The Lady Welder’s Handbook A divulging of the novelty of contemporary female metalworking artists
----Jen Mosier---©Jen Mosier 2014
Abstract In a collection of conversations, observations, ponderings and criticism, this handbook is an unpacking of female metalworking artists in the 21st century. This handbook defines a lady welder, addresses her role as a novelty in metal shops and considers the question of identity across three fields: art, industry and design. The handbook examines gender stereotypes and contemporary female metalworkers immersed in traditionally male-dominated professions. Working with metal requires strength, determination and problem solving skills. There’s empowerment in learning a skilled trade and building furniture with your own hands. In this study of female metalworkers, the output of work is binary—that of craft and that of utility. Contemporary female metalworkers are in a unique position today as they attempt to challenge themselves personally in a field rooted in big industry, labor and masculinity. I address the question of what it means to be a lady welder through my personal experiences as head welder in a Chicago metal shop, as an artist and through the untold stories of other female artists, welders and iron casters. This project embraces the need to document personal histories to learn something about the spaces we inhabit and to understand how and why those spatial boundaries can sometimes define us.
What is a Lady Welder? The title The Lady Welder’s Handbook is a collision of masculine and feminine roles—the dirty, filthy metal shop dweller meets the polite, delicate, well-mannered female. The word “lady” is loaded and has its own set of slippery meanings, often occupying a middle ground between old women and young women. The traditional use implies a non-working woman who lunches on the veranda with her female friends—think English teatime with the television cast of “Downton Abbey.” “‘Lady’ splits the difference between the infantilizing ‘girl’ and the stuffy, Census-bureau cold ‘woman,’” states New Republic writer Ann Friedman in her 2013 article Hey “Ladies”: The Unlikely Revival of a Fusty Old Label. “It’s a casual synonym for ‘woman,’ a female counterpart to ‘guy,’ commonly used in winking conversation between one in-the-know woman and another.” Lady welders are as multifaceted as the word ‘lady’. They are strong, independent and focused. Yet American culture imposes antiquated expectations and skepticism about the competency of what was formerly considered a man’s role. Lady welders gain confidence when they move beyond chauvinist remarks directed at them. In 2013, Deborah King, President of Final Touch Finishing School, wrote about being a modern lady on her blog What Would Mrs. King Do? “Being a lady is not as much about what she does, but rather, who she is and how she navigates herself through life.”
Part 1: The Welding Table The Shop The Loading Dock The City The Backyard The Map
The Welding Table
The spaces I inhabit as a lady welder: The Welding Table The Shop The Loading Dock The City The Backyard The Map
1 We all have our own workstations where we spend our time writing, calculating numbers or performing some task of manual labor. Whether our table is housed inside a cubicle or within a metal shop, we try to make the space our own. Finding a sense of ownership with our worktable gives us a sense of ownership of the workspace, even if we don’t always want to be at work. My workstation is the welding table, an instrument used as a surface for building other tables that will be shipped across the country. People will use the new tables for conference meetings, sharing coffee with friends, or as a family dining table. In the metal shop where I work, there are three welding tables, which balances out to one per employee. The employees have claimed their own tables. Depending on the projects, we will share the tables, but we always seem to work most efficiently at our own welding stations.
2 I use a table built by the previous boss. When he sold the business, the table remained as part of the shop, as did the employees and a few other tools. Other tools that remained: the horizontal band saw, the drill press, a variety of clamps, piles of scrap metal and one broom.
The welding table sits at heart of the shop. It’s equidistant from the back wall and the front garage door. Part of my day includes directing clients and newcomers to different parts of the building because all the businesses located in the three-story building are spread out. Without a main front desk, my welding station gains a second function: the secretary’s desk. It’s located on the main floor and is very visible, so often I’m the first person visitors will meet in the building. Some days when there’s a stressful deadline, directing visitors can be distracting, while other days I don’t mind meeting someone new. The welding table has four legs with a square metal plate bolted on top. The table top meets at the hipbone of my 5’2” frame. It used to meet mid-thigh, but when the shop expanded to three welding stations, we raised all three tables to the same height. When we build pieces of furniture seven feet and longer, we require more surface area to support the projects. One guy is a few inches taller than me, while the other is almost a foot taller, but we found a comfortable height that suits all three of us. It’s important that all tables meet at the same height because we build long furniture that requires extra support for projects that are 12 feet and beyond. Being the shortest in the shop, sometimes I stand on the welding tables to work, which also gives me a new perspective of the shop. 4 I weld to inhabit I weld to inhabit a space I weld to build tables I weld to build tables for others I weld to be productive I weld to be productive in a space I weld to be a strong woman I weld to be a strong woman for others I weld to be a strong woman for myself.
I weld to avoid the nothing I weld to avoid the past I weld to invest in the nothing I weld to invest in the past I weld to make something I weld to make something functional I weld to be a useful human I weld to be useful human in this world.
5 Things I’ve welded: dinner tables, end tables, side tables, conference tables, short chairs, tall chairs, railings, skewer stands, frames, boxes, outdoor planter boxes, candle holders, tall barheight bases, fireplaces, stairs, benches, brackets, shelves, hinges and lamps.
6 Items used during the construction of a metal table with four legs and a metal frame that supports a reclaimed wood top: 2 c-clamps 2 f-clamps 3 blue plastic clamps 1 pair of welding gloves 1 pair of welpers 4 pieces of angle iron with holes drilled 4 tube legs 1 carpenter’s square 1 soap stone 1 pile of metal dust 1 brush for removing metal dust
1 Everyone at work refers to the metal shop as “the shop.” We are so accustomed to calling it “the shop,” that we forget to explain it’s a metal and fabrication shop. When I mention to a someone that I work in a metal shop, the person’s response is a raisedeyebrow-look of skepticism—especially when I’m not covered in dark metal dust. This is a classic dialogue exchange with the aforementioned stranger: Me: I work in a metal shop. Stranger: No you don’t…let me see your hands. He or she proceeds to take my hand to inspect my fingernails, which are clean. My hand is flipped over for further inspection of calluses, dirt or blisters. There are none. Stranger: I don’t believe you. Me: I wear gloves at the shop, and I shower and scrub.
The Translation of Shop
SHOP SHOP SHOP WOOD SHOP OPEN SHOP SHOP ARTIST SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP BOOK SHOP SHOP MOM & POP SHOP FABRICATION SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP BANKER’S SHOP SHOP SHOP TO KEEP SHOP SHOP SHOP WORK SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP JEWELER’S SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SCHOOL SHOP
PREPARATION WINDOW GAZE COAT BOOK
PERS KEEPER DROPPER FRONT STALL LEDGER TILL YOU DROP BREAKER WITHIN-A-SHOP TOOL OF LOOMS WARES BUSINESS OF TYRANNY SYSTEM
SHUT YOUR TO BREAK UP TO LIVE OVER THE
TO COME TO THE RIGHT
TO MIND THE
TO SET UP TO SHUT UP TO SMELL OF THE
TO STICK TO THE
ALL OVER THE
SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP SHOP
BELL TEACHER CLASS FINISH RAG FELLOW
FITTER LIGHT LIST SIGN HOURS CLERK
DOOR DUST DIVINE TALK COUNTER LIST MAID MATE MERCHANT MAGISTRAL WORKER
3 In a city, there is a neighborhood In that neighborhood, there is a street On that street, there is a building In that building, there is a metal shop In that metal shop, there is a table On that table, there is a clamp Near that clamp, there is a glove In that glove, there is a hand that welds.
These are instant messages exchanged between coworkers and myself using the word shop. Isolating them out of context offers a study of language, communication and space: Stainless will arrive tomorrow!! (It almost came today but I called the metal supplier. Close call because no ones at the shop.) At the graham. No sign of anyone from our shop yet. I’ll be at the shop around 11 today. Have you printed those drawings yet? On my way to the shop. Bringing mom and drawings. See ya soon. I’m taking my sister to the airport and then on to the shop. If you get to the shop before me, will you start lacquering those discs? I’ll be there in 25 min. I left those bolts inside the shop for Dave.
OK I’m gonna go either wed morning or Thurs morn. Then head to shop. I’m cleaning up the shop a bit. My parents are passing through in the next half hour. I’m here. When you gonna be down at the shop? I’m not gonna be in the shop until later. Planning to start a fire. The box at the shop has two different lengths: 8’3/4” and 7’3/4” Just a heads up, I bought a company boat on the business credit card for the shop. We can drill holes to connect the 2” angle at the shop. Just come to the shop tomorrow and do the table. Others can wait. The shop is low on tap magic. Sorry I missed your call again. At the shop. I gotta change my ring tone.
The Loading Dock
1 The loading dock is a communal space for everyone who works in the building. It is a multifunctional area for receiving and shipping. Packages arrive in a delivery truck and furniture departs in a different box truck. Most often, our metal shop and the adjoining bike shop use the space as extensions of our own shops, giving us each an extra 100 square feet.
2 When guests visit, they ignore the front door and use the loading dock. In the summer months, our garage door is always open, and we are usually working inside and outside, making us visible and easy to approach. Visitors are usually looking for someone other than a metal shop worker such as the multimedia artist, the bike builders, the woodworkers or one of the tutoring organizations. Since our shop is adjoined to the loading dock, accepting packages, directing people to other floors and giving tours become part of our duties, but end up being tedious activities.
3 The loading dock is used by the myriad of businesses in the three-story building. Each business attracts visitors, clients and many one-time passersby. The following is a collection of stories, profiles and observations about a few of the colorful characters I have met on the loading dock.
4 John is the garbage man who visits the shop twice a week, thus making him a regular visitor. He slides open the metal gate, drives his truck in reverse and levitates the dumpster emptying all of its belongings into the truck — wood scraps, sawdust, greasy brown lunch bags from the corner diner. The combination of smells is sour. What’s worse is when the smell of our trash mixes with the smell of other peoples’ trash. It’s awful, but John, at this point, never mentions it bothering him. Maybe he’s immune to the stench.
Maybe it’s because he’s been in the garbage business for longer than I’ve been alive—37 years he says. His dad used to own a garbage company so John went into the family business. He commutes everyday from Indiana, where he has a life outside of smelling trash. He owns a camper with his wife, which they plan to take across the country when John retires in 29 months. He’s keeping track. They’ve road tested the camper twice: once to Mount Rushmore, which he said is a lot smaller in person and another time to Yellowstone National Park where they watched antelope gallop across an open field and disappear into a valley sheltered by towering mountains. One day I asked him about good camping spots in Indiana. “My wife and I love Raccoon Lake. There’s an annual music festival we’ve been going to for five years. It’s the most beautiful part of Indiana but you’ll have to fight off the raccoons who scavenge for leftovers every night.” I tell him I’ve met some fearless raccoons that scratched at my tent and scared me awake. So camping with raccoons wasn’t my idea of a good time. John looks like a disheveled surfer who spent his younger years at the beach being a surfer dude rather than a trash man. He has permanent tan lines around his eyes from wearing sunglasses. His short blond hair frays out from under his dark green ball cap. “The company I work for is run by people who have never been in a garbage truck, never been on a route, never had to sprint half-a-mile with a loaded dumpster because a street is blocked off. They just don’t understand, but I keep my mouth shut and do my job and enjoy talking with my pretty customers.” He rarely talks to anyone at the shop, but he thinks it is cool that he knows a female who welds. When he visits, he’ll ask if I’m around. I take a break from working to chat with him while he finishes a cigarette. My friends like to taunt me by saying the trash man has a crush on me, but I ignore their comments because I have work to do.
A first impression haiku about Sal Sal came to see us, (fast-talking womanizer) with his bodyguard.
Sal only visited the shop once and on that afternoon he showed up and yelled at me from twenty feet away. I was working on the loading dock, grinding steel and wearing headphones. I noticed a four-foot-tall man approaching me and waving his hands over his head. He’s walking next to a guy who towers over him by three feet, so I assume he’s his bodyguard. Sal inches closer, still waving his arms above his head like there’s an emergency but I still have no idea what he’s saying because I’m still wearing headphones. Sal’s mouth and arms continue flapping. As he gets closer, I realize he has business with us metal workers because he’s carrying some broken pieces of metal.
Sal: Hey I have these broken pieces that go to this thing on my loading dock. Your boss has fixed something on my loading dock before, so it’s OK if you fix these. I need you weld these back together and get them to me by today. That work? Me: Yeah, I’m a little busy. On deadline for a job my boss gave me. Let me give him a call. Sal: Oh no, don’t call him. Just fix ‘em. It’s an easy fix. See, look, you just put a weld right here (he points to the broken section) and that’s it. So can you do it? Me: Well, I don’t know how much it will cost… Sal: It doesn’t matter, just fix it…hey is anyone else here that can do this? Who are you anyone? Are you the boss’ wife? Me: No. Sal: Are you the boss’ girlfriend? Me: No. Sal: Are you the boss’ secretary?
Me: No. Sal: Well then what good are ya? Seriously is there anyone else here. Me: Sal, my role as a woman doesn’t have to be defined by a man. And just so you know, since I’ll be the one putting these broken pieces back together. I’m the welder. Sal: Oh, lighten up, sweetie. At this moment, I imagine a small fireball of acetylene engulfing his head.
A first impression haiku about Chopper
Your name is Chopper? ( The gray and white handlebar, made it obvious.)
Chopper rolls up to the shop in a loud way. He cruises in on a huge motorcycle with very visible ape hanger handlebars. He stops his bike in the middle of the parking area, making his bike look like it is on display at an auction. His entrance isn’t impressive. And now, his bike is blocking the entrance so no one else can park in the loading dock area. “Hey I’m Chopper.” “Is that your real name?” I asked. “Yeah, that’s my real name,” he replied. I’m wondering how Chopper isn’t a nickname, yet he’s into loud choppers. Perhaps this is one of those situations where his birth name influenced his passion for motorcycles. His gray and white handlebar mustache looks like a furry critter on his face. “So uh, you work here?” he asks. I’m covered in metal dust and black soot at this point, so in my sassiest tone, I reply, “I’m filthy aren’t I?” Chopper needs a bicycle tire but the bike repair guy isn’t around, so I give Chopper the guy’s phone number. He ignores that I just helped him out and struts into my friend’s 200 square feet bike shop. Afraid Chopper is just going take what he needs and drive away, I \stop working to keep an eye on him.
Chopper: Why do you work in a metal shop? You’re a lady. What do you do?
Me: Weld, grind, paint, torch, read blueprints… Chopper: Yeah yeah...whaddya guys do here? Me: We build furniture. Chopper: Well I don’t need any furniture, I need a bike tire. And in a flash, he drives away, with his furry salt-and-pepper handlebar mustache flying in the breeze. Chopper never came back to the shop.
A first impression haiku about Dick (this is the name I’ve rightfully bestowed upon him.) He wanted my job. So I grabbed his resume, and torched it into flames.
(Heres what really happened: I grabbed his resume, rolled it up into a tight cone shape, turned on the oxygen and acetylene gas tanks, used the hand-held striker to light the torch, adjusted the gasses to create an oxidizing flame—a pointed, whitish-blue cone that burns hot—then touched the flame to the rolled resume and watched it burn.) And here’s the story why: So this guy walks up to the loading dock. Neither my two friends nor I know who he is or why he’s intensely inspecting the welds on the metal table base we are cleaning on the loading dock. He scans one weld to the next, nudging us out of the way to gain the best view for inspection. Dick: Who welded this? Me: I did. Dick: Well these welds are pretty good. You know...only pretty good...they’re pretty good for a woman welder. I start to clench my fists because this guy is pushing my buttons. My friend notices and changes the subject: “Are you looking for someone?”
Dick ignores him and says, “How long have you been welding? ‘cause I’ve been welding for 30 years. I bet you’ve been welding a lot less years than me.” He hands me his resume and continues, “You can see all the places that I’ve worked, mostly on the largest buildings built in Chicago. You know the Trump Tower, well, that’s something I worked on.”
Me: Yeah that’s quite impressive.
Dick: So I’m looking for your boss… Me: He’s not here. Dick: Well give him my resume because I need a job. One hour later, Dick shows up during our lunch break. Dick: I’m back and I want the head welder’s position. Well that’s my job so naturally I’m feeling threatened. It’s time to address this guy’s machismo attitude toward women welders. Me: Do you have a problem with women welders? Dick: Oh….uh…no I know plenty of women welders, I know a LOT of woman welders…women are just great when they weld. Dick rolled his eyes—which was the wrong move. My boss quickly escorted him to the door.
A first impression haiku about Lio:
The south sider who paid with a box of frozen tilapia fish
“Did that guy ever pay you?” I asked my boss. Boss: He told me to come by his fish market so he could pay in fish. Me: What!? Boss: Yeah, fish—a box of fish. No money, just fish, probably something he can’t sell like a box of frozen fish heads. He’s swindled me before. Later that day my boss has the box of frozen fish which are unexpectely the best-looking tilapia fillets we’ve ever seen. Juicy, plump and perfectly white.
1 Eataly is a three level food palace, which opened in downtown Chicago on east Ohio Street in May 2014. It’s a high-class grocery store with a fine-dining restaurant inside. The food court area on the second floor has marble counter tops and a mature olive tree, making any Whole Foods chain look like a shanty. We designed and built three metal and wood shelving units for the fruits and vegetables section. They hold fruit baskets, almonds and other nuts packaged in Italian glass jars and an assortment of Italian spices. Eataly liked our work so much, they asked for more furniture. It was my job to go investigate what the clients envisioned for future projects. On-site at Eataly, prior to the grand opening, I pull up behind a work truck on Ohio street. The adjacent sidewalk has yellow caution tape that sections off the pedestrians from Eataly’s work zone. I put on the hazards of my 1995 teal Saturn as an attempt to camouflage it as another work truck and hope there’s not a ticket on the window when I return. I duck under the yellow tape with authority and check in with the nearest security guard.
Me: Hey do you know where I can find Alex? Security Guard: Alex who? He raised a suspicious eyebrow. M: Alex... checking my phone for a name...Ppppaper? My boss has been emailing back and forth with him, so I’m not sure of the details. I’m a metal worker and we built the shelves in the produce section. The security guard grabs a young skinny guy dressed in a black t-shirt and black jeans. He looks like he’s spent his day operating the garage door that stands between Eataly’s shipping area filled with boxes, and the interior space of the ground level. Security Guard: Can you show this lady where Alex is? I’m busy working the desk. She’s a metal….? Me: I’m a metal worker.
SG: Yeah, she’s a metal worker. He smiles and looks at me. She has skills. Can you help her find Alex? I’d really appreciate it. Skinny guy dressed in black: Alex Kaper? M: Yeah, sure—Kaper...paper, they both rhyme, right? I feel like an idiot for not knowing. He directs me through the back entrance of the store.There are hundreds of people preparing the store for the grand opening—women are unwrapping kitchen accessories and putting them on shelves for people to buy, two guys are tinkering with the escalator and others are running around looking important with clipboards. On the second level, there’s a food court with the white marble counter tops beyond stainless steel stoves where chefs are making dishes and waiting for Italian project managers to sample each one. Alex is in a meeting, so I hide and wait between cellophane-wrapped shelves of Italian olive oils. Twenty minutes later, an enthusiastic Italian man—a.k.a Sebastian, Alex’s buiness partner— greets me with a startling “CIAO!” They direct me to the fine-dining restaurant in the basement. Construction workers are waxing floors and send us dirty looks because we are disrupting their progress. Alex: Here are the two bathrooms where we need shelves. The bathrooms are dark. There are no lights installed. And there aren’t any sinks or toilets or mirrors or paper towel dispensers. Sebastian: We want floating counter tops like this image on my iPad. Can you do this? We also want wood frames around the mirrors. Can you do that? Me: Yeah but I’ll need dimensions of the space and dimensions of the sink, so we can cut a hole in the wood for it to fit. Alex: Ok, you have three days.
The Backyard 1 The backyard is a special sanctuary for building tenants and employees. Sometimes we eat lunch there, take a water break, enjoy some sunshine or tend to our gardens. Building tenants built garden plots using scrap boards from the wood shop and recycled car tires. Some gardens are square or rectangular and some resemble a trapezoid shape, which give the entire landscape an eclectic design when viewed from the rooftop. From the rooftop, the mismatched plots and overgrown weeds makes the the backyard look like it needs help from the Home and Garden Television “Backyard Crashers” crew, however from the ground level, the backyard is just too charming to reorganize. The garden plots have grown to resemble the garden owners. The green thumb metal worker has a metal archway for his squash vines; the perfectionist bike builder spent three days carefully stapling scrap pieces of woods together to make a high-design bench; the laid-back bike builder constructed a geodesic dome from bicycle wheels; the mold making teacher is growing her own art in the form of gourds and the wood shop guy, who loves unusual looking plants, grows milk weed.
2 There are three dog owners in the building. When the dogs visit the shop, they play fetch in the backyard but rarely return the stick. They change the game from playing fetch to a game of tug-of-war. The game ends quick because they run away with the stick.
3 This last summer, I was gifted a long planter box. On day two of owning the box, I filled it with three bags of potting soil, three cherry tomato plants, two pepper plants, one zucchini squash, one thyme herb plant and seven bean plants. Almost everything survived. Except for the thyme plant—it died on day five. Cause of death: lack of sunshine. The fivefoot-tall weeds blocked the thyme plant’s sunshine access. On the morning of day six, I was still distraught from losing the thyme so I uprooted the human-height-stubbornly-densestalked weeds with my bare hands. One by one, with ritual anger I removed fifty-two weeds. On day seven, the dogs took a nap in the uprooted weed pile.
The Map 1 A map is a diagram, chart or plan that shows spaitial distribution between positions. It represents one point in correspondence with another point. One type of map is a layout of a building, often referred to as a blueprint. Another type is a tool map.
2 The surprise and disappointment of making a tool map is that it’s an illusion of organization. Usually, tools are never returned to their original locations. They are left in places other than where they’re positioned on the following map. That’s when my job turns into a scavenger hunt because it requires hours of work to find the tools.
3 My morning ritual at work is drinking coffee and hunting for tools. I walk every square inch of the shop to locate the tools and return them to their original locations. Tools are categorized in the shop based on their use for a particular space (i.e. welding helmets are near the welders, clamps are near welding tables.)
4 This is the tool map of the tools that live in the shop. This map isn’t used by anyone who works at the shop, except for me. This is a map of how I organize.
Ball Peen Hammer Locking C-Clamp with precision pinchers Vise Grip Locking Clamp Locking C-Clamp with swivel pads Pipe Wrench Mallet Chisel Vise Grip Large Jaw Locking Clamp
Flathead Screwdriver Bonus Flathead Screwdriver Welding Wire Spool Adjustable Bar Clamp Gray (Duct) Tape Blue Tape & Masking Tape Rags
Safety Glasses Respirator
Time Cards Torch Torch Tips Adjustable Foot Oil Can Metal F-Clamp Tape Measure
These are chemical compounds of alcohols and gasses found in the metal shop where I work.
Acetone Oxygen Acetylene Argon Carbon Dioxide Propane Lacquer Lacquer Thinner
PART 2: Let’s Hear it Ladies
All of the following profiles focus on contemporary female workers in their twenties and thirties who navigate between the art world, metalworking industry, iron casting communities and the design world. In some of these environments the females are immediately accepted as social and professional equals while in others, they are forced to initially prove themselves herself before each one is considered a badass. The women are blindsided by unwarranted commentary about the novelty of a female in a metal shop. These women are more focused on working with their favorite medium— metal—and personally challenging themselves.
It’s In Her Blood Metalworker Alexandra Knox lives, breathes and dreams about metal To be a female metalworker, you must be tough, strong, independent and perfect. The allowance for mistakes in a metal shop is zero percent if you’re a female. Women are held to higher standards than men and that will never change until more women learn skilled trades such as welding or iron casting. Alexandra Knox (27) has felt she has to try harder to achieve the same thing men have accomplished in a metal shop. “At times, I need to try extra hard to earn respect from my male peers, to prove my strength, both physically and mentally,” says Knox. That means to earn that respect, she must have a higher pain tolerance than her male coworkers. When a hot spark meets her bare skin, she can’t even flinch or she will look weak. To prove her toughness, Knox tested for her fabricator job without bringing protective gear. She also didn’t call ahead to schedule a testing time. “I figured if they heard a female’s voice on the line they wouldn’t have given me the time of day,” says Knox. “With my shortest jean shorts, a tight tank top and work boots on, I showed up and asked to speak to the guy in charge. When he asked if I needed something, I said, ‘Yeah, I need a job, and you want me to weld for you.’” With her helmet in hand, she was ready to test and ready to sacrifice her skin to welding sparks. Welding produces a blue flash that can damage skin and develop into a pain that is worse than any sunburn. “I welded a vertical uphill fillet and got hired on immediately,” recalls Knox. “When I was filling out my paperwork, my new boss even said something along the lines of ‘we knew you’d be fine working here when you welded without sleeves.’ So, do men looking for a welding
job have to dress scandalous or pretend they are tougher than they need to be? No. Some women may scold me for dressing too sexy during my test and say that I was exploiting myself. You have to utilize your strengths and know that ‘pussy power’ is an actual thing to take advantage of, but on top of that, I’m a good welder. And that’s ultimately why I got the job.” Knox received her BFA in Studio Art from East Carolina University and her MFA in
34 Sculpture from University of Oklahoma. She is an Instructor of Art at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, but will be promoted this summer to Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. In Knox’s own art practice, she works with installation, sculpture, video and performance, with a variety of material ranging from cast iron, to welded metal to textiles to time-based media. “I think it’s in my blood,” Knox says. “I knew I would be based in sculpture after I took my first sculpture class in undergrad when we did our welding assignment. I loved the smell of steel, the burning of carbon and the effort and precision it takes to weld. My Ukrainian grandfather was a welder and fabricator but I had no idea until after he died and until I got into the metal fab shop. It was that same smell of steel that I realized when I was a child I had been around when I would visit his shop but I did not know at the time.” From her point of view, being female doesn’t influence her position in the art world. But when other people hear of her work within the iron casting art community, or that she’s a welder/fabricator, they are impressed based on the assumption that it is unlikely for a woman to be involved in such activities. “I think men expect women to be physically weaker but there’s a ‘work smart not hard’ approach,” says Knox. Swinging a sledgehammer is an essential skill during iron pours. When a truckload of recycled radiators arrives onsite, someone has to break them down into smaller two-inch sized pieces so they fit inside the 14 to 18 inch diameter opening of the cupola furnace. The largest men at the iron pour are given this role because most assume they’re stronger. But Knox is an exception as a female. “I have impressed many men and women on how I can swing a sledgehammer,” says Knox. “Most men don’t know how to swing a sledge hammer properly; it’s not about how strong you are, it’s about making that tool work for you.” Whenever Knox is approached with skepticism, her competitive streak helps her to avoid commentary that is meant to inhibit her from working with metal. While in a welding class a few years ago, a fellow peer was angry that she could weld better than him and that she shouldn’t be better because she’s a woman. Knox is a leader. In her teaching position, she encourages students to participate in iron pours, which seem can seem intimidating. “It’s so exciting to see my pupils go through the same experience I did, from tapping and ‘botting’ a furnace for the first time, to making their first molds.”
At the same time, if she had a dollar for every time someone called her ‘badass’ for casting metal or welding, she says she wouldn’t be in debt from her student loans. “In my opinion, sewing and altering clothes is badass. That amount of tediousness, precision and patience are qualities that few people have these days.” Welding and fabricating are very solitary tasks while iron casting requires a community of people to participate. Knox enjoys this team effort and the problem solving and critical thinking that mold making entails. “I love the physical challenge and exhaustion I feel during and after a pour,” says Knox. “I feel like I’ve earned a cold beer.”
Lindsey McCormick Evans: That Welder Girl
Lindsey McCormick Evans (29) is otherwise known as “That Welder Girl.” The title is not self-proclaimed, nor is it meant to distinguish her from that welder boy. An electrician described her as “that welder girl” in an email to her boss. “It felt really dismissive,” says Evans. “I stewed over it for awhile before realizing that’s how most of the people/companies I worked with would refer to me, so I took control of it. Although [at almost 30] I’m probably reaching the end of my tenure for getting away with calling myself ‘girl.’” Evans is that welder girl but she can do more than weld. She’s “that iron caster girl” or “that girl with a welding torch tattoo.” The tattoo is an oxy-acetylene torch on her right arm, with the cords winding around until they disappear into what looks like a tear in her arm. “When I'm bartending the tattoo gets asked about a lot and people often refuse to believe I'm a welder,” says Evans. “They say ‘no way’ a bunch, assume my dad was a welder, ask if I weld in a dress or tell me I don’t look like a welder.” She’s a certain kind of tough—the gunslinging-whiskey-drinking kind of tough. When she arrives to weld at a job site, she hears “What’d you do wrong to end up here.” As a lady welder, her role is sexualized a lot. “When I tell people I weld, they say ‘oh that’s hot’
36 and I blame Flashdance for that.” Yes, that’s the 1983 film that focuses more on the lead character’s (Jennifer Beals) strip dancing than her role as a female welder. “When someone mentions ‘oh that’s hot,’ I say ‘of course, I’m melting steel together,’” says Evans. “It’s an unspoken job skill that you have to be quick on your feet just to keep your head above water.” Evans’ infatuation with metalworking began at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) while she was working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts. She was frustrated with the process of painting, so she turned to casting bronze sculptures in SAIC’s downtown Chicago foundry. “I needed a break from painting and casting metal seemed as far as I could get from it,” says Evans. “I was attracted to the physicality and the danger in working with molten metal and also really excited by creating bronze pieces. I consider myself very privileged that I went to undergrad in an environment where a majority of the foundry students were women, so it was a welcoming and supportive environment to learn metalworking.” Since she uprooted from Chicago for Colorado in late 2013, she became less involved in exhibiting art and casting sculptures. Her main priority is industrial welding. She designs and fabricates furniture from recycled and reclaimed materials. Her resume also includes fabricating excavators, high-end furniture, stairs and railings for homes and businesses across the country. Her welding process is identical to that of the male fabricators who trained her. But as added steps, she double or triple checks everything more frequently than her male coworkers. “A lot of that is being aware of the pressure that if I mess something up, the assumption will be I did it wrong ‘because I'm a woman’ and not because I didn’t measure correctly,” says Evans. “Working in a male dominated field I am constantly aware that I am often reduced to an icon for my gender instead of being viewed as an individual. It makes it difficult to have an off day when there's a chance your entire gender's competence will be dismissed as a consequence for an error.” Evans is certain she’s received a lot of industrial welding jobs because she’s a woman, including working as a fabricator at Caterpillar. She knows she must always make fewer mistakes than male welders, and that pressure to be perfect never goes away. How much women are worth as welders is also an ever-present issue. “I do think there's an expectation that as a woman you'll work for less money than a man would,” says Evans. “And I've had shops balk at my rate when I know they pay men more. I've also lost gigs because clients expected my bid to be cheaper.”
And if getting paid less wasn’t insult enough, she still continues to face discrimination for being a woman in a fabrication shop. “I've worked in shops where guys wouldn't let me weld at all during install; which is even more infuriating when I'm the best welder in the shop,” says Evans. “I've been given delicate jobs before because I have small hands and frequently bounced off of heavy-gauge jobs.” It takes a long time to earn the trust of her male coworkers and often they will trust her less than other men with less welding experience. “I can't handle one more person telling me about how women have ‘natural rhythm’ which makes them good welders,” says Evans. “I've gotten use to taking control of jobs and fighting to keep control.”
The Proud Pyromaniac Paige Henry speaks about being a female metalworker
Paige Henry (26) is a pyromaniac and a metal head—but not in the music sense. She is a female artist and metalworker. “I’m metal to the core,” she says. Not only is she a rock-solid lady welder from New York State, she plays with 2700-degree molten iron. That love for melting recycled iron into art has propelled her to be a leader in the iron casting community. She was also the Chair of Documentation of the 2014 International Iron Casting Convention in Pedvale, Lativa—a major position for a female under 30. "At the most basic level, metal is attractive as an art form to me because when I drop it, it doesn't usually break—I am a big klutz," she says. "I like the permanence of metal—the piece will last a lot longer than I will, whether it is a turd or a masterpiece.” Henry is always the almighty overseer at iron pours—checking everything, supervising everyone’s safety and asking technical questions (Do we have enough propane gas? Do we have enough iron?). Her main goal to keep iron pours efficient. “If we are not safe as a community of iron casters, we are finished,” says Henry. “No one will allow us to do what we love; it is through our safety practices that we are able to continue to broaden the depth of our casting field.” She’s the planner, the organizer and the ex-officio safety officer. “Within the iron community everyone wears many hats and it really depends on where you are and what is going on that you are able to choose what hat to wear—and that often changes during the course of a pour itself,” says Henry. “A good iron caster has an equal balance of safety, planning and leadership in order to conduct oneself during a successful iron pour.” Henry’s attraction to metal has established a bond with the past. “[Metalworking] is in my blood—my mother's father was a welder, I never met him, but I have driven over bridges he helped build in NYC.”
39 After graduating from Alfred University, she was hired at her first welding job. Henry realized women were treated differently in the industry than in an art setting. “In New York it wasn’t anything special or different that I was a woman sculpting and welding in the medium of metal. At the job, men were skeptical of her skills, so she proved herself. For eight hours a day Henry showed them how she could consistently produce well-structured and pretty welds. “They finally admitted that they could only popcorn weld and I got mad props—more than I probably deserved,” says Henry. “I quickly became 'the welder' at the factory and it was almost as if everyone wanted their picture with me—mostly because I am a female who can weld. Henry struggles with being taken seriously because her role as a lady welder is glamorized. “Metal chicks are sexy—no matter what we make—which can make being taken seriously very frustrating,” she says. “In art, I feel everyone is an equal—and in industry I feel it is harder for a female to make a name. But sometimes a female trying to get a welding/metal job has a better chance regardless of skill level to meet a quota or whatever.” Currently, she’s a sub-contractor in New Hampshire. She’s been woodworking but yearns to work with metal. “Carpentry takes forever, when you mess up you can't just weld it back together, you have to start again,” she says. Any metalworker or pyromaniac can agree with that. At 26, Henry says despite receiving disbelief from her coworkers, she’s knows she is fortunate to be around so many positive women role models. “I live in an age where gender roles mean less,” she says. “The line has been more than blurred between women’s work and men’s work—it is obscured. Man or woman, we are all people striving to connect and be heard through whatever capacitor we have access to. As women we have more power than we let ourselves believe.”
Sarah Harling—A Unique Lady Welder With Strong Feminist Views “The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is a safe zone for women to learn and experiment with metalworking,” says Harling—a metal casting instructor at SAIC. “People are supportive and will explain things, but it’s a complete false reality compared to the industry. Many industry guys don’t know how to act around women—you either hit that mark or you’re gone, or they keep you around to meet a gender quota.” After graduating with her Bachelor of Fine Arts from SAIC, Harling (29) found a job at a south side metal shop. Instead of being surrounded by artists, she worked with long-time machinists, metal casters and welders. "I worked with a Vietnam vet alcoholic who was skeptical of me," she says. "I had to pay my dues and earn his respect but his partner continued to harass me. Metal shops tend to be in more rough and dangerous neighborhoods. Sarah says there were bullet holes in both the foundry walls and windows. “Men saw me welding outside in my dirty shop clothes and welding helmet and they’d say 'Hey baby you working?' They thought I was a prostitute." The idea of a pretty woman working in a metal shop is novel. "It’s always been a boys club,” she says. “A welding shop is a safe place for them to express their thoughts with other men. Initially as an idealistic-fresh-out-of-college student I would’ve been enraged by the prostitute comment, but years later, now all I can do is to find a shop that will accept me for who I am and let me show them my skills.” As a female in a traditionally male-dominated field, Harling can’t make mistakes—adding to her level of stress and pressure in her welding classes. She's watched a guy catch his clothes on fire and then laugh it off with his buddies. But if that happened to her, she would lose respect from her peers and instructors. With the highest grade in her academic welding class, her colleagues assume the instructors are giving her an easier critique because she's a woman. In this setting, she has to prove herself by making the extra effort to show her welds to her male counterparts. "If they're going to give me a more critical eye, then that’s what I want because I want to be a good welder—I don’t want to get by. I think that helps with the relationship with these guys because they feel I’m not getting special treatment." To be a sculptor or metalworking artist, there’s no welding certification requirement, but taking classes improves Harling’s technical skills and exposes her to the real world—outside of the safe art school bubble.
"My intention as an artist is to speak to a larger audience and if I’m going to talk about feminism and use metalworking, then I need to understand that real world first hand." When Harling and I met, we spoke about identifying as metalworkers with Rosie the Riveter—the icon representing women who worked in factories during World War II (WWII). The famous feminist image, designed to portray strong, independent women has been over sexualized. “If you search for Rosie on Google, all you get is pin up pictures,” says Harling. “Her waist is slimmer and her boobs are perkier. Her image has been borrowed and appropriated and today, I think most women don’t even know her original intention. She was used to encourage women to enter the factories when all the men left for war.” Harling showed me the t-shirt she was wearing, which had an appropriated image of Rosie on it. It was a spoof on Portal, the video game. “We Can Do It with Science” it stated, with Rosie in her iconic position: showing off her right bicep while wearing a blue denim shirt and a red bandana. The image of Rosie disappeared after WWII ended. “When the men came home to America, we were going to have a bunch of jobless men who didn’t know what to do with themselves because they just came back from a brutal combat,” says Harling. “So, the best way to sweep PTSD under the table was to domesticate them, give them a loving wife and market to women that they should return to the homes as nurturers. And during that time, what’s fascinating to me is that we had so much iron we didn’t know what to do. People were casting homes out of iron—that was almost a thing. You couldn’t get a reception inside an iron home for the television so the iron industry realized that iron houses wouldn’t sell.” Since the post-WWII homemaker marketing campaign, it’s almost natural for women in 21st century American culture to be self-conscious about applying for large industry jobs in factories—due to the fear of rejection. “Starting in high school, women aren’t even going into big industry fields at all,” says Harling. “In middle school we were allowed to choose between Home Economics class or Technology Lab—I did both, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t popular in middle school. While most of the girls laughed in Technology Lab and the guys had a careless attitude about sewing a pillow, I was excited to take apart a lawn mower engine. I had questions for my teacher who replied, ‘Why do you care? I’ll just give you the answers so you can pass.’ He didn’t understand that I needed to learn about engines so I could alter one for building a gocart.”
42 In 2014, these double standards still exist. “From the male perspective, if a guy said, ‘I love My Little Ponies,’ how would that guy be treated in a welding shop? There’s a great documentary called Bronies that brings up amazing points about men who are not allowed to be feminine either,” says Harling. “These guys have full beards—a sign of masculinity—but they are ridiculed for their interests, just as beer can crushing women are not viewed as feminine. As long as we reject men in what women consider female territory, how are men going to change their minds about women in a welding shop. It’s not fair if they let me weld and I turn around and say, ‘You can’t come to the My Little Pony convention because that’s for women.’” Harling is a lady welder, which can sometimes be a slippery slope in a society of double standards. “The definition of lady is difficult—when you hear the word ‘lady’ you think of someone telling you to cross your legs, act proper, don’t put out on the first date, don’t offend, be gracious, be supportive of whoever and don’t be strong,” says Harling. “When women are strong and direct, they are perceived as a bitch. As a teacher, if I tell someone to redo something, I just want him or her to fix it. I don’t want to explain everything, but women always have to justify themselves and make sure everyone is comfortable.” On the other hand, Harling doesn’t want to lose her feminine side so she believes in finding a balance in a culture of double standards. “You don’t want to deny that side of being a woman. I love teaching and supporting young women artists in a metalworking field that seems intimidating.” Harling’s views are strong about women educating themselves. “My mom worked for Abbott Labs as a microbiologist. Surprising for the time, she was given maternity leave, but when they wanted her back at work, she couldn’t find a trustworthy nanny so she gave it all up to raise her children. Can you imagine a lady welder asking for maternity leave? It would be perceived as a joke because that’s not something considered in the welders union.” Throughout the 20th Century, women faced waxing and waning of empowerment. “Look at the flapper—flat chest, short hair, strong, telling her man this and that,” says Harling. “Men and women were equals socially in a lot of ways but they are not now. Depression hit, war happened and we needed men to fight.” Women entered into the factories and took over the jobs while the men were overseas. “Then, the men returned, saved the economy and returned to power,” says Harling. “In the 1950s, the pin-up girl emerged and women became objectified. Fast forward to 2014, we are down sliding right now because we are hyper focused on body issues—should we be naked or wear a burka? We get caught up in these lower level issues that get at our gut because it’s been embedded in us as females. My advice is to educate yourself and pursue something worthwhile in your life. Focus on that and don’t give a shit.”
Part 3: Yes, I’m a lady welder... ...no further questions
Last Wednesday, I met 32-year-old Jack. He asked, “What do you do?” and I replied, “I am a metalworker and welder.” Since my face wasn’t covered in black metal dust smudges, I predicted he wouldn’t believe me—and he didn’t. “No you’re not!” After an exhausting Q&A period, I finally convinced him I weld for a living. He asked the same series of questions most strangers ask: How did you start welding? Why do you weld? Did you dad teach you? What do you make? Where do you work? I always wonder if a male welder gets asked these same questions.
44 The Q&A period happens with 95% of all strangers I meet—it’s as if it is a requisite for being a lady welder. To make the Q&A session more entertaining on my end, I respond with truth and lies: “I learned from a male friend…my dad…at the School of the Art Institute…on a farm...in the Navy.” I alter my answers based on who I’m talking with, how they might judge me or—more importantly—to avoid answering more questions about my life as a female metalworker. Female welders are a novelty—similar to the bearded lady or some other circus act—but it’s unwarranted for women to be interviewed because they like to work with metal. When a woman knits, we don’t ask her why she chose such a delicate medium, because it is considered ‘normal’ for a woman to knit and not so normal for a man to knit. Mainstream society designates differences between male and female roles—men work in tough, strong jobs and women work as homemakers and caretakers. Male knitters break tradition with workplace gender stereotypes the same way lady welders do.
Welding is an Exotic Language Learning the skills to weld is similar to learning a new language. When I became the head welder at a metal shop, I learned how to read blueprints and how to draw them, using a coded language developed by my boss. The language designated what materials to use and how much of that material to use. The first time I study a blueprint, I examine all of the details—checking for errors or inconsistencies—before I start cutting the metal because we don’t want to waste any metal. For functional furniture, I’m asking questions such as: Will the design structurally work? How will people interact with this table or chair? Is it balanced? Are the drill holes too large or too small? Every object I make at the metal shop is one-of-a-kind and requires specific attention to detail. One part of the battle in a metal shop is understanding blueprints.The other part is reading the client’s mind—what hasn’t he or she thought of yet? It becomes a game of thinking ahead in order to be efficient and to avoid mistakes. These same rules apply within the design world, the industry and in the art world. Currently, in the metal shop where I work, there are two main welders—Martin, a creative problem solver in his late 40s with a wife and four children and myself, a soon-to-be bride with two art degrees.
There are differences between how he welds and how I weld. It is apparent in the way we construct tables. Even though we work from the same blueprints, I can still see a difference in the way he builds a table versus how I do. It starts with the welds and the alignment of the beads—the stitched melted metal droplets that create the connection between two pieces of metal. My beads have a ladylike bubbly elegance while his are more rigid. We both build one-of-a-kind tables—every weld is inspected, every piece of metal has been touched and polished and every table earns its own personality. My tables emerge from my own personality and style—curvy and sturdy.
Women in the Industry I’m in a unique position working at my particular shop. I stand alongside fellow artists, designers and creative people who have a natural DIY-sense with projects. It isn’t a largescale industrial shop; it’s 800 square feet that can comfortably fit two or three metalworkers. Compared to the industrial history of Chicago, we would be considered a small artist shop. The only interaction I face with industry guys is when they visit our shop. They see me and are amazed a female metalworker exists. My experience in the industry is not the same as other female metalworkers’ experiences, which vary from shop to shop. Nor is it the same as the original Rosie the Riveters: the millions of women who entered the factories, ammunition plants, and shipyards during World War II. The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter was part of a campaign developed by advertising agencies and the United States government that encouraged women to assist in war efforts. On March 31, 2014, the original “Rosie the Riveters” finally received recognition for their service as welders and electricians during WWII. Six women, some in their nineties, met with Vice President Biden and President Obama at the White House. The real life Rosies were America’s trailblazers, showing determination, empowerment and strength during one of America’s toughest wars. Phyllis Gould, now 92, wrote letters to every president since Clinton. “Women were being ignored. We were on the home front and that war wouldn’t have been won without us,” stated Gould in an ABC News video. “All the military had monuments and recognition and we didn’t get any and we’re not going to be around that much longer and in the schools they’re not even teaching about WWII, so if anybody’s going to remember us, I wanted to be a big bang here — and we’re having it.”
46 As men departed overseas for the war, twenty million brave women stepped up to the challenge of becoming a welder or an electrician. “Seeing these women, working in a factory, doing anything a man can do, it began to change everything,” said Vice President Joe Biden in an ABC News video. Leah Rambo isn’t an original Rosie from WWII but she’s been a sheet metal worker since 1988. She runs the apprenticeship program in New York for Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Air and Rail Transportation Union and is now one of the highest-ranking women in the U.S. labor movement. “If you promote trades work to women and they see other women doing the jobs, a lot will want in,” she said in October 2012 to Truth-out.org, a non-profit news organization. “The bigger challenge is improving the conditions so they stay in the field. Most women experience discrimination or harassment. As a matter of fact, when you are a woman, nobody—not the bosses and not your co-workers—sees your color. Your gender is much more important than your ethnicity or race. The sexism is not as bad as it was, but it is always an issue. Women are still hit on, still don’t get the same promotion opportunities and still get laid off more frequently than men.” Within the industry, more is expected of women. “Women have to be much better at what they do than men. They can’t be average,” stated Rambo on Truth-out.org. “In addition, they have to figure out how to do the job while dealing with the male ego. If you come across as not taking any crap, the men tend to become threatened. On the other hand, if you take their crap, it gets worse and worse. Each woman needs to find a way to tell the men that she’s there to work and support herself, that she’s on the job for the same reasons they are.”
“You’re A Lady Metalworker, So You Must Design and Make Jewelry.” This is a standard assumption from anyone unfamiliar with metalworking. Lady metalsmiths solder jewelry and lady metalworkers weld furniture, railings, sculptures and anything too heavy to physically wear. Metalsmithing was my gateway into welding because it allowed me to experience metal on a small scale and understand its boundaries of pliability and strength. In the most basic sense, welding and soldering fuse two pieces of metal. The functional output and type of metal determines if I’ll weld or solder. A metal table would never be soldered together because more heat is required for thicker pieces of metal to be glued
47 together. The same technical method is applied to a large metal sculpture. Richard Serra could have never soldered together his gigantic metal sculptures because the practice of soldering is limited to less structural bonds. The size of material matters, the thickness of metal matters, and the structural output matters because each determines what method of fusing, welding or soldering, will be used.
Contemporary Environments for Female Metalworkers There are three environments that contemporary female metalworkers find themselves in: industry, art and design. In industrial welding, women are the minority. My generation of female metalworkers have struggled less than the ones who came before us. It is is because of those pioneers that I am able to learn how to weld or cast metal. Today it’s easier for women to learn the trade of welding, whether it’s for the purpose of making art or for working in the industry. Art and designs schools such as SAIC, Alfred University and Rhode Island School of Design have more equality in metal shops because gender inequality is not tolerated. Learning how to weld in an art school is a safe zone because equality exists between men and women. In the 1960s artist Richard Serra created large heavy metal sculptures that showcased testosterone and masculinity. He’s also the same artist who hurled molten lead at the corners of an interior space. During Serra’s reign, female sculptors working with metal were not as well known or highly praised. I’ve always been at this weird intersection of art, industry and design. I have formal training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I learned how to be a conceptual artist. At the metal shop, I make industrial design furniture, but I’m not criticized because I work alongside other artists and craftsmen who aren’t surprised I can weld. Among all this, I still am asked: “You can weld?”to which I respond: “Yes I can and I can also write—welding and writing—I only practice professions that start with W.”
Part 4: Welcome to the Manual Section
Following is some real life advice from one woman to another who is considering the path of metalworking, but is afraid to, due to the intimidation factor. This manual will prepare her for a journey and adventure into a challenging profession both mentally and physically. There are benefits and rewards to being a female metalworker, which include gaining courage and strength.
DUTIES The contents of this section discuss character-building skills which are vital to all female metalworkers and artists.
Be Womanly Post-WWII, no one wanted women in factories anymore because the men were home from war and needed jobs. The social mindset was created that women were more necessary in the home, doing domesticated chores that either clean or accessorize the home. Everyone loves a sweet woman who has a gentle, calming and motherly touch, which can soothe those in pain. When a woman is in a historically male-dominated role like welding, she should not imitate a man. Lady welders in the 21st century have decided they don’t need to wait for war to break out to be useful in factories. They become heroines by forging their own paths and learning skilled trades. Being womanly doesn’t mean being weak; it comes with the advantage of women being brave and gaining admiration for their courage.
Be Strong To carry out the duties of a lady welder, she must be healthy and strong. This requires substantial water and some exercise. She mustn’t lounge in bed too long because her work is demanding at the metal shop. Evening showers or baths are necessary after a long day grinding or polishing a metal sculpture. Learn to wear a dust mask to avoid small particles of metal dust in your lungs. A lady welder is taught to be tough by essence of the material she is working with—metal is heavy and grimy when it arrives from the metal shipping yard.
Be Handy Be multifaceted. Know how to do many things that are useful. Do them in the most efficient way possible. Understand your tools and how they work and how they feel in your hands. Every time you use the welding machine, you develop a closer relationship with its idiosyncrasies and quirks.
Be Observant Learn how to distinguish one metal from another. Memorize the gauge of metal by looking at it rather than using a tool to tell you its millimeter thickness. Try to see everything.
Â 50 Â Consider it a disgrace if you build a table without checking its dimensions on the blueprints. Cultivate the habit of looking at the small details and the fine print to avoid getting hurt or losing money. Notice the pace of how you work and how long it takes to develop relationships with tools.
Helping Others A lady welder cannot find a finer example of working together with other lady welders than at an iron pour. If you find you have forgotten how to be part of a community, attend an event to melt iron in a furnace. Many people are required for a successful melting of metal into cast metal art sculptures. If the opportunity arises at a pour, help someone who is overburdened and exhausted from standing near a hot furnace with 2700-degree molten iron inside. Give that person some water or invite them to sit down while you pick up the job. Any little thing of this sort will count, but nothing must be accepted in return except a thank you.
Patriotism and Globalism We live in the great United States of America but in the 21st Century and with the age of the Internet, we are more connected to all parts of the world now than we ever were before. Our interests are global and also local. We are all twigs of the same branch and of the same tree. A lady welder is less concerned with her gender and more with finding equality among all human beings. You are connected to your small art community or industrial metal shop, but also to the great powers of the world. Seize the opportunity for enlightenment and for working with artists from other countries.
HEALTH AND BODY
All metalworkers should practice good hygiene because a metal shop is a dirty environment. This is some practical advice for women who might wonder how to maintain their feminine practices in a nontraditional feminine space. MAKEUP What makeup? Wear moisturizer to protect your skin from immediately absorbing toxic particles in the metal shop. To avoid sunburn on outdoor breaks, wear a moisturizer with SPF 15. It will protect you from the sun but not from the harmful light emitted while welding. FINGERNAILS Keep them clean. Every night, use a small bristled brush and soap to scrub the trapped dirt under fingernails. It should not matter if you plan to use your hands the next day, it is a supreme requisite for your health that all dirt is removed. The length of the nails should be comfortably short because your trade requires the use of your hands. Avoid getting fake nails because they will fall off and cause exasperation in trying to keep them attached.
NAIL POLISH Nail polish never lies. It shows how much you use/don’t use your hands in your trade. Choosing a color depends on the individual’s taste. Deep blood red is recognized as sexy— an old Hollywood glam appeal in the ‘40s and Cleopatra’s preferred choice. From a ladies’ magazine point of view, fashion trends change each season, and the color red is not always the most popular. Sometimes blue or green are more desired options. Black never escapes as the trademark color of Gothic and punk fashion. The nail polish color isn’t a matter of mature consideration but it is best to know the history of colors because that can be a way to express your attitude. For example, if you feel rebellious, wear black for it is an empowering color. It signifies “the other” or a creative outsider among the traditional mainstream boundaries. One who believes in creating progress wears black nail polish. I know a female metalworker who works in a metal fabrication shop during the day and bartends at night. Part of her regimen is having nice looking nails. She expresses herself through the designs on her nails, also known as nail art. When we first met, her nails were painted colors of the Chicago flag—light blue, white and red—and each nail had tiny stars corresponding with the six-pointed stars on the Chicago flag. We must praise the nail artist who painted delicate designs onto the nail bed, one of the smallest wearable canvases. HAIR Buy a bandana and forget about your hair. It’s going to become filthy from all the metal dust that fills the shop, so do not spend your workday fixing your hair in the bathroom. Take a shower and wash it when you return home. When there’s work to be done in a metal shop and furniture to be built, appearance loses its priority. THE NOSE Breathing through the nose helps to eliminate many harmful particles and germs of disease from entering your body. By avoiding using your mouth to breathe, you can avoid getting thirsty while doing manual labor. Remember: in through the nose and out through the mouth.
A woman must be able to hear well. With the ears being very delicate, it’s important to wear ear protection in the shop. Tools emit a lot of noise and ear plugs or headphones are to be worn. People are less prone to worry about caring for such a sensitive organ at a young age, but they could regret their actions later in life when they can no longer hear. THE EYES Eyesight is everything in a metal shop—and a woman must be able to see her work up close and from far away. The strain of eyes is a common problem when working in a dark shop. Frequent breaks outside in the sunshine, with something to view at a far distance, helps to relax the eyes. You must also practice wearing eye protection. I once had a shop instructor tell me that our eyes are as soft as cream cheese. So can you imagine how difficult it is to remove a sharp shard of metal from a pile of soft cream cheese? The thought makes me cringe so much that I never forget safety glasses. If in fact a piece of metal arrives in your eye, locate it in a mirror, use a small magnet to extract it, followed by a few eye drops. TEETH Bad teeth are as problematic as bad breath. Stressful days lead to drinking too much coffee, resulting in coffee breath when talking with clients. To avoid this, always brush and floss your teeth everyday. I keep a small dental care bag in my locker that includes a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste and mouthwash. You never know when a workday will last until midnight, so it’s best to be prepared to keep a clean mouth. SKIN All skin should be covered when welding. When your skin turns red after a long day of welding, it will not turn into a tan because it’s a serious burn from the light emitted from a welding spark. This burn will cause sleepless nights and irritable pain. It’s red and then gone. Protect your skin from premature aging and possible skin cancer when welding.
CLOTHES There is no required uniform to work in a metal shop, but common sense is required when dressing. Don’t wear open-toed shoes or high heels. Avoid anything flammable. Wear cotton clothes only—all it takes is one stray spark to catch your nylon shirt on fire. You’ll never forget the first time you caught on fire while hoping no one else noticed.
1 Bandana 1 Welding Helmet 1 Pair of Work Gloves 1 Pair of Safety Glasses 1 Welding Jacket 1 Pair of Ear Plugs 1 Pair of Steel-toed boots 1 Pair of MIG Welding Gloves 1 Pair of TIG Welding Gloves 1 Replacement Pair of Work Gloves
NEEDLEWORK When your nylon shirt catches on fire, it’s good to know how to sew. It saves you time and money and prevents you from visiting a local seamstress. Your stitching skills do not need to be perfect, just functional. Cut a piece of thread and tie a knot at one end and thread the other end through the needle eye. Move the needle in an out of the fabric bordering the rip. Basic needlework is a good skill to learn. ENDURANCE It’s possible for any woman, no matter how weak and feeble she is, to become strong and healthy. Every morning, stretch your wrists, arms, ankles, legs and forearms. This only takes about five or ten minutes and doesn’t require any equipment. Drink a cup of coffee and eat protein in your breakfast. A good day’s work depends on how well you spend your morning in preparation for the hard work. Every evening, take a shower with Lava soap and a sponge to properly remove all the dirt that is embedded in your pores. The more suds you create, the better the wash. Slowly stretch your muscles before bed, clean your teeth and cleanse your face. To carry out her duties, a lady welder must be healthy. SELF DISCIPLINE All female and male metalworkers should be courteous to each other. Help someone or do something nice for someone but do not take a reward for it. Being considerate in a metal shop is one of the greatest assets of an efficient shop. Present yourself with good manners so as to be a good example for others.
It is easy to form bad habits, hard to form good ones, hard to keep good ones, and hard to drop bad ones. Many times habits such as drinking or smoking are picked up in a shop as a way to fit in with others. It is not suitable to imitate the men because it can ruin your own personal happiness. Bad habits create lasting harm so when in doubt, choose to respect your mind and body. HUMILITY Don’t parade and don’t ever think about parading yourself. Duty comes first and reward comes later by way of being productive. Being humble is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of respect for yourself and others. JUGGLING Every woman is asked to be good at juggling. I am not speaking about the style of juggling performed by a circus clown who tosses flaming bowling pins around. Juggling is the equivalent to multitasking and time management. Don’t imagine that that this skill ever becomes easier. Wherever you go you will have the choice to sink or swim and knowing how to juggle will give you more courage to tackle any project.
WORKSTATION It is advisable that women should have some place of their own at which to place their tools. The area doesn’t have to be large. It should be easily accessible from the welding table. If you own your own metal shop, you have more options for choosing a proper location. The area you choose will house your most essential items: gloves, helmet, leather jacket, leather apron, tape measure, water bottle and safety glasses. If lockers are available, claim one to keep smaller items protected such as a wallet, chapstick, snacks and clean spare clothes. Every evening after your job is complete, clean up your workstation and put away the tools so that they are easy to find the next day. A workstation that is nicely organized creates more efficiency. This is not always an easy operation to stay organized, but be sure to make this an important task for your job. Perhaps you have noticed I have said nothing about marking your tools. Now it is really a very rare thing for me to address, but you have to be careful about who uses your tools and how you will find them among all the tools in the shop when they are not put back in your organized workstation. You’ll be in much better shape if you paint your tools a bright color like safety orange or neon pink because you will be able to see them in the dirty shop. Many women have found it most essential to use neon pink—its bright color and female-gender association means a male coworker will never use your tools. Every so often, you may find yourself having to remark your tools so that others know they are yours. A quick touchup coat of paint will do the trick. Never leave tools outside overnight especially after rainy weather. After a good rain, the tools will rust and the following day will be wasted in fixing your tools to make them work properly.
Keep your camp clean and keep it in order. Unless there is some emergency that calls you away before you can clean up your workstation at the end of the day, it should be well maintained. Let your motto be “clean as you go,” because it is a bad experience to hunt for something you need. You will find yourself exasperated before the job begins.
TRANSLATION A drawing or a blueprint is necessary for any job, be it building a table, a sculpture or a staircase for a house. Drawings have measurements, needed materials and act as a basic layout so you can focus on making the perfect translation between a two-dimensional plan to a three-dimensional object. This translation process is where the right and left sides of your brain work together
TOOLS AS EXTENSIONS Tools become extensions of your body. At first it can be awkward to use a new tool, so you must develop a relationship with that tool. Spend time with it, learn its quirks and let it learn yours. Don’t be afraid of the danger that is associated with using larger machinery. You should still be slightly intimidated. A slight fear will keep your attention and help you avoid accidents or any physical harm.
INSTALLATION When you are required to assemble furniture onsite such as a railing or stairs, have a list made out of the things you need to bring to the job site. It may be best to check with your team members so as to not forget anything. There is nothing worse than having to travel back to the metal shop or to a hardware store if something was forgotten. You lose efficiency and possibly money when extra trips are made. But even in this case, each team member is responsible for helping out the entire installation job. If a tool, even as small as a screwdriver, is not on the required list, bring it. You may need it because each job site has different needs to meet.
The “Attention, I’m Welding” Signal
A lady welder is an important asset to the 21st Century. She breaks the tradition of gender stereotypes in the workplace and paves the way for women seeking confidence and independence in daily encounters. The percentage of female metalworkers in the art world, industry and design communities is still quite small, but with proper support and encouragement, that number can grow. This handbook is designed to showcase the reality of contemporary female metalworkers through our personal stories and reflections on the profession. While some people blindside us with demeaning comments and others treat us a like exotic animals, we continue on our own journey, more empowered each day. We have a respect for metal of all shapes and sizes and for the fire we use to bend, form and weld that metal. It’s a challenging medium and the profession is equally exhausting, both mentally and physically. But we always return to metal—the raw substance that stimulates our creativity. We always stand in awe and admiration of the products we can build using our hands. Whether we are admiring the family dining table we brought to life from a twodimensional drawing or a public sculpture, lady welders are confident human beings who know they deserve that strong glass of whiskey at the end of a workday.