Experience the Craftsman Tool MAKEcation With Me
At a secret mountain lair, 100 miles from civilization (the Lake Arrowhead Resort in Southern California) Craftsman Tools held their first ever MAKEcation over Labor Day Weekend. It’s a massive thank you from the tool makers to the tool users. Members of the Craftsman Club, and makers of every stripe from every corner of the U.S. were gathered together for an immersion in making – with experts leading instruction in woodworking, copper smithing, carpentry, whiskey tasting, cigar rolling and more – and you’re on the list.
Flattered, you turn down the offered car service and choose to drive yourself there. Get in your truck and follow the secret directions like a Lost Boy seeking Neverland. Find a place where it’s 100 degrees. Drive N/NE at 7.5 MPH for 4.5 hours. Stop when you dead-end at a sparkling, mountain lake.
You’re met with a welcome package including a flask, a Zippo lighter and a cigar cutter. Before it’s even started, all signs point to this being an outstanding weekend.
At dinner you’re bonding with the other makers and find yourself at the last table still lingering behind as you get to know each other. You’re politely encouraged to move on. “Stay here as long as you like, but there’s a surprise down at the bonfire on the beach.”
So, you make your way down there and the fire’s going and the sun’s setting and the lights are coming up on a little stage. “Ladies and gentlemen – Everclear!” Yes – actually Everclear. They come out and they absolutely kill it. And that’s how day one comes to a close.
The Copper Smithing
In the morning of day two you break into groups and your party of half a dozen makers heads to the copper smithing station. Right away you notice that there’s no forge here, and your instructor, blacksmith Beth Holmberg, explains that it just isn’t practical to get everybody working with glowing hot metal.
But copper can be cold forged using the same techniques as iron. “This is hammer skills. This is cool stuff.”
And she’s right. Beth talks you through the process of snipping out a form from sheet copper and rasping, hammering, bending and stamping it into a money clip. Remember not to hold the hammer too firmly - you want an easy grip and a supple wrist. And if you’re starting with a brand new one, sand the varnish off the ball-peen so it doesn’t mar the metal you’re working on.
The Fantasy Football
Now that you’ve got a new money clip, it’s time to stuff it with the winnings of this season’s fantasy football. To help make that happen, actor, comedian and fantasy football champion Rob Riggle is here.
You’ve seen him on Modern Family, The Hangover and Fox NFL Sunday, and now he’s giving you the pointers you need to succeed. When you’re drafting, look at the stats, but also pay attention to who’s in a contract year. That guy’s got something extra to prove and will be pushing harder. Start with your running backs, then wide receivers and then quarterbacks. Save the defense and kickers for last.
It doesn’t all end with the draft. Make adjustments for bye weeks, so your opponents know you’re serious, and most important – Do not lose. There should be a penalty for coming in last place – cash into the pot, or worse – Rob will make you display this in your house all year.
And Rob’s not just flying in for a football symposium and flying out again. Here’s here to play along with everyone. When you sit and chat after the lesson, he tells you why. “My generation isn’t like my dad’s generation because of our skill sets… I want practical skills. I don’t need to go beat a drum or explore my masculinity or find out what the nature of man is. I need to know how to fix the air conditioning.”
The Chainsaw Carving
Nobody puts a chainsaw in your hand, but that bust of Rob Riggle didn’t carve itself. It was carved from a stump with a chainsaw by chainsaw artist Curtis Ingvoldstad.
As the weekend progresses you watch as he forms raw wood into a dramatic eagle, using a chainsaw and an angle grinder.
The Cigar Rolling
You may not be a cigar smoker, but you weren’t a copper smith either. You head to the cigar station, overlooking the lake and start with a primer from cigar aficionado Taz Ahmadi on the cigar making process.
From tobacco seed to humidor, it takes about three years for a cigar to come to life – longer for the more aged tobaccos. Taz clearly knows what he’s talking about as he describes the steps you need to take. Lay out the wrapper leaf and cut it with a half-moon blade into a sickle shape. Set the long, fill leaves at the sharp end of the sickle and gently hold it taut as you roll it up. Seal it with tree sap on your fingertips and set a small cap of leaf over the end. Roll it smooth, cut it to length and you’re done.
Remember, toast the foot of the cigar before you light it, don’t crush , but let it die to put it out and don’t relight it tomorrow because of resin buildup. And don’t ash unless you have to – this isn’t a cigarette.
The Bee House
Now it’s time for some carpentry. There are a bunch of work benches set up and a stack of reclaimed lumber. Why are you building a bee house? Carla Bruni is a hands-on architectural historian, bridging the gap between historic preservationists and modern, green building.
She explains that hiveless, stingless mason bees can help fill the void left by the vanishing honeybees. But they need homes and this reclaimed lumber project will supply them.
You pick out your lumber and drill 5/16-inch holes 3 to 5 inched deep in the endgrain of a bunch of 2x4s (these bees are pretty particular). Now you build a box out of old, dental crown molding to house the 2x4 blocks. Chop the molding on a sliding miter saw to make the corners join up at neat, 90 degree angles. Tack it all together with a brad nailer, with a little roof on it to keep the rain out of the holes. You make sure to sand down those holes well. Any splinters or sawdust and the bees won’t move in (again, very particular).
When you get home you can paint it blue and yellow (that’s what they like), hang it up facing south and the bees will do the rest come springtime.
The Survival Training
Thomas Coyne is a survival expert and instructor, and in case that happens he puts a multi-tool in your hand and marches you off into the bush.
The first stop is a willow tree, which is an indicator there’s water nearby. In strips you peel the bark back from a branch and use the damp, exposed wood to cool the back of your neck. Twist the strips into rope, but not before you chew some, to kill that niggling, high altitude headache. This is the stuff aspirin is made from. You make a tinder ball out of mugwort and use the can opener on the multi-tool to carve a small impression in a palm sized rock. Use a willow branch and rope to make a bow and a smaller stick to make a drill.
You work the bow drill back and forth, using the rock as a pivot, and your fire board starts to smoke. The notch you carved is filling up with hot dust, channeling it onto the tinder ball. Stop. Lightly blow on the tinder ball. It starts to glow. You have made fire. (An ember. You made an ember – don’t get carried away.)
You’re acquiring all these skills, but what are you going to eat? You’re going to throw meat on a fire, that’s what. That’s why day three starts with a lesson at the grilling station. Rocco Romio is a classically trained chef, and also a farm boy who’s cooked and eaten (or eaten raw) just about every kind of meat there is.
You can sum him up with this quote, “Breaking apart an animal with a hacksaw, a cleaver and a mallet is a lot of fun.”
He stands over your shoulder as you make barbecue sauce from scratch and talks you through the process of getting two big trout on the grill. And pork chops. And hangar steaks. And ribeye. (Yes, all that.)
The chops are made brined and unbrined, the steaks with and without dry rub or marinade, so you can taste the difference. You’re definitely going to brine your chops from now on. The steaks are good both ways and the fish is so crisped and perfect you consider turning pescatarian.
The Step Stool
With a full belly, you’re ready to work with wood again. Back at the carpentry station, master builder Karl Champly lays out the instructions for building a step stool with a hinged lid and storage compartment. As he hands you tools and demonstrates their use, it’s clear he really knows what he’s doing, even with tools you might not expect when making furniture.
With a jigsaw, you cut an arc out of the bottom of each side, clamping them together and evening them out with the sander. Now you glue and tack the sides together with a brad nailer at the corners and insert the bottom. When it’s level, tack it in place. Line the edge of the lid with self-adhesive wood edge banding (with the iron) so the plywood doesn’t show, add the hinges and you’re done. No, you’re not. You heat up a branding iron with a blowtorch and brand the corner of the lid so everyone knows it’s yours.
Now you move to the next station to feel the difference between carpentry and woodworking. Master craftsman Rob North shows you to a lathe and a rectangular block of wood. You’re going to turn it into a chalice.
You fix the block into the lathe and start it spinning. Rob hands you a gouge and shows you how to use it. Stand sideways to your work, like a boxer, moving the tool along the guard with your whole body. Sawdust shoots off the block, coating you like blown snow as you knock the corners off, turning it into a cylinder.
Once it’s round you change tools and bring the shape of the chalice to life. Later, you’ll take it home and display it proudly on your bar like a trophy.
The Whiskey Tasting
The weekend’s coming to a close, so now it’s time to learn the finer points of the distilled spirits we know as whiskey. Todd Paul is a partner at FEW Spirits, and he’s here to talk you through how the whiskey’s made, and what to look for when you taste it. When you’re making whiskey, the first product of the still is called “the head.” Todd doesn’t even pour you a taste of this. He just passes around a vile.
You sniff it and taste a dab off your pinky and wish you hadn’t. But the next thing out of the still is “the heart,” and that’s bourbon or rye or single malt, depending on the grain in the still. Now you’re poured a little taste of each, to note the differences and the subtleties. The rye is peppery, the bourbon delivers a hint of vanilla and the single malt is mild and easy going down.
Oh, and the moonshine hits with a BANG.
Woodworking brothers Bob and Scott Stevens lead a class in making a floating wall shelf. And Mike Sense and the Make magazine team built a trebuchet (that’s right, a catapult) and launched a water balloon over the resort roof.
All that will have to wait for next time because like a bunch of kids on the last day of camp, you and the other makers have to say goodbye and head back to your respective corners of the country. New friends were made and new skills were learned from the experts and from each other. Now, what are you going to make next weekend?