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Speaking of Precision

Speaking of Precision is a knowledge preservation and thought leadership blog covering the precision machining industry, its materials and services. With over 36 years of hands on experience in steelmaking, manufacturing, quality, and management, Miles Free (Milo) Director of Industry Research and Technology at PMPA helps answer "How?" "With what?" and occasionally "Really?"

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Craft Advice for Machinists: How Good Can You Get?

Posted December 21, 2017 10:30 AM by Milo

Gary Chynne uses his skills with the longbow to explain and demonstrate the fundamentals of mastery by having and following the process in “Guy Language.”

How good can you get?

At 3:10 into this video, he summarizes his lesson: ” So how good can you get? If you know all your steps- you take your front step, your back step. Get your head, get your bow at 45 degrees, get it back to your anchor, relax your arm. If you can follow those steps and get bulls-eyes, THEN DO IT!

“Do not short draw. Do not overdraw. Do not draw to the right of your anchor. Do not draw to the left of your anchor. Don’t let your bow waver around. Don’t let it wiggle. If its supposed to be 45, make it 45.

“That’s how you’re going to hit the target. So its just a matter- once you know how to shoot- how good can you get- at taking the steps to shoot properly?”

Probably the best advice you’ll ever get about machining as well. Follow the process. Be true to the process. Don’t take shortcuts or deviate from your known process.

His follow up is TRUTH as well

Anyhow, it’s kind of a blast, and its kind of a bit harder than you would wish, sometimes. Anyhow, when you do that stuff, you start to hit the target.”

Or, as one of the commenter’s posted:

Don’t just practice until you can get it right. Practice until you never get it wrong.

I think that this is probably some of the best machinist advice I’ve run across. What about you?

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Re: Craft Advice for Machinists: How Good Can You Get?

12/23/2017 6:06 PM

This topic is interesting to me although I am not a machinist. I work metal by hand with a hammer or fire etc but nothing I do requires the same precision as eg producing threaded components that exactly fit for a machine to work. I have worked wood on a lathe but not metal. I read your blog this morning and thought about it today, and this evening stopped to watch the video before I posted. I would reply to your blog vs the video separately because some different issues are raised.

"Following the process, not taking shortcuts or deviating from the process." This is obviously key advice in a production scenario. Every new product I make, I develop a process for efficiency, write down steps, and follow it to avoid wasting time or material. But it is also true, if I continue with the same product for a long time, I will end up deviating from the process. Maybe due to boredom, or curiosity. Could I do it better or quicker if... Sometimes the answer is I wasted time and/or material. Other times those deviations yield improved results, and an improvement to the known process. Deviation may be frowned on in a factory setting, but if you are self-employed it can be a benefit. When deviations have negative results, they are still a learning experience.

Working wood on a lathe, tool maintenance was taught to me as a key step in the process. You sharpen your tools every day. In my metal work I clean my tools constantly and inspect for the need to grind, polish or otherwise bring the tool up to its top performance. IMO those are the process steps most likely to be neglected which degrade work quality or require further finishing work as a final step in metal work. This is a different issue from the craft skill of 'finding your mark' but I do think it is key to doing your best work. Sharpening and prepping your tools before work gives a feeling of readiness similar to what the martial artist feels in the initial zazen and bow after entering the tatami.

"Starting to hit the target" is a nonstarter for production craft skills, I assume the machinist is also hitting the target pretty well by the time of being employed. "Practice until you never get it wrong". This is fine advice, why set your target below perfection. However in reality, there is an error rate that we have to live with. With enough practice the error rate is low, but nonetheless there will be errors. Even after years of the same production process, errors happen, and I shrug and say to myself "there is an error rate."

In my work, the hardness of the material is a variable which is inconsistent, varies over time, and significantly alters the results of the same process upon the material. Even with a product/ process that I have executed for more than a decade the results are variable. I am content to compensate those differences by my work on it, but also learned to tell myself to "love your trims" the same way that actors are told to "love your lines". Yes a trim is an error, not something you love but you have to own and accept it. The material can be repurposed or recycled. I have been in a situation where the material in question was short stocked, and making every effort to minimize trim wastage. The amount of stress and slowed execution of the task was not worth the cost of the material by a huge margin. The same goes for precision of measurement - sure you want to be in the ballpark. But the amount of time I save being able to measure by eye is far in excess of the cost of material "errors" that I have to trim.

So what I mean to say by the above, it is great to say 'practice until you never get it wrong' but also accept your errors for what they are, and learn everything you can from your errors including how costly are they materially, relative to production speed, and how much did you learn from the error for which you may benefit in the future. This is for sure a different perspective than you would have using a longbow for hunting, where inaccuracy would cause the animal to suffer.

incus opella
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Re: Craft Advice for Machinists: How Good Can You Get?

01/06/2018 9:21 PM

A machine in the hands of a fine machinist is like a stradivarius in the hands of an accomplished musician, or a longbow in the hands of a zen archer. How good can you get? It depends on how much dedication you want to put into mastering an art. The Japanese, as the most typical example have craftsmen who are considered national treasures because they have dedicated their life doing the one thing that sets them apart from anyone else. It is that life long dedication that defines how good you can get.

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Re: Craft Advice for Machinists: How Good Can You Get?

01/11/2018 4:37 PM

It is clear one cannot be as good as one can get in 10,000 things, when there is only time to do one thing, follow all the steps, and do it right.

The odd thing, we were never called to do just one thing, but to do many things, learn what you can, but to master at least some of them.

Anyone can probably set a piece of metal in a turret, maybe even set up a cutting tool, and with a few key strokes they can get an idea of how fast to spin the work.

Not everyone can find true center, tune a true piece, and have it come out as smooth as glass - that requires an artisan.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just build a better one.
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