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Working Smart

Sam Buchanan

[I found Sam’s article very motivating, and have pinned it on the wall in my shop, in an attempt to remember and heed his advice.  You can learn more about Sam’s RV project, and read more interesting articles about RV building, on his web site, at—Webmaster.]

I have received many comments on the pace with which my RV-6 is taking shape.  Several builders have asked, “How do you build so fast?”  The answer is certainly not due to my exceptional shop skills (some builders would probably leave my shop in disgust) but rather to a systematized and rational method of approaching the project.  It is for the benefit of new and early builders that I submit the following thoughts about how to “work smart.”  However, all of use have limited time available for RV playtime, so it behooves all builders to get the maximum bang for their investment in shop time.

The construction hours listed in my builders log are shop hours only.  This does not include the time spent reflecting on upcoming tasks while in idle moments at the office or sitting on the thunder mug.  And herein lies one of the keys to working smart:

1) Hit the shop door running.  I suspect many novice builders spend a great deal of time standing at the workbench just staring at the project.  This is not productive shop time.  The time to figure out how you are going to approach a task is away from the shop.  Instead of watching another mind-numbing sitcom, get out the preview plans and really study the sequence of steps that you face in the course of completing the next task.  And that brings us to the next step:

2) Previsualize your shop work.  Just this morning I had my first Pro-Seal Party.  However, the tanks are taking shape just fine because I have already build six sets of tanks.  “Huh?”  Yep, I have mentally completed several tanks by previsualizing the tools required, the steps necessary, and the mental prepping needed to “hit the shop floor running.”  When I started this morning, I already knew which tools I would need, what order in which I would proceed with the task, and I had a pretty good idea of how long it would take to complete the task.  Consequently, I had that feeling of “I have done this before.”  And speaking of tasks:

3) Divide the project into small tasks.  An RV is by far the most complex project most of us have ever attempted.  This thing makes those Christmas bicycles we assembled pale in comparison!  It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project at hand.  The way to conquer this feeling of helplessness is to forget that you are building an airplane, and concentrate instead on building airplane parts!  Just build the rudder—forget about how difficult the fuse may be.  Or, break it down even further:  just build the stiffeners for the rudder.
Every time you walk into the shop, you should have the task in mind that you intend to complete by the time you leave the shop.  Don’t set the mark too high, keep in mind that your time may be limited.  But if you want to work smart, you will never just aimlessly wander into the shop and try to figure out what it is you want to work on today.

Those of us how have been teachers see this as identical to the process we used to prepare lesson plans.  The first step was to establish the objective for that day’s lesson.  Next we determined what tools (books, VCR, lab equipment, etc.) we needed to attain that objective.  We then made sure the tools were close at hand.  And finally, we had a way to evaluate whether or not we met the objective.

It should be evident how this translates into our shop habits.  It is very difficult to work smart if the shop is in a state of chaos.  You need to know exactly where every tool is stored.  You need to know where those little brown bags with the little parts are located (you did inventory and label all the bags with their contents?).  There is no reason why you can’t do this headwork before you ever walk into the shop.  Then as soon as you turn on the lights, fire up the compressor, and take your first gulp of iced tea, you are ready to work.

Also, when you have completed the evening’s task, the last thing you do before leaving the shop is clean the tools, return them to their proper place (unless you have really taken this lesson to heart and have already previsualized tomorrow’s task, and laid out what you will need then—in which case you get an A+), and sweep up the filings.  The whole point of this exercise is to prepare yourself and the shop for a new task.  This is key to feeling that you are making real progress and generating a pile of airplane parts.  It also means that tomorrow you will arrive in a clean shop that is optimized for working smart.

Well, hopefully you get the idea.  There is more to be said about the construction sequences used to maximize shop efficiency and personal fulfillment.  I apologize for bordering on verbosity, but hey, the whole point is to fly these critters as soon as possible so we can boast of one of those “First Flight” stories!  I suspect that many projects have been abandoned because the builder lost his way, lacking a cohesive plan for seeing the project to completion.  I readily admit that circumstances beyond our control can derail our projects, but let’s be sure that it is not our own lack of shop discipline that is responsible for our RV becoming another orphan.

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