by Sam Buchanan
I received many comments on the pace with which my RV-6 aircraft took shape. Several
builders asked,"How did you build so fast?" The answer is certainly not due to
my exceptional shop skills (some builders would probably leave my shop in disgust) but
rather to a systematized and rational method of approaching the project. It is for the
benefit of new and early builders that I submit the following thoughts about how to
"work smart". These ideas will be obvious to experienced builders; however, all
of us have limited time available for shop playtime, so it behooves all builders to get
the maximum bang for their investment in shop time.
The construction of a shop project should occur not only when you are in the shop, but at
many other times as well. Time can be productively spent reflecting on upcoming tasks
during idle moments at the office or sitting in a traffic jam. And herein lies one of the
keys to working smart....
1) Hit the shop door running. I suspect many novice builders spend a great deal of time
standing at the workbench just staring at the project. This is not productive shop time.
The time to figure out how you are going to approach a task is away from the
shop. Instead of watching another mind-numbing sitcom, get out the manual or visit other
builder web sites and really study the sequence of steps that you face in the
course of completing the next task. And that brings us to the next step....
2) Previsualize your shop work. When I had my session at assembling the wing of the RV,
the parts came together readily because I had already built six sets of RV wings.
"HUH?" Yep, I had "mentally" completed several wings by visualizing
the tools required, the steps necessary, and the mental prepping needed to "hit the
shop door running". When I started the assembly, I already knew which tools I would
need, what order in which I would proceed with the task, and had a pretty good idea of how
long it would take to complete the task. Consequently, I had that feeling of "I have
done this before...". And speaking of tasks....
3) Divide the project into small "tasks". An aircraft project is by far the most
complex project most of us have ever attempted. This thing makes those Christmas bicycles
we assembled pale in comparison! It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude
of the project at hand. The way to conquer this feeling of helplessness is to forget that
you are building a plane, and concentrate instead on building airplane "Parts"!
Just build the ribs....forget about how complex the entire assembly may be. Or, break it
down even further....just form a couple of brackets for the ribs.
Every time you walk into the shop, you should have the task in mind that you intend to
complete by the time you leave the shop. Don't set the mark too high, keep in mind that
your time may be limited. But if you want to work smart, you will never just aimlessly
wander into the shop and try to figure out what it is you want to work on today.
Those of us who have been teachers see this as identical to the process we used to prepare
lesson plans. The first step was to establish the objective for that day's lesson. Next we
determined what "tools" (books, lab equipment, etc.) we needed to attain that
objective. We then made sure the tools were close at hand. And finally, we had a way to
evaluate whether or not we met the objective.
It should be evident how this translates into our shop habits. It is very difficult to
work smart if the shop is in a state of chaos. You need to to know exactly where
every tool is stored. You need to know where those brown boxes with the little parts are
located (you did inventory and label all the packages with their contents when the Brown
Truck dropped them at your front door?). There is no reason why you can't do this headwork
before you ever walk into the shop. Then as soon as you turn on the lights and take your
first gulp of iced tea, you are ready to WORK!
Also, when you have completed the evening's task, the last thing you do before leaving the
shop is clean the tools, return them to their proper place (unless you have really taken
this lesson to heart and have already visualized tomorrow's task, and lay out what you
will need (In that case, you get an A+!)), and sweep up the refuse from the completed work
session. The whole point of this exercise is to prepare yourself and the shop for a
"new task". This is key to feeling that you are making real progress and
generating a collection of airplane parts. It also means that tomorrow you will arrive in
a clean shop that is optimized for working smart.
Hopefully you get the idea. There is more to be said about the construction sequences used
to maximize shop efficiency and personal fulfillment. I apologize for bordering on
verbosity, but hey, the whole point is to fly these critters as soon as possible so we can
post some of those "First Flight" photos! I suspect that many projects have been
abandoned because the builder "lost his way" and lacked a cohesive plan for
seeing the project to completion. I readily admit that circumstances beyond our control
can derail or delay our projects, but let's be sure that it is not our own lack of shop
discipline that is responsible for our project becoming an orphan.
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