Workshopshed: Bob Wright from Salem Ohio is a retired Oil Refinery Control Room Operator and has a passion for welding and all kinds of metal working. Bob’s creations include a variety of wrought iron projects, tools for forming and cutting metal, enhancements for his lathe and ceiling mounted train layouts made from welded steel tubing.
Workshopshed: Hi Bob, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us how did you get into working metal and welding? Did you come from a metal working background?
Bob Wright: My dad and grampa both had trailer companies and i worked for my dad for 8 years from high school on. I took all the metal working classes and Vocational Machine Trades in high school. I got an apprenticeship for Tool and Die but i turned it down (which no one ever does). I hung out in their shops from when i was old enough to walk just watching and learning. My grampa was an inventor and held several patents. My dad taught me lots too. Plus he sold chainsaws and i got hooked on them at an early age and now i have just 15 of them.
Workshopshed: I gather you have a “small” workshop, mine is about 6ft by 10ft, just how big is a small shop in Salem?
Bob Wright: My work area is right in front of my garage door. My shop is 12×24 and is packed full of machines and tools so i have to work outside. Plus my shop is 100 years old and i don’t want to burn it down with all the exposed wood.
Workshopshed: You mentioned that do your welding in the doorway (weather permitting), what kinds of welding do you do?
Bob Wright: I do MIG: steel, alum and brass and Stick: steel, cast iron.
Workshopshed: For metal working you’ve made some machines for shaping and working metal such as the press and twister. Do you enjoy making the tools as much as the pieces of work?
Bob Wright: I just like making stuff and the tools i see don’t really suit me so i either build what i need or modify ready made tools. Its not really cheaper it just suits what i need.
Workshopshed: You’ve also made quite a few accessories and modifications for your Southbend lathe. Which item is your greatest achievement?
Bob Wright: I really like and use my ER40 Collet chuck which i was the first guy that i have found to adapt the ER40 collets to a lathe as far as i know.
Bob Wright: I made a taper attachment, tool post, do lots of milling in my lathe, cross slide hole driller, ball turner, lots of tooling that i can use at any time for almost any job that comes in the door i am ready for it.
Workshopshed: Another interesting piece equipment the shaper which I believe you have. What is it and what do you use it for?
Bob Wright: Its a late 1940’s South Bend 7″ model. I use it for keyways, grooves, tee nuts and pretty much just making steel flat for other projects. Great little machine.
Workshopshed: As well as your own work you repair other peoples equipment, do people just turn up with broken things and ask you to repair them?
Bob Wright: I am pretty well known since i have been doing this work for 33 or so years. I have thousands of customers and a few local shops send me work and customers plus i get lots of work online off metal working forums and my websites.
Workshopshed: For the ceiling train layouts, are there particular skills or tools needed to create them? Do you work to standard designs or are the works made bespoke for each client?
Bob Wright: I can’t change the radius of the curves but i can change the lengths of the straight to fit the bridge to the room. I fit each bridge to the clients room. And for skills, it was an engineering feat for me. All the jigs, fixtures, tooling, making special machines to form the parts was a challenge to say the least plus figuring out where to get the special square tubing made.
Workshopshed: Given the mix of things you make and repair do you prefer the industrial stuff, artistic items or the ceiling trains work?
Bob Wright: If i had a bigger shop/building i would enjoy all of it more. There is so much more i could do but i don’t have the space. I have lots of time because i don’t work anymore but i get frustrated because i don’t have a bigger shop. Sometimes it takes so much time to do a simple job because i have to move so much stuff to get at the machine i need plus half of my shop is in my basement so i have to walk back and forth between 2 buildings.
Workshopshed: Thanks again for taking time to be interviewed, all the best in your various ventures.
Some of Bob’s projects: