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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:41 am
Posts: 25
Location: Eastern NC

Post Posted: Mon Nov 27, 2017 11:43 pm 
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So I had a bit of an accident while milling the rail on this frame and bumped the trigger guard. I would have had to do some unwanted re-contouring to blend it out.

Thankfully, I own a laser welder so I was able to use it to make the the repair. I used 0.010" 70S-2 micro welding wire on this 4140 cast frame. The laser uses an argon gas for shielding and the welds are about the size of a pin head.

I preheated the area with a small hot air gun to where the whole frame is warm to the touch, and the weld area is just a bit hot, but not enough to make you squeak if you touch it. The laser is an instant weld, so giving it a warm base helps the puddle flow just a teensy bit longer and help prevent cold cracking (not an issue on a flat fill weld like this, but best practices and all).

In the photo the weld just looks like a single blob, but the large bump has about 50-60 weld puddles. This is a cell phone shop photo, so sorry about not having mega detail.

I have worked on stainless frames with the laser as well to build up pads for a slide/frame fit and am glad to see such decent results with a carbon frame. The plan is to blast and park this frame, so I will get to see how the color does. If it is a good match, then great. If not, it should a very small dot and this lower is for me, so I will live with it and learn.

I just wanted to post up something here, as it has been a bit quiet.

I can't get the photos up here directly, so here is a link to the series of 3 photos. Picture 1. is before, 2. shows the welds, 3. is after some blending

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Uy38KkfSX3hK7yHg2

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Joined: Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:45 pm
Posts: 995
Location: Florida and Alabama

Post Posted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 6:01 am 
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Excellent save. If I might ask a few questions - Why do you own a laser welder and what other work do you do with it to justify what I presume is a very expensive piece of equipment? Do you do gun welding for others? If so, website or contact info? I am always interested in the back stories and rationale for other folks' decisions. It helps me process and digest my own decisions.

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Joined: Sun Apr 12, 2015 1:00 pm
Posts: 61

Post Posted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 2:22 pm 
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I agree with bbbbill. I've taken jobs before as an excuse to buy equipment, but this seems like a bit more than that...

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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:41 am
Posts: 25
Location: Eastern NC

Post Posted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 3:53 pm 
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Yeah, you don’t exactly go get a laser welder for fun in the garage! Although that is what I use mine for now. Sit back with a coffee and enjoy the “Tale of the Laser Welder.”

In a former life, my wife and I owned a small jewelery store. We made 95% of the inventory, except for the chains and estate jewelry. We also did general jewelry repair. My wife had been trained as a bench jeweler, but I did not have the torch skills she did. In addition, the low quality of modern jewelry often made traditional repairs very difficult. Also, we made some very technical custom things that were difficult to work with a torch.

My wife’s old boss owned a laser welder and we decided to check it out. She was impressed by the product, but had zero interest in the technology, as she already had decades behind a bench and was kinda stuck in her ways. I, on the other hand, love a good tool, had no history tied up in being traditional and saw how the laser would open up new avenues and improve business simply by virtue of being able to do “impossible” repairs.

We had a rep come with a laser and give us an in house demo. I have a background that includes welding training and own TIG, stick, and gas welders. The laser operation is very close to the TIG welding process, and within a few minutes, I was welding away. The rep said he had never demoed the machine to anyone with welding experience and had none himself, so was pretty shocked to see how fast I took to it.

I knew we did not have the demand yet, since we had opened recently, but saw how this machine would create customers by virtue of its flexibility. In addition, it would open up a new wholesale revenue stream, as I could do work for other jewelers that they could not do themselves. The laser was a $20k investment (and it was one of the most affordable ones on the market, ouch), so most shops would not dream of dropping that amount of cash on a tool.

We spent the afternoon talking about it and I ordered one the next day.

On arrival, I spent several weeks farting around with scrap and doing a few easy repairs. After six months, I rarely touched a torch and was taking jobs off my wife’s bench to do. After two years, the machine had paid for itself and we were able to move to a nicer location. I was now doing the some of the most most complicated repairs in the shop and had started doing work for other jewelers. We were getting the reputation for the place to take jobs other stores turned away. Those customers would keep coming back to our store.

That laser welder made our business boom, directly profited us significantly every year, and made an employee with limited skill into an employee that was highly skilled with little relative effort, and it did the work so incredibly fast that we did not need to hire another employee as the repair work volume tripled. Simply put, it was the one of the smartest business decisions I ever made.

However, after over 20 years in the field, my wife was getting burnt out. The entire jewelry business has changed dramatically since she began. Everything was becoming worse, the repairs on gold turned into repairs on QVC television jewelry, the chain stores were selling silver jewelry at gold prices because it had a famous name stamped on it, the rise of cheap Southeast Asian stone setting and the dumping of horrific quality gems and poor castings sold to customers at big box chain jeweler’s was setting new lows. We loved our store and customers, but the business was becoming soul-crushing to my wife.

Before I worked in jewelry, I made high end custom furniture and had watched that business collapse as the older generation of customers literally died off and were not replaced. Like fancy furniture, fancy jewelry was no longer the status symbol that it once was. A $60,000 pickup truck and $5000 TV and $1000 cell phones were the new American status symbols.

While the jewelry business was happening, I was acquiring rental properties and we reached a point that my wife could not take one more Christmas behind the counter and we could think about scaling back. One day, my wife asked us if we could make it on rentals alone and I said “Maybe. If we maintained a fairly simple lifestyle.”. She declared the store would close in a month, she could not take it anymore. So at the height of our business, we shut down.

Again, we had made a radical decision, but it has worked out. We don’t have the income we had before, but she is retired now and I manage our properties. No one punches a clock and we have incredible amounts of freedom. We sold off a lot of stuff, but kept most all the tools, including the laser (because it had paid for itself 10x over). We have a shop behind the house with most every metalworking and woodworking tool in it, so it was no problem to absorb an entire trade. Now, I use the laser welder to work on guns and other projects.

I have no official business uses for it, but have considered getting my FFL specifically to take in specialized laser work for other gunsmiths. In the jewelry biz, I much preferred working for other pros, rather than the general public. There is just better understanding in place when the customer is equal or better than you in their skill sets.

With the laser, the weld is so small and there is no massive heating involved, so you can work without disturbing finishes. I actually hold the work in my bare hands while lasering. The only drawback is that my particular laser (a benchtop machine) is not as powerful as an actual production metal welding laser, so there are some limits to the size and speed of the work, but for guns and jewelry it seems fine and didn’t cost $60-100k like those do.

I hate to have it sit around so much, but every few weeks I use it and it costs me almost nothing to operate except shielding gas and wire. It has never needed service, but I often wonder how I will feel when the time comes for a new laser tube or a circuit board gives up the ghost. It will be hard to justify what will be a VERY costly repair and shipping charge for a machine that currently generates no income.

So, I have been thinking about that FFL since earlier this year. I decided I would only proceed if after six months I was still interested, as I don’t exactly need a new job, but if I can do enough work to pay for my own gun builds and a few beers, then that will make the wife happier. I am also not so hot on the paperwork and legalities of running an FFL, but I would think that staying clear of retail sales will make up for it by eliminating the hassle of dealing with the general public.

A future gunsmith customer of mine would have the ability to expand their own offerings and make a guaranteed retail to wholesale markup. In addition, they get to look like a genius to their own customer and that is good for word of mouth. One of my former wholesale customers told me that I made him the most money for the least effort of anything he did in his own store. High praise indeed! :)

OK, this getting ridiculously long, but it has been fun to relive some old memories. I am glad to answer any questions. The recent passing of Jerry Keefer has made me a bit sad and the past has been on my mind. The world can scarcely afford to lose another tradesperson that works with skilled hands and I miss the 20 year career of hand work much more than I thought I would. Working on pistols, particularly the 1911, has rekindled that flame I thought was burnt out. So, I am slowly fueling that fire with knowledge and experience. I am still young (relatively) and could have another 20 year career in front of me if I chose to pursue it and can hold back the Grim Reaper long enough.

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Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:34 am
Posts: 31

Post Posted: Fri Dec 01, 2017 5:37 am 
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Will,
Thanks for posting this! While I can only dream of owning a laser welder, I'm near the end of one career and contemplating what comes next. I'm in the daydreaming stage rather than decision making stage and find your story intriguing. Look forward to more posts :)

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Joined: Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:45 pm
Posts: 995
Location: Florida and Alabama

Post Posted: Fri Dec 01, 2017 7:28 am 
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I would drop $20K on a laser welder before I would spend half that on a boat. Just sayin'......

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Joined: Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:48 am
Posts: 617
Location: Northern Virginia

Post Posted: Wed Dec 06, 2017 8:01 pm 
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Willnewton, if you could prevail on the missus to do or assist on the FFL bookkeeping ( BTW, amaze your friends as bookkeeper is the only word in the english language that has 3 double letters in a row ) it could be a very nice side hustle. And a smif that can lazer weld can save a huge number of otherwise wasted 1911 parts!
Where are you located geographically?
Wait jobs with the FFL or owner in attendance wouldn’t require bound book entries I think.
Correct me if I’m wrong please.
Joe

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