Ancient Style, Modern Technology: Driver Turned Contractor Combines Medieval With Modern
Picture turrets. Stone walls. Acres of rolling lawns and wooded hills. And over 11,000 sq. ft. of living space. The scene conjures up images of the Scottish Highlands or Olde England, but this "New American Castle" stands in Middlefield, Mass., in the Berkshire Mountains. This medieval marvel took the better part of three years to build, requiring extensive modern foresight and age-old hindsight to replicate such a fortress. With the help of the latest welding and plasma cutting technology from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., this renaissance dream became a reality.
Who would tackle such a job? For NASCAR driver Kim Baker and wife Patricia, house-hunting quickly ballooned into a much larger venture: the New American Castle Project.
|A front view of the castle's stone walls and turrets. The Bakers blended medieval enchantment with 21st-century technology to build their dream home.
The Bakers were looking for a potential show home and spotted a castle in Virginia that they loved. Why not? After all, they were looking for something different, even extraordinary. Following a tour of the property-a building overrun by mold-the Bakers decided to build their own castle. It was settled; the "new" castle would serve as their dream home, as well as a showcase for companies to exhibit their latest products and designs.
In 2002, they started construction on the New American Castle, with Kim as the general contractor and Patricia as director of marketing, advertising and public relations. Although plenty of work remains, the castle has four bedrooms and five bathrooms, as well as a theater, library, spa, wine cellar, two-story solarium, state-of-the-art kitchen and laundry center.
According to Kim, top-of-the-line welding equipment was essential for this project. From railings for the stairs and terrace to an elevator installation and framework for several workbenches and fireplaces, the Millermatic® 251 all-in-one MIG welder and the Spectrum® 625 plasma cutter have seen their share of work.
"We've welded a million things on this project," said Kim. "And we weld materials with a wide range of thicknesses. The thinnest was around .045 in., and the heaviest was 3/16-in. thick. Our welding parameters covered almost the whole range of the machine." And the whole range of the four-story castle...
"We actually had to put the welder on a 60-ft. man-lift, lift it up to the fourth floor on the outside of the building, then weld a spiral staircase railing through a window," said Kim. The castle has two circular staircases, two spiral staircases and one elevator.
For such a massive project, Kim and two other welders worked seven days a week to ensure things ran smoothly, and he didn't trust second-rate equipment for this job.
"I've used a lot of different brands of equipment and Miller is the most professional," said Kim. "You can always buy a big, powerful welder, but some aren't too forgiving in their ranges. They either work well on the thin material or work well on the thick material. The Millermatic works equally well without any problems."
|General contractor and castle owner Kim Baker sets up to use the Millermatic 251 for welding balcony railing supports in the solarium.
Even three years into the project, every minute still counts for Kim. "The preparation takes hours, but the actual welding takes just a few minutes," he explained. "The Millermatic's speed lets me lay a weld at a rate of a few seconds per inch." The Millermatic 251 welds from 22 gauge to 1/2-in. thick metal in a single pass with a 30- to 300-amp output range.
However, the project required strong, sturdy welds that looked great, too. The ornate railings are held by supports that were attached to the foundation of the terrace (see fig. 1). Kim then welded the railing to the terrace supports. While strong welds were critical for safety, Kim knew that anything less than a nice-looking weld would take away from the railing's handcrafted beauty.
|Fig. 1 With the help of an aerial lift, Kim welds fourth-floor terrace railing supports with the Millermatic 251.
"Of all the welders I've had for the last 25 years, the Millermatic helped get the job done faster and also helped me feel secure because I knew it provided a good weld," said Kim. "And because a lot of these welds are visible, aesthetics mean a lot to me. I want a good weld, but it should look nice, too."
For added security, Kim built a 12-by-12-ft. safe room in case of an emergency. The room, in a secret location, provides bulletproof protection with Kevlar, carbon fiber, fiberglass and steel. To make the safe room practically impenetrable, and as a testament to his confidence in the welder, Kim reinforced the metal doorframes and walls-adding a steel grid and sheen-with the Millermatic 251.
"You can penetrate anything, but it will take a lot to penetrate this room," said Kim.
The Spectrum 625 portable plasma cutter also came in handy, particularly for cutting stair railing.
"We wanted the access hole to the stairs slightly smaller, just for aesthetics," said Kim. "So, we modified the stairs, which meant we had to cut down some of the stair railing."
The 57-lb. Spectrum 625 made cutting easier and provided great on-the-job portability. The Spectrum cuts 1/2-in. steel at 10 in. per minute (IPM), and when it comes to thinner metals, it increases productivity, slicing through 1/4-in. steel at 60 IPM and 1/8-in. steel at 200 IPM.
With the Spectrum 625, Kim finished cuts more cleanly because the Spectrum isn't susceptible to the voltage drops that normally occur at the very end of a cut; it maintains power to cleanly sever the last piece of metal. This capability reduced or eliminated the need for grinding and rework.
"We've had no rework," said Kim. "Everything went exactly as planned."
But Kim's plans for his Spectrum 625 and Millermatic 251 don't end with the castle project.
"Not only do I work on the castle, I work on race cars, too," says Kim. "I'm looking forward to doing something with a race car again." And when that day arrives, Kim will be fully prepared.
In the castle are two garages that host his exotic car shop. Each garage is 48 x 36 ft, which combined make up about a third of the castle. The Spectrum earned a place in his shop, right next to the Millermatic, which he has already used in the shop in anticipation of his next exotic car project.
"In the exotic car area, we installed what I describe as a trolley in the ceiling," said Kim. "It rolls around so you can pick up an engine or pick up a part with a lift. We welded it into the ceiling with the Millermatic."
Kim offered this piece of parting advice: "Definitely look at Miller equipment and don't try to save a hundred dollars. Miller welders will last for years and years. I never feel bad about buying any high-quality piece of equipment, but I do feel bad about buying a bargain piece of equipment that doesn't perform."
Tours of the New American Castle will begin in Fall 2005. To learn more about the New American Castle, visit newamericancastle.com. Visit MillerWelds.com for more information about Miller products.