Weighing In On Women Welders

The other day some friends and I were hanging out at a local pub, and I mentioned my recent article on the lack of a welding badge for Girl Scouts.

Karen, a grad student in creative writing and new mom asked, “Why would Girl Scouts need a welding badge?”

“Because the Boy Scouts have one,” I answered.  I then went on to explain that the mission of the Girl Scouts is to encourage and empower young women. Participating in Girl Scouts should expose young girls to the many opportunities for them in the world including the trades and other careers deemed “non-traditional” for women.

“Besides,” I added, “they have a Carpentry badge.”

Christina, another grad student, piped in “I know how to weld!”

I admit, even I was shocked. Christina is tiny, maybe five feet tall. And she is sweet and girly. She didn’t look like “the type.” Then I remembered the whole reason behind the New Rosies feature on this blog is that there is no “type.” But even for me, sometimes it’s hard to remember that. Or maybe I’m just surprised when I find out some woman I know from outside the welding industry actually knows how to weld.

Christina said she learned MIG welding in high school, a Metal Working Class as an elective. “It wasn’t really something girls were taking, but I didn’t want to be stuck in home ec.”

She tucked a stray strand of  hair behind her ear, laughed and said, “Besides, I was always enthusiastic about breaking out of those kinds of gender boundaries when I was young.”

I should mention that Christina is in her mid-twenties.  I’d have thought those gender boundaries wouldn’t still be in place.

Then I got on my soapbox, explaining that welding is a good career, that there is a projected shortage of welders, that starting pay is pretty decent. That there is no reason a woman can’t do the job.

“Don’t you want your daughter to know what all her options are? Don’t you want her to know she can do anything she wants?” I asked Karen pointedly.

“I admit it,” Karen said, “when I hear ‘welder’ I immediately assume we’re talking about a man. I mean doesn’t it take a lot of strength and muscle to be a welder?”

The idea that brute strength is required is one of the biggest misconceptions that women have about welding—that they aren’t strong enough to be welders. Sure, dragging around a MIG gun with a 25-ft. cable could be a physical challenge. A 25 ft. MIG Cable assembly and MIG gun could weigh up to 12 lbs., but you won’t be doing that all day long.  Once you’re there (wherever you need to lay a bead), the more important skills are hand / eye coordination and knowledge of the material being welded.

If you’re talking about TIG welding pipe, it may be more about finesse than muscle. And you don’t get a nice bead on a titanium bike frame with upper body strength!

Even the newer welding machines, with their high-tech electronics, are much lighter than they used to be.  A basic TIG welder weighs about 50 lbs., and if you’re like Jim (aka JoeWelder), you keep it on a nice cart complete with wheels, water cooler, and tank so you can easily roll it around the shop.

Joe Welder's TIG Machine

More robust, multi-process machines, like Miller’s PipeWorx Welding System weigh over 200 lbs, but comes on wheels already. And the Big Blue 700 Duo Pro multi-arc engine driven welder weighs in at 1,729 lbs.—so not even your average body-builder man could pick up one of those without a forklift.

Consider this a call to all women welders—talk about your job, make sure other women in your life know what you do, and what it takes to do it. Also, let us know if you’d like to be featured as the next New Rosie.

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