One-armed welder carries a torch for beloved profession

By YUAN HUI in Hohhot and XIN WEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-12-23 07:51
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Lu Renfeng works in a factory of the Inner Mongolia First Machinery Corporation in Baotou, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Lu Renfeng finds ways to stay on the job after losing use of left hand in accident

Lu Renfeng does not regret his devotion to his career over the past 42 years.

The 58-year-old, a welder at the Inner Mongolia First Machinery Corporation, part of the China North Industries Group, has used his right hand to weld tanks and military hardware since he lost the use of his left hand in an accident in 1987.

Despite his misfortune, he never considered giving up welding. In fact, since the accident, he has worked hard to master welding skills using one hand.

A native of Hengshui, Hebei province, Lu relocated to Baotou in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region with his parents when he was in primary school.

He followed in their footsteps and took on work as an electrician at the corporation after finishing school.

He found electrical equipment work too easy, but his eye was soon caught by the "fish-scale patterns" left on metals worked on by the site's master welder.

"It's a kind of welding pattern, the steel junctions are welded together like fish scales and look beautiful and orderly," Lu said.

"Each electric arc resembles a fish-scale, and is quite even. A qualified worker must have particularly steady hands to create such exquisite patterns."

Welding is a skill that requires long-term dedication and a clear mind capable of focusing on specific tasks.

A swarthy, 1.7-meter man, Lu's eyes bulge as he works hunched over his table. Welding involves squatting and bending for extended periods.

The most difficult skill welders must master is working with their heads and arms raised, a position they must maintain for long periods of time.

This makes wielding torches difficult. Even with aching arms, welders must carefully control the flame as they work. Otherwise, joints may become misshapen.

Lu's uniform includes extra-heavy flame-retardant clothing and cumbersome protective eyewear.

His current outfit is a result of trial and error. In the past, he wore thick, white cotton work clothes and gloves as he practiced, but they prevented him from connecting the metals properly.

His hands would tremble as he strove to keep the welding seam neat with his white-hot torch while fighting off the exhaustion of keeping his arms raised.

His work clothes were often soaked with sweat from the effort.

"I never let go of my torch, even when molten iron or welding slag splashed on me," he said.

"Now, my chest and arms have burn scars the size of soybeans."

Lu also subscribed to multiple industry periodicals to improve his knowledge of welding.

He learned techniques that helped him remain immobile while working, and about the triangular heating method.

Bit by bit, the difficulties he had began to fade.

Then one day in September 1987, he had the accident.

Lu's wife, Dong Huan, came to the factory to bring him his lunch and asked him to return home early that evening, since guests were coming to visit.

Because he was in a bit of a rush, he stepped on the switch while he was cutting steel with a shearing machine without realizing that his hand wasn't clear of the blade.

Half of Lu's left hand and all five fingers were severed. He was sent to the hospital immediately.

After 24 hours of surgery, all his fingers were reattached. But before long, his ring and pinkie fingers became necrotic and fell off.

In all, he spent a year in the hospital as his hand underwent eight plastic surgeries.

In 1989, Lu returned to his post as a welder. He now has no nerves in his left forefinger and middle finger, and only his left thumb can pick things up.

To mitigate this problem, he welded a wire to his work helmet so that he could hold it with his teeth when he needs to remove it. Sometimes when he finished work, his face was in pain and his teeth were bleeding.

Lu began wearing thicker gloves. He practiced welding 50 rods a day, often squatting for several hours at a time.

He also mastered more than a dozen welding methods using only his right hand.

In 1994, he won second place in a welding competition held by the China North Industries Group, and he became known as the "one-armed welder".

Based on his experience, Lu has boldly created his own unique and innovative welding methods, successfully breaking through technical bottlenecks he encountered while working on tanks.

His welds do not crack, and he said that he has raised the pass rate of products he welds from 60 percent to 96 percent.

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