Welcome to ENGGEN 299, the compulsory workshop practical course all second years are required to complete before starting part III. The university website isn’t very helpful for figuring out what this course involves; when I checked it only really mentioned welding. Although the workshop course isn’t civil specific, I would’ve loved to know more about the course before I started it, so for this post I’m breaking away from my civil focus to give you a bit of a heads up.
PSA: the course I did was at AUT, there is also one at MIT which is run slightly differently.
Bench (Drill thing and puzzle thing)
I can only really describe the things made at the bench as “drill thing” and “puzzle thing”. Most of the time was spent making “drill thing”. You’re given a rectangular piece of metal and have to mark out the edges of the shape, and the positions at which the holes are drilled. You then spend hours sawing and filing the bit of metal to shape and feel like your arms are about to fall off at the end of it. Once your metal is the right shape and doesn’t have any sharp edges, you get the job of drilling all the different sized holes. After all that (it’s much more work than it sounds) you can finally hit alphabet and numeric stampers into your bit of metal to engrave the size of the holes you’ve drilled and your name (as you can see, I was terrible at that part). “Puzzle thing” didn’t take as much time, but had to be more precise. You got given a piece of metal the same size as the metal for “drill thing” and had to mark out the edges of the 2 shapes, and then the instructor cut out the piece in the middle using a jigsaw. Last of all is the great job of filing off the sharp edges until the 2 pieces fit together – good luck.
Lathing/Milling (spirit level and plumb bob)
The lathe is used to make the plumb bob and the milling machine is used to make the spirit level. Lathing is essentially placing a piece of metal in a clamp and spinning it while manoeuvring a blade to slice off bits until it’s the right shape – kind of fun once you get the hang of it. To make the plumb bob you have to shave bits of metal off the spinning metal piece to get it to the right shape, then drill appropriate holes. The milling machine is similar to the lathe, except the metal is clamped down and the blade moves over the metal slicing off thin layers until it is cut down to shape. To make the spirit level you mill it down to the right size, then drill an oval hole in the top and fill it with silicone stuff to glue the actual spirit level bit in. The instructor may recommend filing the edges of the spirit level as they’ll be sharp, and if you’re me you’ll think that it’s not necessary, and then you’ll go ahead and cut your finger on an edge that was rather sharp – for your safety I recommend filing it down even if it’s just quick and not very thorough. It should be duly noted that the spirit level measures horizontal relative to the AUT basement floor, not necessarily absolute horizontal.
Welding (ARC and MIG)
Yikes. I’m glad I got to experience welding, but I’m also super glad that it won’t be my day-to-day job. The two types of welding are similar, but I think MIG welding is less scary if you can do it right. Welding reminded me a lot of playing with sparklers on Guy Fawkes night, and as a person who needed their dad to tape the ends of the sparklers to something longer so the sparks wouldn’t hit my hands (even though they were never going to hurt me), I knew from the beginning that welding wouldn’t be my idea of fun. ARC welding involves a hand piece with an electrode (basically a long sparkler) attached. After taking multiple attempts to ignite the electrode, you just drag it really, REALLY slowly across where you want the weld to be, and that’s basically it. MIG welding has a similar hand piece and is much easier as you don’t need to get the electrode to ignite. Instead of the sparkler electrode, it has a button that you press to let metal wire out. This wire melts as you drag it slowly along the place where you want the weld. Emphasis on the dragging really slowly part. I was so conflicted, the slower I moved the hand piece the better the weld, but the faster I dragged it the sooner I could stop the sparks flying everywhere. I guess your welding quality will come down to whether or not you have a childhood fear of sparks hitting your hands (which was a completely irrational fear in the case of welding as you’re provided with very thick Kevlar gloves). Once I’d finally convinced myself that the sparks weren’t going to hurt me, I quite enjoyed the welding process, but at that point I didn’t really have much time left to enjoy myself.
Important things to note
- The quality of your work does not determine whether or not you pass or fail, you just have to show up and take part.
- Chances are you won’t be there 8:30 – 5 every day.
- The cell phone reception in the basement where our course was held was not great (although AUT may be redone by next year and you current first years will be elsewhere).
- Lunch break is an hour, and instructors like kicking you out of the labs for impromptu breaks every so often and will turn the power off if you refuse to leave, so your machines won’t work even if you do want to stay and quickly finish off what you’re doing.
All in all, I had such a fun week using all sorts of different machines and making cool things that I never would’ve got to do otherwise. I ended up absolutely covered in grease and metal filings (they’re not joking when they say you need a lab coat), and it was super cool to wear a lab coat, safety glasses and steel cap boots every day – I would recommend only wearing your lab coat when you get to the lab rooms though because you get funny looks if you wander around Queen Street in them. As fun as the course was though, I’m glad it’s just a taster and not our future job description.