I’ve always made things. It runs in the family. When I was a kid, my father pursued a woodworking hobby in our garage. He made a beautiful coffee table and bar for our house. For one period we made redwood shelves for gas BBQ carts, which we sold to a local supplier. My maternal grandfather had a series of manufacturing companies. More related to upcycling, as a kid I remember making a wooden plant stand for my mom in the 1970s, which I distressed with dents and scratches and flames.
My first job, from high school through my first three years of college, was in a small metal fabrication shop, where we cut, bent, and spot-welded sheet metal into various products; cut, shaped and welded steel tubing into fire rings; made steering wheels for vintage autos; and fabricated many other components and final products. I single-handedly got to design and build a three-part stacking steel structure to hold electronic components for the rock band Toto.
I continued making things intermittently thereafter. In a period spanning college and grad school, I built an arm chair out of a single large beam of oak. Since 1990 I’ve had a white-collar career in policy research, but I continued occasionally to make things out of wood for myself and my wife and friends—furniture, built-in shelves, etc. I also took up mosaic arts. Since roughly 2014, partly inspired by shows like “Flea Market Flip,” “Black Dog Salvage,” and “West End Salvage,” I’ve focused on upcycling much more than making things from scratch, and I ratcheted up the volume. While running, walking my dog, or just driving around in D.C., I started noticing how many things people were throwing away that could easily be fixed or improved upon. So, I started bringing them back to my house and fulfilling my upcycling vision on nights and weekends.
One note of potential interest about my work: I have a very small workspace in my basement. And I don’t have any common machines like a table saw, band saw, planer, router table, or drill press. Besides a portable compound miter saw, I have only hand tools. And I do virtually all of my cutting and sanding and paint-stripping on tables or sawhorses that I set up on my small backyard patio when the weather permits.