Teacher to Teacher


It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to address some of the opportunities we teachers have today to influence our students in reaching their true potential as productive citizens. My name is Jim Weber and I teach welding and machining at Capital High School in Helena, Montana. Our focus is to prepare our kids to go into careers as machinists, mechanical engineers and professional welders. Because our classes are two hours instead of one, we can teach students in their junior year both welding and machining together, skills that complement each other. Seniors can then concentrate on either advanced welding or CNC machining. There are always a few who will work extra hard to tackle both disciplines.

I thoroughly enjoy working with young people and I have a passion for both the welding and CNC machining curricula that I teach. Having someone in front of them who is motivated is a great motivator in of itself. But regardless of the passion, I have to say that keeping up their interest level are the projects they create as they go through the learning processes. As a suggestion, try developing projects that really ‘tickle their fancy.’ For myself, it pays to remember that Montana is Big Sky Country, with hunting and fishing practically a way of life. For CNC machining, I’ve developed a curriculum that lets them design and produce projects they the enjoy building and using yet teach the skill sets I want them to learn about machining. A few examples of these type of projects are custom hunting knives and custom fishing rods we manufacture. These projects really hone their CAD/CAM skills and provide them with equipment they really enjoy using out in mountains and streams.

Using Mastercam software exclusively, in programming and machining the knives they learn 2D and 3D machining both lathe and mill, and solid modeling. The full tang blade is machined as a single piece and the kids do some very intricate, personalized machining. Students get to make the knife very custom to their choosing. In producing the fishing rods there is quite a lot of lathe work, fourth-axis work on our mill and fine detailing, including precision threading and internal tapping. We purchase the rod blanks from well-known suppliers and machine all the components from the cork handle to the back of the rod. I know exactly what machining skills they’ll learn working through those knife and rod projects so it works for me as a teacher and for them as students.

On the welding side, I have students pick their own projects after they have developed their welding skills in all welding processes including GMAW, SMAW, and GTAW. These projects range from automobile bumpers to trailers for hauling snowmobiles, to meat smokers. We use Mastercam to design all our welding projects, produce the CAD models, and to program our CNC plasma cutter.

If I may throw something out there that has always worked for me, stick with one good brand of software. For me, this has always been Mastercam. It is easy to teach, easy to learn, and works well for designing projects and programming our CNC equipment. I simply do not have the time to teach a couple of different software packages so it works really go for us to stick with one that we can use in our machining and welding program. I have developed a set of about 30 drawings of different parts that teaches the required software skills. Each drawing builds on the drawing that came before it, with drawing #2 adding a few points to drawing #1, drawing #3 adding to #2, and so on, from 2D to 3D wireframe, to 3D surfaces and solid modeling. By the time they get to the last drawing, they really know their way around Mastercam.

If any of my fellow teachers would like to see if these drawings might augment your own CAD/CAM curriculum, it would be my pleasure to send you a set. Thanks for the opportunity to share with you.