What could go Wrong?

If you haven’t noticed yet that Sarcasm is also an artform practiced here in the ‘Werks, you’ve been missing an essential part of what makes a Weasel work.

I often comment wryly about Safety in the workshop, mostly that I have a random relationship with safety precautions when it comes to me. However, when it comes to the safety of others, property and myself in a group workshop setting, I’m extremely pro safety.

Case in point:

I was attending one of the larger bead shows in the Southern California area and attended two classes, both of which would involve the use of torches. I was not too worried since this particular show has been running for several years and I figured that they had a good control on the safety requirements from the hotel and the local fire department, not to mention their insurance carrier.

I also took a quick look at the teachers individual background on their personal websites. Both presented themselves as experienced metal workers, one even is a graduate of the Revere Academy in San Francisco, so my concerns were almost vanquished. Almost.

The first class was a disaster! During the safety part of the class, the teacher told us we were responsible for the THREE FEET all around us when using a lit torch. Mind you, I feel that the range of caution should be FIVE feet as I’m nervous about other people’s skill level until I can observe them in action. But, it was her class, so I go along.

Remember – we are told THREE FEET. I look to my right and left and approximate that the student on either side of me is SIX INCHES away from me.
This translates to 5 people within my three foot responsibility zone. The odds are not good so far and get worse when neither student next to me has experience using a mini torch, or any torch at all. Additionally, the student on my right announces they have had a recent brain surgery and can’t follow directions as well as they could before. I’m now exhibiting less weasel traits and more ‘deer in the headlights’ traits. But I go along.

During the next three hours, hot metal fell off stands, bounced off my leg twice from my neighbor on my left’s work area and my neighbor on my right knocked everything over, caught the table on fire, burned the carpet and couldn’t figure out how to turn her torch off. Oh, and we completed less than 1/4 of the project. In three hours.

I fled the classroom as soon as our time was up. Seriously – I was packed up and out the door within 45 seconds of the end of class. The table was still smoldering so I don’t think anyone noticed my haste or departure.

After a night of cocoa and calming down, I went to the second class. I was encouraged to see that the student to teacher ratio was much more reasonable and that the torch was well away from the class table. I thought I was in the clear.

Wrongo Bongo, Roscoe Bosco.

In the next hour, not only did we reinforced my bias against using scissors to cut metal (warpage of your piece, cuts on hands when turning corners, metal shards flying through the air, and so on) but I also saw a torch used in a manner that I hope never to see again.

When it came time to anneal the copper we were hammering the snot out of, the teacher called in her assistant to help with the torch. I thought that was odd, but eh, whatever. Maybe I was going to learn something innovative. Weasels are curious; I went along with it.

OH GODS – NO!!!!!

As the assistant held the lit tank torch, the teacher held the metal piece to be annealed with a pair of copper tongs. She held the copper tongs in her bare hand. She then held the tongs and copper piece in the flame that her assistant was holding. To anneal. To bring that hammered copper to a dull red glow. In copper tongs. With a bare hand.

Using a torch to heat copper scrap to an annealed state.  It's a dull red glow.

Using a torch to heat copper scrap to an annealed state. It’s a dull red glow.

Past the annealing stage, I'm melting this scrap into a ball.  It's bright yellow at this point.

Past the annealing stage, I’m melting this scrap into a ball. It’s bright yellow at this point.

To top it off, the quenching bowl was TEN FEET AWAY!

This is the maximum ideal distance this weasel thinks a quenching bowl should be from the torch area.  One inch.

This is the maximum ideal distance this weasel thinks a quenching bowl should be from the torch area. One inch.

I haven’t been so disturbed in over a decade and I read a lot of horror novels. Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro need to take metal working classes at a convention. I’m just saying.

To put the icing on the cake, the two of them were working over a perfectly white asbestos pad that had a pristine charcoal fire block sitting square on it. Irony. Even my cat gets it.

I went and got the quenching bowl and brought it over to the torch area and another student gave an oven glove to the teacher who was insisting on holding those copper tongs in the freaking flame. She did this not once, but every time we needed to anneal something. Six times that I was present for. Holding hot copper tongs in a flame. My inner weasel was screaming “Darwin, where are you?!?!?”

By the end of an hour, I was done with as much as I could do to my project without annealing it again, since I was not going to be part of that train wreck, and even with another hour of class, I left. Mostly because what was covered was dapping and stamping, whereas the class I paid for was repousse. The teacher was passing the dapping off as respousse. She was unhappy and confused as to why I was working the front of my piece again after having domed it. That was when I knew that she really, truly believed that she was doing repousse and that I should just slink off without further discussion.

So…… what I can take away from this fiasco and pass on to you, citizen, is as follows:

1. Metal conducts heat. Copper is metal. Holding metal in your bare hand and putting it in a flame is going to heat your hand. Badly. Burnly.

2. When researching a teacher online, pay less attention to the printed words and more attention to the picture examples of their work. It might not be their work, but a picture is less likely to deceive you as to what was actually done. Who did it is still a matter for speculation.

3. If you see a situation that you think in unsafe, trust your reaction. Lawsuits might be fun for some (mostly lawyers), but I’d rather be forging in the studio than sitting in a courtroom trying to get compensation for pain and suffering.

4. Taking the very basic, entry level classes at conventions can be rewarding. Taking advanced classes at conventions – usually not so much. Take advanced classes from local artists, community colleges, teaching studios or the fabulous Art and Craft schools that are a great mini vacation to boot.

5. Use your tools. They look pretty when you first unpack them, but for the most part metal working tools are scarred, nicked, dinged and discolored when used properly. The exception to the rule is your chasing hammers. You should be able to use the hammer face as a mirror to see if your hair is pulled back.


Because I USE them.  Pretty tools = never been used.

Because I USE them. Pretty tools = never been used.

As to the safety level in the ‘Werks, I learned a bad lesson. I now feel that I’m safer in my studio even though I’m still not wearing shoes most of the time, not always opening windows when I should (baby, it’s COLD outside) and have a huge mess on my tables. My Optivisor hangs on its peg most of the time and there is going to be a paper landslide off the top of the filing cabinet someday. It is really time to reorganize, but there is one more thing I want to finish before I clean. Maybe two things. Ok, ok, just three…

Much like a hoopy frood, this weasel always knows where their Optivisor is - hanging up.

Much like a hoopy frood, this weasel always knows where their Optivisor is – hanging up.

On the injury scoreboard, I must report that there has been a Weasel injury this week. As I was washing dishes, I sliced my thumb on the bread knife that was hiding in the sink suds. Pretty deep, but not enough to require stitches.

Of course, I was barefoot, still in my pajamas, hair not tied back and headphones blasting away. Situation normal for the kitchen.

Because really, what could go wrong?

What I managed to get done before I had a dish washing related injury.

What I managed to get done before I had a dish washing related injury.

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