As most of my friends know, I’m a metal monger. Give me a piece of steel at breakfast and I’ll be happy the rest of the day. That being so, I have scraps of mill ends, old truck axles, cast iron billets, copper tubing, brass rounds of all sizes, and a five gallon container of lead balls, not including all sizes and shapes of gold and silver from my jewelry business.
I have no idea what I’ll do with most of these things, but inevitably I find a place where I weld together, machine down, grind into submission or saw in half to create some tool or mechanical device to do my bidding.
Being known for such things, friends call me regularly with metal offerings for my property. As long as I keep it in my shop, my wife puts up with my little idiosyncrasy.
Early autumn in the year 2000, I got a call from my contractor friend Sanchez who said he was dismantling twelve steel building that he’d constructed four months earlier for the San Francisco Academy of Arts. Knowing my metal mongering tendencies, he offered the steel. All I had to do was get a truck to San Francisco by the next morning and I could have as much as I wanted for free.
The next morning I drove up to the front doors of the building with the biggest u-haul I could find and spent the day loading twenty foot long two by ten, two by eight and two by six construction grade c-channel. Once I drove away, I was so overly loaded that every time I hit a bump the wheels rubbed the frame. Once on the freeway, when the wheels hit bottom, and they did often, smoke billowed out from the back of the truck.
Back then u-haul trucks didn’t go through the scales, so I was able to bypass some hefty overload fines. When I got home that night, I was exhausted. The next morning, with the help of a few friends, we stacked the lengths of steel on the back forty of the property. I had no idea what I was going to do with the steel, but I knew I would have kicked myself for not getting it.
Three years later, while swimming in the crappy old leaky trailer I used as a studio, I devised a plan to construct a roof over the top of the trailer strictly as a rain fly. The next summer, I started a simple lean-to, that continued to expand and grow until I had built the thirty by sixty foot barn structure for a total price of two thousand dollars, mostly for bolts, siding and roofing.
It took another year, but one day I pulled the trailer out ten feet at a time and crushed it with a rented backhoe, then took it to the dump. Another year later I started on my dream studio, using the remaining steel from the barn project to give me the parameters of the studio sixteen by thirty-two.
I wanted plenty of light and lots of insulation. The rest was up to how things worked out. I have grown fond of building by the seat of my pants. It certainly takes longer, but there are a lot more surprises in store along the way, some of them good and some I have to tear back out because they didn’t work, but surprises none the less.
With a little help from a friend here or there, the basic structure took two years to get enclosed, then came the most creative part, the half dome of glass. After building the pony wall, then a temporary plate atop that wall, I welded together a random dome design out of steel T-bar as the channels for the glass.
All summer, I cruised the garage sales and flea markets looking for sheets of quarter inch thick glass and came up with most of the glass needed for the project. Once the steel was painted and sealed, it took me a month to cut and place the glass.
Once the dome was complete, and after the shock of the cost of finished wood at the lumber yards, I took another look at a cedar with a four foot base that had died five years earlier on the far end of our property. I cut the tree down, rented another backhoe and drove the logs to my neighbor three miles away. He milled the logs into two by eight’s and I ended up with enough heartwood to build four benches which took another month to finish.
The final touches of the studio have yet to be installed; a little trim, linoleum and carpet, but those will be comparatively easy to what’s been done so far.
In the spring of 2007, after a three year sabbatical, I started making Gold jewelryagain more this time as a hobby. Thirty years of crank out jewelry and as many years of traveling from craft show to craft show, I deserved to make exactly what I want, this time exclusively in gold with only the best stones.
With the five dollar woodstove I got at a garage sale, the new studio is warm and cozy with lots of light. Another dream come true.