Elder Days Story Time

In high school I was a performing arts nerd.  I was in the concert band and the jazz band, and though I wasn’t a member of the chorus or show choir, I did appear in the fall musical a couple of times, because it was the only student theater option available in that half of the academic year.  My junior year, though, I forget what the musical was, but it was something I wasn’t interested in appearing in, so I spent that fall doing lighting instead.

This is by way of background information so you’ll understand – if you have any background in theater tech geekery yourself – why what I am about to relate has stuck in my memory all these years.  You see, in the spring of my junior year, I was picked to attend one of those state music workshop things, wherein people from the various concert bands at schools around the state gather in a neutral location, rehearse for a couple of days, and then perform as a sort of high school concert band supergroup.  Power Station for brass and woodwinds, basically.

That year the workshop was held at what was then called the Maine Center for the Arts, a big concert hall-cum-museum on the University of Maine campus in Orono.  (It’s now called the Collins Center for the Arts, presumably in honor of some generous alumnus or other.)  At the time the MCA was brand shiny new and something of a showpiece, Maine’s state-of-the-art performing arts venue, and so it was quite a big deal for a bunch of high school bandsters to be given the run of the place for a couple of days.

One day I was moseying around backstage during one of the breaks, snooping around and comparing the facility to the auditorium at my high school (which, he said immodestly, was one of the best in the state), when I noticed the door to the tech director’s office.  It had what appeared to be a brightly colored sign taped to it, but when I investigated more closely I found that it was not, in fact, a sign at all, but a lighting gel.  I have reproduced here a basic artist’s impression of what it looked like.


As a recent veteran of lighting the previous November’s fall musical, this killed me dead.

As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story to tell you this one.  ‘Cause it’s getting on toward the end of the semester now, and the tools here in the machine tool lab are starting to show the wear.  We’ve got a lot of end mills with broken teeth, snapped drill bits, and the usual debris that piles up as students do what students do… but last night I came across a Failure-Enriched Tool that teaches a whole different, much more specialized lesson, and I thought it deserved immortalization.


This used to be a 1/4” high-speed-steel end mill.  It’s now a reasonably ineffectual paperweight, but not because someone used too much feed and snapped it, or had it set at the wrong angle and snapped it, or tried to plunge with it too vigorously and broke off all the teeth.  Those are what you might call the ordinary failure states for an end mill around here.

No, if this end mill were a sign taped to the tool crib door, it would say, WHY DO WE WATCH OUR FREAKING RPMS WHEN MILLING ALUMINUM?

That is much more ambitious failing, since it actually involved molten metal.  I particularly like how whoever did it had the sangfroid to just put it back in its container and return it to the crib as if nothing untoward had happened.  And now I’m in here with a sharpened markup scribe trying to pry that crap out of there.  Thanks, unknown inept student!

  1. December 3, 2011 at 13:59

    That’s nothing. I once saw someone do that to a ONE INCH mill bit used on an inch-thick slab of aluminum. It’s why I started teaching a “how not to destroy the equipment or your limbs” class for grad students at K-State. (We later got a shop supervisor who gave sufficient damn to teach a real course and I retired from that duty.)

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