Brent Garcia, a Las Vegas area public servant, makes beautiful jewelry in his garage. His projects have been featured on a number of blogs, and he's had so much success with his amateur jewelsmithing that he's opened his own shop. Somebody should mail him a microcontroller in exchange for a .50 cal bottle opener. Just sayin'. Read on to learn how Brent got into making jewelry and check out his awesome projects below.
How did you discover Instructables and what first inspired you to post a project of your own?
Crossing paths with Instructables was inevitable for me. I’ve always enjoyed DIY projects. Especially ones with a MacGyver feel about them. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go to an auto parts or home improvement store and ask an employee “do you have ---fill in the blank---”. Of course what I was looking for had nothing to do with how the item was actually used. I came to learn I could get back to my garage faster if I just let the employee explain how to properly install my new thingamabob rather then fill them in on its role in my latest project. Eventually I thought there had to be more then just me trying to hack stuff into everyday life. So one day, while trying to make a bicycle trailer hitch, I did an internet search to see what was out there. There it was. INSTRUCTABLES. I couldn’t believe it. People…just like me! Not only did I find how to make a trailer hitch, there was a turn signal biking jacket to go with it. That was November of 2010.
The following month was Christmas. I was looking for something unique to make my wife. I ended up finding the instructable on making a ring by hammering a silver quarter with a spoon. This reminded me. A few years prior my wife’s grandmother was taking a collection of costume jewelry to the second hand store. She told me to take anything I wanted so I picked out what I thought was real gold. Later I used a welding torch to melt the jewelry into a golden blob about the size of a nickel. It sat in my nightstand until that winter when I hammered it flat and made a ring. She loved it. Even more so because the gold came from her grandmother. I made the same ring again. Except this time I used a nickel and took lots of photos. That was my first instructable.
I remember checking back on it and thinking “Wow! I have 38 views!”. Next time I checked I was featured. Then a 3 month pro membership showed up in my inbox. It was like Christmas every time I checked my Instructables account. I was hooked.
How does Instructables fit into your life?
Instructables is my day spa. It’s where I go to relax and clear my head after a long day’s work. See, I’m one of three people who show up when someone dials 911. A police officer to be specific. There would be nights where I just couldn’t shake the day off. I couldn’t stop thinking about the person who lost their life, the family devastated by the weight of drug abuse, or what people are capable of doing to each other; especially to the ones they claim to love. Seeing it on a regular basis can weigh you down. Thankfully, there’s nothing more relaxing then a bowl of cereal and few clicks through the latest instructables. Crime fighter by day, amateur jeweler by night works for me.
Another great thing about Instructables is only being known by what you contribute. When you're wearing a badge people see you first and foremost as a police officer. My own father once politely greeted me not recognizing his son for a moment. And even out of uniform I’m used to hearing the joke “Shhhhh! He’s a cop”. Unfortunately, most contact with law enforcement deals with a negative set of circumstances so I understand. But that’s why it’s great to be able to interact with the Instructables community only being known by what I have to offer in a creative sense.
A little birdie told me that you've opened a store. What prompted that, and what do you sell?
It’s been fun and really I have Instructables to thank. Having a community to present my work to has not only made be better at what I do but shown me what kinds of ideas appeal to people. I’ve been open about a month and have filled orders to California, Nevada, Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, and Germany.
My wife’s gold ring was the first piece of jewelry I’d ever made. So when I was asked if I sold my work I never took it too seriously. But as I discovered how much I enjoyed metal working (on a tiny scale) I started sharing my work with friends and family. Eventually I started getting requests. I thought it could be something, so I did a little research. If I sold about 3 things a month I could maintain an online store of my own. Fingers crossed, I went to city hall, got a business license, and with the help of my tech savvy brother, opened mrballeng.com. Once I clear start up costs and become profitable (again fingers crossed) I’ll post a “how to start an online business” instructable.
Right now the site is mostly bullet related. That’s because I can make those items consistently. Though, I do check my site’s search engine and add what people are looking for as they search for it. Eventually I’d like to sell project kits for items I've made before. In the mean time, if someone wants something specific, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your dream project? Your white whale. Your Shangri-La. What would you like to build but can't because of lack of tools, time, or skills?
Anything using microcontrollers. I have ideas like connecting my blinds with an alarm clock so they gradually let in sunlight every morning. Or even a burglar deterrent where a few seconds after a knock a large barking dog plays through speakers. And I’ve always liked the idea of making a gag in the form of a TNT detonation box that shocks when you grab and push down the handle. Microcontrollers, for me, are up there with riding a unicorn and playing cards with Bigfoot. As of now I’ve mastered illuminating a small light bulb with two strips of tin foil and a D battery. I’ll get there. I’m looking forward to one day being able to use them.
Where do you come up with all the shell casings you use in your projects? Some of those are pretty high caliber.
Not too far from my house is a shooting range. They have a couple tables filled with expended brass. From there you can buy all you want. The 50 cal shells are harder to come by though but they’re out there if you look. I’m sure I’m the only one showing up specifically to buy shell casings. Thinking back on my instructables I see a pattern. Once I get a hold of an item I’ll make a bunch of projects out of it. First I used nickels. That was followed by coat hangers, paper clips, sheet metal, sea shells, and of course shell casings. The great thing about all those is you can practice a project all you want and not break the bank.
How is Las Vegas as a maker city? Do folks make things? Is there a community down there you can be a part of?
Las Vegas is unique when it comes to being a maker city. Not only do you have local makers but because of the nature of the city folks from all over the world come here to show off their stuff. Craft fairs and conventions are always fun to check out. I once saw an exhibit where an artist made sculptures from cutting and gluing #2 pencils in all kinds of ways. It was impressive. As far as finding a community to be a part of, I haven’t heard of anything formal but then again I’ve never really looked into it. I’ve been content with the folks I’ve fatefully crossed paths with during my project building. One year, me and a group of guys had a contest involving pneumatics rockets. We had a great time and I still get teased about my first confetti launch.
What drives your creativity?
I love getting a comment with a picture attached and something like “I made this for my girlfriend. Thanks for sharing”. That’s the real payoff. Whether I get 10 or 10,000 views on something, as long as one person profits it was worth it.