- My workbench, as it currently stands, directly behind where I'm typing this. There's no place I'd rather spend a weekend day than in this room.

A bad day in the workshop...

...can affect my mood the whole rest of the week. So can a good day there.

10w ago

You see the joke all the time on T-shirts and beer glasses and other gift-shop crap: "A Bad Day (golfing, boating, basketweaving, whatever) Beats A Good Day At The Office." It's meant to be funny, and I guess it is, but it's also rarely true. Hobbies are meant to be an escape from our weekday routines and responsibilities, and when they go badly, they don't give us the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction we're looking for.

Yesterday, I had... not a BAD day exactly, but a frustrating one, in my workshop. I wanted to paint the body of my Tamiya Bruiser RC truck, an finally settled on a color after much deliberation: maroon, the same as an actual Toyota truck I once owned and liked the looks of. I had the paint, so I went out to spray it when the weather was nice and sunny. Just as I finished the first coat, the skies opened up and the rain came down. This sent me scrambling to move the still-wet painted parts inside to the woodshed before the rain could ruin them.

Then, whe it came time to put on a second coat, I only just barely had enough paint left. I was able to eke out another coat, but only just. The jury is still out on whether I'm going to need to go buy more paint for a third coat.

I think it might be OK? Don't worry, the inside of the bed will be flat black.

I think it might be OK? Don't worry, the inside of the bed will be flat black.

While waiting for the first coat to dry (it's astonishing how much of the model-making hobby is spent literally watching paint dry), I was researching 3D printers, because I want to add one to my workshop arsenal. I came away with more questions than I started with, and it will take me a good deal more time to figure out what I want to do.

The power of reaching a stopping point, and the agony of falling short

It's a universal constant, I think: the one thing we never have enough of is time. At least, those of us who like to build things and fix things and create things. And when we do have time, it's in tiny increments: half an hour before work, a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon, fifteen minutes before bedtime. And too often there are tasks that take longer than the amount of time we have, so nothing gets started, because you know it can't get finished.

Or worse, you do start something, but it takes longer than you thought it would, or something goes wrong, and you run out of time and have to leave it unfinished. This is always the worst for me. If I can reach a stopping point, then quite often I'll stop and leave things alone, just so I don't have an assembly half-completed, or one side of the trim painted but not the other, or something like that.

The trouble with this is that I am still thinking about the unfinished thing on the workbench, even when I'm supposed to be doing something else, like working or making dinner or walking the dogs or something. And although I don't mean to, sometimes I resent having to do those things, instead of being able to just spend a few more minutes buttoning up that gearbox or applying those last couple of decals or whatever. It makes it hard to concentrate on the thing I'm meant to concentrate on, having that incomplete thing sitting there.

And it doesn't matter how long I've had to work on the hobby stuff; if it's fifteen minutes or an all-day marathon, if I can't reach a good stopping point, I don't feel right about it.

Watching others do the work vs doing it yourself

For many years, I worked in various sign shops in a production capacity, working with my hands. Four years ago, I took a desk job, and I realize now that it was a mistake. Whereas before I was designing things that I was going to make, now I design things that get passed off to others. This requires a totally different mindset, and it's one I don't like much. If I'm drawing an assembly that I'm going to make, I know how it's all going to go together, and if I find I've done something the hard way, I can stop mid-build and do it some other way instead. If I don't see how something is going to work until the parts are in front of me, then I just leave it to figure out until then. And usually, once I see something in person, hold it in my hands, I see how it's going to go together. I think with my hands as much as anything.

Now, designing things for other people to make, I can't do that. Everything has to be spelled out, and in their method of explanation, not my own. And if I see that something isn't working, I need to try to convince someone else to try a better way, because I can't count on them to figure it out. Everything seems to take twice as long, and I get frustrated having to watch someone else do things differently than I would have.

Worse, it feels like leaving something unfinished. Sending a drawing off to another part of the building for someone else to build feels incomplete, even after I see the finished sign, because I didn't see it through with my own two hands. So that awful "not reaching a stopping point" feeling is actually baked-in to my job description. This makes the hobby time even more important to get right.

One bite at a time

The only good way to ensure this, then, is to set small goals that can be accomplished in a short time. Instead of "I'll get the detailing done on this model," it has to be "I'll do all the interior details that are in silver." This not only makes me feel like I've gotten somewhere, but it also has the side benefit of making a build last forever. I can stretch out a 1/24 scale kit over weeks this way, and RC models for months, or longer. My scratch-built 1/8.5 scale RC Land Rover took me five years, and I still tinker with a few details here and there.

I haven't quite gotten everything done that I wanted to this weekend. I still want to finish up one or two things before I call it a day. But I think the Bruiser is no worse for wear for getting rained on, and I think that after the details and decals are done, the body will look just fine. I intend to run the wheels off it, after all, so the paint doesn't have to be perfect.

That's the other key, I think: knowing your limitations. Not letting perfect be the enemy of good and all that. Just do the thing to the best of your abilities, and the next time, your abilities will be a little better, because you've learned. A mistake is just practice for next time. And if you look at it that way, there really are no bad days in the workshop.

But there are definitely too few of them, and they are certainly too short.

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Comments (4)

  • Interesting. I've always done a bit of both in my jobs. It's probably why I like working at startups. It seems to amaze people at my current job that I do both management and getting my hands dirty. To be honest, I think it's the best way to build respect from the people who for you to show them that you're willing to get dirty.

    Feel free to ask more 3D printing questions on the hyphen or in the Discord. Quite a few of us do it. Granted I really had a high fail to completion ratio on my prints this weekend. One of my interesting discoveries was that I could burn a "wear" effect onto parts printed in wood-infused PLA (basically plastic infused with a small amount of sawdust) using a creme brulee torch. The wood burns before the plastic and creates this really cool aged effect.

      2 months ago
  • A very sensible way of looking at things. Reaching a conclusion that has noticeable progress can be hard to do consistently and can result in stalling projects.

      2 months ago
  • A bad day in the workshop is still better than a good day at work

      2 months ago
  • Thank you!

      2 months ago