November 15, 2008


About a year ago I wrote about my “trials and tribulations” related to changing buffer motors.  A workshop and craft is a system, and when one cog in the machine is out of whack the whole system can come tumbling down.  That may sound extreme, but I sure do know it to be true.


The last time that I had buffer woes I solved my problems by acquiring a Delta variable speed buffer, a floor model from Lowes for about one-third retail.  I admit it, when it comes to such purchases I can be rather frugal, but at the time it was the simplest fix.  I was warned at the time about Chinese motors, but the lure of a good deal clouded my reason.  So, it was no surprise when my variable speed motor decided to no longer be variable, but full out 3400 RPMs.   While it’s a great thing for rough material removal, most objects do not buff well at those speeds.  So there I was, right back where I had started, virtually crippled.  All attempted repairs having failed, the search was on, once again.


Luckily this time I didn’t have to search for too long or go too far.  I only went as far as my garage where there are a number of boxes still unpacked from the move, or was it the last move, or the one before that? One box was marked “garage: motors” but I had gone through that box many times always finding buffer motors that had issues making them worthless.  So, this time I decided to look in less obvious boxes and was immediately rewarded with the finest motor that I have ever had.  It had been missing from almost ten years ago when I started Ming, and this baby was and is the Rolls Royce of motors.  It purrs like a kitten and there is no wobble to that shaft at all.  I could picture it on the Space Shuttle or the TGV.  Gone are the caps for oiling, this one has nipples for grease.  Sexy.


So, with a few trips to the hardware store and way too much down-time the motor was installed, but, things weren’t quite right, not by a long shot.  This motor sits much lower than most, so it completely changed my seating position relative to the buff.  The same thing had happened with the last buffer and the resulting tendonitis was something that I didn’t want to repeat.  When you shift your body’s position with regards to the working end of an intense and repetitive task, the body must learn and adapt, and that causes stress and strain.  And, it causes dissonance.  All week long my attempts at buffing didn’t seem right.  I would try and try but would soon walk away as I couldn’t get into that groove that I need to find to do my best work, or any work for that matter.  I found myself quickly abandoning my attempts at buffing and moving on to other tasks.  Any distraction at all can be fatal to a piece, and I was far more than distracted.  Fortuantely I was making headway on carving, but nothing was finishing up, and that is not a good thing.  So, I sat down and tried to sort through things to figure out what was wrong and what could be done about it.  The answer turned out to be simple.


I got in the old “Wayback Machine” and took myself back to a year ago when things were perfect, the buffer in the right place, and work getting done. I asked myself a question: what is different now?  The answer was that I had installed the motor at the new work station, where the Delta had been, when it needed to go back where it had been before that, with the buff right at the “V” where two workbenches arranged in an “L” shape meet.  That positions my arms at the perfect height so that my elbows can rest on the benchtop edges offering support while I buff.  That was the answer. 


As I sat down this morning, a line-up of long overdue ready-to-buff tampers before me, it felt like old times as the wonderful motor purred away.  It felt great, and my body slid right into that groove that had been missing for so long.  It was like coming home again, a convergence of perfect machine and perfect location triggering a memory in my body that could only be expressed by a sigh of relief.


But, there was yet one fly stuck in the ointment, one variable that I hadn’t taken into account, one that would ruin my day.  As I  begun to buff again I knew that I had to finish a very important piece.  I had recently carved the KazeTamp Fifth Anniversary tamper, a Torune-do with one side made from Caneel and the other from Bali, the tamper that you see above.  Lamination of the two pieces is done on the molecular level, so if the preparation and technique is perfect the resulting seam will be anywhere from dead minimal to non-existent.  As luck was having it this seam was looking non-existent.  Buffing would be exceptionally tricky as the final result would depend upon dead-bang perfect buffing, but the potential results were well worth making every effort possible.  So I buffed and buff away.  It’s a combination of buffing and sanding, a technique that I couldn’t describe to you, one that you would have to see to understand.  considering my recent down-time from buffing I really couldn’t afford to spend the time, but it had to be done just right.  When the dust had settled, five hours later, after an unprecedented effort, the tamper was done and the seam virtually invisible.  I was one happy camper.  I was also almost blind.


Eye strain is a huge issue.  What I do takes great visual acuity and what has to be intense use of the muscles associated with the eye.  After a typical day of work my world is very often a blur.  I’ve tried everything, but my ophthalmologist tells me that it is normal, and to be expected.  It can take hours for my vision to return.  I live with it.  Today it was a really nasty surprise as it came so early, preventing me from putting the final buff on other pieces that needed to go out.  Sure, five hours of intense buffing alone could have done me in, but when I moved the motor I had failed to change my lighting, and that really did me in.  Had I thought it through I would have thought in terms of the work associated with the buffer being a system where one change causes another.  I should be ashamed as in my undergrad studies in organizational behavior we followed a systemic approach that dictated that change to one element or aspect of a system can and will cause unanticipated changes elsewhere.  An education is useless unless you use it.  I now only wonder what other unanticipated changes will have occurred.


Tomorrow is another day for that.        


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