Archive for July, 2015

The Long Haul

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In the last post, I talked about my first day in shop– this post is going to talk about the many, many more days I spent there. It ended up being about 130 hours in total over the course of 7 weeks. Rather than focus on the step-by-step process, I think it’ll be more interesting if I talk about how it felt to tackle a project like this and the bigger lessons I learned along the way. If you’re also interested in the step-by-step, check out this post

Probably the biggest thing I encountered while working in the shop was my mindset towards the work and how much that needed to change. I started the work with a mindset developed from my time designing software. Working with software is so fundamentally different than working with wood. With software, you’re building and working with structures and mechanisms that only exist at the conceptual level. In a way, it’s like building an imaginary city that’s only constrained by its own internal set of rules. Ultimately, the software should be usable by a person and run efficiently on a computer but the things you can do are only limited by your ability to think.

Contrast that with woodworking, which is entirely limited by the physical realm. Sticking to the imaginary world of what you think should happen will get you into trouble. You need to constantly be observing what’s going on with your project so you can adapt your plans to what is possible and to ensure that the details are coming together as you had planned. You don’t get to freely translate what’s in your head to what happens in reality. You have to pay attention to things like how the router bit is cutting the wood or if your board is lined up correctly on the saw. It seems like these straightforward things should simply work as expected but so many times there’s a little thing wrong that needs to get caught before it messes up the project. Other times, the approach just isn’t going to work and you need to back up and try something else. The wise words of my dad came to me many times– “Let your work teach you.”

Another thing that challenged me mentally was my expectations for quick progress. Having never worked much with wood before, I let my unfounded expectations for progress drive up anxiety levels and reduce my ability to focus on those ever-important details. It’s so easy to imagine a short road to a happy ending but that ultimately makes the real road harder to travel. Many times I was awakened to a building tension in my body and a growing rift between my thoughts and what was happening with the project. I would force myself to stop, breathe and try to let go of the need to accomplish something. The project could only proceed at its own pace and fighting that reality only made things slower, due to the inevitable mistakes that the anxiety caused.

Despite the challenges, I did have fun. Mainly just being around John, the guy who ran and owned the shop. He’s a good-natured but quirky person. For example, he’d be working in the shop and just start muttering to himself in what I initially thought was broken English. Turns out it’s a creole language called Gullah which is spoken by some African-American populations living in the South. He listens to weekly podcasts on the language. We also had interesting conversations on his fancy ying-yang shaped garden he is building and how he plans to balance its ecosystem with biodynamic gardening practices. Biodynamic gardening is a type of organic gardening focusing on the holistic health of the plants, soil and animals involved. For example, his plan to control the slugs that plague most gardens around here. Instead of applying slug-repellent chemicals, he was planning on planting flowers that attract hummingbirds, which will also eat slugs. Biodynamic practices are a very interesting way of getting nature to balance itself out and avoid having to manipulate it artificially.

John is one of those guys that’s deeply interested in doing the right thing for the environment and the community. In fact, he started this shop mainly as a way to give back to the woodworking community and wants to use the shop as an incubator for micro-businesses started by his renters. For example, one of his renters was planning on making ornate Native American-inspired wooden boxes to sell and he was enthusiastically helping get the project off the ground

He did show me some of his own unique and awesome projects too. For the Fremont Solstice parade one year, he grew a bunch of long ornamental grasses and wove them into a set of suits for him and some friends. They danced down to the street to the beat of a drum, enacting a mythical story he had devised. Here’s John in his suit, though this was the following year’s parade and it had dried up.

grass suit

Isn’t that cool?

Here’s a picture of one of his woodworking masterpieces. Simply amazing.

The other fun part of working in the shop was talking with the other renters. There’d frequently be several other people working in the space and so we’d talk about each other’s projects. Coincidentally, I met two people who worked in the audio business. One person ran a pro-audio shop in Bellevue and the other used to work on electronics design for a local speaker company. Crazy who you meet in a place like that and it ended up giving the place a cool feel.

So while my time in the shop was long and challenging, it gave me some cool opportunities to experience a new style of work and to be around interesting people. All in all, this phase of the project lasted from the end of February to the middle of April. So much for finishing it in one day, like I originally thought! Next post, I’ll talk about the final phases of my project– doing the acoustic testing and applying the finishing touches on the speakers. Thanks for reading!

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July 5th, 2015 at 5:11 pm

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