Wednesday, 17 August 2011

But I'm told that bird sh*t is lucky

It's buck season now, the Glorious Twelfth has marked the opening of grouse season, and our own shoot team has had its annual barbecue and clay shoot. We get together before the season starts to talk dog, guns, and disappointment in our respective vegetable gardens (there have been tragic losses during this cold summer). We exchange cakes, jams, and even homemade hooch.

This is how my voyage of self-discovery started. With a gift bottle of alcohol.

One (OK, three) glasses that evening and my inhibitions yielded. I got straight on the Internet to fulfil my apparent heart's desire. Do you know what I did?

I booked myself on a welding course.

I did the equivalent of drunk-dialling an adult education centre. Who knew my yearning to weld was so strong? I'm not sure if I think this is sad, or a sign that my life is so replete that all I crave are some skills to stick two pieces of metal together.

The course was full, probably with sober participants, so there was no room for me. However, it seems that our work experience student Ian is competent welder. He stays with us most weekends and gains 'keepering experience working alongside Mike. On hearing my story (after he stopped laughing), he offered to bring over his arc welder and teach me the basics.

Have I mentioned that Ian is 17 years old? These farm-raised kids have serious skill sets.

We found a spot in the yard away from anything we could burn down or blow up. Ian gave me a quick demo - rod goes in here, tighten, touch rod to metal, weld. And it is that easy when you get the hang of it. Which I didn't. At least not right away.

I started by making what Ian called 'bird shit' welds -

It's a result of moving the rod too fast and too far away to properly heat the two bits of metal until they 'weld' together - a rookie mistake. It's a weak weld and wouldn't hold up to the kind of abuse it would get on a farm or pheasant shoot.

Besides technique, there are safety tips to learn. Firstly, assume everything is hot. Inner core, centre of the earth hot. Secondly, sparks. Nothing to panic about, unless one happens to go down your boot. Then you'll be dancing the funky chicken and the running man at the same time, trying to get your boot off.

Occasionally I could smell burning and later noticed tiny holes in my sweatshirt. Wear old clothes. And safety glasses. I forgot to put them on when I cleaned the slag from my weld, and a small piece landed on my left eyelid. It was hot enough to blister the skin. It's scabbed over now, but sore. It would have been serious if it went in my eye. I'll take that as a shot across my bows from karma.

That's a lot to learn in a first lesson.

With more practice I got used to looking through the dark screen of the welding helmet and a better feel for the materials. In moments of clarity, I produced an inch or two of good strong weld -

Ian gave me 'the nod', which around here means 'It's acceptable'. It's the closest thing to praise in Dorset. It means I'm ready to take on a simple project. And I have just the thing -


A wool packing frame. It holds the bag so I can pack my newly shorn fleeces ready for sale to the Wool Board. Even if my newbie welds aren't perfect, they will be strong enough to hold up a bag of wool.

We've been busy with other projects that I'm equally inexperienced with. Our hay has been cut and baled -

It was nearly two months later than last year but it's a reasonable crop. The grass benefited from a dose of fertiliser in the Spring.

We also managed to dig out a yard at the entrance of our hay field, lay a hardcore base, and crane the horse shelters into place -

The shelters can double as lambing sheds for the next few years, until the flock outgrows two small buildings. The sheep and their lambs can graze fresh shoots following on behind the cut hay, and overwinter in the field.

The horses are still living in their summer residence, which they share with a nest of swallow chicks. I know the chicks are still there by looking at Alan's back -

Bird shit. Those baby swallows wouldn't be any good at welding either.


Darlene said...

OMG! You always make my day! I live vicariously through you. I had dreams of "living off the land" and growing,(raising) all of our food.Through you,I "live the dream" without actually experiencing the "birdsh*t.I do so enjoy reading about your exploits....and I give you much credit for going after welding! Very useful indeed,but scary!

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

nice welding! never even thought about that.. would like to take a carpenters course though...and try a crack at a mechanics course.

Paula said...

I remember asking for a small blow torch kit and striker one year for Christmas when asked what I wanted, and my older sister said that my list sounded strangely like one of my other sister's list, only she had added a bench grinder to her- it turned out she had taken a welding class. All I can say is knowing how to weld your tools back together would be an extremely useful thing to know how to do. Good for you!!

Kate said...

Do you know how much I respect a woman who drunk dials for a welding course? Not an old boyfriend. Not a friend at an inappropriate hour of the night. A welding class! You rock, Jen!

Sorry to hear about the garden losses. Our summer hasn't resembled your cold one at all, but if it's any consolation, the heat can do just as much damage. I have a feeling we're all in for many more summers featuring anything but weather as it's "supposed" to be.

megan said...

drunk dialing adult education. Man, you were already high on my list of greatness, but you have just sealed an eternal place in the top spots. I too once had my heart's desire to learn welding. The course was not full, and I was not drunk when I signed up. That was many years ago, and I would love to relearn it. Back then, I made sculpture. Now I need to know how to weld tractor parts and other farm type things.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Next time you hit the hooch, could you sign up for a masonry class? We've got a brick dome to build and we sure could use some help.

I'd definitely like to learn to weld, but Kevin really has the bug, so maybe I'll liquor him up and hand him the phone. We've got lots of metal things around here that could use some repair. He's really good at taking things apart, with his kick-ass grinder collection, but we've always had to get professional help to put them back together.

It's probably good that you're starting with a project that has to hold wool, but I'm sure you'll graduate to something that can hold sheep, or people, or horses soon enough.

Jen@M&T said...

Darlene - Vicarious living is the best kind: not so many burns, smells, or tired muscles. You're very sensible.

HKS - Mechanics would indeed be useful. If I drink more of that hooch, I might book us both a place.

Paula - I count on you to a) be supportive and b) think everything I do is totally normal. And I could do with some of your carpentry skills around here.

Kate - I think you're right about changing weather patterns. And of course too hot would create its own problems. We rarely get the opportunity to suffer from heat-related troubles. I've yet to get one ripe tomato or even a squash fruit - can you believe that!?

Jen@M&T said...

Megan - If you can make actual sculptures then you are a welder in my book. We could use you around the place! Tractor parts don't have to look pretty or artistic.

Tamar - It's all about the skills to take it apart / put it together isn't it? It would be right up Kevin's street (caveat, no arc welding if you have a pacemaker). I bet he would have an aptitude for it. Plus there the opportunity to set stuff on fire, which no man can resist.

I did a year of masonry at college and I'm still rubbish, but even beginners can make arches and domes by using a wooden former - build a form out of wood and lay your bricks on top. But don't take the advice of a drunk woman, ask a pro (OK I'm not drunk right now but it's only lunchtime)