15 March 2011
There's a truth about machining that often comes to mind for me, and especially on days like today: "Some jobs you do with a smile on your face. Some jobs you do with fear and trembling. And some jobs you do with weeping and gnashing of teeth."
When you pull out the biblical metaphors, you know things have gotten bad. The situation is usually one in which a lot of expensive work has already gone into a part, and now it's up to me to either finish it, or do some more work on it. Everything I do has to be brought into line perfectly with everything that has already been done, and pretty much every time my tool touches the piece, there's a very real possibility that I might send it to the scrap bin.
I find I really have to just forget entirely about how long the job is taking. Every piece in the batch becomes a lengthy duel that has to be thought through like a chess game. There are seriously times when I just stand in front of my idle machine, staring at the part, thinking "By what unholy craft am I going to make this part good?"
I'm limited by the fact that machining is what artists call "subtractive" - that is, I can take metal off, but I can't put it back on. There are precious few mistakes that can be undone in this process. So my bosses usually just leave me alone when I'm staring blankly at the piece. I might, in fact, be trying to recall Aimee Mann lyrics or remember whether I put the milk back in the fridge this morning. It's not out of the ordinary for my mind to wander like that.
But when you're essentially trying to superimpose straight lines onto crooked ones in such a way that no one really notices and that everything still goes click when you put it together, it's sometimes in your employer's best interest that you take those little brain vacations.