Maker-Stuff Hobbies

Looks awesome!

Table saw if you have space for a decent one. Don’t get a super cheap one with a small table, they are dangerous.

If you don’t have the room for a table saw a router would be my next choice. Very versatile tool in a small package.

I agree with Charles – the table saw is mighty useful if you have the space, followed by the router.

An interesting article in the NYT the other day:

I think I understand the point the author is trying to make – that people aren’t getting into hobbies unless they feel that they will become world-class at it – but I think the author is missing the proximate cause of that phenomena: The easy access to expert tutelage at your finger-tips. It seems silly to get into woodworking or blacksmithing or robotics as a hobby and not take advantage of the effectively free expert training that is available on YouTube… and once you’ve seen how the experts operate and their best-practices, it seems equally silly to intentionally ignore that knowledge and “putter” instead.

The author also seems to be trying to thread a weird needle with his thesis too: Out of one side of his mouth he is decrying people striving for the highest levels of expertise, and out of the other he says that trying to improve is a key part of any hobby. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a single activity where a hobbyist is NOT striving to improve themselves, if only incrementally. Are there actually hobbies out there where you look at your work and say, “Yup, this is as good as I want to get; I’m just going to stay at this level”?

To a degree, yeah. Like League of Legends. I’d theoretically like to be higher than Silver, having played for years now. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit there and do practice drills for a hobby.

I really do understand and agree with the article. I think he is more bemoaning the fact that we seem to turn everything into a drive to achieve something.

It’s somewhat part of the idea of mindfulness, I think. We have a hard time just being in the moment. We always have to be accomplishing something, beating some personal record, etc.

I think we’re kind of splitting hairs here. Even if you are unwilling to commit the time to becoming a master, you’re still striving to be better than you were before, even at an infinitesimal level. Or at a minimum testing yourself against something and hoping that you succeed.

Maybe that’s my problem with the author’s thesis: He seems to think that shooting for the stars is not something you should do with a leisure activity, while I think that personal improvement/achievement is the whole point.

Hmm. I suppose for me, this is where I’d draw the line between a “leisure activity” and a “hobby”. All hobbies are leisure activities (by definition), but not all leisure activities are hobbies. I don’t strive to improve my proficiency at soaking in the sunset, watching Game of Thrones, or reading a book on the beach.

For me, a “hobby” is something with a product or achievement at the end of it: a picture painted; a dice-rolling box made; a game completed; a rare bird spotted; or a deer bagged. You might utterly fail and still have a wonderful time, but you’re still trying to achieve something.

I’m not sure I agree in the sense that you are describing it. Sure, on one level, everything involves achievement. We can say our hobby is watching television, and we achieve watching a show.

But you can run just to run. You don’t have to run to lose weight. Or beat your time. Or get faster. It’s okay just to run.

Totally reasonable to strive for excellence in your hobbies if that urge is part of what makes the hobby enjoyable to you. I’m (in)famous for that in most of my own hobbies. Also totally reasonable to not really care beyond a certain base competency. Different folks enjoy hobbies (even the same hobby) for different reasons.

Easiest example for me personally was bowling. I used to be very serious about it, bowling 3-4 leagues per week and tournaments most weekends, plus 40+ games per week of practice. Striving to be the best my physical and mental talents would allow me to become was part of the enjoyment for me. My wife bowled one league a week with me, and loved it. She didn’t, however, really care much about the bowling itself as a competitive activity. She was there to play a game, have a beer or two, chat with friends in the same league and generally hang out and relax. We were both doing the exact same hobby, enjoying it together, but had very different aspects which made it fun for us.

It’s all about understanding why you do something, and leaning your activities towards that end.

I run, bike and hike for the following reasons, in order of importance
I enjoy it
I work at a computer, and need to balance with activity
It’s a great stress reliever
To maintain fitness
temporary lose some weight from a period of inconsistent working out

So I structure along those lines. I always make sure to get some activity in, because I always feel better. Skipping for 2-3 days in a row and I feel like crap. But it also means that when an opportunity presents to do 20 miles on a mountain? I take it.

My other main hobby is the X-wing miniatures game. There is a competitive and tournament scene, and I could structure around trying to maximize results there. I’m honestly good enough that I could probably compete for top tables at any regional event. In fact I know I could, since I’ve played against multiple regional, and even national champs. And my record against them is good. But that’s not why I play. I love list building. The consummate dilettante, rarely playing the same list more than twice. To reliably make top tournaments requires playing the same thing over and over for weeks, against every type of enemy list.

I don’t roll that way.

I’m more interested in coming up with a concept, and trying it on the table and seeing if it works, if I can figure out how to master my monster. I’m more interested in ships that are ‘fun’ to fly than ‘good’. I love to make ‘pretty’ moves, where I pull off some tricky maneuver. So while I have absolutely zero doubt that if I bent my hobby time towards a competitive mindset I could compete, I also have zero interest in doing so. So if I were to engage in competitive play, it would be on my terms. Which may limit how far I could achieve, but that’s ok. I’m content to be just ‘very good’ and fly what I like.

It’s all about knowing yourself, and your own personal goals. And so if when someone paints it comes out looking like a cross between Jackson Pollock and a toddlers finger paints, but doing so makes them happy and relaxed? Chase your bliss man.

I can agree with this 100%. I think where there is a problem is when people feel compelled to do what you did, as opposed to doing it because it gives them pleasure.

I have met people who seem to turn every hobby into aggressive competition. It becomes pretty clear that they get very little joy out of it, it’s just another thing they feel compelled to beat down and master.

Not everyone who is competitive feels this way, and not everyone who seeks achievement is that way, for sure. It’s just a subset of people who seem to have difficulty enjoying things.

At the end of the day, it’s not like they’re really hurting anything (except for perhaps being overly agressive assholes to others - I’ve met a number of these types on the golf course). It’s I supposed just more sad for them, but hey, if they don’t care I guess, no skin off my back.

Reminds me of this video

Because there’s so much good information out there, so easily accessible, so professionally presented, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are not enjoying something the right way.

I’ve done this myself plenty while building stuff. It’s one of the reasons I alternate with ‘no pressure’ projects (shop furniture or stuff for the kids).

The final shots of the totally-finished Bowie knife, with my wife’s most excellent sheath. Ms. Wisdom says that she regrets the oak-leaf design because she thinks it looks too much like flames from a distance. I personally like the oak leaf design because I think it looks like flames from a distance.

catching up on this thread. WOW. Amazing. You have some real talent!

Here’s a shot of my most recent knife:

This one is kind of a prototype for a Persian Fighter that I want to make out of a"feather damascas" that I hope will be ready next week (the billet that is, not the knife). The style is kind of Indo-Persian, and it’s probably closest in shape to a dagger called a “Pesh Kabz” (or peshkabz) from what’s now Pakistan. It’s not too historically accurate, as the original pesh kabz weapons had reinforced tips for puncturing chainmail, while my tip is actually quite thin.

The handle is Cuban mahogany, brought back from the island by my sister god knows how when she and her husband visited there a few years back.

'The floral pattern on the ricasso is actually etched into the metal about a quarter mm using an electro-etching machine that I made from spare parts… because damned if I’m going to pay $200 on Amazon for what is effectively a 12W DC power supply and a sponge. I’m pleased enough with the results that I’ve been teaching a class on metal-etching at my maker space.

My next project might actually be a collapsible light-box, because that picture is pretty badly lit. My wife will want to make a sheath too, so I’ll try and get a better pic when I post that.

Beautiful, if scary.

New knife!

Technically, this isn’t blacksmithing. I made this as part of a class on making stainless steel kitchen knives. Rather than taking a chunk of steel, hammering it into shape and then heat-treating and grinding it, we were provided a piece of pre-heat-treated stainless steel in the proper thickness and “all” we had to do was to grind the knife-shape out of it… then do the handles.

It was an interesting experience, since stainless steel has some very different properties from the high-carbon steel I’m used to working with. I learned a great deal about the process, but unless I am able to invest $3K in a high-precision heat treatment oven (or spend six months building and programming one from scratch), and unless I’m willing to invest the time in figuring out how to do “cryo” cold-treatments… well, I probably will do both those things, but not any time soon.


This is “Nitro-V” stainless, which is supposed to be pretty high-quality. The handle is kirinite, which is a polymer/resin… a lot of fun to work with, if somewhat less satisfying than wood. This is the first time I have been able to get a real “mirror” finish on a blade… and I learned it was because I don’t have the proper equipment to do it myself. Time to buy a polishing wheel setup or buy a felt belt for the belt grinder.

I’m really enjoying seeing your adventures in metalsmithing, @Tin_Wisdom, thanks for sharing! On the subject of equipment, is there a local maker space that you could utilize for the more specialized and/or expensive stuff? We have one here called The Geek Group that has a ton of equipment from metalworking to woodworking to automobile modifications and repair to robotics. If there’s something similar near you, you could save yourself that 6 months.

We do - Nova Labs. All my blacksmithing adventures are done there, and the kitchen knife class was taught by another of the members.

In fact, the head blacksmith there is moving away (he’s doing the whirlwind romance thing with a metalworker up in MI) and he saddled me with the title of “blacksmith shop steward”. I am far from the best smith there, but I am the most active… and apparently the one most inclined to accept volunteer duties for little reward.

But although we have a pretty good metal shop, we don’t yet have a lot of the cool knife-making gear. As steward, one of my jobs is to prioritize purchase of stuff like that, but heat treatment ovens are lower on the list than… POWER HAMMERS.

Nice, that Nova Labs looks great. Suspiciously similar to our local maker space, I suspect they all tend toward the same end state! Maybe you’ll find another member or two looking for some of the same equipment eventually, and get it higher on that priority list.

Work-in-progress knife. Sort of a failure that I’m mostly pleased with anyway.

This is some “feather” Damascus steel that I was creating… and it didn’t turn out with the pattern that I intended at all; it’s more of a standard “ladder” Damascus pattern. Still, for my first attempt at Damascus steel, I’m really pretty happy with the results. If my math is right, it’s got 891 layers of 1095 (dark) & 15N20 (shiny) steels.

The tang is intentionally too long – I’ll cut if off and do a hidden tang handle. I have some scrap Damascus that I want to turn into a guard.