Chess, Magic, and Welding: A Texas Welder Is Turning Life Lessons and Passions into Entrepreneurship 

June 2024

In chess, like in life, winning requires a series of good moves. For Michael Cortez, better known as the Welding Magician (@the_weldingmagician) to his more than 400,000 followers on Instagram, life is turning out far from how he initially envisioned it, but he never stops planning and making the next right move. 

Cortez grew up in Houston, Tex., the son of a welder who was often out on the road working far from home and had no desire for his son to follow in his footsteps. Cortez had no plans of doing that either. Although his dad, Robert, had taught him to weld as young boy, he wanted more for his son. 

“My dad exposed me to welding but he never wanted me to choose it as a career. He said it was a difficult life that required a lot of travel, and he just wanted me to go the white-collar way,” Cortez shared.

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Michael Cortez (right) is pictured with his father, Robert, who showed him how to weld. 


Through school, Cortez, an avid chess player who would letter in the sport in high school, focused on chess and getting a well-rounded education. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Lonestar College (then known as Cy-Fair College) with his sights set on becoming a physical therapist. His planned route to that career was off to a good start until…

“I met a cute girl,” Cortez laughed. “She sat next to me in an anatomy and physiology class, and she was a little bit older than me. I was still living at home with my parents and just trying to get through school. She was always making fun of me for living with my parents. I mean, she was ruthless. And so, one day I was just like, I really like school, but I want to go make money because I guess that’s what women want.”  

Cortez heard about a welder helper job more than 100 miles away from home in Yoakum, Tex. He grabbed a welding shirt, some boots and went out there.  

“I didn’t know what to look for or who to talk to, so I just started making small talk with someone there who finally asked me what I was doing there,” Cortez recalled. “I told him I was looking to apply for a job, and it turns out he was the foreman. He introduced me to his superintendent and said, ‘we have a welder helper here’ and the superintendent said, ‘you start next week.’” 

Cortez picked up and moved out to Yoakum. He worked as a welder helper and pipefitter helper through Texas and Wyoming for years, but the whole time he already knew what his next move would be. He was going to become a pipeline welder. After long days often spent working in sweltering heat, extreme cold, and even rain, Cortez would practice perfecting his welds any chance he got.  

“I trained so hard. For about nine months I would go and find a spot to practice and just weld. At one point I got discouraged because I couldn’t get a root pass, but I knew that if I just kept going that even if the progress was slow, I would get it. I was so focused. I would practice till 10:00 PM and be up at 4:35 AM to get ready for work. It was tough but I was hyper focused. I had a board where I would write down all my goals and I would check them off I as I attained them,” he said. 

After nine months of training, a welder on Cortez’s job site was fired and he was given the opportunity to test for the job, but the test would be just days later.  

“It was a Monday or Tuesday and they told me I would test on Friday. I had been training but I was still having problems with my root pass. I would undercut it. I was struggling so much and then two days before the test everything just came together like magic,” Cortez recalled.  

Much like chess, magic is a large interest and part of Cortez’s life. He enjoys entertaining people with magic tricks much like he enjoys showing them his welds. Soon after Cortez passed his test and became a welder, his wife, Desiree, turned him on to Instagram, where she regularly posted content. Cortez, who is still working as a welder for the same company for more than ten years now, started his own social media page and began posting cool welds, his own day-to-day welds from work, and eventually videos. His views and followers grew, and he soon changed his Instagram user name from Michael Cortez to Welding Magician. He has never shown his face in any social media posts, which adds a bit of mystery and mystique to who the Welding Magician is, but Cortez’s reasoning for that is simple. 

“With social media it’s usually all about me, me, me. That’s why I don’t show my face because this page isn’t about me, and I don’t want it to be about me. I want to be a character that represents all the welders. This page is about welding,” he explained. 

With his continuously increasing Instagram views and followers, Cortez started getting sponsorship offers from different companies.  The success of the partnerships got him thinking about what he would like to see in the welding apparel he used and that led to his next move — his own clothing line. 

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Cortez models one of the Welding Magician’s lines of FR-rated welding jackets. 

These days, Cortez sells his Welding Magician branded welding gloves and welding shirts via Instagram and starting in May via his soon-to-launch website Only starting out in February of this year, his first 500 welding shirts sold out almost immediately between support from his coworkers and his followers. In just a few short months the demand has continued to grow and not only is his merchandise quickly selling out online, but his tough, FR-rated welding jackets designed for pipeline welders are also selling at Northern Welding Supplies in Canada.

The clothing line is a special endeavor for Cortez because while he continues to work as a welder, his father, now 74-years-old and retired, has become his biggest supporter and somewhat of a business partner.  

Cortez’s next move? He’d like to continue growing his brand by adding more welding shirt styles, helmets, and comfortable socks that welders can wear.  He’s learning as he goes, something he’s been doing his whole life. 

“I’ve earned so much about life and how to handle pressure from playing chess. The game has just been so critical to apply to my life. You make mistakes and you review your errors and then you get better.” 

Cortez has a lot to look forward to as his new line takes off but he’s most proud of being able to do it with his dad by his side and his three-year-old son, London, watching.  

“His name is London. I named him after the London System — my favorite chess opening.”  


This article was written by Cindy Weihl (senior editor, Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.