Due to the odd circumstances of there being a window in my woodstove, I became curious about the temperatures going on there, and the possibilities of doing stuff like working metal with that heat. That led me to start experimenting, and then finally take some classes in metal working at night.
With that class, there was all kinds of things I could do. Melting down aluminum and casting it, cutting sheet metal and forming it, hand working copper and heated cast iron, machining metal on the lathe and mill. And then there was the welding.
But the high school shop that the community college rents was not the paragon of high technology. It was almost frightening to study a chapter in textbooks (written in the 1970s) and then look up and see exactly the same machines in the shop as in the illustrations for that chapter. Sure, you could make simple things, but when you really started letting the imagination run wild, you quickly got ahead of what the tools were capable of.
I kept hanging around after I finished the first class. I took the welding class after metal shop, then just started hanging around and poking at this and that. The teacher had bought a CNC plasma cutter in kit form, and another teacher had tried to put it together and managed to make a fine mess of things. So I took the project as my own and step by step fixed, adjusted, and replaced bits as needed, finally getting it to an operational state. Made a couple of cool things along the way too.
At some point the economy picked up again and I was making more money than I really needed, so I started picking up other things for the shop. First it was an infrared thermometer so we could read the temperature of the melted metal (they had been using a pyrometer before, but besides being slow, the high school students tended to leave the burner on while taking a reading, thus melting the wires in the probe.)
My next adventure was trying to bring the welding side up to snuff for TIG welding. The welding area has three types of welders available: gas, wire feed, and arc; and the arc machines can do stick welding, or TIG welding if you have the proper setup. Unfortunately if you go down to the local welding supply store, the proper setup for one machine can cost hundreds of dollars. Instead, thanks to the power of ebay, I was finding boxes of torches, collets, lava cups, back caps for next to nothing. Pretty soon I had more TIG stuff in my garage than the three local welding supply stores put together, and the school shop had complete setups for all of its Arc machines.
After hanging around so much at night, and coming by during the day; the teacher suggested I should just teach the class at night. That way he could take the night off (he teaches the highschool classes as well), and I could get paid. So now I run a dozen of so students every week through all the tools in the shop, and just hint at some of the possibilities. The students always come up with the most interesting ideas, from bringing in a titanium rod to experiment with on the lathe, to cutting designs with the plasma torch in quarter inch plate steel, and then pouring brass through the openings to create a brass/steel laminates. All the while I continue to collect more parts, tools, machines; all the while scheming to do bigger and crazier things, like getting a 3D prototyping machine to make shell molds for the foundry.
The other teacher shakes his head at all this activity. He was planning on retiring last year, but now has to stick around and figure out how to help raise the $25,000 for new stuff we want to do (on top of the $8,000 he's already come up with to pay for things I brought in after paying for with my own money). A few more years, and we should have all the tools we need to build a electric race car, or rocket ship, or something else the students will come up with that I can't even imagine right now.