On the Nature of One Month Project Visits

The Table Project was detailed here, and you can see my commitments for the project here. Here is a choppy update of the Torch Tables progress:

Torch Table Build Part 1 from Marcin Jakubowski on Vimeo.

I wanted to say a little something about what this one month project experience has been like. Its hard to describe to people just how different living here can be. I understood that coming in, but what I didn’t understand completely was how much the project itself would be the complete focus of my time here. I had grand visions of finishing in a week or two, and here I am with almost all the parts on the ground struggling to get the accuracy on the rails that I wanted.

Forgive the length of the post, I usually strive for brevity.

“It takes about three weeks to get use to living here.”

The first day you’rr filled with a grand passion to finish your project right then and there. The preceding weeks were a back and forth refinement of the project visit proposal, till you are so sure you could blow through the whole thing in a week, two weeks at the most. After the second week, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize how even the best laid plans will take longer than expected. At some point when things stop looking so rosy you begin to condense into your pure objective, The Project. It becomes the singular measurement of success, and thus the swells and troughs of expected success continue, so does your mood. In short, it takes an objective outlook to see past the details and understand how to salvage the core of the project from unrealistic expectation.

“If life isn’t interesting enough to make up your own quotes then you’re doing something wrong.”

By the second week you’ve come to grips with the living conditions or you’ve already packed up for home. This place is built upon the dreams of the men and women who come here. Each of them leave a little part of themselves here in what they contributed. By the second week you’ve also realized what this place is and what it means. Its a dream made manifest, kept alive by the people who volunteer their time and a measure of their vitae. Like all dreams, the meaning of this place twists and turns until the daylight hours blow away the mist and leave in their place the fixed stark reality of once lofty dreams. In short, you either get it or you don’t.

“All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

By the third week you’re terribly shaken. Events out of your control degrade the living conditions, distort the project you’re so focused on, and inevitably it is the nature of humanity to rub each other raw somehow. If your lucky you will learn, re-learn, or learn anew the meaning of perseverance in the face of adversity. It is this forging of the spirit with the hope of self betterment that makes enduring hardship – and in truth life itself – worth it. Our peers and mentors can help or hurt us, but it resides in each of us the capacity to overcome any obstacle if we are willing to submit our body and selves to the tasks before us. In short, it took three weeks to master the composting toilet, and let me tell you what a relief that was!

“I will say though that there is such a thing as too interesting a life.”

By the fourth week, you’re thinking about what you want to do next – and if another project visit or going home are on the agenda. Either way you go, you wake up feeling liberated. The major trials are behind you and all that’s left is to buckle down and finish what you can of your one month project and look forward to the time left. This place, this catch of dreams, draws forth the most interesting of people. In the beginning you come here for the chance to work on an amazing project, but you remember most of all the people you meet and the experiences you take back. In short, the aspirations of the people at FeF dictate the flavor of the place.


It is still an open question as to the contents of the rest of my stay here. Keep us all here honest with your feedback, as the value in this sort of work lays within its utility to those who come after. In exchange I will continue to keep everyone updated, and look forward to the day my contributions find use.

Lawrence Reed Kincheloe III, On-site Torch Table Expert

P.S. My benevolent Overlord wants me to pump the Torch Table funding basket shamelessly. Funding the Torch Table project and projects like it help ensure that the selfless, unpaid, volunteer work done here can continue. *nudge nudge*


  1. Edward

    Amazing Job, Lawrence. You are an inspiration!

  2. Lucas


    I contributed a bit, not “for profit” but “for loss”, and now I feel, argh!, _paid_ by Laurence’s excelent report.

    So, if I want to keep at my previous “for loss” level, do I have to chip in again? 😉

    Seriously, now, I’m getting more and more excited about the possibility to have “open source fab labs” all over the place. Some will do reprapping, some will do tabletorching, some will do both. Some may start with commercial fab labs and then build open source counterparts, just like Stallman and Torvalds and others used commercial computer-language compilers to build “free” ones.

    One question. Will the TT do wood too? There’s And glass and (recycled) plastic? The IDDS folks from MIT, or was it afrigadget folks, have found ways to use recycled plastic for a number of things.

    Again, and as usual, Thanks!

  3. Lawrence

    The torch table “might do wood.” The problem is that non conducting things like plastics, glass, wood, etc won’t by themselves create a path for the electrons to go through (plasma is a super hot electrically conductive gas). However, and this isn’t something they do in most shops, but you can place a conductive object, like steel plate, and use the extreme temperatures generated to slowly burn your way through your non-conducting material. The short answer, is that it will do aluminum and steel so it would be ideal for making grid beams from stock square tube. For the cutting of wood, we are going to take a few days once we get the thing going to experiment with what we can cut with the thing.

    What I’m most excited about is gouging,(which is a known technique) on a spinning lathe. Because plasma cutters don’t contact the material, you’ll be able to get rid of all the heavy and expensive mass in a traditional lathe. They use this technique for precision parts, and I really want to see what kind of finish this cheap model produces. What I am really dreaming of are being able to cut screws, which would mean that version 2 of the Torch Table can cut from stock almost all of its pieces.

  4. Lucas


    And maybe it’s a matter of changing the “cutting head”? Not plasma but a drill?

    It’s getting even more exciting, yes.

  5. Lawrence

    We are considering it, and some of the design decisions we made were to support it. Most of the design decisions were to support plasma or Oxy-Acetylene cutting. Future versions will be more stable as problems crop up, and should support more types of heads.

  6. Jeb

    Thanks so much for the fun update Lawrence! Give yourself a another pat on the back for learning to master composting in 3 weeks! I’ve spent 10+ years on the subject, and still find myself learning new tricks in the art of managing microbes. To be honest, in the Nevada desert I spent years trying (and failing) to compost effectively before I learned about humanure. (Many people around here continue to fail at composting without it, but I have managed to convert a few friends to the dark side.)

    Anyway, I am really excited about the possibilities of the torch table, while I’m sure it won’t be easy. In fact, I’ll view it as almost magic to see something home built actually cut steel like butter on command.

  7. Lawrence

    I don’t want to sound like I’ve mastered composting. I’ve just gotten use to using a composting toilet, and grown to like it much much better than port-o-potty style methods.

    The torch table is progressing nicely. There are the moments of, “o crap why didn’t I see that problem sooner”, and “did I really invert those two holes? must need a break.” Not to mention parts being delayed. I need to blog it but I’m close to having the x-assembly rolling, which means since the y and z assemblies are just iterations of the x, It’ll move much faster.

    I’ve already got a lot of things I’ll want to do differently for version 2, and I’m really excited at the prospect of doing all of the part cutting on version 1.

    I’m still going to have to figure out where to put version 2. Version 1 already takes up 782 cubic feet of space!

  8. Lucas

    Go, Lawrence (and all), Go!

  9. […] one month has passed since Lawrence arrived. Here is an update, continuing from the last post on the project, up to the progress of one week […]

  10. Roy

    I don’t understand how a torch table can cut square tubing to length or bolt holes that go through both sides. Will you rotate the tubing or will the torch head be able to rotate around the tubing? Or will the tubing be cut and drilled by conventional means? It looks like you’re doing a good job even under less than desirable conditions,good luck.

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