I recently sat down for an interview about Fat Bison Workshop, and I’m excited to share it with you here. It was really great to take a pause and reflect on how we got here. I hope you enjoy!
Why Did You Start Fat Bison Workshop?
A nagging curiosity and thirst for knowledge has led me down many internet rabbit holes – some have been a glorious waste of time, but others have changed my life’s trajectory.
In 2011 one of those rabbit holes landed me on a message board dedicated to building DIY CNC machines (a computer-controlled robot that carves things).
From there I discovered there was a whole little world of DIYers building CNC machines at home and generously sharing their knowledge online.
“Never stop learning, creating, and pushing into the daunting unknown.”
I was determined to build my own CNC. I had no idea what I’d actually use it for, but I was excited and hooked on the idea, if only to say I had done it. I had learned how to use a program called AutoCAD (a drafting program used to create blueprints of things) through a prior internet learning endeavor and used it to start drawing up ideas for the machine.
My mad scientist father-in-law had a brilliant maker’s mind and access to a metal fab shop. He helped immensely in getting the thing from CAD to real life. If you happen to be interested in building your own CNC, fret not if you don’t have access to a metal shop or a mad scientist father-in-law!
There are plenty of guides out there on how to build a CNC with basic tools and materials. Here are some videos of the original design and Dave & me bench testing the CNC machine that we use at Fat Bison Workshop to this very day.
I’d like to squeeze in a lesson here for the youngins: Never stop learning, creating, and pushing into the daunting unknown. Your disparate, sometimes useless-seeming skills and knowledge will come together in surprising ways to forge your very own unique set of superpowers!
“Ranch signs conjure hard, honest, humble work and remind me why I love what I do.”
Using the CNC machine to make signs seemed pretty natural. It was way more fun, creative, and personal than making clocks, cutting boards, or any of the other ideas I could think of.
The very first sign I made (pictured left) was for my Papa Mickey who runs a small ranch in Eufaula, Oklahoma.
We gave it to him for Christmas 2012, and I learned how special it was for a rancher to have a ranch sign! Ranch signs will always be my favorite signs to make. They conjure hard, honest, humble work and remind me why I love what I do.
How Did You Come Up With The Name of Your Shop?
I was making animal-shaped cutting boards, armadillos, pigs, and chihuahuas. But in order for the cutting boards to have enough room to cut on, I had to make all the animals ridiculously fat. My favorite was the bison. We still use the original Fat Bison in our kitchen!
What Were You Doing Before Fat Bison?
I worked for 8 years as a draftsman and programmer for an awesome local audio-video company. I designed wiring schematics and structural drawings and programmed the automation of our engineering workflows. I gained a ton of technical skills and business knowledge at Ford AV that I use every day at Fat Bison Workshop.
Before that, I was head of the production at Kyle Bunting’s studio in Austin, Texas. The opportunity to observe Kyle grow, from the ground up, a hugely successful business creating functional art was invaluable. I still call on Kyle frequently for advice when I find myself in the same shoes I remember him wearing almost 20 years ago.
First I’d tell young-me to lay off the beer. Then I’d hit him with the other grown-up stuff as his eyes would most certainly glaze over.
Another unsolicited youngin lesson: Both of those jobs I mentioned could seem like a real grind most of the time – that’s just the nature of punching the clock for a paycheck when you don’t have long-term goals nailed down.
If I could time-travel back, I’d tell the younger me to write down 5 long-term goals (about business or life in general) and go to work everyday intent on furthering yourself toward them. Observe and learn about your workplace with this in mind. Grow within your workplace and in the small ways you can control, and you will develop the tools to grow more broadly in life. Actually, first I’d tell young-me to lay off the beer. Then I’d hit him with the other grown-up stuff as his eyes would most certainly glaze over.
What Do You Enjoy the Most About the Work You Do?
I thank God every morning that I’m so fortunate to be around my family 24/7 even while working. My commute to work is 10 seconds from the backdoor to the shop, so most days I’m hopping back and forth, making signs, and handling dad duties.
Do Your Kids Always Assist You In The Shop?
The older one is in constant need of in-game currency for Roblox and Fortnite, so she knows that she can sweep the shop or paint a sign at any time for $5/hour. The young one loves to paint pictures on the wood scraps and give them to people.
“We should probably stop this before college to avoid the risk of being penalized for brown-nosing.”
We’re always making random projects and using the CNC machine to personalize them.
We had heavy snow recently and made an impromptu snow sled out of shop scraps called “The Snow Demon.”
Every year we make a desk plaque for the girls’ teachers. We should probably stop this before college to avoid the risk of being penalized for brown-nosing.
What Does Your Typical Work Day Look Like?
My alarm goes off at 3:45 AM every day of the week. After getting a pot of coffee going, I say grace and take a moment to appreciate the still morning hour. It’s priceless getting to work undisturbed for a few hours before the world gets going! I usually spend those hours getting a sign started on the CNC, creating new designs, and working on business and personal growth ideas. From the time the kids wake up, it’s all bouncing around from shop to house to school to errands till bedtime.
What Do You Do When You Aren’t In The Shop?
I’m always learning something new and starting new projects. There’s perpetually a house or car repair project going on. Currently, I’m putting new transmission lines on the truck and laying new tile in our living room. I teach a boxing class three times a week at the local gym – we have a supportive little family there.
One of my big plans this year is to start a club for fatherless young men in our community to help show them the ways of living as good, capable, and responsible men. One of my favorite things in life is making cool videos with the kids. Here’s a playlist of all 50+ of them.