RX Workshops

I signed up to teach some of the ReBuilding Exchange's Make It-Take It workshops this spring.  Each Sunday for a few months, I taught two three-hour classes on how to make a simple home project -- a wine rack, a laptop/bed-in-breakfast tray, a bench, an end table, a kitchen blackboard, and a crash course in bandsaw taxidermy, creating a wooden facsimile of a mounted deer head.  Promoted through Groupon, we got a healthy turnout throughout, though we lost some folks to the wiles of good weather and playoff hockey.  

All the projects are crafted out of lumber from the vast RX warehouse.  For the wine rack, I wanted to go as simple as possible while retaining a healthy dose of visual theatrics.  Given the beauty of our source material, we didn't need to go too crazy -- the old-growth pine and fir speaks for itself, dense, rich, and finely-figured.  I settled on a slanted L-shape, punched with three holes, allowing the bottles to cantilever out into space.  This makes the bottles the centerpiece, leaving the rack to recede somewhat.  

Rack 'em.


Rabbit Island

I first heard of Rabbit Island on Cabin Porn, the sort of escapist, Instagram-tinged Tumblr that sets your mind adrift on a Sunday afternoon.  The island sits in the middle of Lake Superior, a few miles off of the Michigan coast.  Bought by Rob Gorski in 2010, the land was put into a trust, and conceived as an artist's colony.  The hope is to put up artists -- visual, performance, musicians -- for temporary terms.  

Some have already spent time on the island, finding inspiration in the solitude, spacious sky, and long water views.  At 90 acres, there is a substantial amount of land to explore; yet, as an island, edges are clearly defined.  The island, as archetype, fulfills a primal, childhood dream, same as a treehouse, or blanket fort, or backyard hideaway -- it limits the big, bad outside world, circumscribing a complex universe into a simple, manageable space.  What one of us didn't fantasize about having our own island as a child, filling it with pools and waterfalls and ziplines and basketball courts and video game caves?

All photos, except renderings, by Rob Gorski, available on the Rabbit Island Flickr page.
From the air.


Going Against the Grain

The ReBuilding Exchange, one of my places of employment, has a DIY fest, called Going Against the Grain, every year.  This past Sunday, a laundry list of hands-on crafters, improvisers, builders, and designers descended on the warehouse, fueled by the folks at New Belgium brewers.  So, like the good little green citizens that we are, we biked over a little after noon, skies threatening overhead.

The amount of bikes there was kind of out of control.
The lady and I, and some good friends, gathered much information on our nascent, studio-apartment-sized experiments in homesteading, home-brewing, bread baking, furniture building, and food growing.  Unfortunately, we don't have room for chickens just yet, but all in due time . . .

Right as we walked in, there was a badass rickshaw contraption by Alex Gartelmann and Jonas Sebura.  

Puts a regular 'ol Harley to shame.


The Neuroticism of Craft

Last year, I designed and built a series of six chairs from road signs, all nearly identical.  The chair shells were folded aluminum signs and the bases were made from good 'ol Alabama pecan wood, milled, sanded, and lacquered within an inch of their life.  They turned out pretty well. I wrote an article about them, got paid, and enjoyed them for about a week.  Then, one day after work, I sat down in one of them, and the two joints in the back legs blew out.  The chair collapsed.  I smacked my elbow and my head pretty hard on the way to the floor.

Time passed.  The rest of the chairs seemed fine, more or less; the broken one had a flawed joint in the back, which gave way once my weight was leaned back into the seat.  However, I was nervous every time I sat in one from there on out, and especially nervous that someone else, perhaps bigger than me, might sit in one and break it.  I'm fine with breaking my own creations, but the paranoia and anxiety and embarrassment around the idea of someone else possibly injuring themselves and thinking I was a moron was almost too much to handle.  

I had broken a cardinal rule of design -- putting form above function.  In my desire to have a sleek, light form, I had ignored some structural considerations.  The back legs were extremely slanted -- over 20 degrees.  That joint, where the cross-piece intersected, bit too deeply into those back legs, weakening the wood there.  The legs splayed in only one axis -- front-to-back -- which made the chair unstable side-to-side.  The stock for the legs, at 1" square, was not strong enough to resist the twist and tension in the folded aluminum signs, which meant the legs didn't all hit the ground evenly once the base was bolted to the sign.  The 3/4" dowels I used as cross pieces were also not strong enough to resist side-to-side motion.  The base was essentially a series of parallelograms, with no triangulation, which led to a lack of stiffness.

The original chairs, pretty as you please.


Hattery Labs

After months of anticipation, the folks of Hattery Labs have moved into their space.  I had to leave at the beginning of February, but my friend Chris Currie carried on, finishing up the assembly, sanding, oiling, and waxing of the last few tables.  He is a consumate professional, and his work speaks for itself.  

The last day I was there, we put together the final conference table, a 14' long beast that managed, somehow, to still look fairly sleek relative to its enormous size.  I was also excited to see a 200+ pound table top supported on four slender wood legs, with no connecting tensile structure at the feet.  You can design all you want, but every time I flip over a table or a chair for the first time and see how it sits my heart leaps into my throat a little bit; design becomes real, and your reputation and ideas hit reality in one concrete moment.  I've had that moment turn into splintered wood and clenched fists; fortunately, this time, it turned into high fives and raised beers.  

What follows is some final photos of the work, and an illustrated journal of the final assembly of the conference tables, following progress posts here and here and here.  Much thanks to Mark Wills, Josh To, and all the folks at Hattery Labs, as well as Chris Currie and Jamie Sartory -- it was a helluva lot of fun.  And the tables turned out ok.

Mark Wills at work, photo by James Buyayo.