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Development of Welding

Welding on a grid
Welding on a grid (PRDHT)

Welding is one of the trades which developed throughout the twentieth century. In the early part of the century ships were riveted. During the 1930s and especially during the Second World War welding replaced riveting as the main method of ship construction. Welded ships are cheaper and quicker to build. This oral history extract explains more about the transition from riveted to welded ships:

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"The riveting had died out, they still do it but it was dying out more and the welding was coming up. To it's, as it is now you see. It's quicker and I wouldn't say it's stronger, I think riveting was stronger but it was quicker and cheaper you see? Welding was."

Welding shop c. 1945
Welding shop c. 1945

The numbers of riveters, caulkers, drillers, boilermakers, blacksmiths and founders declined as welding increased in use. In the 1950s and 1960s oxy-acetylene welding was the norm. The admiralty phased in semi and automatic electrical welding during the 1970s because the technology had developed sufficiently. Listen to a welder talk about his work in the oral history extract below.

For further information on the way welders worked select the oral history extract below:

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"You had em shield, you had tongs, you had about six, fifty foot lengths of electric lead, you had a resistance box. If you were welding with DC, if you was welding with AC you just plugged in straight on the mains of the dockside, which I don't know whether you're familiar with electricity, but that was very dangerous, we had some terrible accidents in the dockyard with the AC, specially wet weather, you had to be careful of AC welding like, nobody took that, they avoided it if they could, you know, stayed to the DC welding box which used the iron resistant box on the dockside; it was a big machine and you used to take about twelve resistant boxes like, you know."

Face shield
Face shield (PRDHT)

Welding cables
Welding cables (PRDHT)

By the 1960s welders were welding very thick pieces of metal together. The admiralty established a new department called the non-destructive test centre. The test centre used x-rays to check welding for flaws. Flaws in welding could ultimately lead to severe cracks appearing in ships, this was the case during the Second World War. Caulkers would chip out any flaws discovered and welders re-welded the piece.