Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tool making and empowerment

When I first learned to weld about six or seven years ago I started noticing welded joints everywhere. Fences, railings, and metal wine racks that had always been in my visual background suddenly popped out and became fascinating. I'd look at an ordinary railing and think, ‘I could make that’.

More accurately I might be able to make that with a few years of training and lots of equipment. When I really thought about it the fascination was that I now knew how it was made. I'd always done home repair kind of stuff but this was much vaster. If push came to shove, I could develop the skills to make a lot of stuff myself.

A few years later when I was struggling with making curved metal shapes I discovered the English Wheel. I had never seen or used an English Wheel but it looked like the right tool. Unfortunately they were really expensive so I started looking on eBay – and they were still expensive. However, some guy was selling the anvil wheels and I had the realization that, even with my modest welding skills, I could buy some anvils and make a wheel. I studied all the pictures I could find, made a design, bought some steel, and built my wheel.

It is hard to describe the profound feeling of empowerment in making a tool. Throughout my adult life I had been making computers dance but this was very different. Computer programming is abstract but tools change the physical world. Somehow I got in touch with one of the creative forces that contributed to the development of civilization. On top of that I could also make nice curved shapes in sheet metal!

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