Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brown Dog Welding Interview

Not quite sure how we exactly found out about Brown Dog Welding, but maybe it found us. Seems to be the way thee ol' inner web starts to find similarities. Maybe our google query was "cool metal fabrication" or it could have been "way too talented metal workers" but we happened to find Josh over at Brown Dog Welding and have been hooked on his cool projects ever since. 

After a few emails back and forth, we asked Josh if we would be into a quick interview showcasing his work and ideas. He happily obliged, so here ya go folks, an interview with an amazing fabricator, artisan and all around good dude. 

To take a page out of QBall's vernacular, "Long may you fabricate!" Thanks again Josh, we dig your fast response, interesting approach to applied metal craft and all around creativity in what might be scrap metal to the masses. 


Where are ya from? 

I'm originally from just south of Grand Rapids, Michigan....a little town called Middleville. I'vebeen in Detroit for the last 10 years, and in between was a year and a half stint in SoCal.

What makes you stop and think "I could do that and do it better"

I remember having one of the welding instructors at Chrysler's tech center tell me that it was way too difficult to make money in art.....the time, the traveling to just wasn't worth it. That was never the route I wanted to take though.  With the internet I can reach an audience larger than the "craft" circuit will ever touch. I looked at the sites that existed for metal art, and most were pretty poorly done. Blurry pictures, generic web templates, boring descriptions, and a handful of items that were basically from a blueprint made over and over and over again. So I spent a little more money and time up front to create a better presentation. From the site to the pictures to the packaging, I wanted it to be slick.  And really the same goes for the art. There are a lot of guys out there that do scrap metal "sculpting." There aren't a lot of guys that take the time to make it look right, proportional...a polished finished product. Kinda like there are rat rod guys who build cool rides with character AND craftsmanship versus guys who use it as an excuse to be lazy and do shit work.

The Devil is in the details, holy shit talk about technique
Only TIG Welding can look this good

On the other side, you've got a bunch of "fine" artists who come up with a metal concept, think they can grab a mig gun and make it happen. I was at the DIA(Detroit Institute of Arts) two summers ago and there were several pieces that fit into this category. I can't paint, and even if I've got a brilliant idea for a painting I'm not gonna pick up a brush, it would be a mockery to the genre. But for some reason these guys think piss poor metal work isn't gonna detract from their "metal art". Welding has always been first for me. The art has always been an extension of that.

And with the welding....I showed an aptitude for it right off the bat, and just kept challenging myself to get better, more consistent, proficient in different techniques. I was surrounded by experienced guys I could learn from, and they pushed and encouraged me. I'm not a "with hard work you can do anything" kind of person. Drives me nuts, because it's such a common cliche we hear every day.  But you gotta have talent, passion, AND a work ethic. 1 or 2 out of 3, and you'll be alright. Just the work ethic, and you'll reach your potential.  Put all three together, and the sky is the limit. I'd like to think that's where I am, and I keep pushing myslf. 

How did ya get into welding or thinking that glowing hot metal is better than splinters and saw dust?

Dumb luck. Long story short, despite growing up with a dad and grandfather who were both gifted craftsmen, I had no desire to get my hands dirty. I didn't take so much as a shop class growing up. After breezing through high school, I went to college and quickly realized that wasn't for me. What I did get out of college were some great friends and my future wife, Darla. Her dad was a millwright at Chrysler, and he helped me apply there. Once I got my foot in the door I took the skilled trades test.  Shortly after that was a layoff from Mopar, then a move to SoCal, the wedding, and a move back to Michigan. I got the call to begin my millwright apprenticeship at Chrysler in the fall of 2002. At some point during the first few weeks of training at the Chrysler/UAW tech center, one of the instructors snuck us out back and fired up a generator.  He handed me a stinger with a 6010 electrode in it, and once the arc was struck I was hooked. I set myself on fire, too. Was the first time, definitely not the last.   

5 Window Coupe Engine Details
5 Window Coupe

If not working in metal, what other area do you think you could excel?

I'd pry start a cult and prey on the naivety of youth. Or maybe I'd be a concert pianist.

TIG Strings are just purdy
Cult conviction is required for all the details on these builds

How often on a job site do you get to be creative or weld your way out of a corner?

Working in prototype, every day.  

Does production work fuel your creative work? 

Nope. I don't do production work, and never have. I've got a very limited attention span, I'd never make it! My current full time gig is at General Dynamics working in their prototype shop, and I love it. Always something different.

Matchless G50 Race Bike
Alien Robot and Dog

If you didn't have any size limits or worry on shipping what kind of sculptures would you build?

I've thought about doing some large scale stuff, but that would require taking my time and planning!  I'm not much for either. Maybe one of these days...

Get tech with the readers, what is your current shop setup for welding, cutting and machining?

In my personal shop I've got a Miller DVI 2 mig machine, a Miller Dynasty 200DX for tig/stick and a Hypertherm Powermax 30 plasma cutter. I've also got a oxy/acy setup, drill press, band saw, ect.  Basic stuff as far as that goes, I don't do any machining.  The Dynasty is definitely the shop workhorse.   

Recycled Die Grinder Sculpture

Do ya think good machines are overkill with too many features or should everyone learn to gas weld at first to understand puddle flow?

As an apprentice taking the intro to welding course at Macomb CC, we did gas welding... and I really haven't done much of it since. It's cool because it's traditional, and there can be some benefits using it on chromoly and even aluminum, but tig welding really just blows it away as far as versatility, precision, and ease of operation. Learning to weld with tig as opposed to gas isn't much of a negative in my eyes.   

And the new inverter machines are super sick. I've got the 200dx at home, and at work we've got a shop full of Dynasty 350s and a 700. Maybe you don't need all the features, and personally I'm not much of a "geek" when it comes to studying the waveforms and whatnot, but a few of them are handy doing fab work you'd do in your garage. The ability to crank up the pulses per second on stainless steel really helps control warping and increases corrosion resistance. The frequency and balance adjustment in A/C can help you dial in a bead for welding aluminum, and on the 350/700 machines you can adjust it even farther for cleaning or penetration with separate wave controls.

The flip side of that is that folks (usually, but not always, beginners) often get too caught up in the settings and features. I get asked all the time "what settings are you using? What tungsten? What cup? how many amps?" if you set it all up the same, it's just gonna work like magic. In reality, it's nice to have the ability to fine tune a machine for a particular joint, position, or material, but you've still gotta have the skills to pay the bills. Half the time I sit down at a machine in the shop I don't even look at how it's set up, I just turn it on and go.  And if you've got an older transformer machine, there's nothing wrong with that either.   I learned on a monster Miller Syncrowave, and I've seen some beautiful work done with ancient Linde Heliarc machines too.

Nuts, Bolts and Bulldogs
Metal Head Elephants

Material prep and cleanliness, however, can't be overstated. Cleanliness is godliness when it comes to welding. 

If you're learning, do yourself a favor and take a community college class. Preferably one that does, at the very least, some type of destructive testing. I've pissed off a lot of self taught DIY guys in the past by saying this, but you don't know what you don't know. So much goes into make a weld strong.

What music do ya dig listenin' to in the shop?

Chopin, Rachmaninoff, or even some old school Ennio Morricone scores. They make you feel ten foot tall and bullet proof. If I listen to Tool, RATM, or Nirvana I end up losing my patience, cursing and throwing junk everywhere. Daft Punk, Justice, or Deadmau5 you can weld to...but no rap or hip hop. Totally throws my rhythm off.

Commission work of Fat Tire Bicycle
F16 Fighter Plane
1941 Flathead Indian Bobber
Scrap Metal Bike Build
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder