With more natural beauty and cultural attractions than you can shake a branch of cherry blossoms at, C’ville is a perfect spring weekend destination from Washington, DC.
But on a frigid weekend in March, the husband and I were there for one thing only: Making sparks at The Virginia School of Metal.
I started welding last year through classes at the Alexandria Art League. Although I had played around with MIG welding, I wanted to take a MIG-specific class in preparation for setting up a home metal studio. Also, the husband was eager to learn.
Thus, under the Christmas tree this year, we found MIG welding classes at the Virginia School of Metal, located just outside Charlottesville, VA.
Virginia School of Metal
The Virginia School of Metal, located in Troy, VA about 15 minutes from Charlottesville, is a full-service metal fabrication and welding studio which puts on regularly scheduled classes for all levels of welding.
If you want to become AWS certified in Stick, MIG or TIG Welding for a career change, this is the place. If you want to mess around making fun metal art and occasionally fixing something at your house, there’s a class for you, too.
All classes are held on the weekend at the fully equipped studio (which, honestly, is vastly superior to the one I’ve been using in Alexandria).
The husband and I completed the 16-hour intensive Welding 101: Basics of MIG Welding course. The first day, after a brief orientation on our welding station and basic technique, we completed a number of practice exercises, such as laying beads in a straight line and welding various steel plates together. It’s repetitive and slightly tedious, but necessary practice with the MIG welder as well as the grinder.
Day two is project day! Instructed to return to class on Sunday with our visions sketched out, the husband and I brainstormed two garden projects we thought could be accomplished in 8 hours.
We both decided on outdoor sculptures. For mine, I sketched an over-sized steel sunflower and the husband designed a spinning (wind) kinetic sculpture. At the studio on Sunday morning, the staff helped us locate scrap metal from among the piles according to our specifications.
I used sheet metal for the petals, perforated metal and old saw blades for the flower center, and a round bar for the stem and “feet”. Since I had enough time, I whipped up a second flower using similar materials I scrounged from the scrap pile.
Scrap sheet metal that I cut the petals and leaves from using the plasma cutter. Scrap metal to be transformed into garden art.
Plasma cutting my ‘petals’ at the Virginia School of Metal. Husband plasma cutting.
It’s coming together! I ended up using this (scrap) saw blade in the smaller flower, and cut a circle out of another saw blade for the sunflower since I wanted a more symmetrical look. Do they stand up???? Success! Not bad for 7 hours of welding.
The husband and I both finished our sculptures by the end of the day. The trick was then cramming them in the back of my SUV without destroying them or the car.
TAKING A CLASS AT THE SCHOOL OF METAL
Want to learn to weld? Yay! All the information is on the Virginia School of Metal website. Right now (March 2018) they are running a discount in partnership with the Fluvanna County SPCA which gets you $75 off the basic class (normally $375).
The only thing you need to bring are appropriate welding clothes (that you don’t mind getting a little dirty).
- Footwear: Closed toe and comfortable. I wear old Timberland boots.
- Pants: Regular cut (no skinny jeans, or cuffed hems) in a heavy, natural fabric. I wear boot cut, denim jeans.
- Shirt: Long sleeve, natural fabric. I wear an old hooded sweatshirt.
- Gloves: Gloves are provided, but since I’m a petite female, I bring my own gloves that I know fit my smaller hands. I bought them at Lowes.
That’s it! Don’t worry if you’ve never welded (or even held a power tool) in your life. It’s really not that complicated to get the basics down, plus the staff at the Virginia School of Metal are super friendly and helpful.
Weekend in Charlottesville Basics
Itinerary: We spent 3 nights in downtown Charlottesville – class was Saturday and Sunday. Monday, we drove back the leisurely way via Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park.
Something to do: If you aren’t interested in mastering MIG welding, Charlottesville still has tons of activities to keep you busy. Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, along with the University of Virginia (also designed by Jefferson) are together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall is a pedestrianized shopping and dining area filled with bookstores, record shops, theaters, boutiques, and outdoor cafes.
Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall
Charlottesville is also a gateway to the Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles along the ridge offering panoramic views in both directions, as well as hiking, camping, rock climbing, and other fun stuff. Call first, because sections may be closed due to bad weather. For current status, call (540) 999-3500 (select option 1, then option 1).
View from Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Somewhere to stay: We stayed at the University of Virginia Inn at Darden, which is an excellent option if you are taking a welding class. The rooms are fairly basic, but conveniently located, and there is a very good breakfast in the Graduate School of Business dining hall, which opens at 7 am, giving you enough time to make it to class by 8 am. Rooms are $90/night, including breakfast buffet.
If you are looking for somewhere more cozy, try the 200 South Street Inn, where I’ve stayed on previous visits. The antique-filled rooms are steps from the restaurants and shops on the Historic Pedestrian Mall. Also the Inn has a cheese and fruit plate “happy hour” which you can enjoy on the wrap-around porch. Rooms start at $120/night, including continental breakfast.
Somewhere to eat: There are dozens of interesting restaurants in Charlottesville, so you will have no trouble finding something incredible to eat. I like Red Pump Kitchen on Main Street, which offers a Tuscan-inspired farm-to-table menu. Definitely make reservations for Friday and Saturday, where ever you decide to dine, as the weekend dining scene is hopping!
Final Notes: Charlottesville made headlines last year for violence surrounding a white nationalist rally that turned deadly, when a vehicle rammed a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others. Those who are familiar with this artsy, liberal, college town, like myself, were shocked as the town was thrust into the role of unwilling host to these horrible and tragic events.
It has been reported that the majority of white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville last August, were not actually from Charlottesville, and many not even from Virginia. Since the events last August, Charlottesville has formed an economic recovery team to revive its image as an academic and artists community, with the campaign “Cville Stands for Love” (#standforlove).
I’m not a native Virginian (but I do live here), so I won’t pretend to be an expert on the cultural subtleties that result from centuries of racial and economic disparities. But I do know (and this is coming from a San Francisco-native, possibly the most liberal city on earth) that Virginia, and Charlottesville in particular, is a beautiful, diverse, and vibrant place, and one that values inclusiveness.
Come visit, and take a welding class!!!
If you are interested in learning more about welding, or taking classes in the DC area or at the School of Metal, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to answer questions!
Behold the finished product. The winter garden isn’t looking its best, but you get the gist. I like how the shadow from the sunflower makes a sun on the ground behind it!
Length of Drive From DC:
About 2 hours from Washington
When to Go:
Anytime, but visit during late spring and summer to take advantage of the outdoor activities and dining al fresco on Charlottesville’s pedestrianized Historic Downtown Mall.
The University of Virginia, Jefferson’s Monticello, vibrant foodie scene, Skyline Drive and of course, the School of Metal!