Chris Gardner of ManMade and Curbly

My Tech Top 10

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Hi, my name is Chris Gardner, and I'm a full-time blogger and editor in the areas of art, design, crafting, and home decor. I'm the editor-in-chief of Curbly.com, a DIY home decor website, and also run ManMade, a craft and design website from a man's perspective. I love toys as much as any guy, but I don't know a lot about tech and electronics. I like finding reliable, versatile digital tools that I can use to help design and build things in the physical world.

You'll often see my laptop perched on top of a workbench next to a chisel and mallet, my DSLR balancing on my router table, and I love using software tools to design physical stencils for printing and painting. I have several workspaces throughout my home - an second-floor office and craftroom that stay clean of paint and sawdust, a basement workshop where I do the messy stuff, and a dining area that's next to a big window where I stage and take many of my photos (you should see how many holes there are in the wall...), so portability is important to me, as my home is often swallowed by materials and tape and tripods when I'm mid-project. Working from home is amazing.

1. Apple 15-Inch MacBook Pro, Late 2011 edition - Every blogger's gotta have one, and this is mine. I recently upgraded right after Christmas; I had my previous laptop for five and half years, and it was still chugging along smoothly. I'm a dedicated laptop guy; not only do I take at least one day a week to work from the bookstore or coffee shop, I also appreciate being able to move around in my house in the various workspaces I have set up, and have access to the info I need.

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2. Apple iPhone 4 - They're fairly ubiquitous nowadays, but it really does make my job possible. Having access to email, calendars, files, collaboration apps, etc, really allows me to live into the work from home/work anywhere and anytime lifestyle. I love knowing that I can run errands or take a bike ride during the day, and if I need to respond or be alerted to something, I'll have that information as quickly as I can get it on my computer.

3. Wacom Bamboo tablet - I got this a few years ago, but only recently started to use it for more than just goofing around. I'm not great at drawing in scale or perspective, so I like being able to snap a quick photo of a project or material with my phone, then draw on top of it in the computer to work out design ideas or color options. I'm sure I've only discovered a fraction of what it can do...I should plug it in every morning and just see what opportunities present themselves.

4. Nikon D90 DSLR - I knew absolutely nothing about photography before I started doing how-to and craft blogging. I started by borrowing an old 3.2 MP point-and-shoot, and then eventually bought my own. It was fairly limited, but it taught me about depth of field (via "macro" and mode) and white balance, which is especially important to me, as I often shoot outside, in naturally-lit indoor spaces, and my fluorescent shop light-lit basement workshop within the same project.

When I started doing some print-quality publishing, I finally upgraded to a DSLR, and I've been having fun learning more and more about photography. It's an extra creative step in making tutorials, which I think is become more and more important as the design and craft blogosphere continues to grow. Great ideas need great photos to go along with them, and while I'm not sure audiences always read every word, I know they look at every photo.

5. Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX - I finally upgraded to my first professional level lens in early 2012, and I'm grateful everytime I use it. Since some of my projects are pretty big and my small urban townhome is rather skinny, I love having a wider lens where I can capture the whole space or project. I have a few other lens, like the requisite 50mm prime, but this thing hasn't left my camera since it came home with me. I like knowing that issues of sharpness, etc, are not a factor of the equipment, but that I actually have everything I need to take amazing photos, so the task is up to me. I'm still not sure I've taken an amazing photo yet, but I'm excited to learn how. A high-quality UV protective filter is essential for me, since my camera is often in the presence of sawdust, spray paint, metal shavings, etc.

6. Seven sewing machine from the late 1960s - This is my sewing machine, and I adore it. After years of trying to learn on modern plastic machines, I eventually realized I needed a much more powerful machine that can go through the heavier, "masculine"-ish materials I use like waxed canvas, leather, and heavy linen. It's actually made by the better know White Co., and there's a guy in my neighborhood who knows those machines well and can find parts easily. He told me it's the strongest machine he's used other than an industrial Juki. I hope it lasts forever.

7. Apple AirPort Express - I don't use this as a router, but simply as a way to create an Airtunes network throughout my house. Since I'm often in my upstairs office, my first floor dining area, and my basement workshop when working on a project, I love being able to have the same podcast, news, or music follow me wherever I go. It makes working from home much more enjoyable. Plus, I'm still amused by the fact that I can be in the basement, and use my phone to control a song that lives on the second floor, but is playing through the stereo on the first. Magic.

8. Bosch 4100-09 10-Inch Table Saw - This thing is the center of my creativity. It was a major purchase, and I had to save up for it, but every time I use it, I'm so glad I have it. I love knowing that I'm not limited by the quality, or more importantly, accuracy and safety of the cuts I need to make, and coupled with my bandsaw (also awesome) and few basic handtools, I can turn less expensive construction-grade or recycled materials into functional art for the home. I'll never been a fine, "traditional" woodworker, but I love using their tools to make craft and art projects.

9. Fractional Dial Calipers - Hands down, the item I reach for most in my workshop is my pair of calipers. I like to use a lot of readily available materials, so I know that others can re-create the projects at home, and these things allow me to measure all kinds of little bits of hardware and supplies that I intend to use for nothing close to their intended purchase. I use them when working with wood, metal, with fabric, and even in the kitchen for cooking. They're something I think anyone who makes anything should own.

10. Notebook - I'm not a big list maker for organizing tasks, but I'll never been able to give up a notebook for executing projects and shopping for materials. When designing or working out a project, I need to be away from the computer, so that I feel like this is a different process than writing, editing, running the sites, etc. I'm often experimenting and prototyping when creating how-tos, so it's essential that I keep careful notes of materials, dimensions, measurements, drill bit sizes, etc. I love the hardcover Picadilly notebooks with graph paper; the only place I knew to get them was Border's bookstores, so I'll now have to find a new source. They don't look as widely available as I'd hope...I better go learn more about bulk orders.

Thanks to Chris Gardner for sharing his Tech Top 10. You can follow his projects and tips daily over at Curbly.com and ManMade, alongside BobVila.com.

Also check our archives of other My Tech Top 10 profiles here!

(Images: Chris Gardner)

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