Unplugging with Jesse Schutt

Jesse Schutt is a developer for Zaengle Corp where he works on a mixture of projects between Laravel, Craft CMS, and Statamic. Before making the jump into development Jesse was a media director for ten years at a year-round Bible camp in northern Wisconsin. He’s a husband, father of six kids, and someone full of inspiration and quality advice.

Hi Jesse, Can you tell us about your typical workday?

Whenever possible I like to begin before the kids wake up. My typical routine consists of starting the coffee pot and getting an early jump on the day. Since I work from home and we have 6 children, I need to find stretches of quiet time to focus on development and the early mornings offer it.

Most of my development time is spent on Laravel work with some Craft CMS customizations tossed in here and there. Before I became a full-time developer I did both backend and frontend beginning in the mid-2000s, but now I’ve specialized into PHP, primarily with custom Laravel apps.

Do you have any hobbies?

Ever since I was a young child I’ve lived in rural areas; some might call them “the middle of nowhere”! The lack of commercial entertainment caused me to find my own ways of entertaining myself. Most of them included being outside, whether camping, hiking, fishing, or hunting.

During the winter months I spent a fair bit of time woodcarving. My parents had signed me up for a carving class and I enjoyed making figurines or small fish and animals.

As I got older and was able to start using my dad’s tools I became interested in building projects that were functional as well as entertaining to make.

What is the difference in woodcarving and woodworking?

I suppose you could call woodcarving a subset of the broader topic of woodworking. It typically doesn’t require much for tools, aside from a few carving knives. And it doesn’t require much space either!

Woodcarving projects can be anything from a small Santa figurine to a duck decoy, or a relief carving that will end up built into a piece of furniture.

Coffee beans and a hand-carved spoon. #woodworking #yellowbirch #bushcraft #spooncarving

A post shared by Jesse Schutt (@jesseschutt) on

Spoon carving has become quite popular recently. All it takes is a piece of wood, typically birch, or some kind of fruitwood, and a bit of time to whittle it into shape. My wife has a handful of spoons I’ve carved and uses them regularly in the kitchen.

How did you originally get into woodworking?

My dad is handy, always tinkering on a project around the house. When I was in high school he worked on small building projects for the local lumber yard and I would help out in the afternoons. We joked that our construction name would be “Stupid and Clumsy Builders”… I’ll let you guess which one I was ;P

Although I had access to tools whenever I wanted, and I learned the basics from my dad, I really didn’t engage in fine woodworking (cabinetry, box-making, detail-work) until a number of years later. My wife and I had bought our first house in 2009 and I realized that I finally had some space to keep my own tools. A few months later and a sweet Craigslist deal found me with a pretty well-equipped shop.

As someone who has never built anything, what is the biggest difference between tech and woodworking?

Yeah, woodworking is an ancient practice. The Bible says that Jesus was a carpenter! (That must make it the most holy of hobbies, right??)

Joking aside, there is something special about looking at a piece of wood, and seeing potential beneath the surface. As a developer I enjoy bringing order and structure to bits of code. The same goes for woodworking. I find great satisfaction in taking raw material, shaping it, finishing it, and turning it into a completed project.

That satisfaction is very similar to the feeling I have when implementing a clean, well-tested solution to a code scenario. In code, I’m organizing the virtual, while in woodworking I’m organizing the physical. I believe we were made to be creators, whether with our hands or brains.

There has been a resurgence of woodworking in recent years. I’m guessing this has to do with how much we’ve moved our lives into the digital realm, which can be draining if you live there too long. Woodworking is a way to use modern technology, such as high-quality tools, with an intimate connection to the physical.

The skills required to be a good woodworker are very similar to being a good developer. We need precision, forethought, the ability to picture a project in your head, and solid problem-solving skills. Quality woodwork is clean, even in the joints that aren’t visible. Quality code considers all the scenarios, not just the most obvious ones.

Do you have to keep learning and studying the craft or can you learn everything and then use your imagination to build anything you want?

Like any venture in life, you need a certain amount of experience combined with just the right amount of inspiration. As I look over my growth as a woodworker, I think the best teacher has been failure.

It can be extremely challenging to work with wood, as it can crack, warp, or bend. Humidity and temperature all cause movement in boards. Every time a joint doesn’t come together cleanly, or a piece doesn’t fit as it should, I try to make a note in my mind for the next time I’m presented with a similar situation.

As any good hobby should, I enjoy spending my spare time reading on new techniques. So learning is a significant part of developing as a woodworker.

However, experience is a wonderful teacher as well. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Most developers have hobbies that are computer related. Do you find it helpful to have a hobby that allows you to unplug?

One of the things that I love about woodworking is that it allows me to do something with my hands! Since the majority of my day is consumed staring at a screen with hands on the keyboard, I find that breaking out of code-brain can be challenging.

For example, it takes me a bit of time to get into the mental space necessary to effectively program. Woodworking is a happy medium, where I exercise a blend of creativity and logical, systematic thinking, while engaging with the physical realm. Therefore, there are many days where I will program for the majority of the day, but move into the woodshop where I will prepare to reconnect with my wife and kids. I’ve found it good for our relationships if I can gently make the transition out of “code-brain”. Woodworking has offered me that avenue.

Plus, at the end of a project I have something that can be given away as a gift, or proudly displayed in my home!

Last shot of the men's valet in birdseye maple and walnut! #woodworking #christmasgift #maple #walnut

A post shared by Jesse Schutt (@jesseschutt) on

What advice would you give someone interested in getting into woodworking?

Everyone learns differently, but I’ve found a few things that may be helpful if a person wants to dig into woodworking:

  • Search the #woodworking hashtag on Instagram
    Woodworking is extremely popular on Instagram, with some of the leading content producers having more than 50k followers. The community is also very friendly and will readily engage with you.
  • Subscribe to a few woodworking publications
    I’ve found that it’s inspiring to have a magazine chock full of ideas show up in my mailbox every few weeks. Currently, I’m subscribed to Popular Woodworking and Wood Magazine, although I’ve also held subscriptions with ShopNotes and Fine Woodworking.
  • Find a Maker-Space — example: http://www.mavenmakers.com/
    Facilities like this are popping up all over the country! The basic premise is that you can rent time in a fully functional woodshop where you can work on whatever you’d like. The plus is that you don’t need to invest much money in tools. A number of them even offer classes!
  • Find a Mentor
    One of the great joys of woodworking is sharing the experience with someone else! Many older woodworkers crave the opportunity to teach a beginner. See if there is someone in your sphere whom you could approach about learning the craft.

If you’d like to find out more about Jesse you can check out his awesome Instagram account, shop his Wood Working Store, and find him on Twitter.