While most people might cite reading, making music or art, or playing video games as their favorite activities, some Hillsdale students have gone beyond the mainstream to find their preferred niches. These students opt for impressively uncommon and surprising hobbies.
While these activities are disparate, those who pursue them share a sense of ingenuity, creativity, and initiative that they apply to their crafts.
Coffee Roasting with Brendan Clarey
Junior Brendan Clarey became disillusioned with mass-produced coffees in the fall of his freshman year.
“I was drinking a Starbucks French roast, and it tasted like an ashtray. I thought, there has to be something better,” he said.
Several Google searches and numerous YouTube videos later, he discovered that small-batch coffee roasting is surprisingly accessible and that the learning process is primarily composed of trial and error.
“You have to be willing to fail,” Clarey admitted.
After trying a few different methods, he has settled on roasting the raw beans in a pot over a propane flame. Coffee roasting has given him a greater appreciation for the artistry of coffee, as well as an increased awareness of the global coffee economy, especially the struggles of coffee growers in undeveloped countries. Since he began roasting, he has joined a vibrant online community of roasters and now writes for Perfect Daily Grind, a blog about all things related to coffee.
Not only is self-roasted coffee typically cheaper since raw beans can be purchased at $6 per pound, but it tastes better when it’s done right.
“The buzz you get from a freshly roasted cup of coffee is completely different,” Clarey said.
The process can be as enjoyable as the final product, and when you’re done, you’ll have an inimitable batch of fresh coffee that you can share with friends or enjoy by yourself.
Blacksmithing with Sam Phillips
“What I do isn’t technically blacksmithing,” junior Sam Phillips said. “Since I don’t use heat. But it is the goal to become a proficient blacksmith and eventually build my own forge.”
In the absence of heating, his craft is best described as stock removal: the process of removing the excess material from a workpiece. This hobby sprang from a fascination with martial history and handcrafting and manifested as the natural fusion of the two interests.
Phillips explained that the materials are relatively easy to find. Metal files, garden trowels, and railroad spikes all lend themselves as viable options. With stock removal on a student’s budget, the possibilities of what can be made are often limited by the materials available on hand. Phillips acquires his materials by cruising bazaars and flea markets. He explained that his yield is usually comprised of rust-covered objects which are only of interest to craftsmen.
Phillips creates mostly weapons. While he favors throwing spears, he also makes knives and tomahawks, and even necklaces and a few rings.
“If I had a forge,” he added. “I’d make a sword, but that would be rather expensive, just to purchase the right material for it.”
He consults with other blacksmiths online in a Facebook group of roughly fifty thousand members from around the world. There, they share ideas, projects, and pictures to enrich the accumulated understanding of their craft. Phillips said the appeal of blacksmithing and stock-removal is the amount of inventiveness it requires to be successful.
“A lot of it hinges on the ingenuity of, ‘I want X, but I have W, Y, Z, so how do I make that work?” he said.
Cosplaying with Rachael Terril
Cosplay is composed of two key components: costume and acting. The outfit allows cosplayers to visually appear as fictional characters, but the impression is sold by acting in-character. Veteran cosplayer and Hillsdale senior Rachael Terril said that cosplay is the opportunity to create a living story by playing a character and interacting naturally with the world around you.
“Cosplay was an opportunity to express my love of arts and theatre in more of a dynamic, living way than I would have been able to do otherwise,” Terril said.
Unlike professional actors or character performers, cosplayers dress up purely for fun and create their costumes from their own budgets. The process of making a costume from scratch can take anywhere from a few months to a year. Terril explained that the process can be sped up with pre-made costumes.
“There are people who just purchase their costumes,” Terril said. “But even then, there’s a lot of effort that goes into learning the expressions and the mannerisms and the poses of the character you’ve chosen.”
The cosplay community flourishes online and at conventions, where cosplayers don their finished projects. Conventions may feature such uncanny events as Jack Sparrow taking selfies with Sailor Moon, Captain America arm-wrestling Cinderella, or five different versions of the Doctor sitting down to tea together. Terril likened it to an unscripted play. In other words, anything could happen, and it’s this world of possibility that appeals to practicing cosplayers.
Leatherworking with Brian Cliff
Sophomore Brian Cliff first became interested in leatherworking, and especially whip-making, after watching Indiana Jones.
“When I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was mesmerized by Indiana Jones wielding his whip. I wanted one, but they were too expensive, so I decided to make one,” Cliff said.
He began dabbling in leatherworking several years ago, and launched his research into the obscure craft of leatherworking.
Cliff described his first bull-whip, made out of cowhide, as a semi-functional disaster. Having first appealed to the American tradition of whip-making and finding himself dissatisfied with what it offered, he turned to the Australian tradition in search a greater degree of finesse. This new vein of research led him to discover kangaroo leather, which he used to make what he said was his best stock-whip.
Cliff explained that he finds the process of whip-making rewarding.
“[It’s] a testament to how much you can accomplish on your own if you have the courage to try,” he said. “It was liberating to realize I could learn this craft myself and not depend upon someone else.”
Ever since his first bull-whip, Cliff has experienced a sense of satisfaction from contributing to what he called a dying craft. Aside from cattle whips, Cliff has also applied his leatherworking skills to making belts, pet leashes, and fedora accessories, though the whips remain his favorite projects.