Brown Dog Welding is a one man welding and fabrication shop located just north of Detroit in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. Josh Welton, of Brown Dog Welding, designs inventive home furnishings, sculptures, and accessories –from miniature motorcycles to belt buckles. Josh named his business after his beloved dog, Woodson, and he donates 10 percent of his profits to two organizations, Home Fur-Ever and Lifebuilders. I was excited to get a chance to interview Josh.
1. How long has your company been in business?
Just over 1 year.
2. I see you’re headquartered in the Detroit area. How long have you been there? How has the recent economic crisis affected business at this location? What drew you to the area?
My wife Darla and I have lived in the Detroit suburb of Mount Clemens, Michigan for almost 6 years. Her family has worked in and around the auto industry for decades, so the last few years has been pretty stressful. As a low seniority skilled trade worker in the industry, I saw the writing on the wall and started putting money away and building up my own shop. A lot of my work is kind of in it’s own niche, and since I started from nothing I have been steadily getting busier. I have seen several stores and galleries that had displayed my work fail, but the majority of my business is done either online or locally through word of mouth.
I hired into Chrysler in 2002 as a millwright apprentice. A couple of the journeymen that I trained under were excellent welders, and they were more than willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me. The factory maintenance setting was cool, because we did a wide variety of welding (on top of the other millwright duties). I did a lot of field repairs using stick welding, some in shop fabrication with mig and tig, and also aluminum, stainless, and tool steel repairs with TIG. It was something different every day, and I loved it.
4.What is your educational background as it relates to welding?
My basic skills came from the intro welding classes at Macomb Community College as part of the apprenticeship, and also from the journeymen I worked with as an apprentice. Beyond that, the UAW and Chrysler had a TERRIFIC technical training center that I took full advantage of. With an up-to-date welding shop and certified instructors with 30-50 years of experience in the field, I wouldn’t be where I am right now without that.
For my business model, I’m kind of doing my own thing. I don’t borrow money, I work out of my own shop, and my overhead is low. I know it’s not the sexiest way to do work, but I’m not a huge risk taker. I want Brown Dog Welding to grow naturally. I never want to be in a position where I’m in over my head and can’t keep my clients happy, or where I’ve borrowed money and can’t pay it back.
On the creative side of things, most of my inspiration comes from the scrap metal itself. Different shapes and sizes, or trying to find a way to make an idea work with what I have to work with is where much of the design comes from.
6.How old were you when you first got into welding and what initially
sparked your interest?
I got kind of a late start. Despite my dad’s mechanical abilities, I was never into working in the garage or taking shop class when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, when I first started as a millwright, my grandpa joked: “Don’t you have to have some type of mechanical aptitude to do that?” Ha! So pretty much my first experience with welding was when I was hired in at Chrysler as a 24 year old. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but there was an incredible draw to melting two pieces of metal and making them one. From that first arc sparked with a 6010 rod, I was hooked.
I’ll weld just about anything. My main business is doing the metal art and accessories, but I really enjoy doing fabrication and repair work. I do some mobile work right now, and I’m hoping to increase my mobility soon.
8.What certifications do you hold and how have they benefited you and/or your business?
The certifications I have right now were obtained through Chrysler, so they really don’t have any direct benefit on the outside. The process of certifying itself is what was the most helpful. Going through such stringent tests and seeing the standards you need to hold in order to pass is a great experience. I wasn’t able to test as much as I wanted, but I did hold a couple of 6g TIG certs, from 3/8” diameter 1/16” thick wall and up. I didn’t get the chance to test for 6g stick, but I had made it up to 4g. All tests were in accordance with ASME and AWS standards.
I think that going through some level of certification is a must for welders. I see a lot of guys that lay pretty decent beads and do pretty nice fab work that really don’t understand joint prep and bead profile, for example, and just think that any metal melted together is good enough.
I’ve sold bikes, buckles, and other items from coast to coast in North America. The internet has been as important to my business as any other tool I own. I made a conscious decision when I started that I needed a sharp website and a strong web presence to do what I wanted to do.
10.What kind of music do you listen to while welding?
I really dig classical piano, especially Chopin and Rachmaninov…. the expressions and moods that they pushed out of their instrument is unreal. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’ll be screaming along to Rage Against The Machine or Nirvana, or I’ll calm down and hit up some
I would love to open up my own gallery, with a welding shop in the back. I think that would be pretty cool.
12.Where do you see the welding industry in the next ten years?
I think you’ll see more automated welding, more laser, friction, and plasma welding, more advances in technology as needs and materials change. Beyond that, big business wants to take the human element out of everything. Instead of investing in labor, they’ll invest in technology …..which is fine until the robots take over (I kid, I kid….I just watched the new Terminator flick). I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t see an explosion of higher paying welding jobs. The industry doesn’t want to afford it. You’ve already seen it in the shipyards, where they banded together and basically said “we won’t pay more than x amount of dollars for a skilled welder, but we’ll dump hundreds of millions into robots and hire grunt welders.” There should be a place for the human element of reason and skill that pays decent living wages.
Get as wide of a variety of experience as you can. From gas to tig to mig to stick, from pipe welding to sheet metal work, from working in a shop to working in the field. I wish I would have gotten an earlier start on my career, right from high school. Schooling and training do not have to be expensive, take advantage of your high school shop classes and local community colleges. Find people with experience and pick their brains …..a lot of welding is flat out experience.
Just having talent won’t make you a great welder. Just working hard and practicing won’t make you a great welder. Just having experience won’t make you a great welder. But if you can get 2 out of 3 you could be pretty good, and when you put the whole package together, the sky is the limit.