Literature brought Jim Walker’s passion for blacksmithing and woodworking to life. Walker (mechanical engineering ’19) grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Entranced by these fantastical worlds, he wanted to be just like the characters on the page. “I wanted to have the arms and armor. However, being twelve or so, I had no money, so I decided it would be cheaper to make it. That is what started everything for me,” he said.
When Walker arrived at Georgia Southern University, he was able to enhance his skills with new and available resources for students. He works in the city campus’ FabLab, paying monthly dues to use the tools and the space for personal projects.
The Business Innovation Group in the Parker College of Business runs the FabLab in downtown Statesboro, and they describe the concept as “a way to bring fabrication and prototyping to the masses in a cost-effective way. Think of the FabLab as a gym for inventors, tinkers, and makers. We have all the equipment you need to flex your creative mind and bring ideas to life”
Walker started and finished over fifty projects at the FabLab. His projects are both personal and freelance. He is currently working on several projects including a conference table for the FabLab’s offices. “The conference table has probably been the most challenging project because of its scale. It is an eight foot by four foot table. Each slab of oak weighs about 100 pounds,” he said.
The work at the FabLab gave Walker the opportunity to find his creative niche in his craft as well as to implement the skills from the classroom into a professional setting. “There has definitely been a lot of crossover between education and my craft. As a mechanical engineering major, a lot of the skills translate. In class, we talk about strain rate, deformation, and heat transfer, which are all important in blacksmithing and carpentry. I also use the skills of modeling in my work here. When you are able to model each step of the process, it helps cut down on errors along the way and brings the different factors together nicely,” he said. “In my fluid dynamics course, I created a simplified model of a forge burner for a propane air burner. With that project, I actually was able to bring my craft into my schoolwork.”
His skills caught the eye of several of his peers, including the officers of Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honors Society on campus. Sigma wanted to create a Little Free Library outside the Newton building. Brady Gwynn (English and French ’19) the president of this local chapter contacted Walker. “This has been a project that Sigma has wanted to do for a long time. However, we never had the resources or the ability to complete it. I knew Jim from the Honors Program and was familiar with his work. With his help, we are going to bring this project to fruition. Students will be able to share books with their peers, engaging with each other through literature,” she said.
The Honors Program allows for interdisciplinary connections that extend past the core classes of freshman and sophomore year. The community of scholars is compiled of all majors and disciplines. This diversity allows for the program to strengthen its connections and its opportunities for students.
Walker was able to find his way back to literature, creating a structure to enhance his school community. “I have not built a little free library before this, but the construction is fairly straightforward. An aspect that makes this project more challenging is the necessity for it to be completely dry on the inside because it will be storing books. The size also adds to challenges because there is more surface area that needs to be sealed. I am really excited to see this project through,” he said.
Walker enjoys how this work challenges him to innovate and experiment. “Just get your hands dirty. There is nothing better than just doing it. A teacher or mentor will also help you learn much faster. Once you learn the skills, invest in the tooling. No matter how much you practice the craft, you have to focus more on your marketing skills. If you can’t market your business, you are not going to be able to sell anything. Find out what people would want to buy where you are. Make it and make it well,” he said. Walker will be starting his own classes soon at the FabLab in downtown Statesboro.
Walker explained that he will always be working at a shop, even after he graduates from Georgia Southern University. He said, “I am always going to be doing this because I find my work fulfilling.” He imagined his future, “Monday through Friday, I’m a mechanical engineer. Friday afternoon till Sunday evening, I am a blacksmith and woodworker.”
Expect to see the Little Free Library outside the Newton Building by the end of the semester.
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