Sean Flottmann is a full-time production welder with two decades worth of experience. In his off hours, he is a social media influencer with more than 86,000 followers on Instagram, where he shares his unique stainless steel welded art.
How does one get to this point in their career? The answer is a whole lot of practice – and the right equipment, including a new Fronius MagicWave 230i TIG welder.
Flottmann took a winding path to learning welding. It all started when he was attending college for business management and began working in a fabrication shop as a temp.
At first, Flottmann did the repair work and other jobs the experienced welders didn’t want to do. He learned from anyone willing to teach him or answer his questions. Many tradesmen were more than happy to share their knowledge and appreciation of welding. The shop performed mostly TIG welding on stainless steel, which is where Flottmann’s love for the alloy and the TIG process began.
The day job
Like most young welders, he worked his way up through the ranks, honing his craft. Now, almost 20 years later, he’s still welding, but he’s the one sharing tips with newer welders. TIG welding and stainless steel have their own challenges, but that’s what Flottmann says keeps welding interesting.
“When working with stainless,” Flottmann says, “initially you have to worry about the heat input and layout. Stainless is prone to warping, and you have to walk a fine line between attaining proper fusion and burning right through the stainless finish.”
Flottmann walks that line daily. On the job, he welds base assemblies for conveyor systems, which require proper layout and spacing of the crossbeams to support the metal in order to get a solid weld without warping the end product. One of his favorite projects at work is welding “wash down” machines for the food packaging industry.
“Some of these machines are 20 ft. long,” he begins. “I can spend 8 to 12 hours a day doing my best work to produce a nice and clean with a #4 finish. It makes the day fly by.”
The off hours
In his home shop, Flottmann’s favorite projects are what he refers to as plate artwork. The pieces are typically square with a mirror finish or patterned with a decorative grind background. The central image is a TIG welded design or character often with a rainbow finish in the weave. These days, most of his artwork is done on commission. As he tries out new designs, he offers giveaways or raffles for the “test” pieces. A recent example includes an auction for a cobra plate on his Instagram page.
Flottmann is known as Dabs Wellington on Instagram. The name is a clever play on words, referring to the adding of filler metal to the weld pool. His Instagram page showcases his artwork, welding related posts and pictures from a welder’s life, such as broken TIG cups.
Beautiful rainbow welds and fancy weaves abound. He recently finished and shared photos of a colorful mandala design, which took three solid hours of welding, using a chill block to help dissipate the heat. As the chill block heats, he needs to weld faster to get the look he wants.
“You get a feel for how the colors will come out in your shop,” he says. “Tiny factors, such as a breeze, can affect gas coverage and change the colors you end up with. Practice is key. I can’t guarantee which color I’ll end up with, but I can do things like add heat or go slower to get closer to the color I want.”
Stainless steel is a great medium for bringing out color in artistic welding. The color is created when the weld or surrounding heat-affected zone (HAZ) oxidizes. Colors can range from a straw or gold tone on the light end into bold blues and purples. Deeper colors come from more oxidation, which, of course, means less corrosion resistance. This is one reason code-specific welding limits the acceptable colors in welds.
The most corrosive environments require the strictest codes. Industries such as aerospace, medical and automotive require silver or gray welds, indicating little or no oxidation and providing the most corrosion resistance. Being able to dial-in specific parameters on the power source, adjust the HAZ and control the shielding gas allows the welder to ensure the weld meets code when necessary or creates colors when desired.
This level of control inspired a road trip from Flottmann’s home west of St. Louis to Fabtech in Atlanta last November. His goal was to try out the MagicWave 230i and other TIG machines from Fronius USA LLC. He was impressed by the parameter controls and programming on the Fronius machines.
“I can tune in everything from the balance of the sine and triangle waves to hertz and frequency,” he notes. “At my day job, I have a very basic transformer machine. The Fronius is beyond anything I’ve ever sat behind.”
Flottmann found what he was looking for and now owns the MagicWave 230i, a compact AC/DC digital TIG machine. With it, he’s found that he achieves more consistency in his welds and has much more programming control than he had on previous machines.
Flottmann’s welding, before and after Fronius, has earned him many of fans on Instagram. It all began when a coworker showed him a photo of a golden weave and other welded artwork. It didn’t take much else for someone passionate about welding to get hooked.
He created the Dabs Wellington account about two years ago. Last year was a strong year, growing the number of fans and the level of community. Dabs Wellington is part of the Blue Demon Crew, a small group of influencers that represent Blue Demon filler metals and products.
The welding community on social media is full of welding enthusiasts that offer up photos of beautiful welds. Influencers like Flottmann provide tips, tricks and a look into welding life. Sometimes that view supports what one might expect of this blue-collar industry – hardworking people doing jobs that get them dirty while having fun. Dabs knows and shows that side of life, but he also likes to promote the idea that welders can be passionate and creative without losing that blue-collar vibe.
“I’m looking to remind the welders out there making a living every day that they can still find a creative outlet to show their passion for the trade,” he says. “It doesn’t always have to be that day-to-day grind.”
Flottmann has no plans to change his own day-to-day life. By day, he makes high-quality, code-worthy welds, and by night, he brings out the color and shape of whatever interests him. He recently purchased a new house for his family, complete with a 30-ft.-by-30-ft. shop for his creations. His daughter, currently in grade school, enjoys being in the shop with her dad, helping with his artwork and welding a few things of her own.
“She has her own Instagram account and does really well with aluminum,” Flottmann says. “She’s not too bad with stainless, either. Her latest obsession is heat tempering the frames for my artwork with the blowtorch.”
Follow Flottmann on Instagram via @dabswellington and #BlueDemonCrew.