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Cat Stands

By guest blogger, Hilary Shirk.

Cats belong in the jungle… the jungle gym of their dreams! Meee-ow.

What if you bring your precious pet their very own customized cat stand jungle gym? Only a cat owner knows their feline’s unique mannerisms, habits and preferences. So only you could be the one to help FAB PDX build the perfect cat stand. Add personal touches of cat grass and scratching posts, tunnels and cuddle puddles. Your cat stand will not only please your cat and last for years, but will be a living room design piece to show off to all your friends!

…Not that kind of cat stand. But this is very cool anyway.

Let’s Get Exotic

Purple Heart is not only a noted medal for bravery awarded by the US Military, but it is also a beautiful exotic hardwood varietal! We recently worked on a project that called for the use of this unique vibrant species of wood, and I was so lucky to be able to watch this wood come to life in a project!

Purple Heart grows mainly in Central and South America in tropical rainforests. It is a flowering plant that grows into trees that can be as tall as 160 feet. From the outside you wouldn’t have any idea about the wood’s hidden secret—but when you cut into the heart of the tree, the dark brown interior turns to a rich purple color! The exposure to UV light is what causes the magical color transformation. The natural shade of the wood is absolutely gorgeous, and it is hard to believe that this bright shade of purple develops on its own in the wild! When looking at it, one would think it was simply wood stained purple—but it is NOT! Instead, it is one of nature’s colorful little gifts to humanity!

This particular hardwood is very dense and requires a sharp carbide blade to cut it. When building with it, one runs the risk of it tearing or splitting it if it isn’t approached properly. But, as with anything, a little tender loving care allows the craftsman to utilize the beautiful wood in an effective and purposeful way.

There are some downfalls with using Purple Heart:

  1. It is expensive (but exotic, so totally worth it)
  2. Over time with more and more UV exposure, the purple turns to a dark brownish color (which is also, beautiful)
  3. People have a tendency to be allergic to the Purple Heart wood dust, making it basically unusable as a jewelry wood. Also, while working with the wood, craftsmen should be sure to don a dust mask (as they should with any type of dust creating activity)

Besides the beautiful eggplant purple color, Purple Heart is very durable, ranking among the very stiffest and strongest woods in the world. Accordingly, this hardwood is sought after for many projects that call for rigidity and durability such as: ship building, flooring, furniture, and heavy construction. Purple Heart is also strangely resistant to insects and the resistance it has to dry-wood termites is notable as impressive. Purple Heart is very popular among turners and carvers who use the exotic wood for sculptures, carvings, billiard accessories, trim, inlays and accent.

Think you might like to have your own Purple Heart accessory? Give us a call! We would love to design and build it for you!

The Importance of Craftsmanship

The Importance of Craftsmanship

One time I (Emily) built a table. I had no clue what I was doing, but I just knew I could figure it out. At the time, I was in a college sculpture class, so I had full access to a shop with all the right tools.

I didn’t know what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t have a planned out design in mind, I just decided to start hammering away, knowing it would come together perfectly. So, I riffled through the waste bin, picking out four 1 1/2 inch wide wooden rods that we roughly the same length. One rod was a bit longer, so I eyeballed it, and cut it to around the right size.

After that, I found a leftover piece of plywood that seemed about the right shape—it was three feet long (or so) and a couple feet wide. I thought to myself, “This will make the perfect table for my porch!”

With all of my “materials” accounted for, I got to work. I located some screws that seemed to be long enough, and I screwed through the top of the plywood into one of the rods. The rod pushed away from the plywood and left a gap between the table “leg” and the tabletop. Unfortunately, this being my first go at a woodworking project—I didn’t really understand what had gone wrong. I tried to fix the problem a couple of times, but I figured “that will be good, I’ll just do the other three like that and it will look like I meant for it to be that way.”

Of course, the other three legs did not all respond the same way, and I ended up cracking one of the legs somehow—so I had to dig around in the wood pile until I found something else that would work for the other leg. After so carefully installing the table legs, I pushed down on the table and it was very wobbly—but I thought, “that will just have to do”. I then decorated the table with some weird little aluminum discs I found in the scrap pile—I glued them on with wood glue and let them set for fifteen minutes or so.

After the table was “complete” I set it on top of my bike basket and secured it with a bungee cord and rode home. I proudly set it on the porch and said to my roommates, “ladies let’s have a beer on the porch to celebrate my new table!” We all sat around the table, and set our drinks on it and it worked fine as a table…well it worked fine as a table for a few days. Catastrophically, I went out to the porch one evening a few weeks later to find my table had collapsed from the weight of someone resting their feet on top of it. Oh well, little college table, rest in peace.

That being said, I learned through this process that I was in no way a craftsman and building a lasting beautiful piece takes a lot more than having materials and tools. Sure, I spent zero dollars and built this table from little scraps (this was the plus side), but it obviously lacked quality and care. The secret to good craftsmanship is a deep understanding of your materials and how they respond to you. Knowing how your tool will affect the wood or the metal—manipulating it to do just what you want it to in order to achieve the look you are after. The process for high-quality craftsmanship pairs know how with instinctive creativity.

Many people think like I thought when I built that table, we think, “oh, I can do that, and it will be a lot cheaper if I do it myself.” But when applied to other professions the theory doesn’t stand. For instance, would you do your own knee replacement surgery instead of hiring a professional because it would be cheaper to do it yourself? You could just mold a new knee out of modeling clay, cut your leg open, pull the old knee out and slap the knew knee in, sew it up and you’re good?

Brian always says, “People remember quality a lot longer than they remember price.” I have seen this truism played out over and over again, producing a quality product for people to enjoy for years to come. Support your local craftsman! Choose quality!

The 3d Process

Hello, Heather here, the FAB PDX 3d Artist and Designer.
I’ve been with the FAB since mid-April and have enjoyed my time here greatly. I get a lot of questions about how I do things, and what methods I use when creating the 3d images we show our clients, so here is a brief summary.

To begin with, my modeling task starts when Emily tells me that a client has expressed a need for some custom fabrication with basic ideas or specs. In one case, for example, the client wanted a table with three chairs that fit in an exact measurement of space, but she didn’t know specifically what she wanted it to look like, what to be made out of, etc. Usually I will sketch up a few ideas on paper, and show them to Brian and Emily to get some feedback. They both will offer opinions as to which piece would look and work the best, and sometimes offer design suggestions of their own.
Other times, a client may know what they want, but they may be unsure about committing to the project because of the cost investment. After we show them a nice 3d model, it is at that point a lot easier for the client to picture the project, and they feel more confident about their decision to move forward.
There are also times when Brian has thought of a great idea, and brings it to me sketched out on paper, with exact measurements written on the design.
At this point, I’m ready to start modeling.
After firing up 3d Studio Max, I usually start with a simple box or cylinder, using real-world measurements for accuracy. Once it is the required size, I convert it into an editable poly and go about molding the box into the form we have designed. The modeling process itself doesn’t take me very long to do, but there is still texturing, lighting, and rendering left.
The texturing process can be fun, but also tedious; the textures have to line up correctly on all sides, so as not to cause a visual weirdness, and the images also have to be properly scaled. I have a 512×512 pixel tilable texture of an oak grain that works well on small pieces of wood, but if I were to apply it to something larger, like the surface of a table, even if it were tiled at a high number the viewer would still be able to notice that it isn’t as visually interesting as the surface of a real slab of oak.
All of my textures are created by me, using Photoshop and photos of wood we have available at the shop or photos from our photographer, Mercy McNab.
I will spend as much time as needed adjusting the lights and render output so that the image we show our client is as aesthetically pleasing on their computer monitor as it will be in real life. The last model I completed had a few glasses in the scene for reference, and to make them look realistic as possible I had to assign just the right material to the glasses and the proper renderer to really pull it off. The scene caustics after I added the glasses made the render time go from one minute per frame before, to around twenty minutes after.
Render times can get kind of crazy sometimes. I was once rendering an animation of a simulated walk-through of a trade show booth I had designed and found that I had to find the perfect balance of realism within a scene without extending the render time so that it didn’t take literal weeks to render the three minute animation. I mostly cut reflections from the glass (but still kept the surface shiny so that you could tell what it was) but really liked the way the shadows looked at a certain setting, so the shortest amount of render time on that animation project was 25 hours. That’s 25 hours of my computer rendering, while I can do little else on the machine, so sometimes I have to render in stages, overnight, or over the weekend.

So that’s it, I hope this blog entry has been as fun to read as it was to type !

The Design Bug

Having great product idea is delightful—it is fun to imagine how it will work, what it will look like and how it will be used. But, to be able to take that great idea, turn it into a design and then be able to follow up with the actual creation and prototyping of the product is satisfying on so many more levels.

When the FAB PDX team gets together in our “FAB lab”, concepts are flying everywhere. “What about a tether ball stand that has a base that looks like a cat?” “How about a desk that is actually a transformer and transforms into a giant origami moose?” “What if we build a recycling machine that is also a lottery slot machine, so you redeem credits from bottles and use them to gamble?” “What if….”

Someone will dream up a product or a process and someone else will build on that and someone else will interject their modifications to the morphing creation until finally—we have something cool and doable in mind. From there, we build a 3D model to figure out the dimensions and workability of the product and after we know just what it will take, we get to the fabrication. It is much more enjoyable to stay late at work concocting a secret creation then to stay at the shop hammering away on a regular redundant project.

After one product is fully developed and prototyped, the next idea is already halfway through formation process. Creating is addictive, after you see your “brain-child” in its actualized form; all you want to do is create the next one. You think, “wow that was awesome, but my next idea is going to blow this one out of the water!”

So, the process continues…dreaming, creating, building—the fuel for FAB PDX is imagination and the vehicle is ingenuity and know-how. For people like us idea manufacturing is a natural and never-ending process—it starts when we wake up in the morning and seeps into our dreams at night. It forces us to keep learning and growing as engineers, designers, builders and fabricators. It gives us purpose and drive—knowing that the next great idea could be just a few thoughts away.

We always say, our million dollar idea will likely be a “beer infused” conversation, that leads to a bar napkin sketch, that leads to a prototype that leads to a product that becomes something that everyone MUST have. With a team of creative people, it just takes one small simple concept to start the process, it builds on itself and with the privilege of having each other to share brainpower with, it can materialize out of seemingly nowhere.

I think our team could all agree with Ayn Rand when she said, “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” We (FAB PDX) love what we do–we relish the process of creating and we are fortunate enough to have a company that allows us to utilize our gifts of invention and ingenuity every day.

The Three R’s

repurposed toilets

Making stuff is coming back into style. After a long hiatus, appreciation for the art of craft it seems has returned in the form of a desire for home produced custom goods. Americans are waking up to a new old dream of custom manufacture but with a sustainable twist. Local is the name of the game again, as well as merchandise that is durable and custom tailored to a user’s particular needs. Cutting down on shipping and planned obsolescence is one of the most “green” ways to continue to consume. Not to mention that having a relationship with your craftsperson is not only more satisfying in the almost intangible ways that community building often is but it also reinvests within your immediate community for tangible benefits. Studies have shown that dollars spent at local businesses tend to have longer lingering benefits for the local community than dollars spent to major multinational
conglomerates. Portland, Oregon is an epicenter for the DIY, custom craft and sustainability movements. We boast a highly educated, skilled and creative populace with some of the greenest ethics in the United States. Readily available workshop and studio spaces in the form of warehouses long abandoned by early and mid 20th century industrialization have provided spaces for artisans and engineers alike to practice their craft, while websites like and have provided market space and visibility. Local ongoing craft fairs, such as The Portland Saturday Market have also provided venues for small scale artisan manufacturers to sell. Many people have been reexamining our society’s relationship with cheap mass produced over packaged and sometimes toxic goods shipped at great expense (global pollution) from overseas. Its nice to see human ingenuity stepping in once again to solve a problem, but perhaps this time with more holistic awareness. When Emily and I decided to found FAB PDX we were consciously deciding to get in on the front of this wave sweeping away the assembly line and offering services for those with custom needs. We are about the three “R’s” – reduce, re-use and recycle.

First, reduce, don’t buy stuff designed in Sweden, made in China and then shipped with fossil fuels to your doorstep. What does that have to do with you? Its cheap? Someone once told me, “quality is remembered long after price is forgotten,” and if you’ve owned any rapid assembly press board furniture for a few years you probably already realize this. What about its characteristics? Doesn’t “celebrating diversity” also mean having your own aesthetic, or perhaps a local aesthetic similar to a local dialect? We live in a time of the ability for unprecedented customization, building a more durable good tailored to your specific needs assures it relevance for an extended period of time.

Second, re-use. So much today is being completely discarded for land fill even when particular components are fine. Why not reincorporate these elements into new goods and products. Even packaging can be up-cycled into new goods. I frequently find packaging that is more durable than the goods it houses, why not intercept it from the waste stream as well? The right skill set and tools can allow for repair and re-use in many creative forms. The possibilities are virtually endless as we pick through a 100 years of trashed goods.

Lastly, and its last for a reason, because it takes the most energy, recycle. Breaking down the component materials to items and sorting them for resurrection is a critical step for the scraps. At FAB PDX we save only the tiniest bits for this. Once something has been chopped into the most meager of fractions it waits in a container until that container is full enough to be worthy of a trip to the appropriate recycling center. Some materials, such as metal, we even get paid for disposing of in this way. It is a critical responsibility for ethical management of your waste stream. We have even begun to compost our food scraps from the break room for appropriate re-use in home gardens.

Launch Party

Launch Party

Good times were had at our Launch party on March 12th! Those of you who didn’t make it really missed out on an excellent evening filled with great entertainment, fantastic food and many interesting people. The party was a chance for us to say “hi” to our neighbors, “thank you” to our existing clients and friends and “nice to meet you” to anyone who might be a potentially new client.

We started off the evening with a lovely jazz band playing in the background ( as people mingled and got comfortable with a glass of wine or a beer donated by our neighbors down at Buckman Village Brewery. People stood around the bistro tables we built out of re-purposed steel and pine and hung their coats on the “Put a Bird on it” coat tree we made especially for the event. Drinks could be found behind the custom aluminum glowing bar we fashioned for the occasion and guests could watch the entertainment while sitting on several colorful benches we designed and built to show off our logo. If the Jazz and entertainment wasn’t enough, guests could play Play Station on the giant tv screen that folded out of the customized Oregon Ducks tailgating trailer we built for a client who LOVES the Ducks! But of course, most people could be found grazing around the beautiful spread of food that was prepared by our caterer Josh.

As the night progressed, there was special entertainment that emerged, including the “Loo Loos” ( a local hula hoop troop who added some real color to the event. The lights in the building went down and the lights on LED hula hoops lit up and the ladies performed some impressive feats with their colorful rings of lights. Also, the gentlemen who painted our exceptional mural outside our shop, had a live art show going on during the party. Guests could watch each paint stroke and see the blank canvas transform into a beautiful art piece.

Throughout the night, people had the chance to purchase raffle tickets to win almost any of the items we built for the event. The items would be raffled off at 9:30, and you had to be present to win. The three colorful benches were the first to go, an art piece donated by our talented photographer Mercy Mcnab ( was the next item, followed by the coat rack and then a bistro table. Everyone was pleased with their winnings and hopefully have their new pieces displayed in their homes! We felt bad for anyone who didn’t win, so we ended up handing out about 100 FAB PDX tee-shirts to other guests so they too could leave with something special.

After the raffle our DJ, Jason Logue, brought the tunes and people laced up their dancin’ shoes and started to get their groove on. Before the night was over, there was an epic dance off. You can always tell it was a good party if it ends with a dance off.

The only thing we overlooked was WATER! We forgot to provide water for our guests! LESSON LEARNED.

The party would not have been possible without all of the wonderful help provided by Courtney and David Piper, Jamie Teasdale, Mercy Mcnab, Sara Reitz, Becky Kuhn, Alma Anaya, Liz Quintana, Dan Stutzman, Ellis and Sue Stutzman and many other friends who shared their time and talent to make our fabulous event possible. FAB PDX forever.

Anyone ready to have another party???

TED Lecterns

So, who knew a tapered aluminum tube was so hard to make! I didn’t! But, upon our assignment (seven custom lecterns for Ted Conferences) we got to work figuring out just how to accomplish this task that many metal fabricators found impossible.

Our team put their heads together to figure out just how to complete the task. This was what we needed–seven furniture grade aluminum lecterns, with an anodized natural finish–sounds doable, but HOW?!?! The necessary gauge of aluminum is about as easy to tame as a herd of wild prairie horses. Lucky for us, we have a team of natural problem solvers and as they dove deeper into the problem, they found answers.

Michael was the lead on the project, as he is our expert metal fabricator. He started by creating photo realistic 3-D drawings in CAD. This gave him a better understanding of each piece and what was necessary to make this product functional. The lectern needed to be easily heigh adjustable, light weight, durable, and most of all stunningly beautiful. With each drawing, he and the designer (Daniel Tu) found the items that could be eliminated to make the product more functional and attractive. Step by step, Daniel and Michael worked through the process of finalizing the engineering until at last, we go the thumbs up and Michel could get to work.

Michael labored through the night perfecting the taper. He cut out a significant piece of the sheet metal and then welded a seam that he carefully sanded down to nearly invisible. After this he cut all of the separate pieces necessary for the lectern and had them anodized to be vibrant red for the base and the top and a clear matte finish for the mid section. Following the anodizing Michael built the innards and created a functional adjustment mechanism before installing all the separate pieces to create a final product.

Now that the prototype was complete, we needed to wait for Daniel Tu to visit our shop and inspect the work. The lectern looked stunning against the black background and gray carpet we had displayed it against. Daniel arrived on January 26th and was very pleased with the product. There is something very enchanting about watching a designer see their design actualized into a real tangible product for the first time.

As of now, we are making a few adjustments to perfect the lectern and then the production of the seven lecterns will begin. Stay tuned for more lectern news.

And We Climb!

Climbing a mountain is only half as hard if there is already a path to the top. Starting a new business is like looking up at the peak of the tallest mountain you have ever seen and trusting you will make it to the peak–you hope there will be a paved path to the top, but its not likely. When you first embark on your journey, you start out only wearing worn out running shoes, a ratty tee-shirt and your high school gym shorts (unless you are one of those lucky people who start out ahead of everyone else, dressed head to toe in REI gear with a back pack full of provisions and supplies). You begin walking, making strides day by day, hoping there is as store on the mountain where you can buy new shoes and a hamburger because no one told you to pack a lunch or wear climbing boots.

Well, as we all know, there are no hamburger stands when you are climbing up a mountain and the nearest supply store is at the store at the base of the mountain. So you learn what you need, you backtrack and then start back up better prepared with the knowledge of where you have been and what you have done secured in your mind. This is just what you have to do! But this time up the mountain, you won’t make the same mistake of stepping in the bee hive or napping on a rock in direct sun at noon or trying to feed the wild raccoons out of your hand. So you do it again–you head back up, more confident and better equipped to take on the challenges the mountain throws at you.

We are finding that our collaborative team here at FAB PDX already has the experience of climbing up the mountain with other companies who have embarked on the journey. Our team has laid paving stones and path markings much of the way up the mountain. With our combined expertise, we know how to climb much of the mountain and what we need to do so successfully (we even have a little storage and sleeping cabin built right above the timberline for resting and gathering supplies), we are now learning what is needed to climb past the point we have all individually already been to. Bringing together a team of experienced craftsmen, metal workers, designers and engineers means that much of the initial climb is like going lovely summer day stroll through open meadows, the real difficulty will come when we get to the point where climbing gear is needed and the oxygen is thin. We will have to build bridges from scratch, traverse unmarked territory and learn to rely on each other for support.

Maybe you are saying, “it sounds stupid and dangerous to make such a treacherous climb into unknown and unsafe territory!” We say in response, “Come on, a natural born adventurer can’t be happy sitting behind watching the clock at an average 9-5 job. We need to try, we need to climb, we need the thrill and the challenge of the danger that comes with taking the risk of operating a new business.”

So we will climb and we will lose footing and we will get lost in the woods and might even get attacked by a wild mountain goat. BUT we are ready for the challenge (we are prepared with wild mountain goat spray, a spray making you invisible to wild mountain goats–just in case), and we are adrenalized as we start our adventure–our climb to the top.

Now open / Outdoor Retail Show

Well we did it! We opened up our doors in Portland!
We found the perfect spot down in the semi-industrial arts district in SE Portland. We have an old building with huge archaic support beams and a wide open space for creativity! (You should all come check it out!)

Right off the bat, we got cruising on projects–before we even had time to buy toilet paper or a coffee machine (essentials)! Pete and Brian pulled their trucks into our space, unloaded their tools, and got cracking. The first project was building a booth for Hydro Flask ( for the Winter OR Show in Salt Lake City ( Hydro Flask wanted a giant half hot/half cold mountain for displaying their insulated portable Hydro Flask bottles, two small banner stands fashioned out of oak branches, a “Hydro Pub” for serving hot and cold water, two split log display racks for bottles and a 12 foot tall metal armature for supporting giant Hydro Flask banners. We had 16 days to complete this project and deliver it to the show in Salt Lake City–so as you can imagine, the table saws were blaring from the get go.

This project included re-claimed wood products, spray foam, CNC’d metal, ingenuity and lots of creativity.

Because of the hard work of Brian and Pete–the project was completed on time and the work is being delivered to the show AS I WRITE THIS POST!! We hope Hydro Flask loves their booth! Check in soon for more news from FAB PDX!!