Makin’ Somthin’

Today (March 15th, 2010) is my Grandfather’s 90th birthday. We celebrated with him this weekend in Pike County, IL. I spent quite a bit a time growing up with Grandpa. On many weekends and for entire weeks of the summer, I'd join him on his farm in Perry, IL.

By the time I came a long, grandpa had mostly retired. He rented out his farmland, but still kept some cows around, mostly so that he’d have something to feed every morning.

Grandpa dedicated his retirement to a variety of woodworking pursuits. He made scale models of local buildings, wooden carousels, clocks, toys, banks, and even the occasional joke piece. One of my favorites was a small base with a US quarter mounted to it.

A tiny dowel rod mallet slid into a hole in the base. Hand stenciled on the base was the title of the piece: “Quarter Pounder.” He refinished furniture, built us an elevated playhouse, and built a scale model of our house. He’d see plans for something in a magazine or pick something up on a trip, and go to work on it in his workshop.

I would tag along for much of this activity. When I was 7 or so, Grandpa did something that I think more than anything, shaped what I was to become and do in the future. He built me my own workbench. It was kid height with kid sized tools.

I know that now you can buy playschool workbenches and tools for kids. But the tools on my workbench were no plastic toys from China. They were real: a real saw that was really sharp, a vise that could crush things, a hammer that could actually drive nails.

He set it up in his workshop down at the end of the big workbench.

So the story goes like this: (This is how grandpa tells it anyway.) He had lost track of me in the workshop. He had gotten involved in something and I had gone quiet. When he found me, I was hunch over the blue workbench furiously working.

Grandpa asked me what I was doing, and I responded “makin’ somthin’” I guess grandpa got a real kick out of my response because it’s one of those family stories that has been told over and over.

Here is what I remember. I really didn’t know what I was making. I just knew that I was consumed by the desire to make something. So I was cutting pieces of wood and nailing them together all because I wanted to make. It was part emulation.

I admired Grandpa and wanted to be like him. But it was more that he had infected me with this bug. I had caught it. I wanted to be a maker.

I studied engineering in college, but ended up gravitating towards software. Fairly recently I’ve discovered just why it is that software appeals so much to me. It is because software is making.

In engineering, we’d design something and send it out somewhere to be made, but in software, everyday I get to step into a the world of the maker and just build stuff.

Every time I open my laptop, I’m 7 years old again and hunched over my workbench consumed by the desire to make. The tools are different, the raw materials are different, the end product is different, but that feeling and that drive to make is just the same.

Thank you, Grandpa, for putting tools in my hands and showing me how to use them, and letting me make something. Happy 90th!

Doug Bradbury, Software Craftsman

Doug Bradbury is a maker, a thinker, a craftsman, and a learner.