When something breaks on the ranch, a cowboy’s got to fix it. Cash flow and isolation often leave him no option, which is why the skill of welding is so important. An oxyacetylene torch and a plasma cutter can be your best friends, as trailers inevitably get bent out of shape, gate hangers snap off , and machinery fails.

Welding is the act of joining metal together by the use of heat, sometimes requiring the use of “filler” material to join the two pieces together. You don’t have to be a metalworking master like John Lopez of Meadow, S.D., but you do need the right tools. “My shop is a fully functional ranch metal shop,” Lopez says.

There are different types of welding tools out there, but the most common is the oxyacetylene torch which burns at about 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll also need a protective welding mask and special gloves because of the high heat and bright light created during welding. To protect yourself from showering sparks and beads of molten metal, thick long-sleeved clothing and protective leather are a good bet, too. Even then, you still have to be tough. “I still get burned sometimes,” Lopez says.

He describes the process of welding this way: First, the surface to be welded should be cleaned. A torch flame is then held against the base metal until a small puddle forms. Th e welder uses his torch to move the puddle to the desired spot of the weld, adding filler metal, in the form of wire or rod, to the puddle as he goes. When the molten metal cools, it will form a bond. If the welder does his job properly, the weld

should be even stronger than the base metal.

Your best bet for becoming a welder is practice. For that, a little schooling is in order:

Austin Community College (512-223-7000, austincc.edu) in Austin, Texas, offers a variety of metalworking classes, from basic welding skills to advanced metal sculpture. Tuition is between $600 and $1,300.

The Colorado School of Welding (720-635-7121, coloradoschoolofwelding.com) in Mead, Colo., teaches basic welding. An eight-hour class costs $250.

Cal-Trade Welding School in Modesto, Calif., (209-523-0753, caltradeweldingschool.com) is a topnotch welding school that trains professionals. The

300-hour course costs $4,500, and includes the cost of all materials.

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