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diresta In the Shop With Master Builder Jimmy DiResta

Jimmy DiResta in his element.

Twice a month I get an email from master builder Jimmy DiResta with a link to his latest video, build notes, and a list of parts and tools. It’s always a treat to see what he’s come up with next.

Jimmy is a one-of-a kind maker who dreams up new projects each month and then films himself with a battered FlipCam and a shard of a mirror mounted to a tripod for reference. He speeds up the videos so you seem him complete the build in a matter of a few minutes. It’s mesmerizing to watch and he pushes wood through his bandsaw or welds what was a few strips of metal into a functional shape. His video technique is an art form of its own.

He works in a basement shop in on Clinton Street in New York City’s Lower East Side. As his editor, I’ve grown used to video scenes of the shop, a workspace loaded with just about every kind of tool he can fit and as well as raw materials, random parts, supplies, and a sawdust-covered collection of old projects. If I didn’t know it was a working shop, I would say it looked like a movie set.

Up until yesterday I’d never met Jimmy, but since I was in New York for World Maker Faire I jumped at the chance to visit him in his natural habitat: his shop.

The entrance to his shop is a metal door on the sidewalk. Total New York City. You descend a near vertical, cement staircase and enter the subterranean cool of building more than 100 years old. According to The Book of New York Firsts, it was in this very cellar that New York City’s first baked bagel emerged in 1896. That’s a long history of making.

Jimmy has rented out the basement since 2005. There are actually three rooms to the basement and they look like a series of catacombs. The room I and viewers of his video series have grown used to lies at the end of the basement. It looked exactly like I imagine, but even cooler in real life.

Being a maker like Jimmy in New York City isn’t easy. There’s the parking, for one. To get supplies he gets up a dawn to go to one his favorite lumber yards in the Bronx in order to get back home in time to find a parking space before 10am. Sometimes he’ll walk down to an old lumberyard in Chinatown and carry a sheet of plywood across town by himself.

Fans of his video series will also recognize his signature “DiResta” stencil that spray painted on many of his tools. That’s not vanity. There’s a market for stolen tools and neighborhood guys often pop the trunk of their cars to show Jimmy what they’ve got. Since they don’t know his last name, he’s waiting for the day when they try to sell him a tool with his name on it. It hasn’t happened yet.

As a 20-year resident of the once sketchy and now upscale Lower East Side, neighbors have long since grown used to seeing Jimmy walking down the street with his camouflage Cabela’s hat, boots, and swinging wallet chain.

“I make stuff,” he says. “People ask me what I do on my time off and I tell them I make stuff. That’s what I do.”

Watch your step and come down into Jimmy’s shop:

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Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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