“I’ve always been fascinated with how things worked. I guess I’ve been a Maker since I was about ten years old.”
Hi, I’m Brian McKenzie, of McKenzie Digital Fab — a business that I just recently “gave birth to.” I also recently joined 100kGarages.com, and thought it would be fun to keep a journal of this new adventure of mine, starting my own business as a digital fabricator — oh let’s just say Fabber. I’ll be showing up here as a regular contributor, and my goal is to share what I learn along the way; I also hope you’ll jump in and join the conversation, sharing your joys and challenges as a start-up, or been-in-biz for awhile… or wherever you are in YOUR journey.
For today I thought I’d share some of my background. I hope it’s not too boring.
I was raised in a rural community in eastern North Carolina, the town of Delway in Sampson County. As a kid I was fascinated with how things worked. I kept a large drawer of miscellaneous parts from old tape recorders, motors from old toy cars and all the gears that came with them. Daddy had a small shop that he would tinker in, working on lawnmowers, building furniture, etc. In order to keep us out from under his feet he introduced us to the drill press. He would cut the head off the end of a nail and chuck it into the drill press (so not to damage any good bits) and my sister and I would go to town. With the new “babysitter” we must have drilled a million holes. I can remember drilling all sorts of designs in blocks of wood and then graduating up to tin cans. Bless my mother for her loving acceptance of all the “reclaimed” gifts that she received from us as kids!
Growing up my parents took an active role in getting my sister and I involved in all the sports, clubs, and activities that we had access to. Early on, I was introduced to the 4H club. Here was probably the first chance that I can remember being able to showcase and compete in the field of “Making.” When I was about 10 years old I was introduced to cooking, sewing, horticulture, and later on, livestock showing. While I really did not like the fact that I was doing what I considered “girl stuff,” I competed in and won a lot of these events (even sewing). Through the 4H I was able to take all sorts of classes in learning how to sculpt clay, paint, cake decorating, rocketry, and others. This was what laid the base for how to work in different mediums.
After high school I was accepted into the Merchant Marine Academy where I was able to learn some welding, pipe fitting, and how to run a machine lathe, all very necessary skills when miles from shore in the belly of a ship, but somehow the general coursework didn’t hold interest for me. I eventually returned home to finish up my studies in some community colleges and at NC State.
At NCSU, I went into the wood products program, which focused on the manufacturing of plywood, particle board, MDF, etc., and touched on some furniture manufacturing. This program fed into my maker mindset in that we were making “wood stuff.” While I was in the program, a large ShopBot CNC tool was donated to the college. At the time, the staff at the college had little experience with such equipment, so when a training workshop was planned, I was quick to sign up. I was fascinated by this machine and took to working with it right away. I suppose this made some kind of impression, as I was soon offered an intern position at ShopBot. I interned for a year and a half before graduation, and then joined the company fulltime.
My first job there was to upgrade the cable drive tool to rack and pinion, and act as a human forklift! Then I started working on fabricating parts, and then assembling the Z-axis. Later we moved into a new facility with a dock and a real forklift. I have been able to go through 4 major model changes and several different positions through the company. The most favorite being the time I spent doing tool installations and trainings, because it gave me an opportunity to witness what other people are making with the help of digital fabrication tools. I continue to help out at ShopBot as I grow my own business. I look forward to continually learn new things and take on interesting challenges!
Well now that I got that “bio” stuff out of the way, next time I can concentrate on talking about my work as a Fabber. Check back soon! Meanwhile, I’d be curious to hear how things are going for you? Leave your comment below.