Manufacturing guy-at-large.

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An old jig

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Fixture building comprises a lot of a manufacturer's time, regardless of the scale of the operation. For small shops, designing fixtures that can be used repeatedly for different customers is extremely useful. I faced this challenge a number of times when I was working on bikes, and spent a lot of time setting up fixtures that helped my productivity a lot. 

In 2010, I built the brake boss mitering jig below. It mounts to a tiny little rotary table that I bought for my Benchmaster, itself the tiniest horizontal mill that I owned and still one of my favorite tools. 

This chart maps XYZ coordinates for a toolpath that will cut a pocket in a piece of Mic6 tooling plate. It's machine code.

The pocket is finished, and will now be drilled for mounting holes. I believe I was tapping right in the machine spindle too, though not under power.

I made a variety of split blocks to hold various tube sizes to be mitered. In the center, you can see a drill bushing that I installed to allow a hole to be drilled right in the middle of the tube; it would generally receive a threaded boss.

The jig, mounted to my little Benchmaster, on a messy day in the shop.

It seems quaint, but little productivity tools like this are how shit gets done in even big production style factories around the world. I kid you not - little manual mills, drill presses and lathes are in operation as I write this, performing some little repeatable operation on high precision parts for demanding customers.  

Eventually a lot of these things are likely to be sold for scrap and passed down the line to developing economies. I've been to a few tooling auctions, and have seen 75 year old punch and foot presses that weigh (literally) a ton being sold for under $100. I understood that they would be loaded into a container and shipped to Asia, and it's likely that they got a new life there making good parts for another decade or so at least.

I generally think that that lifecycle is a healthy one, though it does have the strange effect that nowadays, even the most industrious kids are likely to end up knowing additive manufacturing in lieu of conventional (mostly subtractive) methods.  Schools around the country are buying up MakerBots by the truckloads, and with good cause - to fail to do so would be an offense on par with teaching me cursive in 1992, when what I should have been learning was C or HTML. But all those 3D printers have got to go somewhere, and I suspect [citation needed] that they're supplanting Heavy Tens and J-Heads, which anyway don't get too much use as it is.

While I'm reasonably unromantic about that transition, it does strike me that subtractive methods are likely to remain, for the long time, significantly more efficient and effective for making certain types of products. Just as CNC machining hasn't replaced casting, forging, and sheet fabrication, additive manufacturing won't totally replace those methods either. All of these tools will, instead, complement each other - and the institutional knowledge pertaining to traditional manufacturing will, I hope, be not supplanted but enriched by newer paradigms of manufacturing philosophy. 


A thing from a while back

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In 2009, I made a trio of seat lugs. They were intended for a batch of Dutch bikes that remain not much more than an idea. 

The way one makes these things is silly, but it offers the designer considerable creative freedom. You essentially build the joint twice, and carve a lug in between. I made these when my file handling was at its zenith, which is both worth noting (file handling is underrated) and also a totally silly skill to possess.  

When I was younger

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I built this frame in 2008. It was the first belt drive bike I built, and hence it was an experiment that I financed on my nonexistent R&D budget. I probably spent $2500 on it, plus something like 40 hours of build time.  But that paled in comparison to the time I spent *thinking* about it, which was likely in the 80 hour range. I also developed the graphic design myself, teaching myself Illustrator in the process - add another 20-30 hours there.  

I like the bike. It was a pain in the ass, a challenge. I tested out a bunch of new things on it - the S&S seatstay coupling, a new waterjet head tube badge, a new (fancy) paint job with painted-on graphics. I think it came out great, though paint isn't exactly notable for its durability, and now the frame - despite being woefully underused - is chipped and scratched in all manner of places. 

Regardless, I love it. I don't know what I thought I was doing, but I fucking took this bike on, and I'm proud of myself that the project being a bit over my head - and over my budget - didn't stop me. 


Added on by Spencer Wright.

I took these photos in 2009, and meant to do something with them for a long time.  

The seat lug remains unused, though I'd like to change that. The stem went on Ian's bike. The hand vise is actually very handy, though career shifts mean that I don't use it often anymore. 


Added on by Spencer Wright.

My old shop. Truckee, CA, 2007.  It was too small with the door closed to move around, and anyway it was unheated, so I would open it up and revel in the abject humor of the whole thing. I thought this photo (which I orchestrated with a tripod, etc.) was hilarious. 

Bacon Gone

Added on by Spencer Wright.

My Grandfather, Libo (for whom my German Shepherd is named) wrote this circa 2007. We were sitting around chatting and he jotted a few similar verses as we talked. I continue to think it's hilarious. 

From the Archives: Pizza, Philly, 2008

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In 2008, I was living in Philly and decided to start a blog about all the pizza I was eating. Suffice it to say that it never took off (I composed six posts over a three month period before drifting away from the idea), but I like some of the writing. Below is my (slightly edited) review of El Greco, a totally crappy joint near the totally crappy workspace I kept in North Philly. It was originally posted 2008.05.30. I particularly like the last paragraph, which sums up my feelings about slice shops well.

El Greco is a neighborhood shop, and it's just a few blocks from my workshop. I stop by every once in a while, and it's an experience.

Today, as usual, there were a bunch of people inside. Three behind the small (but tall) counter, a driver or two outside, and three or four customers in the long, narrow area inside. I order two slices, which are put in a box. (A bit of a downer for me - what, they don't want me eating in front of the shop? Put it on a plate, please...) I go outside and stand by my bike and eat them - warm, gooey, and very sweet. The cheese is thick and chewy, the crust is soft and light, and the sauce is sugary and squirmy. 

The slices are floppy - they fold, and don't crease - and drip red-orange oil as I squeeze the fluffy crust to keep the whole package together. The first bite requires me to hold the crust side above the rest of the slice, so that it doesn't unfold and go limp. Eating the slices produces a texture that resembles, almost, mollusks. As I stand there eating, I observe the scene. A tall, gaunt man sits on the stoop, then stands and mills around the storefront, smoking a cigarette. Three customers who came out of the shop just as I was entering sit on a stoop next door eating their slices and talking. The traffic on 2nd St. whizzes by, passing the small community at Jefferson - the slice shop, an auto tag store and a barbershop.

I like El Greco in a way. It's not exactly gourmet, but talking about the quality of the food misses the point of the business. It isn't high quality - some might go so far to argue that it's hardly pizza. Either way, it's food, it's part of a neighborhood. And sometimes that's all you need. 

I want this bike back.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Three iterations of a mountain bike I built in 2007. 

Immediately post-build, Truckee CA.

 @ The Candy Shop, North Phila, where I lived in 2008.

 @ TCD HQ - 2nd and Girard, North Phila, where I worked in 2008.

From my own archives: On Content

Added on by Spencer Wright.

What follows here is excerpted from a personal email I wrote earlier this year. It remains representative of how I feel about my own content creation - reckless enthusiasm and all :)

It appears slightly edited, for formatting and privacy. 

- - -

The way I see it, there are really two types of content: curatorial and original.  

There are a *lot* of curatorial blogs. The best, e.g. Kottke, are *excellent.* The worst are just commonplacing, which is actually pretty cool. I suppose you could argue that curation in a digital age should occur in Evernote or a similar document storing platform, but at that point, who cares. It's fun to have an aesthetic perspective, and if all you do is reblog photos, what's wrong with that?

Original content is, to me, closer to the heart. I like this quote, from a recent post by Keenan Cummings:

But regardless of wherever that team and those designers might fall on the criticism-worthy spectrum, I’ve learned to not question the intentions and sincerity of anyone. It hurts my work. It makes me cynical, competitive, fickle, distracted. My heart is in the work that I do, and I do better to assume it’s the same for others.

But that's just from my perspective as a viewer - and I certainly don't mean to imply that you're any of those things.

As a creator it is - at least for me, in the point in my career - even more important that I defend shitty content. Shitty content is "a way to make your soul grow." And if you want to work in the idea economy - or, I mean *fuck,* any economy where you need half a brain to succeed - the best way to show employers/clients that you're worth their time is to: 1) be able to show them *something,* and 2) have been creating that something for long enough that you've gotten halfway decent at it.

viz., my blog.  My blog is silly - the things I write are *way* too long, and I'm too focused on creating a long argument that's based partly on something personal. I love writing this shit, but I'm still way green at it.  And if I want to work at a place like [REDACTED] - and don't I? - then I *need* to be doing it all. the. time. Or else someone else who is will get the job from under me.

With regard to the light drowning out the stars: I think it's not nearly as bad as that, you just need to believe in it. Spielberg

You shouldn’t dream your film, you should make it! If no one hires you, use the camera on your phone and post everything on YouTube. A young person has more opportunities to direct now than in my day. I’d have liked to begin making movies today.

But then again, consider who's talking. *Everything* is important to me right now, and remarkably little of it is getting looked at by anyone - let alone anyone of note. But I'm okay with that. Anonymity is good for me right now; it gives me the opportunity to make mistakes. Just give us all a year or two - once we've had a little more practice, we'll be showing *everyone.*