Welding is defined as the process of heating two pieces of metal until their surfaces melt into each other and are permanently joined together. The earliest recorded types of welding involved heating pieces of metal in a forge and then pounding them together with hammers. Eventually the two pieces would join and form a single piece of material. In the nineteenth century, developments in the production and utilization of electricity made new techniques possible in the field of welding. But it wasn’t until practical gas welding came to the fore with the invention of new equipment around 1900 that the possibilities of the process really opened up.
Gas welding equipment was inexpensive and portable compared to electrical welding. During the course of the first world war, the technology leaped forward, and more people than ever before became trained to use gas welding equipment. Ships and aeroplanes, not to mention arms and armour, were created to new specifications as the rival powers sought new technologies to give them a military advantage. As the superpowers continued their struggles for supremacy, many new technologies were created. It seems ironic that our technological modern world is rooted in such tragic historical events. What if things had turned out differently?
Two of the downsides of using welded components had always been that the joints tended to be brittle, and porous to water. This was because of atmospheric contamination at the moment the surfaces were welded together. Between the wars, new welding equipment was designed which used shielding gas to protect the materials when they were in their vulnerable molten state. In the artificial environment of a non reactive gas, no oxidization occurs, and the welding equipment can perform its task unhindered.
Other materials are sometimes preferable for certain applications. Plastic is a hugely versatile material which can be shaped, glued, melted, vacuum formed, and worked in a myriad different ways. It’s waterproof, doesn’t rot (is that an advantage or disadvantage? You decide!) and since it’s made from a waste by product of oil it isn’t as if anyone misses out when it’s used. But plastic just isn’t as strong as metal, and lacks the natural compliancy of alloys like steel. Wood is still used to make many items – who would want a metal dining table? – but is much less resistant to atmospheric conditions than metal, and is not nearly as strong. It’s easy to see why we all still use metal products every day, and why gas welding equipment is so important.
These days there are more types of welding being used in more applications than ever. Gas welding remains popular as equipment is inexpensive and readily available, and many other varieties of welding equipment use gas shielding as part of their process. There will continue to be a place for traditional welding, and while none of us know what new technologies will come along in the future, while we continue to use metallic products we will always need welders to manufacture and repair them.