First Light

Illuminated by the glow of his welding torch, amateur framebuilder Skylar Hinkley works on his latest creation.

First Light A Curious Creep Down The Wormhole of Framebuilding

Dimly lit by a sole bulb and traces of moonlight, I hunched over my workbench, eyes fixed on the soft glow of my phone. On the screen a blurry, middle-aged man wearing greasy blue coveralls and gold-rimmed glasses glanced up at the camera, as if to make sure I was still paying attention, while he slowly demonstrated the correct way to turn a knob.

It was my fourth time watching this video and, by now, his mannerisms felt familiar. When the man held up a rubber hose to illustrate how to check for leaks, I mimicked his Southern drawl as we both declared in unison, “Safety rules are your best tools!”

Learning online was nothing new for me, but this wasn’t like figuring out the proper way to bleed brakes (olive oil is not a substitute for mineral oil), or how to give the world’s greatest high-five (look at the elbow not the hand). This was different; I was about to open the valve on a thick steel canister containing more than enough flammable gas to engulf my tiny workshop in flames. And without anyone around to talk me out of it, or at least check if I was doing it right, I pressed on.

The igniter’s sparks met the hiss of acetylene gas at the end of the torch and erupted violently into a grotesque orange flame spewing smoke everywhere. My heart raced as I choked on the toxic vapors. A black cloud began to fill the room. Then I remembered my YouTube training. I cracked open the oxygen valve and the torch flame instantly transformed into a thin, blue streak of light.

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