Jim Walker is in the business of crafting deluxe experiences.
Let me explain that better by telling you a little more about who James is.
James is a blacksmith at heart but has recently taken on a new venture with his company Whiskey Grail. The Grails are handmade from white oak and feature a scorched inside, mimicking the environment that whiskey ages in. His website promises that “you’ve never experienced whiskey like this.”
“It is more than just a cup,” he chuckles. “This is a handmade item because it really changes the experience of drinking. You get the char, and the oak, and the smell, we find that it really cuts the bite of bourbon without really removing the flavor.”
Jim admits that he’s not much of a whiskey drinker.
“I’m not really a straight bourbon guy,” he says, laughing. “It’s weird, like ‘why am I making these Grails’?.”
It’s a good point! If he’s not chasing the sweet corn liquor, what is he doing? For Jim, it’s a practice in delivering an experience through his own style of craftsmanship.
“I had grown up making things in my spare time…all the time,” he says. “I didn’t really have space where I could work when I came to college. I would make things all day long if I could.”
His day job is overseeing Georgia Southern’s Fabrication Lab, a space headquartered at the university’s Statesboro campus. Think of the lab as a WeWork-type space, but for creatives fashioning a physical product in an environment that allows them to get a little messy with their creations. The lab offers tools for woodworking, plastic making, metal fabrication, and other material working. They feature a 3D printer, CNC router, Arduino, and a multitude of other resources.
The lab is designed with makers in mind, but they don’t just act as a creative space. The staff also offer business advisement, coaching and leadership assessment, business consulting, training classes, and more.
“It’s hard to convey what we actually do here,” says James. “It’s much more effective when people are able to come in, and touch the equipment, and see the space. They get a better feel for what is possible.”
But this didn’t deter the creators already using the space to help aid the fight against the pandemic.
“There was a big effort in the maker community to try and fill the gap in hospitals for personal protective equipment (PPE),” said James. “We were able to leverage our equipment and those needs to fill the gaps. We sent a whole bunch of face shields and masks to Atlanta [area hospitals].”
Former Georgia Southern University President Jamie Herbert was quoted in a Bizjournals article from 2016 as saying “These resources are available to anyone — from a person with a home-based business idea from Candler County, to the existing businesses or forward-thinking students here in Statesboro, to the thriving and growing businesses and individuals in the Savannah area and the entire Coastal region.”
The Fab Lab has played a big part in Jim’s life. “I just thought, ‘I’m going to have a space again to create things and make things,’ and that’s my passion.”
He met his business partner Adam through the space, uses the services provided to craft his products, as well as serving as the manager of the Fab Lab. All of these opportunities and chances he took were born of the desire to interact with others.
“I really do enjoy coming in and saying ‘Hey, I wonder who’s in the shop today?’” he says. “There is a really nice social aspect of it, especially for people like me that spend a lot of time in a shop.”
There’s a lot of heart in Walker’s pursuit of collaborative approaches through all of his ventures, and he smiles as he talks.
“That creative mindset comes from more people being around and you’re more driven to do stuff. You can get another perspective. Another ‘what-if’?’ Another ‘try this’…,”
“But do you need something like this?” I ask him. “If you weren’t using this space, would that keep you from your work, or would you turn to somewhere you had space, even if it’s just a closet?”
He laughs, and tells me a brief story about how he used to do work in an apartment that had a pretty sizable closet at the time.
“We’re competing with people’s closets,” he agrees. “We’re competing with people’s spare bedrooms, and their spare office, with their garages. But the space and the tools you have are not the limiting factor. You can do anything, anywhere. But here at the Fab Lab, we can help.”