Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Long or Short?

Simple though the task may be, removing a nut requires making a critical set of choices even before the tool touches the steel.  Which tool?  The long or the short?

This question can and does apply to both the process and the tool required for it.  In terms of the process, the first decision is about how much time I want to take for the removal.  If time is of the essence, then I will choose the socket wrench, since this is a much faster way of removing a bolt than using an 'old fashioned' spanner wrench.  If space is the key factor, then even if I want to be quick about it, I am forced to use the spanner.

The question is, why would time ever be of the essence?  Why shouldn't I take my sweet time with every nut and bolt, using only the most basic--and less likely to fail--tools and methods?  Perhaps the automotive mechanic who is getting paid by the hour needs a socket wrench to improve his efficiency, but why should I, a mere South-Austin-driveway mechanic, need to be efficient with my time?

Philosophical considerations that take into account the value of my time along with my desire to enjoy this process--as opposed to knocking it out as quickly as possible--notwithstanding, I  have the sense that even though I don't have to, it is nice to use a socket wrench to speed along the removal of all those nuts and bolts.  In addition to enjoying the nice little precise sounds of the ratchet, I have the feeling that I am making good progress as the wrench moves from side to side and the nuts spin off effortlessly.

Contrast this with the slow-as-molasses feeling I get when easing a nut around a bolt head, one milimeter at a time, and it's easy to see why I would instinctively choose the short process over the long one.

Or is it?  Yesterday as I removed the nuts holding the alternator stand to the engine block, I had to use the spanner for two of the four nuts.  Though I would have preferred to use the socket for all four of these fasteners, in a liberating moment of compare and contrast, I came to appreciate the slowness of the spanner wrench.  

The feeling of 'breaking' the nut with the spanner is much more physical and immediate, requiring my palm to sense, perfectly, the amount of force needed to move the steel without hurting myself.  Then, when the nut begins to move, even though the action comes in much smaller increments than it would with the socket, the physical feeling of the wrench easing the steel around is much more sensitive--and therefore that much more satisfying--than the all-mechanical feel of the socket.

Of course, some situations call for the improved leverage of the socket, and some situations call for the delicate placement of the spanner, so it's more than just a time commitment.  Sometimes, one of them is the right tool for the job.

And, it's not as if the choice is between an 'old-fashioned' hand tool (the spanner) or a 'new-fangled' mechanical gizmo (the ratchet).  Both still seem like basic hand tools, especially when compared with, say, a modern compressed-air driven impact wrench.  

No, it's about time, and how much of it I want to spend on any one particular piece.  Even though it be unconscious and seemingly practical, most often the choice between the socket and the spanner is a still essentially a philosophical one.  How much time have you got?

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