A fountain of flying sparks coming off a table saw will make anyone take a few steps back. Those of us with the slightest sense of self-preservation will at the very least, squint our eyes a bit.
Bradley Rosga, project manager and half of the duo that started Jax-based design firm and industrial furniture maker, Brooklyn Roots, doesn’t even have gloves on. His business partner and wife, Leena Hashim-Waris, nonchalantly shares stories of previous flash burns as sparks fly by her head. From their Springfield workshop the two are creating intricate and unique furniture out of wood, steel and concrete.
As a kid in Hinkley, Minnesota, Rosga tinkered in his father’s wood shop and by age 13, was making his own chairs and tables for his room. “Our family business was well-drilling, so I was able to learn to work in a metal shop early on, too,” Rosga says. He went to welding school in Texas after high school and returned to Minnesota where he met Hashim-Waris right as she was finishing college. The two soon decamped to New York.
But after spending the better part of a decade in Brooklyn–Rosga working an apprenticeship and Hashim-Waris working in advertising–and tiring of the cold weather, the two made a permanent move to Jacksonville in early 2016. “Jacksonville is a great city and when we found the Springfield neighborhood, we knew we could make the move,” Hashim-Waris says.
A six-month surf trip through Southeast Asia predated their arrival. But, once here, the pair hit the ground running, opening the doors to Brooklyn Roots. They’ve since been designing and creating unique pieces for individual customers up and down the East Coast.
When I visited them in early April, the duo was starting in on a lamp for an upcoming showcase.
Useful Experience or Expertise: It helps to know how to safely work band saws, table saws, jointers and welding torches without losing fingers or an eyeball. It’s probably good to know the physical characteristics and limitations of wood and steel too. Rosga and Hashim-Waris have spent years and years learning how to work with the materials and use the tools. They have the scars to prove it. “I had a drill press go through my hand in high school and needed 22 stitches,” Hashim-Waris says. “Bradley took a grinder across the stomach a few years back.”
Materials: wood boards, raw steel pipe, electrical wire, lamp socket, lamp shade and a light bulb.
Step 1: Dream up a design
“We talk through ideas a lot. Most of our projects start with, ‘you know what would be cool?’ and then we just go for it,” says Hashim-Waris. The pair often sketch the ideas down on paper to determine scale. This stage also includes the engineering phase, where the two work out the mechanics of the fixture. “We go through a lot of ‘How do we do this? How do we do that?’ in this phase in order to troubleshoot the design,” she adds.
Step 2: Cut the wood
After creating a jig (template) for what the wood should look like, Rosga is ready to cut into the Ash lumber he’ll use. “First, I take the board to the band saw (cut to size), then to the jointer (create right angles), then to the planer (smooth out wood), finally I use a router to cut out the shape of the legs,” he says.
Step 3: Cut the steel
Mark off the steel, slap on some ear and eye protection, then take the steep pipe to the steel saw (a regular saw with a blade specifically designed to cut through metal), and watch the sparks fly.
Step 4: Weld
The distinct metal pieces now needed to be welded together, neatly. “Bradley is meticulous about his welds,” Hashim-Waris says, “He takes his time to do them right, not so much to take care of himself. A few weeks back he got a flash-burn (think: really intense sunburn) from welding in a t-shirt.” Rosga flashes a guilty smile and slaps his welding helmet over his face.
Step 5: Powder coat the steel pipe
A powder coat is a dry powder applied electrostatically (charging the particles) and then cured under heat. This step adds durability to the metal. Example: Your washing machine is powder coated so that it doesn’t rust away during the countless rinse cycles.
Step 6: Assemble
“This is really the last step where you put all the pieces together, cut the wire and run it through the lamp, attach the lamp socket and then put on the lamp shade,” Rosga says. The result is spectacular and deceptively simple.