The Fiery Finger of God

on’t know if you’re religious or not, but if you know how to weld, you easily understand the almighty wonder of fusing metal with heat. Mere mortals wanting to join separate pieces of metal are restricted to earthbound means – nuts, bolts, screws, hot rivets, cold rivets, clamps, etc. But as soon as you fire up that welder, it’s as if you have the hand of God at your disposal. Want two hunks of metal joined forever? Simply but them together, squeeze the trigger and activate the arc! It truly is a miraculous thing. It isn’t hard to imagine God doing the same thing with the tip of his index finger (minus the welder, of course).

I’ve been fiddling with Mopars for 30 of my 45 years and until a few months ago, was welder-less. I’ve owned and built dozens of cars but always felt a tinge of shame and inadequacy when I had to have other folks handle my welding needs. Beyond that, waiting for somebody else to do critical work can bring progress to a screeching halt. So I bit the bullet and purchased a Millermatic AutoSet 140 MIG welder.

Yes, it’s a Furd but it pays tribute to the fact that Chrysler invented the altered wheelbase Funny Car. The welder opened the door to many fun fabrication projects including making new motor mounts, installing longer front leaf springs, relocating the front wheel openings, and building my own headers.

It’s a funny thing. As soon as it showed up in my shop, visiting pals asked if I had plans to enroll in a welding class. There seemed to be way too much neurosis over the welding process, like it was an art, to be mastered only after years of humble servitude as an understudy. I had one buddy tell me “If you have to grind the beads after you’re done, you shouldn’t be welding in the first place”. On the other hand, fellow altered wheelbase fanatic, Seattle’s Richard “Performance King” LeFebvre offered this advice: “If you can hit the weld with a hammer and it doesn’t break, it’s just fine. It doesn’t matter what it looks like”. Since I am not building a supersonic aircraft headed for the moon, I prefer the latter advice.

So after staring at the shiny new welder for several weeks, I cracked open the bottle and just got to it. Some bits of scrap metal were my first victims and at first I admit the results were crummy. The biggest challenge was seeing the work. If you can’t see what you are doing, you’ll never be able to target the bead along the joint and fuse the metal. So I learned to set up some work lamps to help with visibility.

Another key element is having a good helmet. I bought one that has an auto-dark feature. These things are virtually clear and easy to see out of – until you strike an arc. Then they instantly go dark and allow you to observe the molten puddle as you apply it. And it is true, you MUST wear a mask. I cheated on a few welds and left the helmet on the bench. Big mistake. It only took a few unprotected glimpses of the arc for the pain to arrive. At first, you’ll see spots but the real fun comes the next day. When you wake up, you’ll swear somebody threw a fistful of sand in your eyes. Yes, it passed after several hours, but prolonged exposure delivers really bad – permanent – harm to the eyeballs.