"One Perfect Part at a Time"

Industrial Age

The social status of a machine tool hobby and other random industrial thoughts.

I have worked hourly with my hands as a pipe fitter and in the construction industry for most of my life. I am now in a management position in that industry and have become knowledgeable and certified as an “Energy Manager”. My major tool today is a computer keyboard.

There still exists a great pool of U.S. “blue collar” industry workers who use tools and get their hands dirty. For many folks, this is a comfortable way of life. For some, it is not so comfortable. Believe me, that social condition is not limited to blue collars nor is it always money related.

Long ago I defined the difference between blue collar workers and white collar workers. Blue collar workers wash their hands before they go to the toilet room.

My neck has worn collars of both colors. That is not a unique claim. It is a great feeling of achievement and value to have come up through the ranks. The trip was never easy. It wasn’t supposed to be. Knowledge management is also hard work. I also know I can never achieve great wealth just through hard work and personal toil.

What puts the value into money? In the “Industrial Age” it was the work my hands produced over a period of time (hours) to create an object of value. Now I live in the “Knowledge Age” with many other people who are paid by what they know how to control rather than how much tangible items they produce per hour through labor. I have become one of those knowledge age salaried workers. The clock doesn’t count any more.

The secret to earning wealth has always been to get paid for far more than just personal labor. What you produce must have an extreme value for the time involved and you must find a way to keep that value. If you seek financial gain, don’t waste your time doing small worthless activities. Find something of value and make doing that a “business” of yours. Business is the only way in the U.S. to legally earn and protect wealth.

I realize knowledge does not create wealth. Knowledge is power when properly applied. That power can create wealth. However, knowledge without action is worth nothing other than self satisfaction. Very knowledgeable people can be very poor. Picture the impoverished Tibetan monk, sitting on the top of the mountain with no worldly wealth. Travelers climb that mountain seeking his knowledge and wisdom but he never asks nor receives any reward. That is his choice. He is not seeking wealth. For him, great wealth does not insure happiness, but most of us would like to judge that for ourselves.

The USA now has several generations of knowledge based workers who have reached middle age and older, who have never seen a machine tool up close. They have never created hard tangible output. Neither have their children. This means they may never experience the hands-on work effort and detail that is required to produce something from raw stock material. This is true in other areas of our lives as well.

One example of this is the food we eat. Preparation of modern packaged foods for many folks just requires opening a box or can from the food store. Heat and serve is the “cooking” of today. The thought of killing a chicken makes some folks upset. Rural farm America is something only read about in school books.

Those of us who make it our hobby to work with machine tools must seem to be strange creatures. Why would anyone want to get their hands dirty to create something you can just go buy somewhere? This is an elite and narrow outlook on purposeful work and hopefully not common.

Many of us “knowledge age” hobbyists are involved in “industrial age” avocations. We want to get back to producing products we can actually touch and feel. Perhaps this is a throwback to Stone Age tool makers. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in creating something tangible and more or less permanent. It makes us feel good about being able to do it ourselves. We also don’t do it to save money!

Can we get rich from these hobbies? The answer is NO. Not until we deliberately make it our business as described above. Are we moving back to industry? I think not, but I think it proves there will always be satisfaction in hands-on productivity. Breaking even is sometimes a stated goal when we sell off some of that productivity.

My web site, The Hobbyist’s Machine Shop is my attempt to share some of this “industrial age” enjoyment with others on this small planet. If you are looking for some creative fun, like to work with “real” tools, and want to produce something tangible, then a home machine shop may be for you. But it won’t make you wealthy!

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