My First Memory of Making
From an early age, I felt drawn towards things I could build. My first real memory of making something was a go-cart when I was about 12 or 13 years old. It was not the one pictured –- which at least has a steering wheel and not foot controls – but it was similar.
My father’s lack of mechanical skill was only outdone by his horribly organized toolbox. On the positive side, he didn’t remember what tools he had, so if I took something and forgot to bring it back it wasn’t a punishable offense. The same went for the old push lawn mower too, so a good friend and I turned it into a make-shift go-cart.
The frame was made up of found pieces of steel and wood. At 13 my skill set didn’t extend to transmissions (and, sadly, still doesn’t). So it was direct drive as long as the chain stayed on the gear, and after it fell off, it was just “hold on for dear life.” I loved to build and make things even if my skills didn’t quite match my imagination.
This passion for making things led me to study and get a degree in Industrial Design at RISD (Rhode Island school of Design). My first semester of metal shop class started with four weeks hand filing a block of steel. I squared it up on two sides, beveled an edge, and drilled and tapped a few hole. It was humbling, annoying and amazingly gratifying.
My first day of woodshop was an 8-hour slide lecture about how wood moves. To this day I can hear the professor, Marc Hazel, excitedly telling 20 of us that “wood moves” over and over again. He was simultaneously goofy and deadpan and his voice is still in my head 25 years later.
I wanted to cut and make stuff. Marc Hazel wanted me to stop, to think, and to listen to what a tool sounded like in use. It was frustrating. I thought I’d make a table or a stool, but he thought I’d be lucky to make a dovetailed box by the end of the semester. He was right, of course. The box I made was only finger joints – but I still have it!
I was lucky enough to spend a summer working for Marc. I admired his ease with tools and making things, and his unwavering patience. He could be counted on to take a board I screwed up, or a wonky joint I made, and patiently show me how to do it right. How to stand, how to listen, and how to think through a project. Marc taught me things that, as a teenager, I never stopped to think about: finesse; small motions; where my feet and arms are in relation to what I’m doing. The most important thing was process. Marc would stop in the middle of any moment and say, “did you hear that?” Suddenly, I would notice the sounds of a dull block plane chattering its way through a board in the clumsy hands of a student.
I went on to make things I’m proud of, even though I never became the master. I owe a debt to Marc that, honestly, I have only recently started to understand.
As a co-owner of Garrett Wade I get to pursue my passion for making things. I work with great people who care about process and how something is made. I’m proud of what we sell and delight in helping people find just the right tool for a job or project. But most of all, I strive for Garrett Wade to be a place for people who want to make things regardless of skill level. I want everyone to care that “wood moves”. It doesn’t matter if the material you choose to work in is wood, glass, metal, or dirt: it’s about the feeling of being close to what you’re making.
Many of us have stories about our first experience making things or our mentors. If you’re comfortable, please add them to the comments below. I’d love to read them.