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The art of welding stainless steel and gaining a deeper appreciation for craft beer

Article by AMANDA CARLSON of…

One thing I enjoy doing during the warm summer months is going to area craft breweries, sitting outside, and enjoying a cold glass of whatever looks good.

Not that work is really at the forefront of my mind on those days, but it is interesting to think of all the specialty stainless steel work that is involved just to make that activity possible for me.

Stainless is a material that we rely on heavily in food and beverage, chemical processing, medical devices, energy, architecture, and paper industries, just to name a few. But it is not a plug-and-play material. What I mean by that is it takes some serious skill and knowledge to be able to work with the material. You can’t just sit down and start welding unless you know exactly what you’re doing. There’s a process, beginning with the material prep.

Some of the prettiest welds you’ll ever see are made with stainless steel. Since we live in a world commonly viewed through an Instagram filter, it’s not uncommon to find photos of these strikingly colorful welds on popular social media accounts. But just because the welds are pretty and colorful doesn’t mean they are necessarily capable of meeting their specific requirements.

If you’ve ever seen a metal sculpture with a beautiful mirror finish or without any visible weld seams, then you’re looking at something that was carefully and painstakingly polished for hours on end.

A perfect example of this is the “Cloud Gate” structure in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Often referred to as “The Bean” by locals and tourists, the massive mirror-finished stainless steel structure has become as recognizable to Chicago as the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

And then there’s the element of safety. Hexavalent chromium can be generated during the welding process. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause lung cancer and irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

To sum it up, stainless steel is a different animal.

We’ve decided to make stainless steel the star of the July/August issue of The WELDER based largely upon your feedback from our annual reader survey. In this issue you’ll find articles that focus on several aspects of stainless steel, from the challenges welders face, to common finishes, to what makes stainless, well, stainless. You’ll also read about a trio of welders who focus almost exclusively on TIG welding stainless under tremendously scrutinizing circumstances.

We couldn’t cover every aspect of the material. The truth is we could dedicate a year to stainless-only content and still not touch on everything. If this entices you to find out more about prepping, welding, and finishing stainless steel, I encourage you to keep checking in on the for extensive and continued coverage of these topics.

The next time you head out to your local craft brewery for a cold glass of whatever they have on tap, remember all the work someone took to prep, weld, and finish that stainless steel to put that beer in your glass.

I know I will.