Bryn Mawr College is known for many things. Welding is not one of them.
But with the help of Director of Science Services Richard Willard, Theater Major Sam Wall ’17 has been able to continue to hone a valuable skill she was first introduced to last summer during an internship with a theater group in Hartford, Conn.
“I'm a theater major, and my focus is on production and design,” says Wall. “I've done a lot of set building. And in bigger theaters you do often need welders for some pieces. So there's that practical side. But also, I think that it’s just a cool thing to learn how to do. I like weird crafts, I guess.”
Wall’s welding days may have ended with the one-day crash course she had during her internship were it not for a chance encounter with Willard in Goodhart Theater at the start of the fall semester.
“Rich came by with a whole bunch of people, and they were doing a tour,” Wall recalls. “They were trying to put together a makerspace for the engineering people. So they were touring around spaces, and I was at Goodhart. And I heard them talk about welding. So I said, ‘Hey, I learned to weld this summer!’ So we got into a discussion about welding, and he told me, ‘You know, we do lessons sometimes.’ And that's where I am now. I'm learning how to weld.”
Willard also remembered his introduction to Wall, adding that Professor of Theater Mark Lord introduced them while Sam was “way up on the scaffolding, up at the ceiling, working on a set. But we got to chatting and I found out that she’d learned how to weld.”
Wall’s lessons take place in Park’s scientific instrument shop, a machine shop where Willard and Bryn Mawr’s Chief Instrument Maker, Rob Cunningham, build the research equipment for the sciences.
“This is a closed shop, meaning that there's only two of us that work in the shop and we do the work we need to do, and occasionally we will work with a student that is working on a particular project or has a particular interest in learning something and has the time to learn,” says Willard.
The shop’s equipment includes computer-controlled milling machines, lathes, hand tools, drill presses, bandsaws, and a 3D printer.
“We're very well-equipped. Especially for a small liberal arts college,” says Willard. “There isn’t much we can’t do.”
Wall has been learning a type of welding that uses both a tungsten electrode and an inert gas to join the metals involved, hence the name, “tungsten inert gas,” or TIG, welding. Because of the intense heat used to bind two metals together, Wall has to wear protective gear and a full mask.
“It's just too bright,” she says. “You could literally burn your retinas if you look at it without protection.”
While Wall has yet to do any welding for Bryn Mawr’s theater program, where metal set pieces are less common, she hopes to put her welding lessons to good use when she goes into theater production after graduating Bryn Mawr.
In addition, Wall, who also does knitting and spinning, is looking to other forms of metalworking.
“Like hardcore blacksmithing, that would be really cool. Or robots. I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future, though,” she says laughingly.
To learn more about Bryn Mawr’s Science Support Services and Park Science Building’s instrument shop, contact Richard Willard at email@example.com.