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Jasper County Tribune

Cut n’ Grind

Baxter students learn welding basics

BAXTER — Located just across the street from Baxter High School, the district’s FFA headquarters is a bustling hub of activity. Students in teacher Wade Boehm’s Agricultural Mechanics class are putting the finishing touches on the projects they’ve been working on all semester.

Boehm preaches a DIY aesthetic to students, teaching them the basics of cutting and welding metal, he’s hoping to give students like junior Andrew Esqueda the confidence to tackle similar projects outside of the classroom.

“I want them to have to these skills in their back pocket,” Boehm said.

Initially, Esqueda had planned to make an end table, but with a young nephew at home, he converted his design into a shop table. The finished table, which measures 48” x 42” is something he and his father will use as a welding table. Learning how to make the table in Boehm’s agricultural mechanics class has given Esqueda the confidence to start using the equipement his father has at home.

“My dad has a plasma cutter and a welder at home, but I never knew how to use it,” Esqueda said. “I’d never welded before.”

For students like Esqueda, who haven’t welded before, learning can be an intimidating process. On the first day of class Esqueda was amazed as he looked at all of the welds shown on a poster above the tool rack in the shop — he’d never realized there were so many different welds. Before students can get started on their projects in the shop, they have to figure out exactly what they’re going to build. Boehm has each student create a blueprint for their project, he wants to make sure they’ve thought the project through before they break out the plasma cutters and welding torches.

“We implemented the drafting process this year because I think that’s a big part of the project,” Boehm said.

Like Esqueda, classmate Noah Brindle, a sophomore, built a table as well. At home on their farm near Baxter, Brindle and his father have a shop table in use already, but Brindle’s table will more than double the available counter space. Even though Brindle already knew how to weld, the class taught him the basics of MIG welding, something he’d never done before. Building the table taught Brindle the importance of careful measuring. Creating the blueprints for his design was one of the sophomore’s favorite parts of the project.

“It was tough getting all the measurements right,” Brindle said. “You need to measure perfectly.”

Boehm’s goal is to give students a basic foundation. He wants them to have an understanding of what it takes to design and build a project, from start to finish. If students are interested in welding, it’ll open the door to allow them to pursue classes at DMACC while they’re still in high school. Even if they aren’t focused on getting a welding degree, Boehm said he hopes the class will at least help them figure out what they want to do.

“There’s nothing worse than getting to college and not knowing what you want to do,” Boehm said.

While many of Boehm’s students come from an agricultural background, only a few came to the class with previous welding experience. The hands on approach Boehm advocates is to give his students the same skills he learned in high school, practicing his welding skills by welding cultivator buckets together with his father.

“These are things they don’t always get at home. It’s stuff I took for granted as a kid,” Boehm said.

Even though these projects might be the first for many of his students, Boehm still insists on holding his students to a high standard. Students have learned not to say “it’s good enough” in Boehm’s class as he insists on attention to detail. During class time Boehm tells students to make sure they have at least three different options before making a decision — he wants to make sure they’ve thought it through.

“When you give these kids high standards they usually find out their projects turn out better than they thought it would,” Boehm said. “Hearing students say ‘good enough for government work’ is my least favorite thing.”

Boehm’s message is one that resonates with his students. As Esqueda shows off his finished table he turns it over to point out where the braces are welded to the surface.

“I didn’t listen. He told me to tack the table top on first,” Esqueda said, pointing to an area where the welds aren’t as neat.

Despite Boehm’s high standards, his teaching approach is fairly hands off, he’d rather give students the flexibility to learn on their own. With only an hour of class time every day, students have learned to be efficient with their time.

“I’m not a helicopter teacher,” Boehm said. “I want them to learn by experiencing these things.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@jaspercountytribune.com

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