Welcome to another episode of The Spotlight, a special segment inside the Grit NW Podcast.
I’m Joe Cadwell the writer, producer and host of the show and in today’s episode we will focus on the highly valued trade skill of welding.
Though typically not the first thing you think of when you imagine carpenters at work, welding it is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing trends in the commercial construction industry.
To help us better understand why this is, I have invited Will Barnes the lead welding instructor at the Pacific Northwest Carpenter Institute, in Portland Oregon to talk with me today.
We’ll start our conversation by learning why this particular skill is now more than ever in such high demand and we will learn about the significant investment PNCI has made in order to meet the needs of our regional union contractors.
Next, we will investigate some of the common key mental attributes proficient welders possess and how these separate them from the average hobby enthusiast.
Later we’ll discuss the various types of projects our Carpenters, EIS specialist, Pile Drivers and Millwrights use their welding skills on. And we’ll discover what challenges they face when taking the techniques and procedures perfected in the weld lab to the less-than-ideal world of an average jobsite.
And we’ll wrap up our conversation by giving you the information you need to work towards adding this highly valuable skill to your arsenal.
The Show Notes
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Will, Barnes, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Thanks for taking your time well to be on the show today to talk to us about welding and how welding can fit into the life of a professional carpenter. Before we start, though, well, why don't you tell us a little bit more about you and your backstory as a professional welder. I have been a professional welder since 1989, I went to the Job Corps or went to trade school in the Job Corps, and got my first welding credentials there and then headed off to the oil fields of northern New Mexico, did pressure vessel work and pipeline work and then moved into more structural work. And I've always kind of bounced back and forth between, you know, pipeline work and pipe work and structural that's kind of been my bread and butter for all these years. And this has always been my prime source of income, my entire adult life. Very good. And obviously we work together at the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute here in Portland. I've known you for a few years now. And I know you're a passionate advocate for the welding program, and what have you done to to increase our viability of the welding craft in the carpenters? So we've actually done several things. We have accredited the facility here in Portland fully under Waibel, the Washington association of building officials, and the American Welding Society, we are the only accredited lab in the state of Oregon for the American Welding Society. We did those things for a couple of reasons. The first was to expedite the process for our members. In other words, we can get them in, get them tested, and get their results within the same day and literally have them walk out the same day with their credentials to go straight to a job site and present to an inspector or to our to a contractor. So we did that. And, and then, of course, you know, we started shaping the programs so that whenever we're doing apprenticeship classes, we're trying to make sure that the apprentices are all of the same trade, whether there is or pile drivers, General carpenters, because we have specific certifications and specific processes that tend to, to work most in those specific trades. And they're coming out of different codes, of course, and that way, we can kind of focus that group of people on it. Obviously, we're trying to weed out fluff, we're trying to get them the meat and potatoes, what's absolutely necessary for them, and what's going to be most useful to them. So myself coming out of the pile driving and diving world, I understand we use that quite a bit in our craft, but it really doesn't seem linear to me that carpenters would be using welding techniques. It seems like you know, it's so far off from from just hammers, nails, screws, wood and that type of thing. So how does welding fit into an average carpenter or general carpenters day to day? That is a great question. The You know, one of the funniest things that that people ask me or they say, whenever they know that I, I work for the, the carpenters is, well, how do you weld wood together? And that's always the go to question for them. And so what obviously, what the majority of them don't understand is that especially in large buildings and large structures, if there is wood, it's typically attaching to steel, especially in the modern age of seismic codes and seismic retrofitting. So general carpenters will do a tremendous amount of welding in the modern carpentry world. He is folks will do a tremendous amount of welding. In fact, they're, they're our fastest growing segments. And yeah, ordinarily, one wouldn't associate a carpenter with a welder. But as our trade becomes more and more diverse in its in its skill set, that is another critical skill that they have to take on if they wish to, you know, be able to meet that modern code that Modern Standard. So having this additional layer of skills, being able to call yourself a certified welder on a job could provide more work opportunities, obviously for for our apprentices and our journey level workers. So where does that start? What is the first step if someone has zero welding experience and they want to learn more about becoming a certified welder? There's two there's two avenues here. The first is and the first and the and the and probably one of the quickest is to enroll in the welding principles course. That is a pre requisite requirement for anybody that's going to have access to the welding lab who has not gone through a 40 hour apprenticeship welding program here. And of course, that's an that's a facility's requirement, there's no bypassing it, it must be on your record. So that's the first method. And basically what that class is, is it's an eight hour course is going to familiarize you with welding and bearing in mind that we are talking to people who have never seen an arc in their lives never held a stinger in their lives. So we're really catering it to that very entry level person who doesn't have any background in it. The next way, of course, is through one of our 40 hour apprenticeship programs. Currently, pile drivers have to do 80 hours, it's mandatory in their program millwrights do 80 hours in their program, exterior interior specialists do 40 hours. And then general carpenters do 40 hours. And those are the those are the minimum numbers. Depending on on what you're really looking for one or the other of those choices might might suit you best might fit you best. A lot of folks that come through, say the principles course, they didn't maybe they don't intend to go out and be welders, but they would definitely like to give it a try and see what it's like. And, you know, that's one of the reasons we I think we make that available is we want anybody who is interested in it to at least give it a shot, see what it's like see if it's a good fit for you. And if it is great, keep pursuing it. And if it's not, you can say you tried and that's that's the real value in that. And of course, those programs are really heavily geared towards the safety of this skill set. It comes with a lot of its own unique hazards. And we have to make sure that those folks are as plumbed up as possible before we set them loose in there with an arc welding machine or a torch. And so some of the inherent hazards of welding would be what? Oh boy, I didn't bring a phone book thick list with me, but there are tons of them. Obviously, we're working with voltage we're working with high amperage, when we're doing our arc welding processes. We're working with extremely high temperatures when we're running plasma 20,000 plus degrees. And we're working with you know, oxy fuel cutting rigs that can range anywhere from you know, a few 1000 degrees to 6000 plus. So of course, temperature burns, those are kind of the top of our list. And then of course, electrical hazards are right there. And then just the actual light that the arc is creating that non ionizing UV radiation is pretty hazardous to be exposed to. So there's a lot of unique hazards. And again, you know, we're focusing on the people that are walking in cold and have no idea what what this is about. So the hazards are many.Joe Cadwell:
So aside from, say, having a keen interest on becoming a welder, what do you think are some of the personal attributes that really accomplished welders, such as yourself bring to this particular craft. I think that most proficient welders, they tend to be creative, they tend to be artistic, they tend to be people who can pay a great attention to detail on a very small scale. They tend to be people that although they are creative, and artistic discipline goes right along with it. And I know those two kind of, in a lot of people's minds kind of work against each other to be creative yet having to follow the rule. But those are those are the sort of personality characteristics that that really good welders typically possess. You wouldn't want to be somebody with say, you know, low attention span, trying to be a welder because it would probably drive you insane. When you drop in that hood, you're focusing on that very small target. You're focusing on it intently and sometimes you're doing that for hours and hours and hours and hours.Will Barnes:
So attention to detail and that level of creativity patience for sure. One of the things that separated me from being just an average welder to excelling to the next level was that I'm a more of a broad strokes person, if you will. I think I said it on a podcast A while back when I was being interviewed that I can sketch on a pad but by no means would I consider myself Rembrandt. So so we have people that you know are going to fit the bill there and find that they're, they're interested in you. As an apprentice coordinator. I've run across a number of individuals who feel like they've got just a you know, a vast amount of skill and really feel like accomplished welders, but I've noticed that there is a bit of a disconnect from becoming a truly proficient welder and someone that's knowledgeable in welding and I was hoping you could explain the difference. between those two, Yeah, that's that's a really good point to bring up. When people come to the welding lab, especially experienced welders, I always tell them to adjust their dreams accordingly. Unfortunately, a lot of time is what might fly, you know, maybe in the hobby world and and even on job sites, is not what's going to fly in proficiency testing. You know, we're we're testing your ability to follow instructions, your ability to, to create, you know, sound weld deposits in uncomfortable, awkward positions. And where we're testing to make sure that you can do that every time to duplicate it every time. The one thing we discourage more than anything is the is the folks that are working on the Get Lucky game plan. They want to, they want to stroll on in, do one test get lucky. And it passes and out they go. That does everybody a huge disservice. And mostly that individual. So I always tell people, when you come in, adjust your dreams accordingly, we are proficiency testing, and we are applying the letter of the codes that you will be testing to, there's no opinion in the matter. It's either acceptable or rejectable based on an established code criteria, so I like the fact that you brought up about the awkward positions because as we know welding in the the weld shop in the weld lab under testing conditions is vastly different from what you're going to experience out in the field. When you are working in those awkward body positions and weather and, and things and how does that differ? Well, if so, you as an accomplished welder, a field welder for years, what are some of the biggest challenges, you know, happen? Well, one of the reason that you know lab standards tend to be so high is that you're working in an ideal environment, what we consider ideal conditions. If you can pass those certification tests in ideal conditions, that only gives us a kind of a glimpse as to what you'll be able to do in less than ideal conditions. An example of that is me, I'm a pile driver, I'm a pile driver welder dedicated. And we are working in excavations where sometimes we're knee deep in mud. We're doing ultrasonic level welding. And there's a steady stream of rain pouring down our backs. You know, there's a million dollar cranes sitting there waiting for you to finish. And those are those are just some examples of the less than ideal conditions that you're going to be exposed to depending on your trade, of course, but forgot what the question was. How field work differs from lab work? Oh, yeah, well, so there it is, in a nutshell, the positions the environment, and of course the the mood of the foreman on that given day. And the mood of your machinery, sometimes your machinery is gonna is in a pretty as a pretty foul disposition. So for sure, there's a lot a lot of moving parts to to actually laying down some solid, solid welds that would would test out.Joe Cadwell:
So Will these certifications that our welders achieve here at PNCI, how long do they last?Will Barnes:
It depends on the certification depends on the code application that that we're going to be working under. You can an individual can can acquire a qualification which technically doesn't expire as long as you're active in the process every six months. The the rub to that is it depends on who you're working for and what your contract documents are stipulating. If your contract document is stipulating It must be a waivable certification and conformance to D 1.3. Then you're going to have to have that credential and that credential is on a 12 month cycle. It must be renewed every 12 months. If you're working say sometimes for the Corps of Engineers, you might be required to have an actual AWS certification, which is now on a six month cycle, and must be renewed every six months, if you wish to maintain that credential. And of course, a lot of the distinction is going to fall between different types of structure. Is it permanent structure or is it temporary structure. I tell a lot of folks that are trying to get practice and they're trying to get up to speed on welding on the job site that tried to start on temporary structure if you can. In my experience, a lot of sites don't even require a weld certification to work on temporary structure. They know They're going to just be dismantling it. And as long as it's adequate for whatever the need is at the time, then they'll allow it. But those are kind of the different distinctions. And that's going to, and that may change based on where you're at geographically, if you go down to, you know, the city of San Francisco, or Oakland are different areas like that, where there's going to be different governing bodies put into place at one time, it was the City of Portland. If you were working in the city of Portland, you had to have the City of Portland register on the back of your weld certification. And that was written basically, once that expiration date goes on there. That's that's typically where we draw the line in distinction between qualification and certification is there'll be that expiration date. And then what's that telling? what that's telling you is that you have to maintain a log a continuity log of some form, to demonstrate that you have been active in this process in that period of time. So it sounds like the future of welding is definitely growing. And the carpenters union is hoping to capture more of this market. And we've invested here at the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute in a state of the art welding lab. What can you tell us about the welding lab. So the lab we're using now downstairs is only about three years old, we built it brand new from the ground up, we have 20 welding booths in it, we have a wonderful air scrubber system by Clean Air America, that circulates the air volume of that lab in its entirety every seven minutes. It's a very effective scrubber system. And what that means to the welder is for one, the safety factor goes way up. but so does the level of comfort in that lab, imagine if it was was a really smoky lab, how miserable all those folks would be. And, you know, when we designed that lab, we designed it with welder comfort being top of my priority list. And we did that in the space of the booth, we did that in the location of the machine, we did that in the work platform that they're going to be on, people are gonna sometimes spend 1020 3040 5060 100 hours in those booths, you know, sweat equity, working on whatever that process is they're trying to master. So we did that in its physical dimensions and its layout, and then we stocked it all. We stocked all of the booths with different machinery, and we try to cater the booths to trade just just like we try to cater the classes to a trade. So some booths are set up for for, you know, heavy wire feed machines for you know, th structural wire feed machines, others are going to be set up with light gauge machines, the smaller buzz box machines, the 140 sees and then we have other booths that are set up for high frequency TIG, and then we have several other booths set up for lift dark and scratch start TIG you know, for our open route pipe welders. So again, we've we've tried to build it with the end user always being at the front of our thought process. And it's and we've actually catered the certification program in that kind of that same regard. And for my observation, it seems like it's one of our more utilized components here at PNC II. Yeah, the lab will typically run six days a week here, nearly every Saturday and of course five days a week, whether it's open lab running or open certification, or whether we're running our apprentices through it for their 40 hour or eight hour requirements. And you had mentioned earlier on that we are now an accredited certification facility as well. We have been for we've been fully accredited for Weibo for about the last two and a half years. And for AWS. We're going on about a year and a half now. So a huge savings to our members by being able to do this accreditation in house and then also it streamlines the process and helps get our workers the again the skills to get out there and meet the needs of our contractors. Yeah, we won on several points. Whenever we did that. Before we did this, we were utilizing a third party for final sign off and destruction. And once we could get them out of the picture, every certification just on that alone, at minimum saved us about $190 per certification. And then of course the next thing was we're no longer waiting for that third party to turn our tests around. You know, I used to hate it when I first took over this program, and 2015 I used to hate having to tell a member or a contractor. Well, we've tested your you know, we've tested you or we've tested your welder but now we got to wait a week or two for the third party lab to turn around you know, get your test turned around and get your get your certification out. Tea, I hated that more than anything else. And so putting those accreditations in place meant we eliminated all of that immediately, all the costs all the waiting time. You know, there's nothing worse than taking a test and then going home and chewing your nails for the next two weeks and wondering if you passed it or not. That that's the difference between a lot of people being able to go to work or being out of a job. You know, that's that's, that's very, very important to me, For sure. And again, this episode is focusing primarily in on the welding program here at the Pacific Northwest carpenters Institute. Again, we're part of a six state Regional Council. I know we have our training center up in Seattle area that Northwest carpenters Institute, the UBC the United brotherhood of carpenters and joiners of America have training facilities out throughout the rest of the US that I'm sure are invested, or will be invested in the future of welding in the carpentry craft. So this is really informative for all of our listeners. Well, Barnes if people are wanting to find out more about the PNCI's welding program, where would they turn? Well, they can. They can look at the website, of course, we list all the classes on the website. PNC ai.org. They can email me directly at wil Barnes at p nci.org. And I would also like to point out that we have five welding labs, the Portland lab is our most heavily qualified lab. But we have another lab down in tangent or again in Redmond or again, Boise, Idaho, and Idaho Falls. So our territory is pretty big. And I try to get to all of those labs on a pretty regular basis. Well, especially pre COVID. It's made it a little more difficult now. But I can't wait for all of that to return to normal so we can start getting out there and taking care of those folks on a more regular cycle to That sounds great, again, Will Barnes thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show today. Thank you, Joe.