I Love the Smell of Dykem in the Morning
April 18, 2016
Recently, I took on a new role of intensive robot making to assist my son in the assembly of his Gemini Battlebots. We worked at the fabrication space of the prototyping firm, Radicand.
My first observation was that the scale of everything was ten times larger than my usual metal working experience. We are talking about 1/2 inch thick aluminum, 24" x 24" large plates of steel, and titanium.
Would my fine metalworking skills translate into another realm?
In a rush to squeeze this sprint assembly into my busy life, I filled a shoe box with my favorite tools. Dykem, jeweler's saw, saw blades, cut-off discs with mandrels, Opti-visor, and more.... including my own task lighting.
Was I going to be embarrassed taking my jewelry and sculpture skills into the domain of mechanical engineers (all men) and CAD/CAM engineering?
It really does seen to be a domain of men. Another early observation started two weeks ago looking for local water jet cutting and welding services. Whether calling or visiting in person, there seems to be no women in any machine shop or welding establishment. In a time when women are entering every field (including combat), metal fabrication seems to be a male dominated sphere. The engineering prototyping world also included only men. Surely there must be women in the metal fabrication field and geek world, but I didn't see any.
Would my hand crafting skills in tin and silver repair translate into this "real world" scale? My favorite tool for layout is Dykem. Fortunately, I brought mine from my studio. The fabrication space at the shop didn't have their own. Not every mother can bring their own bottle of Dykem. I love the smell of Dykem in the morning.
Just in case you don't know: Dykem is a solvent based layout die for marking metal. It provides a clear background to mark or scribe lines and it is so much easier to see against shiny metal. I learned to use my son's digital calipers, and in no time I am reading CAD drawings and marking large metal blocks as precisely as a person can at 1/100th of an inch.
Marking metal for drilling holes was my first job. I wasn't drilling one or two holes but 60 holes at a time. And then continued drilling for ten hours non-stop. I am not exaggerating.
Then, I was drilling holes with larger drills through 2 thick layers of super strong aluminum plates. These were high technology materials that weighed around 20 pounds or more. It was heavy to hold in the correct position while pulling down on the drill press. I had no time to stop. It is good I've worked out lifting weights at the gym.
Then came countersinking holes. Eventually, I learned that if I was more aggressive with the countersink it worked much better.
It was really hard work holding the plates up with one hand, and pulling the drill bit down with the other.
Next, I learned to tap every hole with a drill. Every skill was scary at first, but I was totally in my element.
My skills and metal work precision were right on target. I got better very fast. Complicated layouts, drilling, and tapping were well within my skill set. This was an empowering experience.
Would you like to see more fabrication shots of the Gemini Battlebots? Click here. If you're interested . . . there are a lot more photos coming.
I have more observations about the intersection of CAD/CAM and handmade. More posts soon...when I recover...but here is something you might want to know.
Jewelers and metalsmiths can and should take their skills and tools to the design and prototyping field. I know several metalsmiths with art school skills and education and they have told me what they do in prototyping, and it sounded really interesting. They have fascinating projects and make a great living. They can still make their own work without the starving artist mentality.
This was my first personal experience within the design and prototyping field. To the many jewelry and metalsmiths reading this blog, there is an alternative to the struggle of making money solely in "crafts" where a viable living is frustrated by a highly competitive market with a shrinking audience. Learn CAD software and take your design sensibilities and technical skills where it is needed and appreciated in a growing field.
More observations coming soon.
*The title of this post "I Love the Smell of Dykem in the Morning" was inspired by the famous quote : "I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning" from the movie Apocalypse Now. It was spoken by the character Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore as played by actor Robert Duvall. He played a super tough, fearless character in the movie.
This post was updated on December 11th, 2021.