Today in welding class, we learned about two new instruments of death.
Both were for arc welding, but slightly different.
The Plasma cutter, in particular, scared me when the instructor said, "Now you need to be careful with this one… it’ll cut your finger right off. In fact, it will be a very clean cut and the ends wlll be burnt to a nice crisp. Not much bleeding at all, actually."
To which, horrified and nervously chuckling, I asked, "How do you know that? Have you seen that happen before?"
"Oh, you can say something like that, I guess."
She then proceeded to remove her gloves and hold out her two index fingers.
Sure enough, the tip of one finger was gone (only a sliver of a fingernail was there).
We were all awestruck by the gravity of the situation. We were standing in front of a very dangerous machine. As she put her gloves back on, she began to whistle a very inappropriately happy tune.
Still nobody spoke.
She flipped the switch on the plasma cutter, "Who wants to go first?"
Everyone immediately looked down at the ground, praying for someone else’s courage.
After a moment of silence, she thrust the nozzle into my hands as she pushed on my shoulder to edge me closer to the cutting table, "You try."
My hands shaking as I held this terrible beast, I curled my fingers as tightly as they would go into my fists.
To use the plasma cutter, we needed to wear a number 10 shaded goggles. A number ten is about as transparent as a brick… Here I was, blind, trying to line up the cutting tip while avoiding my body parts. She encouraged me to get my face closer to the tip so I could see better…
Fully prepared to be in pain, I said aloud, "Fire in the hole" to make sure everyone was wearing their goggles. I squeezed the trigger and the machine hissed like a snake for at least 3 seconds. Suddenly, a bright light lept onto the metal. Using the nozzle like a pencil, I drew a little sketch of what I imagined a four fingered, mangled hand would look like.
It was awesome. The cutter flowed through the metal like it was water. I felt little resistance and was quickly able to make shapes and cuts. The cutting arc was able to penetrate a quarter inch of steel… and that was on the very low setting.
I was hooked. It was fun… I can’t wait to use it again. The raw power was fulfilling and uplifting- like shooting a gun.
Towards the end of the class, I was melting rods of metal to make a curvy, twisty shape. The instructor came over and gave me some helpful advice. The last thing she said was, "Oh by the way, about my finger… It was actually just a car door…"
She turned around and walked away, all the while whistling that same happy tune.
I have a whole new level of respect for that woman.