B r i a n M u e n z e n m e y e r

Things I've Come to Value

Items I come back to, and why.

Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is a man that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He would have been such a prolific Twitter shitposter. The wasteful and cheap consumption we live through reminds me of this quote, especially as we accrue and discard more stuff. We've had vacuum cleaners that don't last a year. Coffee makers that last about as long. Kids' shoes worn through after a season. What still works? Megan's grandfather's wood-handled ax. The bomb-shelter wheelbarrow with a solid tire. The recipes Megan inherited from her grandmother.

I am gripped increasingly by an urge to use things that last and have lasted. They will outlast me.

I value their durability, their enduring utility, and their understated value. I covet them and try to impart their value to those that listen. You guys have to most often. I want to share a few of them.

My grandfather's hammer

A hammer A hammer A hammer

Jim gave me this hammer a long time ago. When I was just starting out and didn't have much of anything by way of tools. I didn't assign much value to it initially. I wonder if he did at the time. He has many of his dad's tools. This is the only one that I have. Now that I have few other hammers, this one just feels different. It could be confirmation bias. It might have a real weight, density, or balance difference. But it has history too. It came with the label long-worn off already. Paint from some other project staining the handle. Dents and scratches across its tarnished surface. Now it's fun to see some of the dents fill in with chalk or mud as one of you borrows it.

"It's a tool, not a toy," I remind you to various degress of success.

My father's high school bench vise

A bench vise

Jim gave me this vise a long time ago too. I first installed it last week, having moved it to 2 states and 3 houses unused. I kept it this long, and he kept it longer. His name is stamped into it, by hand, after pouring the molten aluminum in high school. The vise is upside-down in that first picture, which means his name is too when on a bench. He didn't know that when he made it, and neither did I until I installed it (more on that later!).

A bench vise, installed

The motto even back then was don't look too close.

My grandfather's sawhorses.

A sawhorse

I mean, just look at this. It's not mine, but I still value it. I wonder how many projects they have endured. Newer sawhorses are so much more convenient to store, but Jim has kept these my whole life and then some.

A sawhorse

Sensory Table

A sensory table

During Henry's paternity leave Megan wanted me to make a sensory table. Ben, left to his own devices, consistently makes sensory experiences out of mud puddles, buckets of rocks, cereal bags, all the socks in his drawer, or really anything. An intentional outlet might do us some good. I had to learn how to use a router to make this look decent. It's another "don't look too close" production.

The hairpin legs make this just presentable enough. Not bad for some pine 2x4s and following a youtube video. This, and other work should get a dedicated post someday. Megan filled the bins with colored rice. Don't ask to see the floor on any given day.

A sensory table with Ben

Max's Desk / Bench

Max's desk Max's desk

Max, your room in the basement has waterproofing and diversion inclines along 2 of the 4 walls. The slight incline running the length of each wall makes it difficult to put much of anything against the wall. I noticed that your closet on one side and the wall on the other made a natural alcove that a floating, cleated desk would be a snug addition and perhaps tame some of your clutter!

I'd wanted to experiment with making my own benchtop or butcherblock desk for quite a while, so I reminded you that your desk was practice and to not look too close. To me, the results were nothing short of spectacular. I found myself gazing at the additional marks my new jack plane had left on the pine when I was supposed to be elsewhere doing something important for our nightly routines. It's a soft wood, and it showed every mistake, scratch, score, and imperfection. Max and Jack, you both helped plane (one stroke), sand, and smooth as much as we mustered. The stain accentuated everything. I hope you beat it up and find a lot of joy at your desk for years and years to come. Your old desk is packed up in pieces in the storage room.

Max and Jack

My workbench

My workbench

"When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." I've been known to overuse tools. I kreg-jigged a ridiculous amount of modular fence panels together once to make a 20-foot by 20-foot garden. This hand planer I carted all you older boys to Rockler for along with Buppa Jim needed some things to plane. It was the only way to make flat surfaces, after all. And Max, it was NOT easy planing your desk without a means to hold the work down. Pushing it all the way up against the refrigerator eventually worked just enough.

So I needed a real workbench at Cheyenne. I flirted with the idea of the Anarchist's Workbench for a while but abandoned the idea for now because I just don't have the time to devote to making it right. I fear it'd be years in the making at my current productivity. Besides, I've never done any joinery before and wasn't about to start.

But I wanted something HEAVY and that could hold work if I ever needed to plane something again. My own work desk was on the backlog, as was an outdoor table Megan wanted me to build. So in full COVID quarantine shame, I asked Jim to buy me the lumber for this and I would Venmo him back. With Max's desk, I lied the pine down after ripping the curved edge off—with the workbench I stood them up instead atop 4x4 legs (kregged, of course). The top is 16 6-foot lengths of pine, glued together, planed lightly, and sanded. It's not perfectly smooth. I won't stain or seal it. It's hard to move. I installed Jim's bench vice on it. It'll get the job done, and I built it.

The other day the sun hit it just the right way, highlighting that it's already holding the work of the next project.

My workbench

Yes, I made 3 pieces of "furniture" during paternity leave + COVID. I took 38 days off when Henry was born—to my knowledge the longest break from work since high school. I didn't realize how badly I needed it until a week into leave when I was still checking Slack to see what the team was up to. Software will come and go, as physical things do too, so I need to work to hold onto the tangible here and now. I need to work to shape it. That's you all, Megan, and the things we create together.