Roadside blind welding in Malawi

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Roadside blind welding in Malawi

Next to an intersection with the main road to Mulanje works a group of men with basic tools. One of them was actively welding with a scratch built arc welder.

Wire was wrapped around a group of metal plates, and the whole thing was housed in a basic wooden frame.

To turn it on, the power wires to the transformer were connected hook style to the AC electric supply coming out of the store room.

There was one guy doing the welding, and he was also alternating between bashing away at a brake disk from a Toyota, trying to remove a part of the wheel hub. The banging was what originally caught my attention. He was beating away at it with a hunk of steel, fatiguing the metal of the hub for removal.

While I was there, he repaired two bikes, one by welding the pedal post back on to the crank.

While shooting the pictures of him welding, I protected my eyes by looking at the display of the camera and shielding my eyes by placing the camera in the line with the arc. The welder used no goggles. US safety inspectors would not have been pleased if they had been with me. I didn’t realize it until I looked at the photos afterwards, but his technique was to do ‘blind welding’ He would attach the ground to the bike, close his eyes, and scratch at the point he wanted to work with the electrode. When the current flowed and the electrode melted, he worked it until it was close, then would stop, open his eyes, check his work, and continue on or finish up.

Since most Malawians have little or no access to the energy of fossil fuels, people get around by either walking or using bicycles. These bikes are used for everything, carrying heavy loads, personal transportation and serving as taxis. They almost all have sturdy steel racks on the back. The bikes are made in China or India, Humber was a common brand name.

If you lived a life with very little access to the leverage of fossil fuels, like the people of Malawi and many other countries, how would you get things done? Have you seen or done a project like this? how could access to a tool like this change a person’s or a community’s possibilities? What are your safety procedures for welding? Contribute to the discussion in the comments and add your photos and videos to the Make Flickr pool.

14 thoughts on “Roadside blind welding in Malawi

  1. Jonathan Peterson says:

    Don’t miss the old school steel rod connectors between the brake levers and brakes on the bike. Heavy as hell, but last forever without maintenance.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A friend of mine used to weld occasionally using his eyelids as a shield. The arc is bright enough to see through your eyelids. I’m not sure of the detail levels but he welded a very thin flange onto an exhaust header for me while I waited and it was a very neat job.

  3. midwest metal says:

    Third world welding style at its best…but that’s dangerous!


  4. Symon says:

    Hi,during welding process your eyes can be effected that is why you should use mask during welding.I am experienced welders.I like to use plasma cutters.Visit this site for more information.

  5. Pete Rippe says:

    the author should go buy this guy some goggles, even cheap ones. it will increase the quality of his welds and probably get him more work = money :)

    or i’ll send him one if you tell us how

    1. Anonymous says:

      There was at least one set of goggles in the group of people there that day. They were used more as a fashion accessory than a tool. What these guys could probably use more than anything is more welding rods. Maybe a few copies of the Best of Make or Best of Instructables would come in handy. Their English reading skills are likely rusty or nonexistent, but that has not stopped others from learning what they need.

  6. John Craver says:

    Forget blindness. Closing your eyes will keep you from going blind from the UV, but what about UV “sunburns” from the arc, or actual burns from flying slag? Nevertheless, you’ve got to admire someone’s abilities when they can say “I can weld this blindfolded”, and actually mean it!

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