Craftsmanship & The Side Hustle

By Gaynor Strachan Chun

The way we approach jobs, careers, and work today sure is different than what it was in the past. Before, it was common to specialize in one field, land a job in that industry right after high school or college, and then stay at the same company for decades. Now, the average time we spend at a company or in a particular job is 4 years, and freelancers, part-timers, and budding entrepreneurs are becoming the majority of today’s workforce.

Another growing movement has emerged beyond the so called gig economy – the side hustle. While the side hustle has always been around in some form, the popularity of social media and platforms such as Etsy and Pinterest have launched the side hustle to new heights. Tools, apps, podcasts, articles and websites are even devoted entirely to the side hustle.

So, what is a side hustle, exactly? As author, Chris Guillebeau states in his new book Side Hustle, “A side hustle is not a part-time job. A side hustle is not the gig economy. It is an asset that works for you.” A side hustle also isn’t your main source of income or a part-time job. Nor is it a gig like driving for Lyft or delivering Postmates a few nights a week. As Chris stated, it’s an asset that works for you, and empowers you with the freedom to decide how, when and where you work.

There are a number of reasons people seek out a side hustle: they either want or need an additional source of income, don’t want to be reliant on an employer as their only source of income, have free time outside of their full-time job, or want to pursue work they’re truly passionate about – or perhaps, it’s something they’ve always been curious to explore. And if one’s main source of income comes from a desk job, a side hustle that calls for crafting with one’s hands can be all the more alluring. But the call of craftsmanship can come from anywhere – to answer it, you only need to be open and ready.

Professional drummer Adam Christgau did just that. When he’s not touring, Adam is immersed in the world of his side hustle – woodworking and furniture making. We recently sat down with Adam to learn more about how he added “craftsman” to his dossier.

What sparked your interest in woodworking and furniture making?

About seven years ago, I played drums on a record for a guy who also happened to be an industrial designer, as well as a songwriter. He got me thinking a lot about design and how it affects our everyday lives. That was probably the biggest catalyst. But I’ve always had an interest in how things are made, or how they come apart. I spent loads of time with Legos as a little kid too. So, it only felt right that I should start learning how to make furniture.

How did you learn furniture making? What were some of the challenges you faced?

In the spring of 2017, I took a two week hiatus from music life and went to apprentice under an incredible woodworker in San Francisco named Dave Farrell. Dave also plays drums and used to tour a bit with bands on the West Coast. Needless to say, we get along quite well. I find that woodworkers tend to be a very open book community. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t offer help or suggestions when I’m hitting a roadblock. Chaffee Graham from 4th Period Woodshop has been an incredible teacher over this past year too. Youtube is also riddled with so many tutorials that it has become a very valuable learning tool.

Some of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced are learning how to fix one’s mistakes. No one likes messing up, especially if you add a hole where there shouldn’t be one, or if your measurements were off from the beginning and you didn’t catch it in time. But I find that creating your own systems for efficiency can help these mistakes be avoided.

Do you believe being a drummer has helped you learn the skills needed to work with wood in any way?

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of woodworkers who also happen to play drums and I’m inclined to believe that they are very much connected. From a very early age, I was learning how wood functions in everyday environments without even realizing it. I know when a piece of wood feels warped in my hands, because playing with unbalanced drum sticks feels horrible. I know when a stick is going to crack or break in a certain way just by hitting a drum a couple of times. I know what kind of finishes feel nicer in my hands than others. I’ve learned about structural integrity based on drum shell design.

Has working with wood helped your drumming in any way?

At this point in my musical career, I’ve spent the better part of the past ten years on tour and in the studio. I don’t regret a single bit of it, but I was definitely starting to get burnt out and uninspired. It’s not that I didn’t want to play drums, but I was feeling less inclined to make it happen. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the state of the music industry, but I needed a break. When I started making furniture, it got me fired up to play music again. Something about activating my creative brain in the woodshop made me really excited to be back behind a drum set. I find that I need the balance of both music and the woodshop in my life, because they fuel one another.

As a professional musician, how did you navigate starting an new side hustle unrelated to music?

Usually when a longer tour cycle ends, say a year or longer, people tend to forget that you’re available to work. So, I had just finished a two year record cycle and had a lot of free time on my hands to before any music calls would start filtering through. Plus, I made a conscious effort to stay off the road for a couple months. So, all of those things combined helped me make time for the woodshop.

Did you think you’d be able to make an income from building furniture?

Definitely.

As we continue to focus on our series, “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work,” what advice would you have for someone looking to start a side hustle?

My biggest piece of advice is to find something that you are incredibly excited and inspired to work on. It will feel a lot less like work, or that it’s taking up all of your free time. If you can make that marriage, you will be able to find the time for your side hustle because you will be excited to make time for it. And, I can almost guarantee that it will be helpful in other aspects of your life as well.

What piece of furniture have you made that you’re most proud of and why?

One of my first pieces was a large Scandinavian-inspired coffee table that I built for my best friend’s NYC apartment. It was the first time I could really see how something I built might be able to last him and his family for generations.

What is your most prized possession and why?

I just inherited my great grandfather’s hand planes from the 30’s. I have a feeling those are going to be put to good use very soon.

Adam can be found on Instagram: @adamchristgau

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Make sure to check out our newly published Craftsmanship Quarterly article, The Workforce Dilemma, for the first story in our new series, Craftsmanship and The Future of Work.