Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mr. McKinney's shop class

It's hard to imagine the impact that an eighth grade shop teacher would have on custom building BBQ grills and smokers. Mr. McKinney was my shop teacher with an enormous amount of patience for 13 years boys with power tools and sharp objects. With years of experience demonstrating over and over again the basics of tool education, rudimentary shop drawing, and a firm grasp of boy psychology he gave me the confidence to try anything once.

My father was a tinker of sorts with a basement full of boxes with screws, bolts, odd looking hand tools and of course that wonderful smell of old hardware. My grandfather had owned two hardware stores and hence passed many of his hand tools to my father. But the gift of curiosity and invention was a combination of Mr. McKinney's belief that "shop" taught you the importance of creativity and thinking ahead and my father's willingness to let me "build things" in the basement.

Over time, and probably more to the fact that I became smitten by any girl in high school, I detoured from the basement to the back seat of my mother's '64 Nova convertible. The itch to build something, anything, never left. It was like playing baseball on a dirt lot, I would rather tinker and engineer something than do almost anything else...except use mom's car.

The initial modest collection of tools grew and moved with me from town to town like a tinkers wagon. With each move the boxes of collected fasteners, tools, and sketches increased. When we moved from Centertown to Jefferson City they literally filled the entire box truck. We had rebuilt the old house in Centertown stripping most of the house to the studs for new drywall, insulation and new wiring. Then we relaid the kitchen floor joists, floor and hand built new cabinets. Always working in wood, trying to follow Mr. McKinney's advice of "think ahead and do it right".

Eventually we moved into a house with a big back yard, but with a garage full of tools. At an age when most would settle for the shop education they have, I had the gnawing urge to learn to weld. So off I went to adult night school to shop class once again, this time it was welding class 101. Somethings are taught, somethings are experienced, and somethings just become a magic event. It was like discovering girls in high school, the excitement of pooling metal and sparks was captivating. An electric glue gun with a serious attitude was the first thing that came to mind.

Not so much as a class project, but to put my learning to practice I decided to build a BBQ trailer pit. Having cooked a lot in Boy Scouts and doing BBQ fundraisers for our Troop with borrowed pits I had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't. That was nine years ago and the original trailer pit is still being used for large events. Since then I have custom built many grills, pits, and smokers that operate on the simple advice of Mr. McKinney, "think ahead, do it right". I hope you enjoy this site and look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Awesome blog!!!! I totally have your gene for creativity and curiosity. Guess you were my shop-teacher, too!


  2. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

    Hand Tools