Welder/Cutter  What They Do

Just the Facts

Welders, Cutters, and Welder Fitters Career Video

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dotWelders join pieces of metal by applying extreme heat to melt the edges or surfaces of the metal.

This process creates a permanent joint, increasing the strength and improving the appearance of metal products. Welding allows us to have sleek modern cars -- they couldn't have been put together using rivets.

dotWhat kinds of people are well suited for a career in welding?

"People who are a little mechanically inclined and who like to build," says Kim Buchan. He has been a welder for more than 30 years.

"Just like a carpenter, if you like to build things, and you like to build them in metal, then you'd be very interested in [welding]," says Buchan.

dotThere are many different kinds of welds, but most use what is called a "filler rod." This is a rod of metal that is melted to fuse two pieces of metal.

Arc welding is a type of welding that uses a filler rod. Arc welding uses a machine to supply electricity, and an electric arc is formed between the object being welded and the filler rod. The edges of the object are melted and the filler rod supplies extra metal for the bead. The bead is the raised portion formed by the added metal from the filler rod.

In contrast, oxyacetylene welding is a type of welding in which the metals are joined together by heating their edges with a flame. The flame melts the metal and the pieces are joined.

dotWelders have to cut and weld all types of metals, such as aluminum and steel. They work on all kinds of objects, including high-pressure pipes, construction machinery and submarines.

"Nowadays, especially with so many exotic metals, there's so much you need to know, because each metal will have a particular welding process," says Buchan. "So you're reading constantly to keep up to date with that stuff."

Welders use different methods to fuse metal together. They also know how to finish a weld. The edges are ground off a weld because the bead can be sharp or jagged. The weld is often painted with a primer coat to protect the metal.

dotWelders can work at mines, industrial sites, construction sites, small or large mechanic shops, shipyards, logging camps and many other locations. Welders work anywhere that metal is used to construct products or where metal objects need to be repaired. Those who are trained in welding can later do other types of jobs as well.

"There are so many opportunities to veer from the welding," says Buchan. He's the coordinator of a welding program at a college.

"A lot of welders that leave here, they may not end up going into a welding career totally -- it's given them a stepping stone to go to heavy duty mechanic or millwright or pipe fitter, because they all require some form of welding.

"Every trade needs welding at some point," Buchan adds. "If you look in the papers, when they're advertising for a heavy duty mechanic or a millwright, many times it says welding would be an asset."

Bill Komlos agrees. He started his career as a welder and is now a welding inspector with a US Patent to improve the performance of welds.

"You don't get stuck in any one position in being a welder," says Komlos. He says you could start your own welding business. You could get into welding equipment sales. You could become a welding educator.

"Just because you learn how to weld does not mean you're just going to be a 'Sweaty Eddie' with a hood on all day," says Komlos. "That's just the beginning. Welding is not a closed-end, drudgery kind of job."

dotShop welders usually work a five-day week, often starting at 8 a.m. and working through to 4 or 5 p.m. If there is extra work, they may have to come in on weekends. Many of those working in production companies do shift work.

The industry can be seasonal. Welders are busy in the summer months when roads are being constructed and houses are being built. The work can slow to a trickle during winter months.

dotThe vast majority of welders are male. But more women are starting to enter the field. "I'd say it's changing quite a bit because my class in particular is half girls and half guys," says Melissa Gosse. She's a second-year welding engineering technician student.

"[A] non-traditional job is something that more women are interested in these days, instead of just a typical job."

dotIt's a tough job. Welding shops are usually dirty, hot and smoky. Welders have to lift heavy objects and climb around large machinery. And they often suffer from burns.

"In general, you have to wear protective clothing, so that means I've got to wear one and two and three layers, and a helmet, and a hood, safety glasses, and I've got a 3,500-degree arc in front of me... and I'm wearing gloves," says Steve Mattson. He's a district director for the American Welding Society and the owner of a welding repair service.

"Now the problem is, it's not 25 degrees everywhere I go in this country," Mattson adds. "The problem is, I'm welding in the boiler house (for example). That boiler house is 85 to 90 to 100 degrees. So, it is demanding -- extremely demanding. It takes a driven individual to want to do that."

"There are not enough welders and other [skilled laborers] out there to actually do the work that engineers and the country needs to have done," says Bill Komlos. He's a district director for the American Welding Society. He's also a welding inspector.

"There'll be a shortage of more than 450,000 welders and welding related personnel in the next 10 years," says Komlos. "We're at a crisis. We've been talking about this crisis in welding now for 15 years. It finally hit the U.S. about five years ago, when the country was really humming along. You couldn't find welders to do the jobs. All the shops had signs out -- 'Welders Wanted.'"

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Cut and weld all types of metals

  • You could work on high-pressure pipes, construction machinery and submarines
  • Be prepared to lift heavy objects and climb around large machinery
  • Courses are offered at trade schools and community colleges