Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mary Sue ain't half a cool as you think she is...

Some of you may have noted that I haven't been very active on teh weebs lately, and some of my blogs posts this week have been a bit, uh, fluffy. I normally comment on your blogs and a number of online sites, and over the last month I haven't, or haven't as much anyway.

Well, there's a reason for that - I'm busy.

I'm behind schedule and it's my own dammed fault.

Something had to go, and for a number of reasons it had to be the amount of time I spend reading and commenting on other people's sites.

I normally spend six hours or so in the mornings writing, and my afternoons (after the kid gets home) working in the wood shop. A couple of months ago I picked up a gig making wine racks for a local wholesaler. It's simple, if somewhat tedious, work. I've got an order for a hundred racks in three different styles due tomorrow. The initial prototyping runs gave me a good feel for the amount of time each rack takes to produce and the steps involved, including the time required to reconfigure my machines between steps and the most efficient order in which to perform the steps. I had to build several dozen jigs and templates for each component, and make a couple of prototypes, prior to beginning actual production. The jigs are a critical step, they are used to hold each component piece at the proper orientation in the various machines during boring, shaping, and cutting - and they took a while to get exactly right. Additionally, each rack requires a rather significant amount of complex freehand work on the band and jig saws - which required that I make a number of practice cuts in order to establish muscle memory so that each piece is cut properly during the actual production runs. In some cases I'm cutting several hundred complex curvy pieces and they all have to fit together correctly, and since each rack has a number of moving parts the tolerances are fairly close.

I began the first production run, for the type #1 racks, two weeks ago and everything went pretty much as I expected. But, there are always little things you forget about that add time to the process. For example, after completion, each rack has to be finish sanded prior to staining. I do this both by hand and with a powered palm sander. My palm sander has a dust collection port, but in the past I've never really bothered with it. However, fine dust can be dangerous, it's both a breathing and fire/explosion hazard, especially in large amounts, and with amount of work I'm doing I was generating a lot of it. Now I have a very large cyclone style dust/chip vacuum collection system in the shop. I have the entire shop plumbed in six inch metal ducting which connects my various machines and work stations to the collector. So, it was an easy matter to hook up a 2" inch flex hose between the sander and the nearest vacuum drop. Then the stupid kicked in. See, for the dust collection system to work, the sandpaper on the palm sander has to be perforated in order for the vacuum to collect the dust under the tool as it moves over the wood. I buy sandpaper in bulk and cut it to the shapes I need, but it doesn't come perforated. And I need to change sandpaper fairly often. So I was spending an inordinate amount of time punching holes in the paper, and the holes have to be in the exact right spots - tedious, time consuming, and unplanned. Argh! So, anyway, I was bitching about this very fact to Beastly on the phone the other day - and he began to laugh. For those of you who don't know Beastly personally, he has several laughs - this one is the one he reserves for me personally, when I've done something incredibly stupid. See, there's all this extra stuff that comes with a power tool, mostly worthless crap that manufactures toss in the case so they can make the list of 'included items' on the side of the box longer. I don't keep my hand tools in their various plastic cases; the cases I stash up on top of the tool lockers and rarely ever look at. Beastly sent me to look in the sander case, laughing his evil laugh all the time. Sure enough, in the case (next to the unread instruction manual) there was a little plastic rectangle with six properly placed spikes designed to punch holes in the sandpaper. What had been taking me five minutes per piece of paper (and adding up to over an hour of lost time each day), was reduced to mere seconds. Thanks, Beastly.

So, anyway, I figured I'd gotten the stupid out of my system.

Not so.

After I finished the production run on type #1, I naturally started type #2. Type #2 requires a lot more freehand work, but less precision, so I figured I could make up the lost time - and I did, initially. I got all the bandsawing work done in a single day and was congratulating myself making up significant time. The next day (Monday last), I started boring the pin and swivel holes. This involves placing each piece in a jig on the horizontal boring machine and cutting precise holes to a specified depth. It should have been simple and quick - and it was. I cut the test piece, measured against the templates and checked whether or not the pins (nylon dowels) fit properly, they did. But, I noted that the machine required a little too much pressure on the quill to drill the holes. This indicated that the drill bit was a little dull. Since I had over a thousand holes to drill, I figured I'd take a second and sharpen the bit. Sharpening tools is an art form and it can take years of practice to get good at it - but I've had years of practice. I dismounted the drill bit and put it in the power sharpener, and the phone rang. GCI calling to see if I wanted to sign up for their digital phone service, it sounded interesting and also sounded like I could save a significant amount of money, so I got the details and told the girl to call me back after I talked to my wife. Then I went back to the job at hand - and completely forgot to properly align the bit in the sharpener, the end result of which was that the bit ended up with a small (about a 1/64th of an inch) flange along one of the flutes - which I didn't notice. I remounted the bit in the horizontal boring machine and cut all the rest of the holes. Simple, quick - and wrong. Here's the stupid part, because I checked the test bore and found it good, I didn't bother to check the rest of the holes, despite the fact that I had made a change in between the test cut and the production cuts. Stupid rookie mistake. Because the bit was sharpened incorrectly, each hole, all thousand of them, was 1/16 of an inch too large in diameter. The pins that go in the holes must fit tightly, and they didn't. Stupid, stupid, stupid. So, I was faced with scrapping several hundred dollars worth of stock and three days worth of work, or fixing it.

I choose to fix it.

I spent several hours cutting plugs from birch scrap, and several more hours gluing the plugs into the holes. Then I had to wait an entire 24 hours for the glue to dry, before I could sand down the plugs and complete the repair. Then I had to rebore all of the holes (this time with the machine fitted with a new carbide bit), and believe me when I say I tested each and every hole as I drilled it.

So, anyway, last night I finally completed assembly of the type #2 racks. Today I've got to sand and finish them. So they can be delivered tomorrow. I'm now about three days behind on the type #3 racks, which the buyer just laughed about and said, "Hey, no problem, tourist season is staring slow this year anyway. Get 'em to me when you can." Thankfully he's an understanding guy.

So, anyway, I'll be in the shop if you need me, probably doing something stupid.


  1. We never said you were cool, you know.


    Sorry for your troubles. Come back soon!

  2. See, this would be the part in the Mary Sue story where he generates sympathy for all his woes... :D

    I run into the same types of stupidity when it comes to coding. "Sure," I'll say, "I can write a quick script and get that data to you in ten minutes! No problem!" Then it turns out there's all these fiddly details that I didn't account for, plus the multitudes of forgetting of semicolons, and an hour passes before I'm even ready to start...

    Nowadays I just tell people it'll take me three times as long as I think it will. It works out better that way. ;)

  3. You mean to tell me you plugged holes and then drilled holes in the plugs leaving a hollow plug with 1/32th thick walls? I guess you need a really sharp bit for that trick.

  4. Jim, in the long run, the satisfaction from right outweighs the time lost to stupid, and I know you know what I mean.

    I'm glad you had some down time to fill us in. Knowing what's going on helps me to be with you in spirit, cheering you on. I'm sure that's the general feeling from your blog buddies.

  5. Like mwt, I exactly understand. And when there are interruptions (as with the phone call from GCI, the likelyhood of a screwup goes up trememndously. That's why I do most of my programming during the later evening where interruptions are less likely to occur.

    Hang in there. The light at the end of the tunnel probably isn't a train.

  6. I follow MWT's plan.

    I always double or triple the time I think something will take, because if not, something *always* goes wrong.

    And if something doesn't go wrong, then I'm pleasantly surprised.

    That and the fact that I'm always asked questions like that out of the blue. i.e.

    Boss: "How long will it take you to learn this software program and write up documentation for it?"
    Me: (pulling numbers out of the air) "Uh... three to four months?

  7. I'm glad my illustrious employer could provide further distractions to screw up your day.

    And - the only significant downside to DP is that it goes out when your power goes down, unlike an analog phone line. OK, there's a backup built into the box, but mine in WA is only about 30 min.

    Otherwise, the service is great.

    Sorry about your shop travails! You are still a Mary Sue in my book though.

  8. Sweat dripped from his heaving manly chest as he finished drilling. Drilling relentlessly; over and over and over again. His stamina was legendary.

    Susie watched from the door, her breath coming in shallow gasps.

    He ignored her, continuing his drilling. It wasn't adequate. It wasn't good. It was perfect.

    Susie couldn't believe what she was seeing. "What a man", she thought.
    If only she could command his attention like those wine racks.

  9. Well, see, I did double the time I thought the project would take - hey, I used to program too. And I would have been good with it, except for doing something stupid, twice.

    Jeri, I wasn't irritated by your illustrious employer, I was actually really interested in the service. Looks like I can save a bundle and get cool extra features that I don't have now. And I primarily use my cell phone, so even if the landline goes down, I've usually still got service.

    Nathan, on your fist comment, yes, exactly. Also remember that the plugs are glued to the original pieces and basically become part of them. As to your second comment, uh, no comment.

    Tom, thanks. Call it a habit deeply ingrained by the military - if you're going to do it, do it right.

    The drill sharpening mistake was entirely my fault, I let myself get distracted and should have started over - I know better. Ah well, it was recoverable, just time consuming.

    Anyway, thanks the for the notes of encouragement, back to the shop.

  10. Sorry Jim,

    All the Mary Sue talk got me a little over wrought.

  11. Don't forget Nathan, Bubba is waiting for you.

  12. Nathan, that would have been perfect, except you missed the obvious double entendre about drilling.

    When I was doing production work, I would triple times too. Now, however, I am forever getting interrupted by questions. I sometimes work late or on the weekends simply to get some uninterrupted working time.

    The first stupid mistake made me laugh, like Beastly, but the second was more of a wince and an "ouch." Hope the increased vigilance cuts down on the mistakes!

  13. Anne, no pun intended, but I fail to see and ententre, double or otherwise that I missed.

    his stamina was legendary

    I entendre'd all over the place.

  14. his stamina was legendary

    Well, yeah, he orders every male enhancement product offered by the fine teenaged businessmen of Nigeria.

  15. Nathan, here's a line for you:

    She put a delicate hand to her heaving bosom. "I wish he'd drill me like that," she sighed.

  16. "I wish he'd drill me like that," she sighed.

    No, Anne, the proper woodworking term would be "bore," as in "I wish he'd bore me like that. And then she was, bored. She yawned and reflected to herself that one should be careful what one wished for..."

  17. Hee! Touché, Jim.

    I worked on a construction project for school, during which we had three girls and one guy working on screwing roof deck to structure. Needless to say, we had a great time talking about screwing on the roof -- that and posing for Charlie's Angels pictures with power screwdrivers instead of guns. Good times.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.