Summer, particularly for those of us living in the Midwest, exhibits a full swing in weather that can spur an almost frenetic uptick in outdoor work and leisure. The fleeting warmth and sun beckon us to put aside indoor activities and cultivate our yards, pursue outdoor sports, and otherwise enjoy the bounty of Nature before the equinox forces us once again into sweaters, clambakes, and the eventuality of lined boots and snow tires.

With many of these summertime pursuits come gadgets and tools that offer almost endless tinkering opportunities for those who actually derive enjoyment from fixing or optimizing mechanical designs. Lawn mower troubleshooting and other small-engine maintenance tasks are the gold standard in warm-weather projects. Another design that’s come into vogue over the last few years among technically inclined folks with a concern for water conservation is the setup of elaborate rain-barrel systems — also offering the satisfaction of lowering one’s water bill. With experts constantly predicting the eventuality of Water Wars, this project will no doubt remain popular.

So far this summer, I’ve serviced my boat engine’s cooling system, and corrected an oil leak and general wimpiness on an otherwise respectable wood chipper. The boat’s raw-water intake pump impeller was stripped of all its vanes by the time its failure was noticed, in the form of an unhappy, overheating diesel. As I picked out shreds of rubber from convoluted hoses, and later, lovingly bathed and flushed the heat exchanger in the kitchen sink (as one would a baby) my thoughts drifted. It occurred to me that some tasks are so specific, so mundane and yet so critical, that there’s almost no way to put a fair-market dollar value on them. Their time-consuming nature would demand a high price, and yet the initial identification of the problem is the task’s only real challenge.

The wood chipper exhibited signs of heavy use with no maintenance, which indicates a typical usage profile. Dull, distorted blades could no longer chop effectively, so eventually came to function as wood mashers that propagated excessive vibrations through to the engine case — which in turn shook bolts loose, allowing the oil leak. In addition, the bolts attaching the blades to the impeller assembly were seized and required applications of WD40 and heat to break free. Most satisfying in these situations is loosening such bolts just before they reach the dreaded state of being completely stripped.

Drop us a line and let us know what projects you’ve pursued recently, and what your tinkering has taught you about design and life in general.