Making: “Workmanship” – Even in Assembly

Two stories in one today:  Mastering label removal and a discussion about workmanship.  You see, a lot of young people today didn’t have the advantage of an in-charge male figure in their household to pass on certain traits once lumped under the working-class term “workmanship.”  Not PC?  Oh, darn. Here, take this TS chit to the chaplain.

Workmanship has its roots going back to craft guilds and what it means is doing an exceptionally good job of ANY job site task.  You’ll also find it in Ephesians 2:10…so definitely old-school concept.

There is slap-dash which looks like whoever did it didn’t give a rip and the project was just being “gotten out of the way.”  But the same project done with pride in workmanship give you an entirely different look to the completed task.  In the work setting, things will appeal to the careful eye of an inspector.

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I’ve seen this on jobs sites as a kid.  There was a four-plex being put up next to our home and I was about 8 or 10 at the time.

I noticed the city building inspector showed up.  Took a cursory look, got out his thermos and had a cup with the guy putting up the building.  Simone  was the family name – an Italian family from Rainer Valley in Seattle, back in the day.

I asked my dad:  “Why didn’t the building inspector go over Rudy’s work more closely?”  I wondered because it was more like a couple of buds taking a coffee break.  MY work as a kid was always gone over most thoroughly.

“Rudy’s been doing construction for a long time.  He’s got a great reputation as a quality builder.  Well-deserved, too.  Doesn’t cut corners or go cheap on materials.  That four-plex will outlive you.  The building inspector’s seen his work and admires it.  So he just looks at one of two things where a builder might cut corners – which Rudy doesn’t – and stays out of his way.  Time for a coffee break…they’re professionals.”

You see this workmanship in electronics, too.  Some radios built from kits or “home-brewed” look like something rescued from a land fill.  Components go this way, and that.

But in electronics you can see real workmanship  when the components run parallel to the sides of the chassis – giving everything a “squared-off” look.  Even cable lacing is applied so that what would be a “jumble” of wires done by a hack turns into a gracefully composed piece of art.

When one of my uncles built a 43-foot fishing boat (on a Tacoma Boat fiberglass hull) I remember my dad spent about a week in the boatyard.  Asked what he was working on, my dad who later in life got seriously into macramé explained he was lacing the electrical cables below decks.

Never forgotten that.  I still keep a big roll of waxed cable-lacing string at my electronics bench.

One of these days, I will finish my book on restoration of old-school tube-type radios.  But as part of the book’s research, Rockwell-Collins gave me permission to include a couple of pages from their workmanship book (125 pages).

Included is the proper way to break a line out of a lacing.

This may not seem like a “big thing” but it’s this level of detail when “making” anything that makes the difference between a so-so piece or a really first-class work of art.

Every time I have talked to the Antarctic on my ham radio – and come to think of it, all the transoceanic flights I’ve worked on ham radio, care to guess whose brand of single sideband gear was in the cockpit and in the tail antenna panel?

Workmanship applies to everything you make.  Even if it’s something  as simple as…

Assembling a Garden Cart

The garden cart assembly was supposed to be a quick project.

You know – how much art and workmanship can you put into such a thing?

Turns out, a surprising amount.

As I got to looking at the plastic tub for the cart I saw this horrible cheap paper label.

Got after it with a fingernail.  Not coming off.

I cannot, for the life of me, fathom what goes through a product designer’s head.

Here they have a serviceable cart and they cheapen it up by putting on a crappy label that’s not going to come off nicely or neatly.

One of the tricks to getting this kind of label off is to grab your heat gun. Most adhesives used on labels soften with heat.

heat guns are not expensive and they are useful for other things, too, like putting on heat-shrink tubing.  Quick-drying a paint touch-up spot. and so on.

Since this is a plastic tub, you have to take time to heat it slowly and evenly.  Like shrinking and stretching metalwork in auto body work, plastic can be persnickety if you get too anxious.

Do I look anxious?

Say, that’s a nice shot of my operated eye (right in picture) which looks way different from the other one, lol.

The reason I hate labels is simple:  When they are made of paper, they look like crap instantly.  They hold dirt, fall apart in the rain. Yuck.

Just doesn’t look…strack if you’ve been in the .mil.

Here’s another one so we can zoom in on technique:

I took a couple of test picks at it with a fingernail (the best tool of all!) but even when I got hold of it, no soap.

Again, patient application of heat.  Hold the heat gun far enough back and remember the adhesive only needs to get up to 200-F, or so, before it will soften.  (The older the adhesive, the more patience and heat…)

Eventually, the paper comes off.  Adhesive will remain.

Now you have this patch of glue to remove but that’s easy.

There are some people who like Goof-Off, others swear by Goo-Gone, and there are oodles of knock-off brands at the dollar-store.

They may be OK for household use, but in my shop, any leftover label goo is gone in one pass with Turtle Wax T-529 Label & Sticker Remover – 10 oz..  Great stuff…like their bug and tar remover which also works.

Remember, though:  If the label remover will remove adhesive, it might be hard on the finish, so test it in an area that’s out of sight.

In this case, one squirt, one pass with a paper towel, and now no sign of anything having been there.

Here’s another area where you can add a small dose of “workmanship.”

Plastic that is cast or molded involves a thin layer of what’s called “parting compound” between the mold and the workpiece.

I’ve always laughed at people who drink water out of plastic bottles for this reason.  I haven’t researched how good food- grade parting compounds are, but I’ll stick with a steak, thanks.

Meanwhile, looks like this tub came out of an industrial setting, so hitting it with Krud Kutter 305373 Kitchen Degreaser All-Purpose Cleaner, 32 oz will make it OK to haul veggies around in it and such.  Yes, they get washed too, but it just looks better cleaned up.

So in addition to whatever else you to assemble a project, here’s our stable of label tools to enable a workmanlike job on something as basic as assembling a cart:

Label and sticker remover, Krud Kutter, one-handed knife, paper towels, and a cheap $16 heat gun like the Nicole- Multi-purpose Heat Gun Tool with Stand Is Perfect for Embossing, Drying Paint & More (Colors May Vary).

Thing about workmanship is this:  People will think you’re a craftsman even when things go wrong.  In an industrial setting, someone who does slap-dash work won’t get as many “chances” as someone who’s got a professional, workmanlike approach.  Can’t say that’s right.

But, I can tell you that’s the way the world really works.

(No Making column next weekend because we’ll be traveling.  Panama & his bride will be holding down the ranch along with Zeus while we’re off to Oklahoma to see a show at a casino.)

Write when you get rich,


Making: “Workmanship” – Even in Assembly — 12 Comments

  1. Bad workmanship has a way of growing and ramifying. It can also be a way to find a business opportunity.

    In my own life, I bought one house with terrible plumbing. There was no access under the central bathrooms. The only way to get there was to tunnel in and reinforce the foundation along the way. Since nobody was willing to do that, various owners worked around this with a mass of extra pipes just to avoid getting to the root cause of the mess. I bought the house right, and did the job that should have been done decades ago. It was challenging, but ultimately the entire system is now clean, neat, and maintainable. I don’t know if that will make resale easier, but it sure does improve the place.

  2. George
    My son worked in the Space Shuttle program for several years before it was shutdown. His job was to hand spray External Tank parts with Super Light Ablator material. That stuff was over $100 a pound in cost and was applied in a heptane slurry. He received numerous Spot awards for his superior workmanship! Some of his work is also sitting on the north pole of Mars as he worked on the Pheonix landers heat shield.
    Two years ago he was recalled by Lockheed to continue working in their aerospace insulation facility making insulation kits used in aircraft and rockets. Superior workmanship is noticed and can payoff for a craftsman like my son!!

    • I suppose to many “old-timers” my comments on workmanship being a critical “American value” may seem oddly childish.

      But as your note underscores, passing down core values and notions like “workmanship” is one of the key values we grays can pass on to our children.

      To me, one of the main focuses of the weekending “Making” columns is not to tell you how to shim out a 1/1,000th tolerance when assembling a critical part. It’s more about passing on the CORE way of looking at things that leads to rewards for holding workmanship as a non-negotiable value.

      Buy him a beer for us and a hearty well-done.

      Now, why don’t we have him out talking to (parentless) young people to pass some of his life-experiences along? Companies would be investing in their own – and America’s – future by allocating some small fraction of employee time to that kind of grass roots, school-level mentoring.

      When you look at the data (*Sunday column forthcoming) you’ll find that 31.2 percent of children under 18 are “parenting-deficient” and unlikely to learn a balanced set of life skills.

      Well done, though…it’s a wonderful legacy and one to be damn proud of.

  3. I know you’ll say what does workmanship have to do with Donald Trump well what I’m getting ready to put down here is quoted from him.

    Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled buy you the American people.

    The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it are there for only one reason to protect and enrich itself.

    The Establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election.
    For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interest they bargain with these people that don’t have your best interest in mind

  4. Thank U for all of Ure excellent help and suggestions! Another great tool in the label and label-glue removal game is WD-40.

  5. Awesome consumption of resources for a job that only requires some cooking oil and a little soap and water. And time.

    But then it LOOKS GOOD, and you got your result RIGHT NOW, just like everything else in America.

    • I’d point out that some of the shittiest workmanship I’ve seen have been in places in South America…remember been to Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, etc…

      • Yeah, when there’s a construction project in them parts they build a little dorm right on site for the workers. If they’re lucky they have their family or lover bring them daily food. The workers live in the little crappy dorms all week and if they are lucky then go back to their wife, mother, home for the weekend. If they’re lucky they have an old motorcycle. They use the woods or sewers posing as streams for a latrine. Living in chicken shacks and pooping outside.

      • OH, no quite. Remember, my bro in law (Panama Bates) spent much of his sf .mil career down that way. And more recently was running construction crews on large apartment prjcts n. of panama city a way. Not idyllic conditions, but those workers do need constant training, motivation, and supervision – much more so that workers here. They are used to always working “for the man” of some kind or other. Tradesmen do good work, but I wouldn’t go in anything higher than2-3 stories for more than a visit. Workmanhip isn’t so much about “doing it right” – it’s about appearances.

        For example, there was supposed to be wiring laid into a concrete block wall – before it was closed it. Didn’t happen, so when my bro in law got on the job the workers had to make it right. Their andswer? Cut out the offending (structural, mind you) concrete block and run the wire…then just mud it all up flush and paint.

        THAT’s what I mean by workmanship. People are supposed to look at the plans FIRST then come up with a methodical way to get all the wires and plumhing in… Instead, the “finish” (to an outward appearance) asap, but inside it’s hardly quality work.

        Just how that part of the world operates. Which argues persuasively for building codes, inspectors etc instead of the A.A. systemic grat for everyone approach.

      • Just think, those lazee unskilled people are appearing all over the USA doing their crappy workmannonship. We’ve been flooded with useless crap from China and elsewhere, and all our once great standards have been replaced with planned obsolescence. They are replacing everything with crap and corruption. Even the races and cultures are being replaced per the UN. Who benefits???

  6. george,first…you look better,younger shaved ! had same problem on furniture.used mayonise and let it sit maybe a min and it wipes right off .