I made a pretty shit bootjack in my high school woodshed class. But I made it. And that’s the thing about learning a new skill and getting your hands on the materials — the end results matter a lot less than the process. The human brain is wired for tangible experiences. We like to toss around disclaimers like “I’m a visual learner” or “I learn best by doing” but in actuality, we all benefit significantly from slowing down, focusing our brains, and physically transforming something with our hands and tools. And that’s what stop number two of our collaborative series of Slow Ride Sessions with New Belgium made clear from the git-go as we got ready for a class at the Rebuilding Exchange. Also, I forgot how good sawdust smells.
The Rebuilding Exchange is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets — and it really shouldn’t be so secret. So many of the bars and restaurants you love have sourced materials here and built stunning tables, chairs, doors and shelving from their reclaimed wood — some of it over a hundred years old. They have wood that’s pre-Chicago-Fire up to the rafters. And they have doors, windows, and plenty of fixtures and cabinets from every Architectural period. And they’re not collectors — their goal is to move it.
They also offer a community resource for training and employment for those that have fallen out of the work stream. They help empower those people with skills. So when we told them we had a crew of Slow Rider Session-goers eager to get hands-on with woodworking, the Rebuilding Exchange team was more than capable of accepting the challenge. We put together a make-it-to-take-it class where each attendee would learn how to use a variety of tools, shape reclaimed wood in various ways, and put it all together to make a belted six-pack carrier. A perfect fit.
Instructor Sergio and his assistant Dave (current "volunteer of the month") lead the group though the entire process from start to finish in what he called the “cooking show” method. Then each participant was set loose to select their wood for grain and color, and jump into the first cut. Chop saw, rip cuts, pattern-making, ban saw, cylinder sander and nail gun — the workshop was a whirl of activity. And at the end, each person sifted through the pile of second-hand belts to claim their personal stamp on the whole thing.
Afterwards we sat around with some Piece Pizza, some New Belgium Slow Rides, and compared our craftsmanship, mostly laughing at the glaring mistakes but still beaming with pride. The belts each person chose for their carrier incited the real envy. From Prada patent to 70s braided to cowboy stamped leather, each choice garnered cheers or jeers. Personally, I think the Tony Hawk signature collection belt was the top pick.
If you want to join us on a Slow Ride Session, there’s still time. Next up is a straight razor shave with Isaac Holmes and his crew at Handcrafted Barbershop. Then we’re up to Baker Miller for some dough-making and cooking baking. And we’ll wrap up the sessions with Dan Grzeca in his scratchboard and screen printing class. All hands-on, and all around some good beer.
Special thanks to our friend Jaclyn Simpson for setting the hammer down and picking up our camera for a few great shots.
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