Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doing Things Wrong

I once heard a person say, "Nothing is ever worthless. It can always be used as a bad example." Maybe it should be classified as a good example of bad work. So it is with my collection of mistakes and bad ideas. Each specimen is an illustration of how not to do something.

The early learning years produced a few five gallon buckets full of pieces which missed the mark. From time to time I decide to clean up a bit and go through one of those buckets to see what could be reworked, scrapped or preserved as a bad example.

Also, from time to time I look at the old test pieces hanging on the walls and take one down to show or look at for a design idea. As a general rule if it is hanging on the wall there is something wrong with it, otherwise, it would be somewhere else offered for sale. If it illustrates an interesting defect I may keep it as another bad example. Sometimes I make another example done more artfully than the old one to show the difference.

A while back a blacksmith friend visited and wanted an idea for a simple demonstration he was scheduled to do. I looked up and saw some old scroll forms and took one down thinking I would just give it to him to use in his show. I noticed it had a kink in the radius near the end of the arc and pointed that out to him. Then I thought how that could be used to illustrate how easily the eye can spot such a defect. It is actually easier to see if the scroll is held up against a plain background and the negative space inspected. The break in the smooth line is easily apparent whether a kink or a flat spot. Now that makes the scroll pulling demonstration more interesting.

There is intellectual knowledge and there is visceral knowledge. The intellectual knowledge can be obtained vicariously without actually learning from experience and sometimes that is best if the activity would be really dangerous. But usually learning from experience sticks best with me.

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.” That is according to Vernon Sanders Law. When I was doing the first experiments with my newly completed hydraulic forging press, I decided to try and cut a piece of mild steel on a cutting saddle with a handled hot cut. I failed to appreciate how much more powerful this machine was than my 50 pound power hammer and I didn’t get my foot off the pedal fast enough. The hot cut went through the workpiece and the cutting saddle and snapped off the chisel tip. Wow! I won’t ever try that again. Now that’s visceral knowledge.

Some times it is instructive to intentionally do something wrong as a part of teaching. Working a piece of real wrought iron too cold will easily reveal the fibrous nature of he material. Showing how important it is to get a punched and drifted hole perfectly centered by doing one off-center is a clear illustration. Showing how not getting a bolster sized close enough to the size of the drift will allow metal to suck down the hole is an other example. There are many possibilities and I’ve probably done most of them.

Take another heat.

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