We met Brad of Nomadic Infrastructure Labs at the the Tete Jaune design show in early November. He designs and makes custom furniture and other commissions like counters and tables for commercial spaces. His passion for working with wood, as well as having a background in philosophy made for interesting conversation.
Last week we made it out to his workspace in the Ficus Studio (a co-operative studio for industrial designers and makers that’s also part of the new coworkedmonton.com network) to shoot a few portraits and focus on his handtools and his relationship with them. We had a great time talking with him and we learned a lot, which is always a big bonus to our job. We’re very proud of these images. We hope you enjoy them and the stories that go with them.
-Bryan & Thomas
This is Brad’s chisel. It’s from Japan, and it’s deadly sharp.
After he sharpened it on a whetstone he joking said “want a shave?” And then shaved a patch of his arm to show us he wasn’t even kidding! I guess awhile back he went to Barber Ha in Edmonton and they did a straight razor shave for him with his own chisel!!
The blade edge resembles a Samurai sword with it’s wavy line (hamon) which is from the differential hardening process whereby the edge is incredibly hard and sharp (but brittle) and the rest of the blade is more malleable and can take a hit when struck with a hammer, for example.
A good number of the hand tools that Brad has in his shop are actually made by him. The idea of making something that makes something else has always been an interesting thought – like the people who write program languages that will be used to write other programs (machine language).
The larger mallet on the right was made by Brad when he was only about 13 or 14, so clearly carpentry and wood working has been important to him for a large majority of his life.
“It’s funny, you go about learning a craft for such a long time and keep working it and working it and improving slowly, the way you do with any craft, but then it’s been only recently that this change has shifted and I’ve thought ‘hey I’m actually really, really good at this.’ The tools mean a lot, I’ve had some of these tools for over 20 years now, but the greatest tools I have are my hands.”
The history of woodwork is fascinating in it’s impact on civilization, and in how ancient it is; however, In this moment, Brad admits that it is ironic in that it’s such a natural relationship we have with wood yet in working with it it’s constantly trying to make it’s way in and kill you. It can be very dangerous if you don’t protect yourself.
“It just gets everywhere – in your eyes, nose, and pores. There was this rare wood from Africa I worked with awhile back and I needed to wear a ventilator mask because the fine particles are, on top of getting in your lungs at all, carcinogenic. There was a floorer who was installing it in a house and cutting it etc. but didn’t prepare properly. Within days he was coughing up blood, it was pretty bad.”
When we asked Brad if he ever got wood shavings in his coffee or anything he laughed a said “yeah, all the time. I’ll spit out a bit or two. It’s not a very pleasant surprise but I’m more or less used to it happening.”
This shoot was part of an ongoing long-term project that we are working on that examines the relationship between humans and items of meaningful and sentimental value. The current working title is “What Makes You Happy?”.