The name may be long but the message is simple.
Bob’s Heliarc Welding/Precision Propeller Works takes what’s broken and fixes it so it’s good as new.
Owner Mike Hall said the names represent two sides of the same coin. Bob’s Heliarc Welding was started by Bob House 45 years ago, while Hall added the Precision Propeller Works portion when he took over the business 18 years ago.
House taught Hall everything he could before Hall started running the business, and the two names represent the different skill sets of the two men. Hall is good at fixing propellers and not as skilled as a fabricator.
“Bob was amazing at fabrication,” Hall said. “And I can weld anything.”
House was always known for fixing propellers, Hall said, but he was also a fabricator, so his business name emphasized his fabrication skills. Now that Hall has more of a propeller focus, his addition emphasizes that aspect of the business.
“I was good at propellers, so I pushed the propeller side of it more than I did the welding side,” Hall said. “But I kind of would like more welding projects, the fixing things.”
The current shop location in the Brainerd Industrial Park at 1205 Madison St. is across the parking lot from the original, much smaller shop, Hall said. Despite the new signage, he said some customers still drive to the old shop. There are even original customers in their 80s or 90s who still come to the shop to fix their propellers.
When Hall first took over, some customers were reluctant to deal with him, as he was younger and less experienced than House. But over the years, Hall said they’ve warmed up and now some customers are reluctant to talk to anyone other than him.
“Bob worked magic, and I’ve got people doing the same thing now at me,” Hall said. “If I’m not here, they say, ‘Well, I’ll come back later.’”
Hall still makes cool things from time to time, he said, but it takes him longer and he usually ends up gifting what he makes.
“That flower pot over there?” Hall said. “It’s for sale, but I’ll give it away before I sell it.”
There’s a skill involved in hammering a propeller blade back into its correct shape without snapping it, Hall said. He does it by securing the propeller against a block mold of the correct blade angle and delicately yet powerfully hammering the blade into shape.
“You have to learn how to work the metal,” Hall said. “I like them when they’re bad like that because it gives me a challenge. I don’t like it when they break though. That’s never a good thing.”
Once the blade is back in its correct shape, Hall will fill in any chips in the blades, buff it out and paint it.
Hall said he recently counted up the block molds he has on site and tallied 383 blocks. Combined with the blocks he has scattered at home and other places, he figured he has around 500 blocks. The large variety of pitch blocks means he can fix a wide variety of propellers.
One of House’s calling cards was being able to repair cracks and breaks in mechanical parts like crankcases and transmissions. Instead of buying a whole new expensive part, Hall said, he can fix the old piece and make it good as new.
“People throw stuff away rather than fix it,” Hall said. “Now that a snowmobile is $15,000, people are fixing the older sleds.”
House was a longtime industrial technology teacher at Brainerd High School, Hall said, and started his business because he loved the work. His love of welding helped develop an outstanding welding program at BHS while he was there, he said, and produced some great part-time workers for the busy summer season.
Summer results in some unique challenges for the business, Hall said. People will be lining up in the shop for repairs and Hall tries to deal with them all at once, because of his perfectionist attitude toward work.
“At the end of the day I don’t go home because, unfortunately, my standards are too high for me to allow anybody to do my work,” Hall said.
Some people have said Hall’s repair work costs too much or it takes too long, he said, but it’s for a reason.
“I want to give somebody back a product that’s as good as new if not better,” Hall said.
In the summer, Hall offers full marine repairs in order to meet the larger demand. But the shop is still limited in the repairs it can offer because of a lack of knowledge in some areas. In those cases, they refer the customer to a repair shop they can trust.
The business does a wide variety of work on boats and tries to fix them as quickly as possible, Hall said, because there’s really only four months for boating in Minnesota.
“Things always break when you want to use them,” Hall said. “We try to get people back on the water as quickly as possible.”
How busy the business is depends on factors like the water levels, weather and gas prices, Hall said. This past year has been better than most, he said, because people are using their boats again. Because of the rising costs of new boats, they’re also putting more time and effort into fixing their older boats.
Over the last 18 years, welding technology has changed quite a bit, Hall said. When it comes to welding, 98 to 99 percent of what the business does is heliarc welding, which is an older term for what’s now called tungsten inert gas, or TIG, welding. Heliarc welding works for almost any type of metal, he said.
Only a few things remain from House’s original business, Hall said: a hammer, anvil and recently retired grinder. But the top-notch quality of the welding and repair work remains, he said.
“We can fix nearly anything,” Hall said. “And I thank Bob for teaching me how to make something out of nothing.”
Hall really likes what he does, he said, but he puts in a lot of hours at work. It’s that trait, he said, that led House to turn the business over to him nearly 20 years ago.
“Bob, somehow, he found somebody to work as hard as him to take over,” Hall said. “I had to dedicate a lot of my time to make it.”
[This article originally appeared online at http://www.pineandlakes.com/news/business/3925648-propeller-repair-business-keeps-moving-forward