ORIGIN: Starting the Conversation

Get A Hobby!

06.26.13 by Win Rice
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Structural engineering requires a broad skill set in order to be well rounded and deliver successful projects. We have to visualize projects mentally in three dimensions, perform code research, calculate long strings of equations, coordinate with multiple vendors and consultants, hand sketch and computer draft, and put components together from a kit of parts using all available methods for attachments. How can we possibly be at the top of our game in all areas? Get a hands-on hobby!

Let’s face it, we engineers often times do not get enough hands-on experience. We do all the above, put together a set of drawings that we give the contractor, and let him do all the dirty work. How do we know if the structure will go together in the field as we imagined? We need to get our hands dirty!

A hobby can be anything from model building to woodworking. It could be automobile restoration, home remodeling or even art and sculpture.  Pick one and start the fun. Did I say fun? Well, there may be a little brain damage at first such as researching materials, methods, and technique, but eventually things will smooth out as you learn, you might actually enjoy it.

Let’s look at a few examples and what you can learn:

Model Building – Car, plane, and train models show how all the small pieces come together and create a rigid, stable, functional assembly. If it is a model of a classic vehicle, it may give you a little insight into the brain of the original designer, and why he chose certain methods of construction.

Woodworking – This takes raw material that you cut, plane, shape, smooth and fit into something that you can use, whether it is a piece of furniture or artwork. It gives you experience in material selection, careful planning, choosing the proper techniques and tools, and even transportation of material if it is a large project.

Automobile Restoration – Disassemble a car piece by piece, inspect each component, then renew or replace each component as needed, and reassemble. This requires researching components and materials, detailed record keeping, reading manuals, selecting the proper tools and putting together a schedule.

Home Remodeling – The holy grail of hands-on. This will require a full design, careful planning, project phasing, material research and selection, and a realistic schedule and budget. This is a chance for the engineer to play architect, and experience a smaller scale project from start to finish.

I have done all of these things and have used experience gained from each hobby in my daily engineering tasks, from special detailing to critical connections.

Now, go get your hands dirty!

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Win Rice, PE


Win received his Bachelor of Architectural Engineering degree from Oklahoma State University and is a licensed Professional Engineer in six states. Win’s project work is…

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