How Sabra and I have been using our free time demonstrates the difference between our approaches to doing things.
Sabra is working on a cross stitching project that will eventually depict a near life sized rooster. The pattern she is following calls for about two dozen styles of stitches, each requiring from one to eight strokes of the needle pulling one of a dozen different colors of thread. The grid is 14 inches wide by 16 inches deep. Each square inch is divided into one hundred tenth-of-an-inch squares. More than half of the tiny squares need at least one simple stitch. Roughly calculated, that means she will make about 40,000 jabs of the needle with about three million ways of making a mistake with each and every movement.
The word “jab,” however, doesn’t do justice to the attention to detail she is giving the project. If she’s off by a hundredth of an inch or accidentally uses wild rose where tamed mango is called for, she’ll dutifully remove the mistake, no matter how insignificant or how many hours she’ll have to back track.
I, on the other hand, hate and am incapable of following any kind of instructions or plan. That’s why I never bother with them, and the cat treadmill has been a perfect project for me. The great thing about a prototype is there are zero specifications, which means there are about zero chances of making a mistake.
I started out in early November with the purchase of two sheets of plywood, a lawnmower wheel for the axle and a vague idea of how it would all come together. By the end of the month I had made my first decision: I needed something to keep my coffee warm. I don’t mind working in the cold of the garage but I hate cold coffee– and a fellow just can’t prototype without caffeine. I’ve tried those little coffee heating pucks you can get at the hardware store but they just don’t do the job so I settled on getting a 30,000 BTU propane space heater and jury-rigging a little metal plate in front of it to set my cup.
After several burnt lips getting the coffee heater adjusted, I was ready to get down to some serious pondering by mid-December, when I decided I couldn’t possibly make the cuts I needed without a new jigsaw.
Back to the hardware store I went.
By the first of the year and several propane tanks later I was ready to make my first cut, a 48-inch diameter circle. The plan was to saw out four circles, each identical and as near perfect as possible, and then glue them together. The first time I drew the circle with a pencil and then tried cutting on the line but my hands weren’t steady enough.
I drew another circle at 47 and a half inches and tried again, but not before sending away for a circle-cutting jig for the jigsaw. It worked fine for the first cut. Why it worked well for one circle but wouldn’t work again I’ll never know.
At 45 and three-quarters inches, I brought out the router and sent away for yet another jig.
It worked with a little practice, and by Groundhog’s Day I had four near-perfect 44-inch circles of quarter-inch plywood leaning against my workbench, straining under the weight of my tools.
The next step was to bend some paneling to the shape of the circles and keep it in place by screwing in little blocks of wood. By the end of March I had gone through the whole sheet of paneling as it kept breaking, and had several dozen holes in the plywood where I had screwed and unscrewed the blocks. I might have started over but I figured the holes could be disguised later with enough paint.
Recently, I solved the paneling problem by replacing it with sheets of plastic that bend without breaking. This worked well after I bought a special saw blade to cut the plastic.
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