Repetition, Relaxation and Learning

Pleasure and action make the hours seem short, William Shakespeare

I’ve found a certain relaxation in repetition.  I think I first experienced this while block-sanding the primer coat on my 1973 Firebird (in 1980) while I was getting it ready for a coat of eye-searing red paint.  Some music on the stereo, the essential tools for the job at hand, and letting myself go with the rhythm of the job.

I’ve had the same experience many time since while working in the shop.  Perhaps 8 years ago I started a hobby business to manufacture some motorcycle-related items.  I found that there is a certain pleasure in working at a steady pace on a repetitive job.  I’ve also found that there is a limit to the number of times I can repeat something in one sitting before it becomes a grind.  It’s important to know the difference.

I had to TIG weld a batch of parts tonight, 40 to 50 is a good amount for one sitting for me.  Any more and I get uncomfortable.  Too few and I’m  not able to get into the rhythm.  Sometimes I put some music on and enjoy the process, tonight I had a quiet shop and counted off a cadence in my head and worked on making sure I kept a steady pace.  In the groove it’s about 45 seconds for each one of these little brackets.

I’ve also learned that this is the best possible sort of practice.  What I mean is that practicing an operation on a part that matters teaches skill faster and better – for me at least – than just doing practice parts.  When I was learning how to weld I bought an oxy-acetylene rig at the local store, a pre-bent roll cage “kit” and after making a few practice joints I lept into cutting, fitting and welding the tubing into my 1973 Firebird.  Any bad joints I ground out and re-welded – but that was a rare occurrence.  My focus was better and I developed the basic welding skills I needed on the go.

I’m writing primarily about learning hand tool woodworking these days.  The basics begin with dimensioning and truing rough lumber using hand planes, and learning basic joinery.  I’m building my bench, beginning with rough doug fir timbers, and the experience getting a 6 inch by 6 foot face flat and true was invaluable.  I’ve made a half dozen practice dovetail joints. They still look bad, but I think I’m going to need to work them into a project soon.

I think this boils down to “perfect practice makes perfect”, and discovering how to make sure you have your focus  (and not your blood) on the job at hand.

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