I got a really nice note this morning from a builder whom I won't identify because I don't have his permission to who stumbled across a message in the middle of an old,old thread that had asked a question about whether something is good enough. In response in the middle of that thread, I said he had reached a point that old builders eventually must, and I referenced an article that was in the RV Builder's Hotline that I wrote.
That web link, of course, longer works, but I saved the whole site on my computer and I was able to find the old article (which I'd forgotten about, of course) and I think I'll start putting some of them up on my blog.
And maybe it'll be helpful here so unless Doug objects, I reprint the entire Christmas Eve 2006 article here.
This article, which I wrote, first appeared in the now defunct RV Builder's Hotline. Fortunately, I still have the entire site archived on my computer.
(Dec. 24, 2006) -- One of the things I enjoy about building my RV is how the project has made me particular about approaching various tasks in search of perfection. One of the things about building my RV that has frustrated me no end is how rarely I find it.
A few weeks ago I was wandering along the flight line at the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force meeting, looking at some truly fine examples of workmanship. My friend Warren Starkebaum was with me.
I was telling Warren about my experience building the "new" rudder on my 7 last winter (the one with the AEX wedge trailing edge rather than the single-piece bent skin trailing edge). "I worked very carefully to get it perfectly straight and it came out OK. "It didn't come out perfect, but it came out OK," I said. But I wasn't finished telling the story.
"And then I went to Oshkosh last summer and looked at all of these beautiful RVs," I continued. "And I looked at all of the trailing edges on the rudders and they were dead-on straight. Man, did I feel like the world's worst builder after that."
As we looked over Paul Hove's beautiful (and almost ready to fly) RV-7A, I was waiting for Warren to lecture me on stuff I already knew or should've known. But Warren's not the type of guy to rub it in.
"You gotta stop looking at other people's planes so closely," he said.
We only see each other a couple of times a year, even though we live fairly close in the Twin Cities and have a lot in common, RV-wise, but that's why I consider him my best RV-building bud.
Unfortunately, even if I stopped looking at other people's RVs so closely, I'd still have to answer to the one person who insists on perfect execution. Me. For all of the questions we see regularly on the bulletin boards from "newbies," this, it seems to me, is the thing every builder needs to learn: when is "good enough" good enough? And who do we rely on to decide?
Sure, we have rivet gauges, AC43.13, an occasional tech counselor visit, and the admonishment of Van's in the instructions and on the plans to guide us, but sometimes we have to answer to a higher authority and sometimes we don't like ourselves much because of it. Sometimes we're like the 4th grade piano instructor who says "again" after you just played a flawless version of "Jingle Bells."
The favorite expression on bulletin boards is "build on!" when someone posts a question about a task that he or she has questions about. And, yes, this is a person learning when good enough is good enough. But most of us on those boards aren't engineers and when you get right down to it, the place to go for these answers is actually the designer of the plane -- Van's Aircraft. Aside from the convenience of the boards, I contend that one of the reasons we don't rely on Van's expertise more often, is we're not sure we want to hear the answer to some questions.
It's true that we'd rather hear "build on!" than "again." But I've found over the course of this project that "build on" doesn't make the little voice in my head that says "again" go away.
Some things are just too important to ignore that voice. And quite often, you could just kick that voice's rear.
It happened to me this morning, as a matter of fact. You may recall from my wing-mating experience last summer, that I stupidly didn't drill the rear spar bolt hole straight on the right wing, despite my attempt to use a drill bushing to get it just right in that hard-to-reach spot for drill bushings. Here's a note: eyeball it! Van's said "be careful" here. I was careful. I still screwed it up.
After I installed the bolt and saw that it didn't go in straight, I, of course, kicked myself for again messing up. But there's no easy"again" with this part. And Van's makes it pretty clear that a 5/8" edge distance is required here. I immediately checked the edge distance on the fuselage "forks". Seven-eighths inches. "Whew," I said to myself.
I might not be perfect, but I am careful. And now that winter is here -- sort of -- and I have an unheated garage with an airplane in it, I usually spend much of the winter checking all of the instructions again, pouring over the plane parts, and taking another look at every part I've built, reassessing whether it's "good enough." I also take care of some of the little dinky things that I figured last summer I could take care of later -- nutplates in the wing skins for the wing fairing, and the shims for the not-straight bolt etc.
As I was making one of the shims yesterday, I caught myself several times thinking it was "good enough." The bolt head was just about sitting flat against the shim and probably would be fine with a washer underneath the head. But each time I caught myself. "Good enough is not perfect," I said. I figured that someone would tell me to 'build on!", and they'd probably be right. But someone would know that it wasn't up to the best I could do. Me. So I continued until I got the shim perfect.
As I reviewed the plans, I knew I'd have to get a larger bolt than that which the plans called for, and I noticed the plans called for three washers. And so I was on the RV Builders Yahoogroup (Van's was closed) asking about their distribution when it hit me: "You measured the edge distance on the fuselage 'forks,' but did you measure the edge distance on the rear spar doubler?" I thought to myself.
I had -- once again -- the sinking feeling of a mistake. The admonishments -- many admonishments -- for the 5/8" edge distance zipped through my mind and I couldn't remember measuring the rear spar (the edge is blocked from view when you're actually drilling). I grabbed the Stanley 6" ruler out of the garage, and headed to the basement to check.
I held my breath as I measured from the center of the hole: 19/32" on the rear side, 18/32" on the forward side. Oh no!
Unless, of couse, I slid the ruler slighly outboard a bit. "Why not," I said, "maybe I'm not quite centered on the hole? Or maybe I'm not quite seeing the edge lining up with the 19. Maybe it really is the 20?"
But the voice in my head said "no." The voice in my head said "close enough" is not "good enough."
Stuff like that can really ruin a good day; especially since Van's is closed and there's nobody to tell me what to do. And so, like a (U who's been bad wondering what will happen when Dad gets home, I'm spending the weekend -- Christmas weekend of all things -- with a hundred different scenarios going through my mind. If Van's says rebuild the wing to get a clean doubler in there, I will. If they say "build on," I will. If there's something in between those two they want me to do, I'll do it.
What I won't do is listen to any voice in my head that says it's "good enough," if in my heart I know better.
(Update from the present: I ended up taking the doublers off the wing and replacing and removing the forks from the fuselage and replacing them too and repeating the process. I got it right the second time.)