Getting creative with metal: PM tackles a welding design course

  • If my novice welds had been neater I wouldn't have had to rely on the angel grinder to clean my work up so much.
  • Ngulube and I discuss design options while checking out some of the rusty metal components he sourced from a scrapyard
  • The finished, quirky fruit of my labours.
  • Tool Share Studio’s Megan Kirchhoff has a blast using an angle grinder for the first time
  • Kirchhoff proudly shows off her welded creation
  • My welding guru, Gauteng-based artist and sculptor Nkosinathi Thomas Ngulube, holds everything steady and provides much-needed advice while I attempt my first tentative welds
  • Tool Share Studio’s resident carpentry expert, Paul Mackenzie, cleans up some scrap wood before building a table
  • Giving my finished piece a good polish with a steel brush.
  • The only way to check the integrity of one’s weld is to chip off the flux and see what lies underneath. Once that’s done, you give everything a good bash with a hammer to see if the weld holds
  • Welding might not be rocket science, but to get it right requires plenty of practice
Date:21 August 2013 Tags:, , , ,

Under the tutelage of internationally renowned South African artist and sculptor Nkosinathi Thomas Ngulube, Sean Woods liberates his inner metalworker

Confession time: I’d rather watch paint dry than have anything to do with metalwork. Give me carpentry any day.

My aversion to metal as a creative medium goes back to my first year in high school, when my industrial arts teacher plonked a block of the stuff on my workbench, handed me a file and muttered, “Get cracking”. That was me, finished. Presented with subject options at the end of my second year, I dropped it so fast, you’d swear it was molten.

And yet… when Tool Share Studio’s Megan Kirchhoff contacted PM to talk about this enterprising co-operative venture’s sharing of skills, tools and facilities, my curiosity went into overdrive. Could this be an opportunity to pick up a new skill and kill a personal bias, I wondered?

Be a maker, not a user
The aim, says Kirchhoff, is to turn people into makers rather than just consumers. To help make this happen, they provide the space, tools and hands-on expertise.

“People who don’t have workshops at home, but want to build their own projects, can book a bench and use all the tools that go with it. This includes speciality items such as radial arm saws, drill presses, planers, table saws and routers.”

Storage facilities are provided to accommodate projects safely between work sessions, so you don’t have to squeeze your incomplete handiwork between your kids’ bikes and your car.

“There’s always an expert available to help get you out of tricky spots.” If you run out of enthusiasm, they will even finish your project for you.

They also offer a wide range of practical courses that cater for the entire family.

First off, there are two welding avenues for you to choose from. Practical welding (basic, intermediate and advanced) involves once-off evening sessions, starting with how to join two pieces of metal, so you can build a gate or fix your burglar bars. Says Kirchhoff: “We’ve found that there are many woodworkers who want to spend one evening learning how to weld. They like to come back and hone their skills further.”

Their welding design course (the option I went for) not only teaches you the basics, but also encourages you to indulge your creative side. This one’s broken up into one two-hour session per week, spread over an eight-week period.

You get two woodwork options, basic and advanced. The basic course requires just one evening and lets you make something simple, such as a bookshelf, lamp or table that you get to take home once you’re done. The more craft-oriented advanced option lasts four weeks. It covers dovetail, biscuit, finger and mortise-and-tenon joints. You’re now at the skill level to create heirloom pieces.

The age-appropriate parent/child courses are all geared towards specific outcomes such as building a guitar, desk lamp or toy box. “We make sure the parents tackle the more dangerous tasks,” says Kirchoff. “But you’d be surprised by what the kids are capable of doing. We like them to use power tools such as drill presses and jigsaws; it gives them a huge confidence boost. What we’re trying to do here is build a culture of shared experiences.”

Discarded materials such as old wooden pallets and scrap metals feature prominently in their courses, as they want to help foster a culture of recycling. It’s all about the “circular economy”, where the waste from one business becomes a resource for the next.

All this activity to some extent masks Tool Share Studio’s core focus: its SME (small-medium enterprise) training and incubator programme. This is run along lean start-up principles: if you design a product with the market in mind and then sell it, you’re in business, Kirchhoff says. For obvious reasons, learning how to market one’s wares is a key component of the programme.

Learn through play

From the time internationally renowned local artist and sculptor Nkosinathi Thomas Ngulube – the creative brains behind the welding design course – introduced himself, it became obvious this was going to be fun.

First up was a short, good-natured safety briefing (welding is, after all, a more dangerous activity than carpentry) and a rundown on all the components. He then pointed to a pile of scrap metal on the floor, encouraging us to dive in and choose what we wanted to use while deciding what we were going to make. In Ngulube’s words: “This course is all about teaching basic welding techniques in a fun, non-threatening way while encouraging everyone to start thinking more creatively.”

Kirchhoff, who had joined in, decided to make a face sculpture on a spade for her garden. A self-employed fashion, graphic and Web designer, Stephanie Lesabe, who was there “for the personal experience”, wanted to make a candle holder.

And me? Well, as soon as I saw the rusty clutch plate, I just knew I had to make Starship Enterprise. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find all the components I needed, so I modified my plans and settled on a flying saucer. Thwarted again, it became, well, a rather odd-looking ashtray.

Once Ngulube had helped the three of us finalise our individual designs, we had a blast making a hash of things while he shuttled among us, dispensing practical advice. It didn’t take long for someone to observe that welding looks a lot easier than it is. A tickled Ngulube responded: “The secret behind mastering welding is practice, practice, practice. You have to fall in love with the medium, make sure you take all the safety precautions and approach it as an art or skill.”

Did I make mistakes? You bet. Were my welds the prettiest anyone had ever seen? Not by a long shot.

However, I had a huge amount of fun. Thanks to Ngulube’s patient instruction, I now feel confident enough to tackle small fix-it jobs should they arise in the future. More importantly, I’m now interested in improving my welding skills at every opportunity I get. At the end of the day, what more could a previously self-confessed metalphobe ask for?

Inside every enthusiastic DIYer, there’s a master craftsman. The reality is, most of us don’t have the tools – never mind the skills – to do the job the way the pros can. Created to empower workshop wannabes, the Tool Share Studio is located in Ferndale, just off Gauteng’s Concrete Highway. Details: 011-791 7790 or


Latest Issue :

Jan-February 2022