Skillz

Oct. 7th, 2013 01:36 am
garote: (machine)

House improvement so far seems to be a hodgepodge of different skills, most of them minor things that add together. The minor skills create a critical mass of instinct that helps a person accomplish larger tasks more economically, and without making dumb mistakes.

For example, to drive a screw you first need to learn how to find the right screwdriver for a given screw. Then you need to find a technique that gets the screw in without stripping it. That teaches you how much pressure you can apply when you're using an electric screwdriver, and when you switch to one of those and start driving lots of screws in a row, you learn about how to do it quickly, and how fast is "too fast".

I remember the first time I used an electric screwdriver. I didn't know that the trigger had more than one setting - I thought it was just an on off switch - so I jammed it down all the way when it was time to drive the screw. Naturally the screw plummeted into the hole and then stuck, and drill began to skip in the socket completely destroying the screw head. The only way I could think of to remove it was with a pair of vise grips. Durrrr!

Using an electric screwdriver helps you get used to the electric drill, and then you learn how to drill pilot holes for the screws, and about fancy gear like impact drivers. There's a similar chain of skills from the hand-saw to the hacksaw to the reciprocating saw, with side paths like the chainsaw and the circular saw and the jigsaw. And another set of paths from the hammer and nails to the staple gun to the nail gun. And most of the skill in all of these turns out to be in knowing which tool - and which nail or screw or staple or drill bit - to use in a given situation. And how many, and where.

For example, after hanging the blinds in the downstairs garage and testing them for a while, I realized that there wasn't any point in getting the mounting brackets as far on the outside edge of the blind as possible. Doing so just made the blinds flex in the middle, which make them look fragile and cheap. So today I put the brackets about a quarter of the way in from each side. No more flexing. The mounting instructions said nothing about this ... but now I know.

It would be hard to teach this stuff formally. It makes a lot of sense that the trades based on these skills - construction, cleaning, drafting, wiring, tiling - are usually taught as apprenticeships with a hands-on approach. The amount of context-sensitive information is daunting.

Today I practiced my basic skills some more. I drilled pilot holes, and used blue marking tape, and swept and mopped, and raked leaves and stomped them all into the yard-trimmings bin. I hosed a few things off in the driveway. When the handyman comes to fix the sink I'm going to pepper him with questions.

Boy does this stuff take up time ...

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