Metal worker using plasma cutter on steel and welding to fabricate a frame for custom SUV storage installation – Photo Courtesy: Jonti Bolles
Okay, sorry, weâ€™re not really calling you a dummy! Itâ€™s just that itâ€™s very hard to know what sheet metal fabrication is until youâ€™ve tried it – which most people havenâ€™t! Your careers advisor, or perhaps a friend, may have suggested that it might be something you could get into, and if youâ€™re interested but youâ€™d like to know a little more, you have come to the right place. A career in sheet metal fabrication is a great choice, particularly for people that like working with their hands. There will always be plenty of work available too â€“ good welders are in high demand.
Working with all different kinds of metal, a sheet metal fabricator makes parts which could be for cars, machines, air conditioning units, roofing and all sorts of other things. Metal is a vital component in many types of engineering, and itâ€™s essential to use good quality, well-made parts. There are loads of different types of metal of course, but you will generally be working with steel (all different types), aluminium, brass, copper, bronze and tin. Here are some skills you will need to learn:
Welding, in essence, is the process of joining pieces of metal together by heating it up and fusing it together. There are various types of welding processes, for example MIG, TIG and arc welding. Steel is a great material to weld, and it is relatively easy to do. Welding aluminium takes a bit more practice (but itâ€™s very versatile as it is light and strong â€“ perfect for aircraft parts). Tin, copper, brass and bronze are generally not welded, they are soldered instead. So as a welder, you will need to be an expert in how to weld various different metals â€“ there are different techniques for each.
Cutting metal is a skilled job, and requires a lot of knowledge. An angle grinder is usually used for cutting steel, but other metals are cut using a band saw, or a shear. This is because they are slightly softer; meaning if you used an angle grinder the blade might get clogged up. As a trained metal worker, you will be expected to know how to cut each different type of metal.
Casting, Shaping and Finishing
You may need to know about casting metal â€“ this is the process of heating it up and casting it in a mould. This is generally done with tin, brass and copper for smaller projects; but big industrial projects require steel and aluminium as they melt at the highest temperatures. Youâ€™ll also have to learn how to heat up and shape metal, and manipulate it into various forms. Metal needs to be finished in the correct way to prevent it from rusting (steel is the most likely to rust, as is cast iron). Bronze is the least likely to rust (hence why so many ancient bronze artefacts have stood up to the test of time!). Youâ€™ll need to know all about how to protect and finish each different type of metal.
Sheet metal work is satisfying and lucrative work, so if you think it could be for you, start looking into local courses where you can learn more!
Jack Brown is a professionalÂ sheet metal fabricatorÂ at Phoenix Metalform. Adventure sports and photography are a few of his favorite things to do.