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How To & Tips
The word of today is Safety
The word of the day is: SAFETY. That comes before EVERYTHING else. And although I feel about forty times safer when I’m at the torch, rather than behind the wheel, this is still an art form that has its hazards. In short, just like in a kitchen, you can burn yourself. Only…if you’re careless with your torch, you can do it a lot quicker.

If you examine the stepladder in your garage, you will find a placard stuck on every surface, with such things as: Don’t set this ladder up in the mud, on ice, on a steep slope…against a high-tension wire, etc. etc. (This is because there are a lot of idiots out there.) Common sense…SHOULD tell you not to set your ladder up on a muddy hill when it’s raining…emphasis on the should.

…It’s the same in this field. In short, please use common sense, appropriate clothing, and appropriate safety gear. If you don’t think you can do that…..bye bye. Seriously…

Anybody left? Sorry, but that’s the way it’s gotta be. You have to be safe.

Okay, safety gear: You’re going to need jeans or work pants, an old work shirt and I’d prefer a leather or denim jacket for extra protection. Boots at first…and leather gloves. Leather gauntlet gloves are available at most welding supply houses and you’ll need welding goggles. Dark sunglasses don’t cut it. The light of the torch you’re going to buy is too bright.

Are we done with SAFETY now, Henry? Nope. Not even close. Your work area is as important as what you wear. If you’re just getting into this and your significant other is gazing at you with a glazed and skeptical expression, put their mind to rest by bringing the subject up first. “How ‘bout I do this out on the patio for the first couple of days…just so I don’t burn anything?” “Whew… That’s GREAT honey!”

I strongly urge you to set-up outside, if you’re just beginning…at least for a week or so, until you know how to point the torch. You need a solid fireproof work surface. Firebrick is okay, but I prefer a big ole plate of steel, the thicker the better. Plan on having one delivered from your local steel yard…3/8” minimum thickness. (Under the constant heat, thinner metal will eventually warp.)

Your environment. Here’s where common sense should come in…but let’s go over it. No gas cans, no paint cans, no oil, no rags, newspapers, cardboard boxes, curtains…in short, nothing that could accidentally ignite. You’ll also want reasonably good ventilation. …In other words, don’t set up in a closet or a tiny bathroom. …common sense.

Anybody left????

Good, the hard core!

Okay, gang, we’re gonna have some FUN…and you’re entering into a world, which though not as much fun as sex…is a close runner-up…particularly for the long haul. In the coming days, you’re going to need certain equipment, depending on your level of expertise. The first advice is: Don’t be a weenie.

You don’t have to have $4000 worth of equipment to start. You don’t really need $400 worth of equipment to start. A good artist can kick-ass with nothing more than a spool of wire and a few pairs of pliers. If you’re skeptical, take a look at our wire caricatures section of this site. You could devote a lifetime to this art form alone! Like anything else, owning equipment won’t do it. Curiosity is the engine that’ll make this whole thing work for you.

My very first sculpture is depicted in the excerpts portion of this site, and it consisted of coat hangers that I had stolen from my wife’s closet. Coat hangers work. Coat hangers are fine to start with.

You’ll also see a little tip in our…Tips and Techniques section for making rings. You’ll find that…in addition to a spool of wire and some pliers, a big ole tin snips will take you far….that and a pair of nippers for cutting the wire. See? Already you’ve built a small cadre of tools. A couple of different hammers: a chipping hammer from a welding supply, a ball peen hammer, a chasing hammer is good, and a plastic headed hammer will flesh things out. With these tools, you can do some major league sculpting.

Next to safety, here’s one more very important tip. Your attitude. If you go into this expecting to make “the great American sculpture” in your first attempt, you will be disappointed, annoyed, and underwhelmed. And eventually you will quit.

If, however, you see yourself as a child playing and most of all…having FUN… number one, you’ll have fun. But, more important than that, you’ll stick to it and the chances of your making a beautiful sculpture go up dramatically. Don’t try to make it wondrous…just let happen.

End of sermon. Let me know how you make out!

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