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Start with Scrap

“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.”

T. S. Eliot

Our company trains everyone to fabricate, even though only those especially skilled focus on fabrication. That training starts with the owner giving the basics of MiG welding, explaining wire speed and the heat created by the arc, how too much heat causes welds to be weaker or compromised but too little heat doesn’t penetrate the metals. Then the trainee starts with a few basic techniques like laying tacks and beads on flat bar so that he can see how the heat manipulates the metal. But after practice on flat bar, the trainee goes to the scrap pile. From the scrap, he’s supposed to make something of his own design. The reason for this is because he needs to practice not welding but fabricating. His time will not be spent sitting at an assembly line laying the same bead over and over; instead, he will flip the project and kneel under it and twist his wrist and contort his neck for the right angle. He needs to learn how the metal distorts itself when heavy heat is applied with beads, how important the shield gas is, and how fast (or slow) his hand needs to move with the wire speed.

I went through this training. The week before I started training, we had done a job where we cut and delivered 10,000 pounds of rebar; suffice it to say, the scrap pile was left over rebar. I wanted to make my project out of the rebar, and so I perused the internet to see what others were doing, and I drew up a draft and then another and then another because the first two wouldn’t work. I made a cut list then my cuts. I started laying out the hefty rebar, planning in my mind the order of operations. As I tacked pieces together, I saw how the pieces contorted and twisted, being pulled toward the tack, which threw off my angle. The more pieces I tacked, the harder it became to turn the project over and get the right angle because of its heftiness; my order of operations was wrong. The tacked components were too flimsy; my heat wasn’t high enough. With cranked heat and components clamped together, I laid the last few heavy beads, and my project was complete.

I made a raised fireplace that sat on a fire-pit (rust ate the original bowl). The point is this: create from scrap. Scrap is worthless when alone, but when it comes together with other pieces, then that scrap turns into a project worth more than the sum of its parts. Create from scrap not only because of reduce, re-use, recycle, but create from scrap because it fosters something in the employees, an ability or a sense of the process and the product. Working from scrap requires entrepreneurial creativity because of the strict parameters of scrap. It takes imaginative problem solving. That’s why everyone starts here because we are trying to inculcate this creative spirit in everyone, so that everyone contributes and can see what a quality product is and isn’t.

Work with the scrap because that’s often all the resources small businesses have. But some of the greatest projects (unlike this one) come from the strict parameters of scrap. This is entrepreneurial energy.

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