Monday, December 7, 2015

Shuttin' Her Down ...Oops

For those of you who missed the excitement, or worse, for those of you who didn't but had no idea what was going on, it was all my fault. I freely confess: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I shut down the whole rec center.  Just me. The whole thing. Everybody had to leave.

It started out with perfectly good intentions.


No, really.

Joining the lapidary club comes with obligations as well as the privileges of instructional classes, use of expensive equipment,  and being able to display/sell your creations in the sales shop. You need to pay your dues and class fees, of course. And you need to volunteer a few hours to the club each month.

For me, that's been a bit of a problem. I could sell other folk's jewelry, but with the scooter I'd be a very unruly bull in the china shop. Same for the parts sales room for the members. I could be a room monitor, but I need silversmithing class (mucho $$$) to understand some of the equipment in order to properly either turn it on or shut it safely off. So finding my niche has been a challenge. I've still been taking classes and using the equipment, but cannot sell anything through the club. There is a definite incentive, besides personal pride, to figure out how I fit in.

Ideas have been proposed. Last year things were going missing, and it was suggested I could review our in-shop security tapes to pinpoint a culprit... or more. But that activity stopped and I wasn't needed. Our outgoing president thought I might be able to take just the equipment/safety portion of the silver class - free - in order to be able to be a monitor, but others shot that idea down. I'd need the whole thing at the full fee. The hunt continued.

Then last week Donna offered a solution: I could clean. Understand, everybody is supposed to clean the equipment they've just finished using. Apparently most of them skipped that part of their classes. I've always tried to be the good Girl Scout and leave it better than I found it- not a difficult thing to do. Most of the cleaning happens at my reachable heights, or does when it happens. So yes, I can do that!

This morning I showed up all gung ho to get going. I had a few stones which needed their final polish with Zam, something I was unable to do last week because lack of a monitor forced closure of the shop just before I got to that point in my process. But that only took a few minutes. I still couldn't use the slabbing saw on a fat rock since it was "red-tagged" for needing repairs. Still. After at least three weeks. But that left me between projects with plenty of time to share with the club, cleaning.

Every step of the lapidary process, from rock chunk to polished jewelry-ready stone, has one thing in common. They all produce rock dust. If you are using the equipment correctly, the dust is mostly contained in either water or oil lubricant. This means every droplet or splash leaves behind a splotch as it dries, white or colored, depending on the stone in use. These are not only unsightly, they can build up and wear down the equipment faster. Even when wiped off hastily with a damp towel after use, the machinery carries a thin rock dust coating on it. If not wiped, it and everything around it will be covered with splotches, running drips, and streaks.

Somebody else was cleaning the saws room, so I started in the grinders room. Just for clarity, this room is not the only location of grinders and polishers, but it is dedicated solely to them. By the time I neared the end of the first counter, over an hour had passed, and I had cleaned spaces where I'd never even thought to look for crap while I had been using the equipment. I started seeing accumulations of stuff in crevices and corners heretofore undreamt of. Mostly I could deal with them "well enough" with my frequently rinsed wet towel. But I finally reached the most-used machines where, logically enough, the deepest accumulations of dirt resided.

I started by locating an old table knife, thin and firm enough to scrape up over a quarter inch of rock dust and lint in narrow spaces between the machines and the frames which secured them to the counter tops. Most of that, once loosened, I was able to encourage to head out the front side where my hand could act as a large scoop to take it over to one of the trash cans. Some of it, however, exited out the back, into a narrow space between parts of the equipment where nothing really reached.

Not to worry: one of the guys had the perfect idea! (You notice this was a guy, right?) He turned on the shop vac, aimed the hose into the narrow area, and... well, maybe somebody could locate a narrow crevice tool to fit the hose another day. He had his own project to get back to. I plodded on, doing what I could, leaving what I had to. But notice, please, that the shop vac worked perfectly for him.

Remember earlier where I said the rock dust mainly was confined to the water/lubricant areas? Well, the machines I was cleaning have trays underneath, partly to hold the water running through, partly to evacuate water out a tube attached about half an inch up from the bottom. While nobody has explained the purpose of its height to me, I assume it is to keep the worst, aka heaviest, of the particles in the tray so the water exits with the least clogging of downstream plumbing. If that's not the reason, it's certainly the result. After months of use without cleaning, the bottoms of those pans hold a thick slurry. Any stone dropped in them is instantly invisible, and fingers that go fishing them out come out coated in the color of the month which is never the color of one's skin or nails and which defies all washing and brushing attempts to effect removal. I'd been thinking for a long time that somebody ought to clean those out.

Today that somebody was me. The thing is, one can only really clean them out while they are dry and caked, meaning before somebody uses that particular machine for that day, leaving me two that could be cleaned. A wedge of wood (there are plenty around, just with a different use) will scrape up and break up the sediment for fairly easy removal.

Or at least it should be easy. Access to the tray bottoms themselves involves enough angles and obstructions that what appears a wide space is in fact quite narrow. But AH-HAH! I had been shown the way: the shop vac. Its hose was both large enough for efficiency and small enough to maneuver in the spaces required. And let me mention, once again, that a GUY had just used it for exactly the same thing, just different spaces. And with no problems.

Murphy's law has a new corollary. The time it takes for a shop vac without a filter on the back end to kick enough dust into the air to set off the smoke detectors is only a quarter of the time needed to for  a person using it with their back turned to the machine to notice what is happening and shut it off. You know: two seconds.

We in lapidary all knew what the cause of the alarms and evacuation notice, loudly and constantly repeated to the point of ear pain, was: me. And rock dust. There was no fire. No emergency. One of the club members trotted down to the main desk to explain the situation so the fire truck callout could be cancelled.  We were still all evacuated, staff members checking rooms to chase us all out. It took about 10 minutes for the alarm/notice to shut off and for staff to allow us back in.

I finished cleaning the area I had been working on. There was no point in leaving it a worse mess than I'd found it. After that, I decided I'd roll on home, relax, have lunch, read a book. You know, before I managed to create another incident.

It's a rare and unique talent.

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