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My own two hands

Brandon Keelean | Monday, November 12, 2012

On Saturday I made two full-size, you-can-sit-down-at-them picnic tables. I woke up at 9:30 a.m. and started working on them with two classmates in the West Lake Hall workshop.
It’s been a long time since I’ve built something tangible. Most of my college career has been filled with conceptual tasks. I write a lot of papers and, as a design major, I craft a lot of two-dimensional media (posters, books, screens), but it’s been a long time since I have actually built something useful.
I first learned to use power tools when I was 10 out of necessity. I participated in a program called Destination Imagination (D.I.), which according to their mission statement seeks “to be the global leader in teaching the creative process from imagination to innovation.” I remember it more as an excuse to build cool stuff.
As a fifth grader, I was part of a five-person team that built a makeshift garbage truck (a highly modified Tycko RC remote control car) that could release cheese (weighted PVC pipe) down the back of the garbage truck, which was effectively a large ramp. A K’nex motor that I had wired to a remote control trigger would release the cheese and it would roll across a game board into a large dumpster we had fashioned from an old refrigerator box.
We used a table saw to cut the board for the ramp and an electric drill to make the housing for the K’nex motor. Using those tools was probably the highlight of my fifth grade education.
The challenge we completed was called It’s Your Move, and we had to create a vehicle that could project objects from certain points on a game board into some sort of receptacle outside the board. We could not touch the vehicle and we had to stand at least eight feet from the edge of the game board. All the while we had to perform a skit relating our actions to some semblance of a narrative. As a group of fifth grade boys, we were naturally the Monkey Men Garbage Company – a rag-tag group comprised of an ex-opera singer, a surfer dude, and a talking rotten banana – who narrated their daily route and spouted facts about trash and recycling along the way.
I still take pride in that garbage truck. It currently sits above the rafters in my dad’s garage.
There is something special about building an object. Words on a page seem fleeting, conversations are rarely recorded, and thoughts are gone in an instant. But a physical object like a table is much more permanent. At the end of the day it is something to be proud of, something I can point to and say, “I made that with my own two hands.”