how long will it take

The photos in this post, by the way, are completely unrelated to the text except that I took them at the beginning of September, four months ago, and I’m just now posting them. They’re from ElixirConf, in Denver for 2022. This one: leaving Oakland, with Mount Tam just visible in the distance.

I’ve talked about making stuff in the past but something that’s always confounded me is just how long it takes to get anything done. If I had to define a process for ‘how to make anything’, it’d look something like this:

  1. design the shape of the thing
  2. figure out the parts you’ll need to make the thing
  3. buy the parts you can, make what you can’t
  4. assemble the parts into the thing

Anyone who’s made stuff knows that any one of these steps can take an unlimited amount of time. And step three is actually fractal; any given part can be made up of its own parts. In my bags, usually there’s a complex front piece that has pockets, and organizers in those pockets; the organizers are made of of several pieces of fabric in turn, et cetera.

On the way to the conference hotel, there was a random sandstorm. Didn’t happen again, but probably helped the sunsets.

Anyway, I’m what’s known as a chaos muppet. Think Fozzie the bear versus Bert or Animal versus Kermit. It could be the ADHD, or it could just be me (the fuzzy line between disorder and personality is a different essay). And I’ve always thought I paid some penalties for that, in terms of getting stuff done. Like, if only I was organized, I would be able to just move through the steps in an orderly fashion, and turn out finished products (bags, photos, blog posts, what have you) by rote, no problem.

One of the things I love about youtube is some real geniuses of different trades have channels and produce videos about making stuff. There’s folks like Quinn Dunki machining on home setups not dissimilar to my studio, all the way up to big production shops like Adam Booth. Some are explicitly instructional, like Ron Covell (he of the metalworking books, his channel is Bob Ross for sheet metal I swear), and some are more ‘this is what we’re doing in the shop’ but with enough detail that if you’re conversant you can figure out how to reproduce what they do.

I took a version of this picture every day; this was the best one.

Paul Brodie is one of the latter. Just a really excellent fabricator, who had a business building custom bike frames, was apparently renowned for such, and is now in retirement up in Canada, doing one off custom work on bikes and motorcycles. “Build whole engines from scratch” levels of fabrication. Brodie’s shop is immaculate, organized to a T. He’s the picture of an order muppet, and he has every tool he could want at his disposal. Lathe and mill and all sorts of jigs accumulated over years of making things out of metal; TIG and MIG welders, as well as Oxy/Acetalene torch equipment, and plenty of material in his stock racks. It’s not a huge shop, but plenty of space to do the work he does.

He recently posted a video of making a fender mount for a rare Honda race bike. Well, it was a kit bike that was raced or something, that part doesn’t matter. The fender mount was a single piece of sheet aluminum, bent in a big radius to go around the tire, plus some smaller bits of tubing with little welded bosses to make it meet with the mounting points. At the end of the video, he had a little bit where he was like, “Guess how long it took me to make this?” because it was a client project, he had tracked his hours.

My initial guess was 8 hours. Not only is he in a good shop, but he’s old, and contrary to what you might think, older craftsmen move faster. There’s an economy of movement and lack of going down wrong paths that means they don’t have to like, redo work or stand and think about the order of assembly or anything, it’s just ‘the way it worked last time’ to do any given task. The big reveal, at least to me, was that it took him 19 hours to build this one fender mount. So I guess I should just take it easy on myself. How long will it take? As long as it needs.

Posted by Matt on 2023-02-05T09:20:19Z GMT