The Case for Good Enough

By J.G. Pasterjak
Sep 22, 2014 | Posted in Columns | From the Oct. 2014 issue | Never miss an article

I’m a pretty good fabricator.

Notice I didn’t say I’m a great fabricator. That’s because I understand, and possibly even embrace, my limitations when it comes to the creation of things from nothingness.

My dad used to work as a power plant fire and safety inspector. He basically had the same job as Homer Simpson, though he didn’t share that character’s less-than-exceptional approach to project management. After amassing a pretty decent career, he quit and decided to go into business for himself as a building contractor. Through summers of assisting him in that industry, as well as a lifetime of being around his love of craftsmanship, I picked up just enough knowledge about making stuff from scratch to be truly dangerous.

Looking back, I probably should have given the attention to the planning phases of jobs than I did the actual construction phases. I love the building: seeing a form arise from the nothingness, feeling structure take root from otherwise flimsy materials. But the planning part–you know, the part where you figure out what exactly you want to build and how it will look–did not sink in the way it should have.

Case in point: I recently constructed a new aviary for the five parrots my wife and I share a home with (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). My mind could easily conjure a view of the finished product and the various fancy features that would enhance the lives of my avian pals. But no matter how many times I sat down to make sketches and come up with an accurate supply list, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the project.

Once I actually started construction, though, I could easily fill in those blanks. There’s probably a fancy science word for it, but I guess I just needed to see the aviary taking shape in physical space–to actually feel how the various tubes and connectors mated together–to be able to properly finish the job in my head.

And despite the lack of any drawn plans, my creation turned out quite lovely–if I may be so bold as to speak for my tropical friends. Despite my intellectual inability to properly plan a project, I take no less joy in seeing a job well done. There’s really no satisfaction like the satisfaction of creation, even if the first few steps consist of trial, error and repeat.

If anything, being a poor planner has taught me to overbuild most of my fabrication projects. When you’re armed with only a rudimentary knowledge of construction technique, you tend to just keep applying reinforcements–no matter how many trips you have to make to the hardware store for more self-tapping screws–until your project no longer moves, bends, flexes or sways.

And I know I’m not the only one who approaches a fabrication project with a “build-to-fit” spirit. If everyone out there is so good at planning projects, why does Home Depot sell trim in more than one width? Do you really think expanding foam was made with the “Pocket Ref” crowd in mind?

I’ve learned to pick my battles, too. No way would I ever build a roll cage from scratch. I’d feel comfortable welding up someone else’s work–my welds may not always be beautiful, but damn it, they stick–but no way am I going to be in charge of measuring, cutting and bending. I have no doubt that if I built a roll cage, the car would be safe, but it would also weigh 6000 pounds and you wouldn’t be able to get in or out without deploying the jaws of life.

So please let my bad example be an inspiration to all of you. Go out to the garage and build something, no matter how small and insignificant. If it doesn’t work, keep putting self-tapping screws into it until it does, or at least until it becomes too pointy to hold. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re making something out of nothing. For example, I’ve learned that my best weld beads always occur when I’m welding the Vise-Grips to my work piece. But when I see that beautiful, symmetrical bead being laid down through my darkened visor, I’m not stopping for anything.

If you see me at an event this summer, stop by and share some of your fabrication tales. I love to see what other people create with their bare hands and skill. I’ll even let you sit in the fancy new Momo race seat I just installed in the 350Z project. Just please, God, do not look at the seat bracket. The guy who fabbed it up–well, I’m not so sure about him.

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