No Average Woman, No Average Craft

Published 5:30 pm Monday, December 29, 2008

Betty Bates in Jefferson has found a way to indulge her need to create with her hands, challenge her natural inclination to design and augment her income – all in one hobby. Her medium is not for the average female, but then, Bates is not the average female either. She uses a welder’s torch and steel to fashion useful objects and essentials that many rural households can appreciate.

There is no curling, twisting shape for decoration alone. No intricate designs are woven into these items Bates turns out. Her designs are useful, straightforward hardware, meant to last and welded for sturdiness.

Some of her work includes log racks in any size her customer might need, two tiered flower pot stands (essentially shelves to hold plants), custom pump houses, barrel grills, even a rack that can hold 15 pounds of pine kindling.

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“I’m fixing to build a flower stand to fit in a corner,” Bates said in a recent interview. “It’s a Christmas present.”

Bates is a self-taught welder and she got started, she said, out of necessity more than 20 years ago. Since she began “tinkering” with a welding torch, she has designed and made some one of a kind items. One is a lightweight steel carriage for an Igloo cooler that hooks on her hay trailer. You don’t see those very often, unless Bates has welded one for a neighbor or customer.

The talent grew from a hobby using what she calls a “cracker box welder” when she had problems finding someone to make repairs out at her farm. After teaching herself some tricks with a welding torch to repair metal tools and equipment, she began experimenting in other directions. Her wood racks are made from two-inch tubing that is lightweight. “It took me six months to learn how to weld that stuff where it wouldn’t burn through,” Bates said.

Now her log racks are “scattered all over Alabama and in Florida,” Bates said. These log racks are tough and durable. The problem with Bates’ craft is that “once I sell you one I don’t sell you another.”

This handy-woman works on her craft year round out of a special shop she constructed using steel beams. Now, her hobby has become a small business. “I sold my first wood rack in 2001,” Bates said. “I love to do craft shows. It gets a little better every year.”

That first craft show, Bates remembered, she went to Pineapple with 10 wood racks. She sold two of them. This year a hardware store commissioned Bates to build wood racks for his store. She builds small ones at 31 inches by three feet, and others up to 10 feet long. “I did one for a man in Pineapple that was five feet tall and three feet wide because he uses logs that are three feet long,” she said.

The grill she built for her family will probably last longer than Bates will. Her outdoor campfire grills are light enough to take on camping trips and slide easily into the bed of a truck or storage compartment in an SUV.

Once Bates takes an order, the finished piece isn’t churned out in record time. It takes at least a week for a log rack to be completed. After the welding, there is a great deal of grinding and sanding, then two coats of primer and two final coats to protect the metal.

When she isn’t indulging in her hobby that’s becoming a business, she welds repairs for her neighbors just because she likes to be neighborly. Her chief business, though is farming, raising a few cattle and cutting and baling hay in season.

This winter, Bates has a new project. People keep stealing the War Eagle Drive sign that marks where the Bates family lives, so, she is designing what she hopes is a “thief proof” cage that will deter those who would just take the road sign every time the county puts one up.

“We’ll see if that works,” she said, laughing. If it does, Bates may be onto something.