The Secrets of an Urban Picker


There are a lot of people that call themselves pickers. To me, it is not like the tv show at all. Personally, picking is something that happens in alleyways, backyards, and in dumpsters. I hardly ever approach someone in their house to sell me their junk like in the shows. To me, picking is free and a vital way of life that gives possibility and a new life to thrown away objects. There is no way I can rescue everything thrown away, but every time I go out picking, I come home with a car full of good usable material.


Living in a large city like Washington DC, there is so much movement of people to and from the city, gutting historic houses, and just clearing out the grandparents belongings that it is a picker heaven! A normal day for me is driving in ever enlarging concentric circles out from my apartment down every alley. Of course, I have some secret stashes that are usually pretty good and areas of town that are better than others.


Here are some of my secrets:

First, get there before the trashman. Find out when trash day is in the neighborhood and ALWAYS get there before. In my area, it is Friday mornings around 11am. If I can get out there by around 9-10am, I am usually good. For all the small stuff that can fit in a trash truck, this advice is good. For larger items or a complete garage or basement gutting, they require a special permit to pick up the extra large items of trash and it takes a few days, so you’re safe for a while.


Second, find areas that are recently gentrified in the last 10 years. Usually these homes are bought by more affluent people who either took over a home from a relative or bought from an older person in a historic neighborhood. Since we have become an Ikea generation, I tend to see the best treasures come from these homes.


Third, closely related to number two, watch the streets for signs of a new house being gutted. I LOVE seeing a dumpster outside of a gutted house. Oh man, SCORE everytime I see this. Sometimes they close up the dumpster, but that doesn’t stop me. If you can gain access to these treasure troves, you will always find gold. From old single paned windows to huge metal and wood beams, to brass door knobs and socket plates. The list of amazing things thrown away in bulk is astounding and usually I cannot fit it all into my car. Always watch for signs in the neighborhood, displayed work permits and even for sale signs on an old house that is going to get flipped. On average and in my experience, the new tenant hires a contractor to rip everything out down to the studs without care for worth, so for people like me, this is our mecca. There is nothing like filling up a hatchback with reclaimed beams, solid wood casings, and brass knobs. I salivate just thinking about it now.


Fourth, keep an eye out for large apartment buildings. Especially in this area, apartment dwellers are for those that are up and coming financially and are constantly upgrading everything in their lives. In the days of Amazon, no one is fixing older things and people are getting new things constantly. I have found perfectly great flat screen led tvs, a desk made during WW2 in England, so many antique chairs that need some glue, screws and love and so much more. Big apartment buildings usually have an overflow or large object room for bulky trash. If you can, get access to these or wait for them to throw it outside in the dumpster. I hunt in these areas every time I go to see a friend in an apartment and 6/10 times I am rewarded with picker gold.


Alright, I think those are enough tricks of the trade for now. I will write more about this soon but can’t give away everything or I would be out of business.

I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!




My Thoughts on Makerspaces


It has been a year now that I have been a part of a large makerspace. As I have mentioned before, I work out of Techshop in the Washington, D.C. area. Techshop is a wonderland of tools, creativity and positivity. They are located throughout the country and offer makers a centralized location of millions of dollars of equipment with training, courses, and supportive staff to back it all up.

When I first started at Techshop, I was unemployed and actively looking. I have always just worked out of our small apartment refinishing furniture, fixing things, and taking on small client work. Becoming a member of Techshop finally allowed me to expand myself with access to more tools, larger work benches and a supportive staff of makers to help with creativity and project ideas. During my first 4-5 months of membership, I was a religious zealot about going to the shop. I would wake up every day and get there as it opened, I would attend every class and workshop, absorbing as many courses I could pack into my schedule and go home at night drained of energy but always smiling. I was cranking out projects at a fast pace and loving the new lifestyle and digs.

When I started working for the Federal Government, everything changed. In all honesty, I chose to be a member of Techshop because it was within walking distance to potential jobs and that has served me well for this past year, however, it was also my downfall. First, I live centrally in DC and Techshop is located in Arlington, Virginia, a 25-45 minute drive from home depending on traffic. After work, I can walk to the shop and start making, but on weekends or days off, coming to the shop is a miserable experience. DC/VA traffic is the thing of nightmares and the thought of having to drive 45 minutes each way to use the shop seriously detracts from my overall enjoyment of the shop.

Also, my attendance at the shop has dropped off in the past couple months due to the lack of availability of free nightly storage. This is a rule they implemented a few months ago and it has really started to affect my workflow lately. One of the pluses of a shared makerspace is the availability of large work tables and many clamps for glue-ups. However, the lack of ability to store projects for free overnight has led me to waste hours waiting for glue, stain, finishes, and paint to dry before I can transport them home. Usually I cannot wait all day for this so I end up having to schlep the project to my hatchback, where it can dry overnight before I re-schlep it back to the shop the following day to finish the project. I cannot even begin to tell you how miserable this process is. With each project, the car becomes a caustic of wasteland of stain, glue, poly, wax, paint, and mineral spirit stink that is really not good for anyone’s health, especially since it is my daily driver. So ya, my excitement for going to Techshop and completing projects there has waned over the past few months.

There is a bright side though. I do truly enjoy the camaraderie involved with having tons of makers nearby to bounce ideas off and to ask for guidance. This has made my work better in the end as I get multiple perspectives on topics I am not as knowledgeable about. Love that aspect!

One of the pitfalls that Techshop is going through and an issue with shared makerspaces I have seen in other cities is the gym-effect. We all know we have bought a gym membership and have gone for a couple months and then just stopped and have made excuses. Well makerspaces go through the same ups and downs. So much so that several Techshop locations have gone bust over the last couple years. I have seen this myself all the time when many benches are empty or just taken over by a small startup company. To counteract this, Techshop seems to have upped their push for membership expansion by increasing the number of SBUs (safety and basic use) classes they give. In order to use most tools in the shop, you must take a SBU and be certified to use the tool(s). These classes take around 2-3 hours and all work in the proximity of the SBU is shut down during that time, creating a huge backlog in the availability of many tools. In an attempt to gain more members and create more buzz with the after-work crowd such as myself, they run many SBUs around 5-6pm. Basically, my bread and butter time. When they shut down the woodshop for 3 hours to host a lathe class, no one is allowed to use any noisy tool in the woodshop. So that cutting board I have been letting glue in my car for 24 hours that needs to be planed down, cut to size on the table saw and the edges routered before oil finish, ya that has to wait for perhaps another day. That is, IF there are no SBUs at the end of that workday also.

As you can tell, this whole issue of makerspaces has really affected me lately. On one hand, I love the open, creative, positivity, and huge selection of tools available as a Techshop member. I love their connection to young makers in the STEAM classes and the robotics teams from local high schools. I love the idea of a shared makerspace targeted at people living in small apartments and the shared knowledge and experiences that come with that much raw energy under one roof. On the flip side, there are many drawbacks that keep me at arm’s length, and as is apparent with the trend of makerspaces closing or scaling back around the country, this may not be a localized event. Regardless, I will continue to use my membership to make and to continue my goal of one day doing it fulltime.

Comment below to tell me what you think about makerspaces and how they play a part in helping or hindering the creative journeys of makers.

I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!