Six o’clock a.m. and my alarm drums me awake. I dress in the dark and me and the dog tiptoe downstairs. I click on the coffee machine, grab his leash, and off we go into the gray morning. Back at home, I make a couple PB & J’s (one for now, one for lunch) and pour my coffee into my travel mug. I wolf down my sandwich, brush my teeth, zip out the door, and it’s off to the bus stop. The bus rolls up and I grab a seat as we zip down MLK, from the Northeast to the Southeast of the city. At seven-twenty I’m pushing through the front door of Grovemade.
In the shop, my workmates are getting ready for our morning huddle, the time when we set our objectives for the day. By seven-thirty I’m at my seat in the assembly area with Misbah, my fellow assembly pal. Ten feet away, Danielle, our laser operator, is cutting down leather hides and prepping the wood veneer that’ll be heat-pressed to the leather for our wood and leather cases. The laser cutters, each of which are the size of a Smart Car, are whirring back and forth, the first step that will take the walnut plank inside from raw material to finished iPhone case. There’s a slight scent of burnt wood in the air that smells like incense.
We pull our gear for the first part of the day: leather covers, walnut and maple frames. We’ve got forty to get through. Step one is to sand a tiny chamfer on to the interior wooden edge of the cover. Next, we burnish the exterior edge of the leather. Midway through and it’s eight-thirty. Time to stretch.
The entire team gets together on our office floor to stretch. This tradition predates me (it was initiated to fend off carpal tunnel syndrome) and I love it. It’s a nice little break, an opportunity to shake the remnants of sleep out of my bones, a moment to top off my coffee. Sometimes there are surprise donuts but not today. After a couple minutes, Sean, our senior product designer, tells us with a smile, “It’s time to get back to twerk.”
Back at our station, we finish the rest of the covers, and begin attaching them to their wood frames. Misbah covers our work surface with a large sheet of butcher paper while I get the 5-minute epoxy, the glue guns, the tiny brushes, and the acetone for clean up. I set a cover in its frame and weigh it down with a dock base (three pounds) to ensure a tight fit.
It's nine-fifteen, and our co-founder Ken swings by for his daily check-in to see how we're doing. He's making the rounds, saying good morning to everyone on the team. Midway through and it’s ten and our first break of the day has arrived.
Time for a bit more coffee. We brew Portland Roasting Coffee, purveyors of fine beans, whose roastery is just a block from our shop. While we rest, we discuss the merits of the burrito trade within a one-mile radius of the shop: price, size, filling, taste, etc. They all have their strong points and there’s no clear winner.
We keep to the task. We chat: movies recently viewed (Taxi Driver for me, Furious 7 for Misbah), least-favorite foods, what we did over the weekend, what we plan to do over the upcoming one, global politics, the weather. The cases start to add up. Little towers, stacks of ten.
Eleven-something and we’re just about done. I get up and get the iPhone from the mill station next door. I snap it into each case to make sure it fits properly. We check each one a final time, then carry them over to our finished goods department, a series of shelves where our ready-to-ship products are kept.
PB & J Part II is gone in a flash. I head out of doors for a bit of fresh air. On the sidewalk in front of our building, the streets are busy and the neighboring shops are abuzz with activity. The high whine of a pneumatic drill trills through the air. I go back inside and fill in some columns of a crossword I’ve been working on, then close my eyes for a quick nap attack.
With the wood and leather cases out of the way, we can start on lamp assembly. The lamp is one of my favorite products. It's a simple piece, and the low light they produce is infinitely calming. I've got one on my desk at home. But making them can only be called a practice in patience.
I start by measuring and cutting five-foot lengths of cloth-wrapped cord. With a wire cutter, I snip through the cloth and wire insulation. Next, I strip the copper wires of their plastic sheeting and then twist the copper strands tight. I hand each stripped wire over to Misbah and he deftly coats the exposed copper with solder using the soldering iron.
Now it’s time to get the plugs onto the wire. We get down ten plugs and remove the rubber casing to expose the terminals. With a pair of needle nose pliers, the soldered copper is bent into hooks, latched over each terminal, and tamped down with the twist of a screwdriver. Then the rubber cover is put on. This whole process is repeated to attach the light sockets, and it's three o'clock before we know it.
With the cords ready to go, we can now put the works into the lamp stand. Misbah inserts the sockets into the lamp bases, applies epoxy, and clamps the whole thing together. It takes a bit of time, but we’ve got them done by four.
And finally, the moment of truth. I screw in a bulb, plug it in, and click the button. Voila! Let there be light! I do one last check of the lamps to make sure there aren't any dings in the wood or globs of epoxy, and Misbah brings them over to the finished goods shelf.
With three-quarters of an hour or so left in the day, we rejoin the rest of the team for the final stretch. They’re finishing up with the succulent planters. Justin and Tommy sand, then pass them down the line to the oiling station. I put some latex gloves on, grab an oiling rag, and get to it. The wood, already impressive, is instantly transformed by the oil. Every distinction, the waves and swirls and grades of color, is brought to the surface. We get the last one done, put it on the drying rack with the rest of them, and put our tools away.
I sign out for the day, trade a couple high fives, push through the door, and check the time. It’s just past five o’clock. If I hustle, I might catch the five-o-four. I shift into my power walk and shove off down Stark. Two minutes later and I’m on the bus. I rustle pass the seated passengers, eyeing an empty spot at the rear of the bus. I plop down, take a breath, and close my eyes as the bus trundles its way down the street, creeping ever closer to home.