The Welding merit badge fuses technical knowledge with the excitement of actually burning metal. And now it’s easier than ever to get trained and access welding equipment, thanks to the support of Lincoln Electric.
AS TWO DOZEN Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers from the North Texas area’s Circle Ten Council and Longhorn Council are learning, welding is the hands-on process that holds much of America together — quite literally.
Those in attendance at a train-the-trainer session held near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport get laboratory instruction in how to safely teach Scouts the basics involved in fusing two pieces of metal along a molten joint, all while using professional-grade equipment. The process sounds complicated, but the goal’s simple: keeping the BSA’s STEM focus burning white-hot. But STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — isn’t the only goal. There’s a merit badge at stake, too.
The Welding merit badge, which debuted to great youth interest in 2012, fuses both manual technique and technical knowledge — not to mention the excitement of actually burning metal. Nearly 11,000 Scouts earned the Welding merit badge in 2013, igniting its popularity among youth and raising its rank from No. 101 in 2012 to No. 55 last year.
This creative and constructive trade skill also happens to be critical in a market that is crying out for new workers. According to the American Welding Society, 140,000 new welders will be needed by 2019. A skilled welder can earn $40,000 to $70,000 a year, whether repairing bridges, working in manufacturing, diving underwater or serving as an inspector. “The roots of this are in the BSA’s strategic plan from 2008,” says Bill Evans, former BSA director of program impact. “We need to create relevant programs, not just teach kids how to build a fire.”
It’s hard to find many fields more relevant these days than welding. “Everything is pretty much affected by welding, from the razor they shave with to the bus they took to school to the building they’re sitting in,” says Charlie Cross, head of technical training for Lincoln Electric, the leading welding machine manufacturer that partnered with the BSA to provide equipment for Scouts across the nation.
Each council, as well as the BSA’s national high-adventure bases, will be armed with at least one SP-140T compact wire welder from Lincoln Electric, plus safety equipment. These machines retail for more than $700, so that’s no small gift.
Along with the obvious tie-ins to STEM education, welding also lets Scouts’ creativity flourish — except instead of handing the boys markers and crayons, artwork is created with a sparking welding machine. Some welders go on to become intricate artists, creating sculptures large and small, realistic and abstract. In addition to the hands-on training and education established in the merit badge program, Scouts channel their inner artist when they make an eagle from precut steel pieces.
“The Scouts are going to wonder, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” says Lincoln’s Greg Connors, before displaying the 10-inch-wide steel bird that each Scout will take home as part of earning the merit badge or as a separate project. There’s the answer: something to show Mom, Dad and everyone back home. Not to mention the seed of a new skill that could one day develop into a career.
FRANK MYERS, AN ASSISTANT SCOUTMASTER from Southlake, Texas, had never welded before the train-the-trainer event, but after the session he says he looks forward to making welding his 46th merit badge counselor certification. He says he thinks it will be popular among Scouts and will rank up there with his other favorite merit badges to teach: Automotive Maintenance, Wilderness Survival and Pioneering.
“It’s back to the basics of what Scouting is: giving the boys knowledge of how to do stuff, ” Myers says. This “stuff” includes the appeal of a skill that a Scout can learn to perform with the same equipment used by the men and women building airplanes and boat hulls.
As a leader, if you’re interested in seeking Welding merit badge counselor training, reach out to your council. Cross, who serves as Lincoln’s BSA coordinator, adds, “[Lincoln] has also been able to work with councils and individuals to partner with skilled trade unions and technical schools for training activities.”
Just as it’s presented in the merit badge curriculum, safety tips begin with the necessity of protective gear and proper ventilation. One warning is never to tuck your pants into your boots while welding so flying sparks can’t find a way down to your feet. To earn the merit badge, a Scout must demonstrate proficiency in applying two types of welds to three different types of joints, in addition to welding his initials on a 3-by-3-inch steel pad.
Scouts are also expected to read a Lincoln Electric booklet on welding and watch nine educational videos on Lincoln’s YouTube channel prior to using the equipment. (These two activities are easily completed at home.) They’ll also learn the relevant safety requirements and demonstrate the first-aid applications relevant to a welding environment. Read all of the Welding merit badge requirements at boyslife.org/meritbadge.
Counselors can enhance Scouts’ experience by explaining the scientific side of the process: what goes on in an actual weld as atoms move around at a high temperature and new molecular bonds are formed in “the molten puddle,” as it’s called. A layer of external gas protects the puddle from the atmosphere and impurities that lead to porous, flawed welds — the “Swiss cheese” inspectors are trained to spot.
SCOUTMASTER KIM ANDERSON of Everman, Texas, a professional welder himself, says he thinks Scouts will be drawn to the Welding merit badge “once they find out that we are seriously burning stuff.”
It’s no joke. Scouts learn that the temperature of a gas-metal arc weld can be somewhere around 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They learn that the “arc” of light or “flame” is not a flame but electricity jumping from an electrode to the base metal. The molten metal is brighter than the sun, requiring protection against infrared radiation and ultraviolet rays in the form of safety glasses, gloves, helmets and coats, all provided by Lincoln Electric.
“This is a great model of where we can go in the future,” the BSA’s Evans says, “partnering with other organizations that bring something to the table.”
Protected by the proper gear, Scouts can gain an up-close-and-personal knowledge of this essential industrial and scientific process that has been of primary importance to the U.S. at least since President Woodrow Wilson formed a committee on welding at the outbreak of World War I.
While welding remains as critical as ever to maintaining our infrastructure and to new construction, the workforce of welders has declined, creating both a dilemma for the industry and an opportunity for young men and women who want to learn the trade. The average age of a welder in America today is 55.
“You know, a lot of boys want to be businessmen, but not everybody can be Donald Trump,” says John Sprehe, a Scoutmaster who came to the welding training event. “Maybe they’re not going to be professionals, but they’re going to get enough knowledge that they can think about it.”
“College is not for everybody,” says Candace Ortega, a professional welder who teaches welding at Tarrant County College and is a Scouting volunteer. “This is opening another door for the boys.”
CHOCOLATE + WELDING = SAFE, DELICIOUS AND FUN
How do you get youth interested in science, technology, engineering and math?
“You have to think outside the box,” says Jason Scales, the man who helped conceive the upcoming “chocolate welding” program for Cub Scout day camp that started in August 2014.
“Welding is a process of fusing two materials together, and you could do it with paraffin or maybe a few other things, but why not two chocolate bars?” says Scales, a welding educational specialist with Lincoln Electric, the company partnering with the BSA to introduce welding to the Boy Scouts.
“This is about creating an experience where the Scouts can experience welding in a safe environment. There’s a way to do that using chocolate,” he says.
The concept surfaced in Europe and was noticed by members of Lincoln’s educational team, already involved in designing a Welding merit badge for the BSA. For younger boys, the basic process and its uses in the world can be taught using chocolate bars as a stand-in for steel and a bottle of hot water as a heat source. “You melt the edges a little bit and fuse the two together to make one bar,” Scales says.
“Depending on the age of the Scouts, it allows us to get into a discussion of some engineering concepts and building shapes.”
For example, the physical properties that make a box 30 to 50 times stronger than a plank can be demonstrated with flat candy bars.
“You stack four bars flat and apply a load,” Scales says, pointing to the small weights used in the experiment. “We can determine how much weight that stack can hold. But if we take three blocks and fuse them into the shape of an ‘I’ (like the I-beams used to build skyscrapers and overpasses) and apply a load, it will hold consistently more weight than four flat bars.
“Then you can get into a discussion of how does that work and relate it to bridges, for example, and to how welding has an impact in their lives. Everything around us welding has touched: the auto that brought them here, the bridge they crossed, the steel building they’re sitting in.”
One big difference in the Cub Scouts program from the BSA merit badge training: When the Cub Scouts have finished the project, they get to eat the materials. “At the end of the day,” Scales says, “we get to have some s’mores.”