“As a kid I was always tinkering trying to see how things worked,” recalls Workshop member Ron Rowe. “I guess I am lucky. I was given the chance to develop mechanical skills and given formal training.”
Ron left school and started working at just 14, performing the menial task of gluing sponges together for just $15 a week. But fortunately, he soon got the chance to grasp the opportunity of learning mechanical engineering and gain “interesting knowledge and skills”.
Ron would later go on to have a career in the army, study electrical/electronic design, and then start sharing all he knew in the teaching profession. “I spent 20 years teaching across the electrical/electronic and computer system engineering fields and at times teaching mechanical engineering skills. The best part of this job was the access to the knowledge base.”
Ron Rowe enjoys making traditional wooden toys.
While now 68 and retired, Ron still loves learning. “I research ideas and concepts and test those ideas and concepts. I love learning, building on my knowledge and skills. Most mechanical engineers I know can turn their hand to just about any task given.”
“I spend time at the local Men’s Shed swapping knowledge with some great old timers learning some of the old ways of joinery methods,” Ron says. “I can do all this in metal, but when it comes to wood that is a whole new game.
“Wood is a creature all of its own and is not as predictable as metal. I also enjoy hunting down old D.I.Y. projects from the 1930s and 40s and building them using the methods demonstrated.”
“D.I.Y. is about doing things for yourself,” Ron says of his passion for hands-on work. “In the garden, in the shed, around the house, toys for the kids, and big kids. Perhaps saving some money as well as having some fun and learning new skills.”
Tackling a wide variety of projects
When asked what he loves about D.I.Y., Ron replies that “it’s the challenge of taking on something I have never done before”. He then gives the example of a Japanese-style garden bridge he built in his backyard. “The problem was I never had the tools to make the bridge, so I made them first...”
Ron says his biggest project to date was his patio and garden area, and he has also refurbished his bathroom, turned an old toilet closet into a communications/networking hub, and painted the house.
The project that has given him the most satisfaction was a beautiful jewellery box. “It was made using finger joints and laser etching for a young girl with medical issues. That gave more joy than working around here.”
Ron has an extensive home workshop.
Next on the list is building a CNC router - a computer-controlled cutting machine. “Not so simple. But I have to find the room first.”
“My workshop is complicated,” Ron admits. “At one end is the engineering end where I have my lathe, mill, grinders, welding and so on. At the other end where I extend into the carport/driveway its the woodworking section: workbench, combo saw, bandsaw, hand tools and so on. One might say cluttered. A real workshop…”
Ron says his favourite tools are his lathe and milling machines “as I can do multiple operations on either machine”. “Or a tool that has multiple uses, such as a router…”
When he encounters a problem while working on a project, Ron typically stops and has a good think. “Sometimes I stop overnight and lose a bit of sleep. Sometimes it will sit there for a few days until I have a solution. Sometimes, I throw it in the bin and start again.
“But before that all happens, I ask others for help. Have they run into the same problem? How did they solve it?”
Ron believes Workshop offers a great platform for knowledge transfer. “I stumbled onto the site and curiosity got the better of me,” he says.
“I find myself passing on more than I am taking. It may be the years of teaching in me. I don’t own knowledge, knowledge is something that should be passed on. No one owns knowledge.”
Ron Rowe’s top tips for D.I.Y. beginners
1. Do your homework first. What is it that you want to do? Do you have the tools to do the task? How long is it going to take? What materials do you need? Research whether anyone has done the project before and what problems they had.
2. Start with small first and build the skill.
3. Don’t be in a hurry to start.
4. Do you have drawings or plans to work with? If not, make your own.
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Remember K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid.
6. Before you cut anything, make sure you measure, measure again and measure again. You can’t put it back together after its cut.
7. If you are not sure, ask for help.
8. Don’t be frightened to make mistakes. Learn from them.
9. Remember Murphy’s Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Murphy is waiting to bring you undone.
10. Treat the tools with respect and be careful. You only have one set of fingers and eyes.