.

    Reply
  • ErikZ April 18, 2012, 5:09 pm

    I had been lookimg into learning more hands-on skills. There’s a great resource in Denver for this: http://www.clubworkshop.com

    So you can learn and use expensive equipment without the multi thousand dollar expense per piece of equipment.

    Reply
  • pachipres April 19, 2012, 12:16 pm

    H MMM,
    Did you know that one of these actors – Dirk Benedict on the A team had prostate cancer and cured himself with Macrobiotics. He even wrote a book about it called The Kamakaze Cowboy-a good read!!

    Reply
  • Johonn May 3, 2012, 7:00 am

    The most interesting thing about this post is that you’ve gone through 10 years since 2005, while the rest of us have had to be satisfied with only 7…
    You really were on the fast track to retirement I guess! ;)

    Actually I can’t say that’s the most interesting thing, since I haven’t finished reading it yet – I’d actually really like to learn to weld as well, so I’d better stop heckling and get back to reading!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 3, 2012, 7:12 am

      What you talkin’ ’bout, Sucka!? I searched this whole article for the word ‘years’ and never did I mention ten of them. But there could be a subtler typo that I am missing. Am I the Fool here, or are you?

      Reply
      • Johonn May 3, 2012, 8:06 am

        Ahh shoot! Haha I see where I went wrong – my eyes did one of those jumpy tricks with this paragraph:
        “So began my saga of metalworking, and in the years since then I have profited immensely from the new skill. Tens of thousands of dollars have…”

        In the original post, “Tens” is just below “the years,” and I must have spliced it right in somehow. My mistake!

        I did finish the post and enjoyed it! I’m slowly but surely catching up to current posts after starting from the beginning in September. I’ll be there soon, and I’ll be uploading a picture (complete with mustache) to celebrate!

        Reply
  • Slinky May 11, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Interesting. My husband does a lot of metal work, but he does blacksmithing rather than welding. He does do an occasional spot weld, but mostly he works with shaping the metal.

    Reply
  • Mark September 18, 2012, 4:55 pm

    I will argue with you a bit – Harbor Freight’s lowest flux wire welder (around $90) is junk. I bought one just to play with and went back to the Lincoln (arc welder) and oxyacetylene.

    Reply
  • hands2work October 10, 2012, 12:00 pm

    I wanna learn how to lay tile…any advice for that skill?

    Reply
    • Robbie Tee November 10, 2012, 12:39 am

      1. Find a wall or floor. 2. Make sure its flat. {often overlooked…it its flat, tile is easy} 3. mix grout and apply with grooved trowel – lay heavy then remove with the grooves 4. place tile with spacers of your choice 5. wait 6. mix grout (preferably sanded) and rubber trowel into gaps 7. wait. 8 damp remove grout (damp..damp..damp..if its wet your project is now ruined by the easy part) 9. wait a day 10. dry cloth wipe to remove the haze
      OPTION B
      1/ buy tile 2/ pay a man to install it at $3 to $4/sf

      Reply
  • Oh Yonghao August 28, 2014, 3:53 pm

    If I keep reading all articles from the beginning I might accidentally end up with a lot of clutter. I’ll take your advice and put this as a seed of thought to nurture later, I’m still working on getting the carpentry part down. I might go for that tile saw you posted when I can convince my wife to let me tile our bathroom myself, the $260 tool will pay for itself before the job is done, and we have more places we’d like to get rid of the linoleum.

    Reply
  • DoItYourself August 28, 2014, 8:48 pm

    I actually have a friend from high school who made a quite successful business of just building decorative metal railings, fences and gates for high end houses. The kind of thing MMM did in his houses. He started out in a tiny shop and eventually ended up in a very large building with a powder coating booth and oven.

    I had not thought about this as a side hustle. I have experience with metal working growing up on the farm and working in the mechanical engineering fab shop while in college. I just need to find room in my garage along with all of my wood working tools!

    Reply

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