Good Shop Practice #13: Tight Enough is Tight Enough

Young mechanics, especially men, are prone to overtightening everything. Too much torque is dangerous, as everyone learns sooner or later. The snapped-off bolt or stripped-out screw head is a real motherfucker, and you have no-one to blame but yourself. Now you learn the art of extraction, which is an opportunity to do some real damage if you’re not careful. Some fittings need to be tightened to specified torque and need a torque wrench, but for most of the bolts and screws you’re installing, you need to develop the feel for getting your fasteners mechanically tight. Not Grape-Ape tight. It is a feel, and it takes practice to develop. You will screw it up sometimes, so, yes, extracting broken fasteners is another skill you need.

Good Shop Practice #5: Don’t Get Cocky

The most inept mechanic is not the beginner but the reckless intermediate. A few years’ experience, a bit of success, and you start to get impatient and careless. You can see how much you have learned, but all that you don’t know is invisible. Your growing confidence is admirable, but see that it doesn’t grow faster than is warranted. Keep it in check. Watch yourself for the temptations to make shortcuts – temptations to which we are all subject. Force yourself to maintain those careful habits that got you this far. The swiftness and deftness of the expert is developed by the practice of care, not by careless shortcuts. As you gather momentum, downshift early or you will have to slam on the brakes when it is too late.

Good Shop Practice #4: Seek Mentors.

Learning is slow and hard without a teacher.  Yes, every piece of information you need is in a book or online somewhere, but a mentor shows, demonstrates, evaluates, rewards, and provides context and attitude.  The Grand Encyclopedia – the continuity of human capability – is not what is written but what is handed down from person to person, in person.  It is an unbroken line of know-how from the Achueulean hand axe to your machine.  This is the memetic transmission of culture and how we avoid having to re-invent everything from first principles each generation.  Novice mechanics usually intuit that they need guidance; it is the experienced mechanic who forgets that they, too, need a mentor.  Don’t be arrogant.  Unless you are some kind of Boddhisattva, everyone needs mentorship, and everyone has some mentorship to offer.  Be humble in teaching as well as learning.

Good Shop Practice #2: Read the Manual.

It is so tempting to dive in.  All those pert, shiny bolts to be turned and coy covers to remove.  The interfaces of most consumer products today are so well designed that user’s manuals are superfluous, making the temptation to play with the machine even greater.  Experienced mechanics are the most prone to this temptation, particularly with maintenance operations that we have done many times.  But for new and experienced mechanics alike, the step of reading through the shop manual is a vital step of training or re-training, respectively.  In addition to providing specific tolerance, quantities, and procedures, a good shop manual give you insight into the designer’s intent.  Very little on your machine is superfluous, and understanding its why is the only way to understand its how.  Good shop manuals are real pleasure reading.