Last fall I decided that I wanted to build an adjustable height standing desk. I began researching existing manufactured desks and determining what features I would need. I quickly realized that none of the existing models had exactly what I was looking for and that I would want to build one for myself.
To research how to build my desk, I read anything I could about welding and watched welding videos online (I highly recommend Welding Tricks and Tips). After several weeks of research, my girlfriend suggested that I really should just enroll in a class. I picked Intro to Metal Shop at 3rd Ward because they seemed to have the most practical class. Their classes are affordable and finite (no need to commit to a 10 week class leading to any sort of licensing), and I liked that they have a workspace that I could continue to use after the class.
Last Wednesday, the night of my first class, I took the train out to Bushwick. It was a quick ride from Manhattan on the L into an industrial neighborhood. After a 7 minute walk from the subway, I arrived at Third Ward.
The receptionist had me sign waiver forms and gave me my tool bag. Included in the bag were large welding gloves from Tillman Gloves a combination square, center punch, soapstone holder, dust mask, and ear plugs.
There were seven of us in the class. Three of us are programmers and one is in finance. We each have different reasons for wanting to take the class: I’m building a desk, one guy wants to be able to build bike frames, and two of the guys both own land upstate and want to learn to maintain farm equipment. Our instructor, Carlos Fernandez-Dieppa, is a full time metal fabricator who works out of 3rd ward.
The class started with general safety instructions and then we moved to the machines, going from machine to machine and learning the specifics of how each operates. We started on the chop saw then we went to the grinding room.
In the grinding room we used a stationary disc sander. Carlos was clear that we should never wear gloves around the disc sander lest the glove get caught and dragged into the wheel. The class was definitely hands-on; at each machine, everyone in the class got a turn. Seven students made for a good class size, giving us each a chance to try the machines but not allowing too much boring down time in between while others were using the equipment. While students ran the machines, Carlos gave feedback about how each student used that machines for the whole class so we could learn common pitfalls.
The next machine was a Jet horizontal band saw. The instructor explained that this was a a precision machine and would be the preferred machine for all angle cuts. It was obvious that Carlos had experience by the tips he gave us, including, “Only lift the saw just above the work, that way you don’t have to wait for it to drop over a bunch of dead space.”
Next, we went back to the grinding room and put chamfers on our 45 degree cuts. After that, the last machine we used was the cutoff blade on an angle grinder. As the class let out I walked around the metal shop. Outside of the students in our class, there were three people working on different projects. One guy was using the Bridgeport mill in the machine shop to drill blind holes. I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself in the shops, so I explored the rest of the co-working space.
3rd Ward is a large, multipurpose space. From what I saw of it, I would guess there are probably 50 desks for regular day to day coworking. The wood shop was quite impressive: the floor was probably 40ft x 100ft. Because I was there on a Wednesday night, I next stumbled into the Drink and Draw event. Drink and Draw is advertised on the website as a bunch of artists getting together to draw and have a beer. The website didn’t mention that there would be a nude model – but there she was. I hung out for 5 minutes, then remembered the metal shop was still open.
My instructor Carlos and the metal shop manager were also there, so I hung out talking to the guys. I explained about how I had been watching welding videos online particularly Welding Tricks and Tips. The manager then introduced me to Amazin Blaze.
After years of reading about machine shops and machining it was so cool to finally be in a room with a mill. I asked if it was ok to geek out and ask questions. The guys said ask away. I stayed in the shop for more than an hour after my class ended, and I’m looking forward to next week when I can begin working.
I have a plan for my desk, and I think it’s realistic that I will be able to put it together if I join Third Ward after my class ends. Before that, as a practice run, I’m going to build some stools and a bed.
TL;DR I liked my metal shop class so much I left a room with a naked woman to go hang out in the machine shop.