DIY: Indispensable goods permalink

We’ve lost something. As we’ve become more efficient at producing everything, its become cheaper and cheaper to just buy. My iron just broke. I dropped it on the ground and it shattered the water reservoir. But I didn’t hesitate to immediately order a new one from Amazon that will be here tomorrow thanks to free 2-day shipping included with my Amazon Prime membership. I’m scrapping all my furniture and buying new decorations for my apartment. I wasn’t thinking twice about it. Then I saw this video:


It clicked. We’ve lost the desire to produce on our own. And because of that we’ve lost the emotional attachment that comes with that production. When you dedicate all the blood and sweat and tears that go into hand crafting something needed, its value is so much greater than the product’s function. When you look at the product, you see and appreciate the effort that went into it. It wasn’t crafted by some robot on a mass production line.

There’s a newly opened metalsmithing studio, Benches on Division, a few blocks from my house. I literally stumbled into the studio (ok, their chalkboard sign on the sidewalk) during a recent street faire in Chicago. To get to the place, you walk down this dark alley, and when you get to a heavy steel door with an intense keypad lock, you knock loudly to make sure the smiths at work hear.

In the workshop

Now, I’d always wanted to slim down my “wallet” which was a little leather thing that had slots for my cards and a magnetic leather money clip like flap on the outside to hold cash. It was smaller than most bi- or tri-fold wallets. When I thought about it, I realized that the only things I really use are 2 cards, my ID, and the cash. But what was holding me back from slimming down even further were my grocery store, Best Buy, or REI membership cards. Until I found this app called Key Ring. Anyway, that hurdle was cleared.

So last night, my brother and I went to Benches for one of their “man time” workshops. BYOB and they instruct on how to make a money clip or ninja stars. We learned how to hand saw metal - which I found was surprisingly easy, but time-consuming, until the instructor busted out the machine that does it. But I get why! He wanted us to put that time and effort into cutting the exact piece we wanted because he knew it’d have more meaning. We hand filed and smoothed the edges and rounded the corners so as to not poke ourselves when handling the money clip. We then added some finish. I practiced giving it a number of different textures but then settled on something simple and clean: a copper piece with brushed metal finish.

But to really make it mine, I wanted my initials. The way it works (at least at this shop) is that you have ONE chance to impact the lettering on the piece of metal. If you screw up, you’ve got to re-cut, re-texture, re-sand, re-round from scratch. Each of the letters is at the base of this little peg that you hit with a hammer one at a time. You can imagine it’s incredibly hard to get the letters to line up. I took a lot of practice before taking a deep breath and making the three strikes to put my initials on: R G M.

I added the finishing touches: patina my initials so they stand out a bit, and bend the money clip into shape. And voila! MY finished money clip.

Finished product

I knew I could go on etsy and buy a money clip for cheaper than this class cost. But that wasn’t the point. I wanted my money clip to have its own story. I made some mistakes. If you look at the lettering, the leg of the R trails off because I didn’t quite hold the letter punch correctly or strike it spot on. And my initials aren’t exactly lined up, but they’re close! And I screwed up the bend of the clip. But even with those flaws, I couldn’t be happier. Is it fancy? No. But its got character. I got to bond with my brother and meet some new interesting, like-minded people. My money clip isn’t a dispensable good because it’s not just another money clip.

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