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"Working Smart"

(or how to get the most from your shop time)








by Sam Buchanan
copyright 2004

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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