Prototype door lift ring? Greg Elem Photo

Prototype door lift ring? Greg Elem Photo, used with permission.

Simple door details

My version in quarter-inch scale from 0.005″ brass

It should be simple. Take strip stock, drill a centered hole, then round off the corners on that end. Make two opposing bends to create an offset, make four rivet impressions and then trim to length for a mounting tab. Simple.

Only the first twenty-four were hard.

The Chatter Going Through My Head (HC):
Hmm, what size are these things? No idea. How long is that lower portion with the rivets? Looks to be…

What’s possible? It’s a question I hadn’t considered about my modeling until I read a thoughtful post from Cal Newport about an unlikely Nobel Prize winner and his journey as a scientist. At the end of the post Cal suggests we often settle for the convention of what we already know how to do rather than ask ourself what’s possible and doing what it takes to accomplish that.

Metal or styrene? Metal would hold up better and making these in one piece is better too. What do I have in stock? Nothing. I’ll have to make my own strips from sheet. Let’s see, 0.010″ brass. Umm, too thick. Don’t have any 0.005″. Here’s some 0.008″ tin. It’ll do.

I can work styrene till the cows come home. Nothing to it. Metal is different. Metal is not only harder to cut accurately, it’s harder to true up an edge; harder to mark and requires different tools that I don’t have. It requires a different mindset than styrene.

I should be able to drill that hole by hand. It’s just one stupid hole in each piece. How hard can it be? Is that centered? I can’t tell… Damn. Guess I’ll have to make a jig and use the drill press. Okay, let’s see what I’ve already got here. Nope, nope, wait, I can make this old jig work. Great, now I have to cut another strip. (#$%@!)

It’s easy to plunge ahead based on what you already know. when it comes to doing things differently, succumbing to such a mentality, makes things harder than necessary. Everybody thinks that years of experience magically falls into place just because you sat down to try something, or that having a shop full of tools makes them a craftsman. That’s BS. A fancy table saw won’t turn you into Norm Abrams overnight. It starts with your attitude and a willingness to make lots of mistakes. Craftsmanship is in the mind as much as the hands and tools. Having proper tools certainly helps and I don’t have proper metal working tools. You improvise and make do or invest in the right tools.

Okay, this should work. Damn it’s hard to see. Is the bit centered? I can’t really tell. This jig is so cramped and that shadow is in the way. I need more light at this bench. Duh, maybe if I actually put the OptiVisor on? Well it looks okay. Let’s see. Nope still off. Adjust the table a bit, Snip that end off. Well, closer, I guess it’ll do. I can fix it when I round the corners. 

Gene Deimling wrote on his blog that the aging process is not kind to modelmaking. It’s true. The quantity of light that worked for me in years past is not adequate now. Same with the level of magnification for my eyes. I want more of both because my vision has changed in unexpected ways. Seeing close-up was never a problem in the past but now it is. It’s a fact of life. You acknowledge it, adjust what you can and move on. As for fixing the hole being slightly off by filing? See the preceding paragraph about making things harder than needs be.

Reject pile

Reject pile

So far, I’ve made 28 (and counting) of these pieces and discarded 24. This is the process to get four that were acceptable and, it’s the price paid to develop a new skill. Yes, I’m aware that laser cutting or etching would simplify things. However, this project only needs four of these details and the time spent at the computer learning to create the drawing for an etch is better spent at the bench actually making the parts.

Making this detail is an exercise in studying my reference photos, analyzing what’s happening as I work and comparing the two. I’m not only learning to observe carefully but also teaching myself how to do what it takes, rather than settle for the easy road of convention. In the process of learning how to work with metal, I grew dissatisfied with the tin and so purchased some 0.005″ brass sheet and took the time to make a proper drilling jig with better visibility and alignment capabilities.

In a culture that worships easy, no-effort required solutions for everything, such pains are scoffed at relentlessly. However, in doing all this I’m building a skill-set that will free me from a fickle marketplace of products that come and go on a whim in this scale. I’m laying a foundation of greater capacity and freedom to model as I choose. Mostly, I’m doing it for the satisfaction derived from meeting such a challenge and from holding myself accountable to a freely chosen set of quality standards. At nearly sixty years old, I’m learning how to learn and finally have an understanding that the satisfaction comes from learning to love the process itself.

Cal Newport, Study Hacks Blog
Doing What It Takes Versus Taking What You Already Know How To Do