Metal fabricator Kevin Stone uses gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) to sculpt massive pieces of art from stainless steel. Read about Stone’s creative and technical processes and discover important tips that can improve your stainless steel welding.
A few years ago Kevin Stone, a senior fabricator, decided to combine his years of welding experience with his innate artistic ability and began creating stainless steel sculptures on a large scale. While people make the pilgrimage to Stone’s yard in Chilliwack, B.C., to see the “Power of Flight,” a 12-ft. tall, 18-ft.-long stainless steel eagle with a 41-ft. wingspan, Stone is busy inside his studio working on his latest project: an 85-ft.-long Chinese dragon.
With price tags of more than $3 million, Stone’s sculptures are designed to weather the elements and never lose their shine. His objective is to create “shock and awe artwork … beauty on a large scale.” To achieve this vision, he works with stainless steel, which he considers to be one of the more difficult metals to work with.
“Very few people can weld thin stainless,” Stone said. “It will oxidize quickly, overheat, and burn through. It requires polishing to bring out its beauty, which is very labor-intensive. Very few people work with it. However, it’s worth the effort. Once it’s polished, it can be out in the elements, and it won’t corrode, rust, or lose its mirrorlike quality. My vision is for my sculptures to be mounted over water to bring out the reflective qualities and use colored lights for effect.”
About 14 months into the “Chinese Imperial Water Dragon” , Stone already has used 1,800 sq. feet of 16-gauge 304 stainless steel and expects to use another 1,800 sq. ft. before he’s done.
The Creative Process
When beginning a new sculpture, Stone conducts some preliminary research and design, but he builds primarily from his imagination. “I have a blueprint in my head that I follow,” he said. “I visualize five to 10 steps ahead of what I’m working on. I picture what the overall shape will be and try to think of something that will fit inside that shape, yet be structurally strong.”
To help with fit-up and save both time and material, Stone first works out the details on paper. After he finishes one piece of stainless, he cuts a piece of paper to represent the next piece and ensure it fits perfectly before transferring it to a piece of stainless.
Stone shapes the pieces by hand and then tack-welds them into place with his Miller Dynasty® gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) machine. He first places the welds several inches apart. When Stone is happy with the fit-up, he adds more tack welds between the existing welds until there are welds about every half-inch. He eventually finish-welds the pieces together, welding a 10-in. section in one place and then moving to another section. This helps to minimize the heat input and to ensure proper fit. He finishes by grinding down the welds and polishing the pieces.