Origins of an Addiction

I love the peacefulness of being in the middle of a project, I love how my brain feels when I finally arrive at a solution to a problem, I love visualizing a finished product and I love the way working with my hands feels.  I like that my hands are beaten, cut and scarred... most of the time...

During my day job I, unfortunately, must wear the corporate uniform a lot (loud booing from a canned audience).  It's funny how many people will end up staring at my beat-up hands while I'm in a suit.  At first it was a little uncomfortable, but now I really like it, it's something of a twisted badge of honor for me because it is my constant link to something personal, something enduring, and something I really enjoy.

On the other hand (see what I did there?) I can tell when I haven't been in my workshop for a while because my hands heal, my cuticles and nails are clean of debris and oil and they lose that lovely rough texture that my wife hates.  Usually, right about then I'll shake someone's hand whom I know works with them for a living and I immediately want to yell "MY HANDS AREN'T USUALLY THIS SOFT!" but I don't... because I have been told that it's weird.

I was introduced to a wide array of tools at an early age.  My father is an Architect, but he grew up on a large working farm in Nebraska so he was not, and is still not, a stranger to hard physical work.  Even though we moved "out east" when I was young and he lost a lot of the direct connections he had to the farm, he always maintained that hard work and manual labor were good things in life.  These were values he poured out regularly for me to absorb.  As I grew, I think he really pressed me to learn to do things on my own because making mistakes is a really effective way to learn (it is not, however, the safest or most efficient).

Some of my favorite memories of my youth were going with my dad to various construction sites.  He used to build homes on the side with his brother in Nebraska and as a self-employed architect he was constantly at construction sites for reviews and progress checks.  I loved to watch the buildings go up, smell the lumber and mud (mostly a lot of VOCs and off-gassing substances they warn you about now).  I was always doing small remodeling, landscaping, and construction projects in and around the house, for neighbors, and friends.  I look back and find that by the time I was in middle school I had already learned a lot about the construction trade.

My mother is a teacher and craft addict enthusiast.  She is always doing some project in her basement (which usually looked like a warehouse of materials) and has now graduated from the damp concrete dungeon of my childhood to a beautifully finished basement with several separate craft rooms.  She is a very skilled seamstress, painter, and all around artisan.  She taught and continues to teach me a lot about how much details mean to a finished product.  She was always encouraging me to make things and, I feel, is directly responsible for my uncontrollable desire to learn as many different skills as I can possibly cram into my head (which all come with different tool collections by the way).  My credit card company thanks you mom.

I went to "college" in Colorado at the U.S. Air Force Academy where I suddenly found a new addiction to learning.  I fell in love with old books, texts and coincidentally ebay.  I found that I couldn't get enough information about old methods for doing just about everything from cooking to carpentry.  Origins of modern methods for processes fascinate me.  While going to school (and probably one of the only reasons I made it through this particular institution) I made some amazing friends and grew a very special relationship with my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin whom were my sponsor family.  They took me, and about 10 of my closest friends under their wings and gave us a place to crash, have fun, study, relax and basically be at home.  Were it not for them, many of us may not have kept our sanity.  I can never thank them enough.  Additionally, they gave us a place to store a bunch of our crap.  I had a bin of tools at their house and would use them every chance I got (I also borrowed my Uncle's tools though we weren't always the best at putting them away...sorry!).  Most of the tools were for working on an old 1979 Dodge quad cab pickup we weren't supposed to have, but tool lust ensued none-the-less.

Since 2006 my (incredibly patient) wife and I have been renovating a home built in and shortly before 1899 (it appears to have built in several stages).  This process has been incredible.  We have had all kinds of help from friends and family to get whipped into its current state.  I cannot now, nor can I ever thank any of them enough.  They continued work on it through two of my deployments to the Middle East and were more than supportive of my wife and I throughout the process.

This journey has taught me more than I imagined about a wide array of construction and finishing techniques and processes.  Even more than that, it taught me a lot about the importance of honing my own skills.  I feel that only through proper practice, repetition and failure can one truly learn a craft.  Through the renovation of my own home, I have definitely had occasion to practice and repeat many, many different skills.  I jumped head first into everything from working the soil for the foundation to making furniture to furnish our home.  Fortunately for me, I have also had occasion in this process to meet and learn from some people whom have forgotten more than I will ever know.

I really enjoy hand tools.  I used to think of non-powered tools as the slow inefficient way of the past.  I was merely uninformed.  Don't get me wrong, I still love me some power tools, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward the quietness, elegance and control I get with traditional hand tools and I wish I had been properly introduced to them much earlier in my life.  I find that a delicate balance between powered and non-powered tools yields great results for me across the board.

More and more I am finding myself fascinated with and drawn to the ingenuity of antique hand tools.  Many of them are so simple, beautiful and functional it is a disappointment to me that we have traded them in so readily for cheap, manufactured, disposable tools.  I have started (like many others) to seek out some of these old discarded tools, and to lean about them and when appropriate restore them or "renovate" them if they are beyond repair or restoration.  In doing so, I am hoping to make some of my own tools based on what I find to be the best features of the ones I uncover.  I also hope to learn more about the pre-industrial processes of carpentry, joinery, design, machine work, casting and pattern-making.   


  1. Fabulous story! Your parents (and that aunt you mention) were a lifeline for me during my early college years in Omaha. And look at what you turned out to be! Amazing. I'd like to think I helped shape you just a little, because you know, I used to change your diapers. :-)

    1. KAY! Great to hear from you! Thank you for your kind words, but more importantly thank you for the diaper changes! Hope all is well out your way.