Nalan Bollschweiler @madpumpkinfab is a welder based in Northern Colorado, who specialises in custom automotive work. If you follow welding pages on TikTok, you've probably already seen a few of Nalan's videos, some of which have amassed hundreds of thousands of views.
We chatted with Nalan to learn more about his work and his advice for beginners in the world of welding. We discuss what young welders should be aware of before they start out in the trades, and what characteristics are important in welders who are starting out.
Here's our interview with Nalan.
When did you start welding, and how did you become interested in the trades?
I was introduced to welding back in high school, helping someone out make hand rails and small projects. Started with a little MIG welder and a good old DeWalt grinder that I used a lot. My welds weren’t that that pretty so had to take them off a lot of the time. Then in my junior year of high school, I started looking into collage classes that taught welding, machining, and auto cad. That’s where it all started, more or less.
I started to look into welding after my third attempt of joining the fire department in a big city. I was in a small department and wanted to move up to something more. I remembered how much I enjoyed welding a few years earlier in my high school/college program, so I decided to try my hand at welding.
I went and started at my college again to get brought back up to speed in welding and get my advanced welding certs up. I advanced quickly to the point that I was helping others in my class and a teachers aid for the high school program that I was in years before. Then one day, a classmate mentioned he was going to a job fair in a nearby city and asked if I like to join him. After a test run and an interview I went to school, and it seems my instructor at the time was called to be my reference and was told I was going to be hired.
Sure enough, the next day I was given an offer to start as a pressure vessel welding for Micro Motion. I've been there for almost ten years now.
Tell us about your work. What is the largest project you've worked on? What other kinds of work have you done?
This one is a hard one for me to answer. I say this because I’ve done a few that were large to me in different ways, so I'll just mention a few of them. Outside of my main job, I’ve done a few neat and unexpected side jobs that have helped me learn a great deal of things over the years.
My first big job was before I even owned my first welder -- I was recommended to a guy by my tattooist to help speed up some drag car stuff. Ended up doing a few cool jobs with him, making modifications to some roll cages and tubs for some Camaros and some Dodge Darts. But the one that was fun was to help with involved engine mount relocations and chassis tubes to floor pans on a 70’ dodge demon that ended up making 1400hp with NOZ and doing mid/high 6s in the quarter mile. This was big to me, considering that I was only welding for about a year at that point.
The next big job happened a few months later, when I ended up buying my first welder, which I still have. Another recommendation from the tattooist -- they seem to know everyone. A gentleman who did custom landscaping for big apartment complexes was tasked to find someone to do some custom flower pans to be put in a new build location. It may not seem like much and probably wasn’t, but it was the start of a good working relationship that lasted years. I ended up making 70 huge pans out of aluminium. I had only 2 weeks to do it, which should have been more than enough to time, but my job demanded mandatory overtime and weekends, so that two-week lead time just became a huge task. I brought in a friend to polish and clean up all the metal for me to weld in and him to repeat the process daily for 60 hours.
That sounds like a lot of work! What did your client think of the job you did?What other interesting work have you done?
The customer was thrilled that we finished a few days a head of time, and from what I know the pans are still in the apartment complex.
At some more recent big jobs, I was brought in touch with someone that works on small private jets. I've had to redo a bunch of interior panels. I've had a few military projects from the same guy. I was never really given much other than a few sheets of paper and told to make it to the specs, so I was never able to see the final product.
What should a beginner consider before jumping into the trades? How does one go about deciding to become a welder?
I would suggest asking around and seeing if anyone is willing to let you shadow them for a few hours. If you are in high school like I was when I was looking into welding, ask the school if they have any programs that you can get into. If you are out of high school, I would suggest the same thing -- go take a few intro classes at your local collage.
I suggest a community college -- its cheaper and if you don’t like it you aren’t out much. You can go look around some local shops and see if they are willing to offer an apprenticeship of any kind. I've learned over the years that metalworkers are more than willing to teach people the trade, if you are willing to listen and put the effort into it. I know that I personally get a great deal of satisfaction watching someone lay the first bead.
What challenges should those starting out be aware of?
The challenges in this field revolve around the issues that can arise. With that though, you gain the ability to work around it and assess the issue faster next time.
Are there any particular characteristics or traits which you think help welders to be better at their jobs?
A good personality trait to have is good work ethic -- and pride. Pride is needed in anything -- you want to have pride in the work you are doing, and pride that it’s done to the best of your ability in that moment. I want to strive to be better than I was before on a daily basis.
We're grateful to Nalan for sharing his advice and work experience with us. Looking at his work, his work ethic and pride is clear. His advice is worthwhile following too: if you're prepared to work, and to listen, there will be no shortage of welders prepared to teach and share their skills with you.