What is Metal Working?

Welding is an industrial process that has been in common use for a little more than 100 years. Welding is dependent on an established electrical grid for its power source, so the two grew up side by side. In an incredibly short time, welding and metal work in general have come to dominate our material lives. We are surrounded by steel sheet metal of the type I use to make my Artwork. All of your kitchen appliances, your washer and dryer, the family automobile, are made from sheet metal. 

metal working welding

Carbon Steel is the basic building block of the metals industry. It is the molten material poured from the giant crucibles with no additional alloys or hardening procedures involved. Steel is separated from iron by a fractional amount of carbon that allows steel the incredible tensile strength that makes it so useful for building our civilization. I use sheet metal in 20ga, which is about the thickness of the older model cars, like your father’s Buick from the 50’s and 60’s. Sheet metal has a remarkable property of having a slippery cellular structure that allows it to be hammered into compound curves without fracturing. In addition, most metals can be joined by heat alone unlike wood or ceramic or fabric that requires an adhesive or mechanical fastener. 

1950s car

Most industrial processes use large presses to pound the metal into the desired shape in one shot. The machine is set up to produce many parts per hour. My work is closer to medieval craftsmanship that requires a hammer to mold the metal into the desired shape over a period of time. The skill involved is knowing where, in what sequence and how hard to strike the metal. In that sense, nothing has changed since the 12th century when armored knights were covered head to foot in chainmail and steel plate. The English long bow changed all that, but that is another story.

knights in chain mail

I am able to use some modern tools and a lot of older techniques to make unique Artworks that are very light and strong, and last for generations.

Old Time Metal Working

I recently finished some Artwork for a restaurant chain here in Houston. I made a giant Crab which is 50″ across the Claws. I used Christmas tree lights to make the eyes light up. The eyes themselves are made from the necks of blue bottle with large marbles glued into the tops so that they resemble the eye stalks that crabs have. I delivered the work to the loading dock at the company warehouse and a crowd assembled as we brought it up to the freight area. Everyone wanted to know how it was made and where I learned to do that. I reflected on how quickly such skills leave our culture, and how I, as a practicing craftsman, am becoming an endangered species.

metal fish artwork by john barberHand-hammered metal working is becoming a novelty in this part of the world. I was introduced to the craft when I was in college, working towards a degree in Art. Oddly enough, I didn’t learn it at school. I was working at a plant that made X-Ray equipment for hospitals. One of my co-workers was a Brazilian immigrant named Marcello. He was about 12 years older than I was, but I was a college kid in a sea of rednecks so we were the odd men out and we frequently ate lunch together. Marcello enjoyed talking about his neighborhood in São Paulo. Down there, all of the tradesmen lived in the same area, the plumbers in one neighborhood, the electricians in another and so on. Marcello’s people were in the auto body trade, working as sheet metal mechanics. They worked on cars and all the work was done by hand using hammers, steel dollies and shot bags. They didn’t use hydraulic machines or electric tools at all. For drilling holes, they used a bit and brace.

Marcello grew up with the trade and learned at his father’s knee. I would go to Marcello’s house sometimes on the weekends and he would show me how to form sheet metal. He took in a bit of auto repair work on the side. It was fascinating to watch him work out a dent or a crease in a fender, just by hitting the metal in a certain pattern. I learned that a steel sheet has a memory, and if you reverse the force which caused the dent, you can smooth the sheet back out to the shape it was in originally. He also showed me how to form a compound curve in a piece of 20-gauge flat sheet, which seemed like magic to me.

Cleaning dinosaurs at HMNS

I eventually finished school and moved to Houston and lost touch with Marcello. But through all the years that I worked in museums, that knowledge lay dormant. When I started making my Wildlife artwork, it was as if all that knowledge came flooding back to me. I realized that the things Marcello had taught me were the foundation of all the work I was making now. If I had not been exposed to the handwork traditions of the Brazilian auto body mechanics, I never would have prevailed in the craft of metal forming. Marcello was proud of his craft and the generations of family tradition that it represented. His knowledge was not of much use in America except to a young art student that he had befriended. Here was a technique that I picked up entirely outside the scope of my formal “schooling” and it became the basis for the art I practice today.

I feel deeply that these handwork traditions should be preserved for the generations to come. I realize that if you want to be an artist in the fast-paced culture that is 21st-Century America, then you are obligated to go through the education component as well as making the art. This is why I teach Basic Welding and demonstrate my hammering technique at the Galveston Art Walk at the Arts on Mechanic Gallery that carries my work. Passing this knowledge along is a pleasure as well as an obligation.

Welding Classes Available

 welding class with john barber

Basic Welding Class Description

I teach a class called Basic Welding for Beginners. I taught this class through Leisure Learning Unlimited for 20 years. I am now teaching the class under my own name at my Studio near Garden Oaks in Houston’s near north side.

This class is designed to introduce entry level people to the types of welding and cutting available to the Artist, Hobbyist, Homeowner and Do it Yourself-ers using equipment that runs on household electricity. This course is not intended for industrial welding or for qualifying for a welding job. 

My welding class presents the student with a hands-on opportunity to experience the latest equipment in light welding applications. We will cover MIG welding, also known as wirefeed welding, both solid wire and flux core. We will do some cutting of steel plate with a plasma cutter, and do just a bit of ARC welding

welding class with john barber

All this takes place in one afternoon from Noon to 5pm on the 2nd Saturday of each month. I limit the class size to seven so that everyone has ample time to preform each of the exercises. Experience has shown me that a person can look at all the books and videos they care to, but in the case of welding, there is no substitute for a hands on experience in a safe controlled work environment with an experienced instructor at your elbow. 

As a teacher, I try to cut through a lot of the technical jargon that can be confusing and present this material in plain language that can be easily understood by the beginning student. This class is also good as a refresher course for those who may have had some exposure to welding years ago and want to get up to speed on the latest machines and techniques. We will spend some time with industry catalogs to show you a range of eqiupment from the least expensive hobby welders up to light industrial machines. There is something for everyone’s budget.

We’ve tried to answer common questions in our FAQ page. Please take a look.

These classes fill quickly, so if you’re interested, sign up here! 

Project Welding Class Description

project welding class series

I teach a Project Welding class in the same Studio as the Basic Welding class. The purpose of the Project class is to put into practice the skills you have acquired in the Basic Class. We meet for four sessions over the course of two weeks, Tuesday and Thursday and the following Tuesday and Thursday from 7pm to 9pm.

I only have four students in the class so that I can spend more time with you individually. 

In the Project class we make one of my fish. I have twelve patterns from which to choose. We plasma cut the silhouette, hammer it into shape on the shot bag, weld the fins and the hanger bracket on and on the last evening we paint the fish in tropical colors. 

I have been teaching this class for 12 years and everyone goes home with a finished Artwork! Our primary material is 20ga. steel sheet metal. A very common but very versatile material that is available and not expensive.

The purpose of this directed class is to help you build a skill set so that you have a foundation to pursue future projects. Taking the Basic Welding Class first is a big help but not a necessity. The next dates for this class is:

February Class: Tuesdays & Thursdays Feb.14&16, and 21&23

April Class: Tuesdays & Thursdays April 4&6, and 11&13

Welding for Women Class Description

welding class for women

I also offer a Basic Welding for Women class once or twice a year. This is the same class as the Basic Welding, but only women are invited to attend. If you are interested in this class, please contact me.

Private Lessons

I will teach private classes to adults, as time permits.  I prefer that you have taken the Basic Welding Class for Beginners first, so there’s a natural progression.  Contact me at 713.557.7960 if you are interested in a private lesson.

Click here to see the 2017 Calendar of Classes

Have more questions? See our FAQ.

Ready to sign-up? Register here.

In addition to teaching my basic welding classes here in Houston, I have been asked to teach some workshops for the Society of American Mosaic Artists. They are havering their annual convention in Houston this year and they asked if I would teach some classes on how to make Mounts, Hangers and armatures for mosaic Artwork. I made many armatures over the years in the museum exhibit business and I believe that I can present some eye opening material to these folks. The problem in hanging mosaic work is that it is so heavy. Mosaic is primarily glass, stone and cement. Can’t get much heavier than that. Also, because of its rigidity, mosaic work cannot flex as a rule. Steel is the ideal material for making hangers. With today’s modern welding equipment anyone can create beautiful, strong support structures in their own garage.

“Life Under the Roof of the Ocean” opens November 8

A showing of my new work entitled “Life Under the Roof of the Ocean” opens November 8 and runs through November 29.   The show will be held in Christ Church Cathedral’s Cloister Gallery at 1117 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston.  (Street parking around the church, or there’s a church parking lot across the street.)

I will have a ‘school’ of new fish on display just in time for holiday gifting.  I will be there for the opening reception if you want first dibs on a piece.

Opening reception is Friday, November 8 from 6:00PM – 8:00PM

The show will run through November 29.   The Cloister Gallery is open during working hours of the Cathedral’s gift shop.  Treebeard’s restaurant is also in the Gallery and has a booming lunch crowd for its tasty southern cuisine.

 

John Barber’s upcoming welding classes

Upcoming welding classes in Houston, Texas scheduled for Fall, 2013

I’m back from my own welding class with Lincoln Welding in Cleveland, Ohio.  And, yes, I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while there.  So I have new stories to tell in my classes, but you need to sign up first.  So here’s the classes I offer through Leisure Learning:

www.llu.com

Basic Welding for Beginners – 1 Saturday, Noon – 5PM (listed under the Home Improvements tab).  This class is for anyone wanting to learn to weld, be it for basic repair of any kind, fence work, auto restoration, or creating works of art. 

August 10, August 24, September 7, September 21, October 12, October 26

Basic Welding for Women – 1 Saturday, Noon – 5PM (listed under the Home Improvements tab)

September 28

Art Welding: Create Your Own Metal Fish Artwork – 2 Tues and 2 Thurs, 7PM-9PM (listed under the Arts & Crafts tab).  This is a project class in which you complete a fish sculpture.

September 10, 24, 17, 19 or October 8, 10, 15, 17

All these classes fill quickly, so if you don’t want to get stuck on a waiting list, sign up ASAP.  I look forward to seeing you.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to John Barber Studios

Welcome to John Barber’s metal fish sculptures.  Each is individually handcrafted from cold-rolled steel – cut, hammered and welded into a 3-dimensional piece.  I have so many projects and classes going on I wanted to keep you updated as soon as they occur.  Next week I will be attending a class at Lincoln Welding for teachers.  I hope to come back with a great deal more knowledge about teaching the finer points of welding, especially for my students interested in art welding.  Take a look at the fish in my gallery and let me know how I can help you.