Zen and the Art of Rock Drilling

In year 1974 Robert Pirsig published his best-seller book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.  As any decent doctoral student at that the 1980s, I (was strongly suggested to) read it, and to be honest, I did not like it and still today feel that I did not get much out of it.   In my eyes it was the hype of that time (the word hype was not even introduced at that time).  Maybe I did not like it as I did not find the reference group of motorcycle drivers as in the book to be close to me.  However, in the book’s spirit I now want to share my experiences on rock drilling.

The case is that my otherwise perfect yard was dominated by two ugly rocks, mainly buried under the ground, but anyway visible, and all too far heavy to lift.   I would not like to afford an excavator, and it would have done anyway bad tracks to my yard.   I started to look for solutions.  One was found in non- explosive demolition agent, which would slowly generate pressure and to break the rock. To take use of that effect, you must first drill a lot of holes to the rock.  For that purpose, I bought for myself a very good and rather expensive drill.

Also to drill! During drilling I think I learned a lot and want to share with you my experiences, and extend them to the art of making science.  Luckily I had read before the start of the work, that do not press the drilling machine too much.  Let the machine do its task.   Lesson number one: in science, don’t push too far and fast, but let the scientific system do its task. 

During the drilling, there were moments of desperation: the drill did not proceed at all during some periods. But then, as you were most hesitant, sand began again to come up fluently from the drill.  Lesson number two: to the activity, both drilling and academic, belong both moments of ups and downs.

I got carried away by the joy of drilling, and suddenly understood, that it was already late in the evening, yet anyway much light in the Finnish summer night. I did not understand the pass of time, and saw that it is best to stop my noisy activity for today, not to disturb neighbors. Lessons number three and four: both in drilling and academic activity, to gain results you need time, and in both, do not do harm to your environment and people living or working with you.

During the drilling, the machine got rather warm, and I can just imagine the heath at the top of the drill meeting the hard rock.  When making a pause, my hands continued to tremble as if drilling would continue.  Lesson number five:  Both in drilling and academic work, you and your tools are put under hard pressure.

When I got accustomed to the routine, almost fell to automatic action of just letting the drill run, suddenly my handgrip lost touch and the drill began to circulate.   No big trouble, at the same time your touch on the power button is also automatically lost, and no hazard emerges.  Anyway here we have the lessons number six and seven: be aware all the time, and equip yourself with safe and good tools.  Both are again more than true in rock drilling as well as in academic work.

After several hours and nights of routine drilling, the needed ten holes were finally there.  I was ready to mix the demolition agent with water, and to pour it to the holes.  Here it was extremely important to have the right amount of water: with too much or too less water the demolition agent would not work.  Lesson number eight:  stick to prescribed and tested working and research methods, do not start doing your own experiments.

After six long days, the goal was finally reached: when coming home from work, the stone had gone to smaller pieces, and I could start digging them away from the ground.  A great moment of achievement! The pieces were still too big for one man to lift, but with the help of my sons I could get the stones up from the ground. Lesson number nine: do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

After all this rock work, my yard still looks rather devastated at the place of action.  Next spring it is time to finally fill the holes with fresh ground and to seed lawn to the place.  Lesson number ten: do not forget to do the needed afterwork as you have accomplished the first primary goal.  Then finally the lesson number zero, the most important lesson and the mother of all lessons: never leave a learning opportunity unused and unreported.


One thought on “Zen and the Art of Rock Drilling

  1. This is an insightful read. Thanks for sharing the lessons!

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