West Coast Welding: an Interview with Molten Metal Works

All images courtesy of www.moltenmetalworks.net

All images courtesy of www.moltenmetalworks.net

Last month, our board president Josh Carney read the July issue of Popular Mechanics issue and found inspiration. Featured under the “home” section of the magazine was an article titled, “If You Can Brush Your Teeth, You Can Weld.” Through this article, Josh discovered Molten Metal Works, a metal shop in LA that’s helping everyday people learn to fix, build, and find their passions through welding. We spoke with MMW founder, Matt Jones, and learned about his space and his contributions to the maker movement. Check out the interview below!

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WC: Tell us a little about Molten Metal Works and how you got started.

MJ: I learned to weld in college by building sculptures that I motorized. I initially started out working with wood, but when I wanted to start motorizing my projects, I had to switch to metal.  Once I learned to oxy weld and saw the transformation of steel into lava, I was hooked—it’s like drawing in 3D.  I graduated, moved to New Mexico, and bought a welder. After that I went to grad school for sculpture and started teaching there, and I realized that I really liked teaching.  So when I moved to Los Angeles, I continued to teach, this time with welding classes in the back of Machine Project (an art gallery). I got my own shop in 2010, and in 2012, I quit my day job, which happened to be building sets for amusement parks like Disneyland.  Now we’ve got four employees and we’re teaching classes seven days a week, with two to three classes per day and open shop hours six out of the seven days.

 

WC: What makes MMW unique? How is it different from the average shop class?

MJ:  Molten Metal Works provides welding instruction and metal shop access to the community of Los Angeles.  We do not certify welders or teach how to weld I-beams.  Instead, we focus on what most people need: how to fix a fence, build their own furniture, and how to make sculpture, chandeliers, or custom motorcycle parts.  We’ve got 4,000 square feet full of tools, the expertise to match, and a lot more patience than your seventh-grade shop teacher.

 

WC: What types of classes do you offer at MMW?

MJ: Sculpture, furniture, welding technique, electronics, home repair, bicycle frame building—whatever there seems to be a demand for, but also whatever our staff is passionate about.

 

 WC: What do you think about the “maker movement” that’s happening right now?

MJ: It’s great to see people working with their hands again, wanting to unplug from the computer a little bit and build something from themselves.  [That started as a typo “from themselves” instead of “for themselves,” but I’m leaving it because it actually seems more appropriate.]

I do, however, worry about too much reliance on computers in the maker movement still. People can rely too heavily on 3D printing, laser cutting, and plasma cutting; and while those are all powerful tools, they can sometimes constrain your designs instead of extending them.  We think you should aim for a balance.  Start with the basics and then see how the computer can aid your designs—not the other way around. 

I think it’s also important for makerspaces to be a place for people, particularly younger folk, to learn about the trades and working with their hands. Not everyone wants or needs to go to college, and getting involved in a union or a trade can be a fulfilling and lucrative career choice.  With high schools phasing out wood and metal shops, makerspaces can step in and provide an opportunity for teens to get exposure to such careers.  It’s a work in progress here, but that’s one of the directions we are trying to go. 

 

WC: What’s the coolest project you’ve seen in your space so far?

MJ: Coolest?  I don’t know.  We get some fun Burning Man projects every year.  What’s most fulfilling is when you can teach someone who really discovers a passion for melting metal.  Often, it’s someone around age 17-18, but more often it’s a retiree.  As I was starting out, I wouldn’t have thought that retirees would be such a large portion of our regulars. It’s great to see older folks get excited about making yard art or a new mailbox, especially when their previous career was a schoolteacher or something like that.

 

WC: What will you “make” next? 

MJ: I’m working on a series of chandeliers for my wedding in October. I’m aiming to create about 20-30, all made from sheets of CNC plasma-cut steel and other stock.  It’s been fun learning to do origami from steel and really dial in our CNC machine.  It’ll probably turn into a class too.

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Thanks for the interview Matt! Your space and passion are true inspirations to all of us here at Working Class.

To learn more about Molten Metal Works, visit www.moltenmetalworks.net

To read their Popular Mechanics article, visit www.popularmechanics.com/home/g3142/the-new-shop-class/

Also, be sure to check out MMW on social media as well:

https://www.facebook.com/moltenmetalworksla/

https://www.instagram.com/moltenmetalworks/