Sifter Plans: Tried and True(r)

By , April 29, 2012

Yesterday I did something I should have tried a long time ago: I followed my own instructions.

I’ve been selling plans for the archaelogical/garden shaker sifter I built for Michelle on our online store. When I formalized the plans, I included an estimated time to build the tool. Since then, I’ve wanted to build another one and time myself, to get a more accurate idea of the amount of time it might take.

The solution was simple and elegant: choose a friend who gardens, and make a deal with his/her spouse.

A friend in town is still ramping up the gardening effort at her new house. And, as luck would have it, she has a birthday that falls early in the growing season. I told her husband that if he bought the materials, I would build a sifter to my plans’ specifications as his wife’s birthday present. Yesterday, while she was out of town (and hopefully not logging on to read this blog!) we got together and I built the sifter.

“Test driving” the new sifter over a wheelbarrow (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

The results were eye-opening, to say the least. I had estimated about 4 hours to build the sifter, for a person with basic carpentry skills. Having built several boats, I should probably consider my carpentry skills above basic. Also, since I built it at my friend’s house, I had the use of his shop’s superior weapons technology. And yet, it actually took me 5 hours to build the sifter. I was disappointed not to beat my estimate, until I realized we’re still talking about a short day’s work—not bad, really.

We “dry” tested the sifter as his wife prefers to sift, positioned over a wheelbarrow to catch the soil, and discovered it fits nicely. That was lucky!

I also discovered a few minor points where my instructions are less than clear, not to mention less than correct. That was the bad news. The good news is that I figured out an improvement that maintains the stability while improving foldability, and even saves the builder a little lumber.

I’m revising the plans today. If you’re thinking of ordering a set, do so with confidence—I will delay sending until the revised edition is finished. If you’ve ordered the plans in the past, I’ll be sending you the revised edition shortly. I will also modify Michelle’s original sifter with the new stability design, so it’ll fold flat for storage.

I finished the job in the early evening, but barely had time to savor the completion, because we suddenly realized that we had to cross home before the tide got too high.

I once heard a comedian talk about the nature of “man’s work.” He noticed that any job, once done, requires those involved to stand around for a while, looking at the completed project and commenting on it, or at least nodding at it in silence. I’ve never really thought about this, but as we hustled across the bay ahead of the rising tide, I felt odd, as if I’d breached some point of ettiquette. I guess it came from our abrupt departure, which curtailed the “ritual!”

I’m glad to be able to improve the plans. The moral of this story seems to be: “Carpenter, build it thyself!”

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