Gareth's Tips

Talking About Skill Mastery and Failure

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #114

I didn’t put out a newsletter last week. For me, this newsletter is something of a performance. I try and get the right mix of different kinds of tips, tools, and tales. I don’t want to put out an issue if I don’t think I have enough good content. So, I waited until I had the right mix. Today.

Talking About Skill Mastery and Failure
Fascinating stuff in this “Ask Adam” video where he talks about what it takes to master a skill and things that those who have mastered a skill know how to do that a newbie can’t yet understand. For instance, prioritizing knowledge — how to dynamically refine the decision trees of complex tasks and getting better at seeing farther ahead into the future of a project. Everything you do in developing a skill set gives you a better, clearer perspective on all of the things that go into developing a skill set. Adam also answers a question about the phrase “Failure is always an option” (a common refrain on MythBusters). He points out that one of the cool things about making for yourself, or for YouTube/TV is that, yes, failure is always an option. If making for yourself, you learn from failure, on camera, it can make for an entertaining narrative. But, he just delivered a job for a client for the first time in several decades and obviously in such employment or client situations, failure is not an option at all. This is a great reminder that, in our quest for mastery of maker skills, those of us who are doing it non-professionally, or as a form of edutainment, have a unique, relaxed opportunity to gain that mastery in a relaxed and flexible way. As he concludes, that phrase, “Failure is not an option” has “very specific parameters around it.”

Maker Slang

Dog holes – The clamps that sink into the surface of a bench to hold workpieces in place are known as bench dogs. The holes in said workbench are known as dog holes.

Dunkin’ chunkies – The act of placing bits of old silicone molds into a new mold so as to use less silicone.

Rub and buff – A waxy finish made from carnauba waxes, fine metallic powders, and pigments, rub n’ buff also refers to the process of rubbing on the compound and buffing it. The result is a finish that looks like gold, bronze, silver, copper patina, or other metal materials.

Tips Busters: Bouncing Batteries to Test Capacity: BUSTED!
Reader James Brown suggested we investigate the widely circulated idea that you can test to see if an alkaline battery is “good” by bouncing it 6″ off of a table. The folklore goes that if the battery only returns a small bounce and falls right over, it still has its rated charge. If the bounce is lively, the battery is depleted. Investigating this tip, I discovered that researchers at Princeton University have definitively busted it. Turns out, this increased bounce-ability does occur, but it’s not a reliable measure of a still-viable battery.

In an article published March 13 in the online version of The Journal of Materials Chemistry A, the researchers conclude that the bounces increase because the zinc oxide forms tiny bridges within the zinc material, which decreases the mechanical damping of the battery.
“The zinc starts out as a packed bed of particles that all move very nicely past each other,” Steingart said. “When you oxidize the zinc, it makes bridges between the particles and makes it more like a network of springs. That is what gives the battery its bounce. ”
Steingart said that is not too surprising, as zinc oxide is listed as a component to add bounce to golf balls in many patents.
But the formation of the bridges reaches a maximum “bounce level” well before the oxidation of the zinc is complete. That means that the bounce will reach a peak and level off well before the battery is dead.

Using Hockey Tape to Add Grip to Tool Handles
While Stumpy Nubs is a woodworking channel on YouTube, James often covers tools that can be used in many types of workshop. Case in point is this recent “8 Cool tools you didn’t know about.” In the video, he makes the case for having Dixie cups and a dispenser in the shop (for holding/mixing paints, glues, finishes, etc), inexpensive racks for paper towels and shop towelshockey tape for creating better-gripping handles for your tools, and a cordless glue gun and battery and charger.

His method of wrapping hockey tape around tool handles to create an ergonomic grip is really an eye opener. If your interested, watch the video at 4:26.

Using a Shop Towel to Constrain Snipped Bits
In this crazy Pask Makes video, where he painstakingly makes a Japanese Kumiko-style panel out of welded nails, he shares a simple but smart tip. When cutting/nipping bits of metal or other material that might fly away, line up your cut and then cover the workpiece with a towel before doing the cutting. This will prevent the waste pieces from flying all over your work area.

Excerpt from My New Tips Book in Make:
The most-excellent new issue of Make:, with the theme “How to Win the War on Repair,” has an excerpt from my new book, Tips and Tools for the Workshop Volume 2. The article is also available on the Make: website. And, my book is out TODAY! You can pick it up here.

Shop Talk
In response to Mark Frauenfelder’s excerpt of Hacker Laws in the last issue, Steven Roberts, the high-tech nomad, sent me these Roberts Laws:

Roberts Law of Applied Mobile Gizmology: If you take an infinite number of very light things and put them together, they become infinitely heavy.

Roberts Law of Fractal To-Do List Complexity: which postulates that each item on a list is merely the title of another list.


In responding to my piece on using chunks of old silicone mold material to volumize a new batch of molding rubber, my pal and former Make: colleague, Jason Babler, shared another approach. He grinds up his old molds to create a fine mix he can add to a new mold. He uses an antique hand grinder. You can get new such grinders for cheap on Amazon (not sure how reliable they are for this purpose) or use an attachment on a kitchen mixer as seen in this video.


(Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here. — editors)

© 2022