After a third prototype and some experiments with acrylic forming, the picture frame is, I believe, nearing completion. This prototype, shown below, goes for more of a “polished-industrial” feel that hides a larger purpose: the cap nuts securing the vertical frames to the acrylic plate allow for zero-tools insertion of a picture, something that was not possible in the previous two designs and could preclude many students from using their frames.

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Compared to the wall hook, this frame has several key advantages that I believe make it an ideal shop training project, either as a supplement to the hook or as a complete replacement.

  • Scope: The wall hook required only three yellow zone tools: the horizontal bandsaw, the drill press, and the jump shears. Students used the vertical bandsaw for a single cut, but with the caveat that they weren’t really supposed to use it for what they were doing—an odd thing to say during shop training. The picture frame, by contrast, requires five yellow zone tools, incorporating the hand drill and laser cutter into the original three. Additionally, the plate stock, while cut entirely on the jump shears for the prototype, could be cut properly on the vertical bandsaw with no caveats, thus making for six tools used properly.
  • Variable tool usage: Of the wall hook’s 31 required power tool operations, a whopping 26 of them (84%) took place on one of the shop’s three drill presses. This high percentage of drilling and countersinking operations created major bottlenecks when large numbers of students were trained at once. The picture frame spreads out the tool usage much better, with only 18 of its 32 operations (56%) taking place on the drill press. The plate work on the supports could be split evenly between the jump shears and vertical band saw, reducing bottlenecks even further. The only real potential for a major bottleneck is at the laser cutter, but I believe efficient management of it so that multiple students are trained and cutting their single part at the same time could make its use manageable.
  • Variable parts: The wall hook’s five pieces were all very similar (or, in two cases, exactly the same), each requiring almost the same order of operations. By contrast, each of the picture frame’s three unique components (two components are mirror images) requires a completely different set of skills from the others: the acrylic backing plate is laser-cut; the bar stock frames are cut on the horizontal bandsaw and drilled on the drill press; and the plate supports are cut on the jump shears or vertical bandsaw, hand-drilled, and countersunk on the drill press. And because the drill presses are split, two for drilling and one for countersinking, there is no tool usage overlap between parts as there was with the wall hook. If there is a line at the drill press, those not in line can work on a part that does not require the drill press, something that was not possible with the wall hook.
  • Less tapping: The picture frame has half as many tapped holes as the wall hook, giving students the opportunity to get a feel for the process but giving them fewer chances to break a tap.
  • Interest level: The wall hook perhaps received the most grief because of its lack of utility in a college dorm. Because the dorms forbid screwing into walls, most students could not make use of their hooks, leading to a lack of interest from those students who were not interested in the act of making something. The picture frame, requiring no mounting, presents a desirable end goal for those more results-driven than process-driven.

All of these advantages together, I believe, outweigh the one major disadvantage the picture frame presents: cost. Considering only the cost of materials in the finished product—that is, not accounting for students breaking taps, remaking parts, etc.—the frame costs $5.96, compared with the wall hook’s mere $0.74 price tag. I would argue, however, that the expanded scope and heightened interest level present a compelling case for adopting the picture frame and adding a small lab fee to the course. I believe most Tufts students would be fine paying a small price for a more useful end product; furthermore, it is almost expected in other disciplines here that courses with lab components are going to have a lab fee. For biology or chemistry, these fees can reach into the hundreds of dollars; by contrast, a $5 or $10 fee would seem insignificant, especially if it is clear that it pays for a concrete end product.

Several prospective students on a tour were asked about shop training projects, and while they thought the wall hook was decent and liked the pen holder more, they all agreed that the picture frame held the most appeal for them. I think many students would feel the same, given the choice between something they cannot really use and something that they may already want. And the more concrete advantages only add benefits.