Why Building a Wooden Hand Grip Is Like Building The Death Star

It’s hard to go through life without being barraged with Star Wars movie references, iconography, or quotes from our favorite Jedi Knight.  I’ve sometimes found myself referencing certain parts of the original trilogy to the various phases of life I’m experiencing.

When I came back to LA in 1996 after dropping out of NYU, I had felt like I had landed on a desert planet.  This wasn’t so much because LA was a lot drier than NY.  No, it was because I was in a rudderless place in my life—knowing I wanted a direction yet adrift in a fog bank.   I knew I had made a leap of faith when I left New York.  But where did I land?   I had envisioned myself in the swamps of the Dagobah solar system where Luke meets Yoda.  Life beat me up just as Yoda was in exile and Luke needed training.  Hard to believe that was twenty years ago.  And unlike Luke whose training took 20 minutes of screen time, mine took a lot longer.  Sure, my screen time equivalent might also be about 20 minutes.

These days, I’ve been working on building out my camera system to begin making films again.  For the last seven years or so, I’ve been writing mostly to hone my storytelling skills.  Now, I’m getting ready for battle again, apparently—as evidenced by my obsession over building my gear.

In doing so, I wanted to design my own lightsaber, (cough) I mean wooden hand grip.  I know we “shoot” movies, but honestly, a custom grip feels more like a Jedi weapon than a pistol we use to battle enemies from a distance.  This is going to be hand-to-hand combat.

So, I called up my good buddy, John Ames who’s worked as a Cinematographer with me on “Donnie’s Tree.”  Before John was a D.P., he used to work in carpentry.  He still has the Ninja skills as you will see.  I started with a lump of clay, yes, I suppose the similar way God has shaped the clay which turns out to be Adam.  I didn’t give my grip a name, but here it is.



We spent about a month or so, a night here, a night there meeting for fittings.  Patience is John’s virtue.  Whenever I held the work-in-progress, there was always a spot that was just not tight enough, or loose enough.



Eventually ‘though, there was that moment, when it slid in place and fit like glove—my own glove, not  one designated as S, M, L, or XL.

Finding the right Arri style rosette proved to be a challenge as many manufacturers made custom parts for their own handles, but did not sell those parts separately.  Else it was more than I wanted to pay.  So, in came SmallRig, a company out of China that make high quality parts for a fraction of the price.

Because it was the first time for John in building a custom wooden hand grip.  While carpentry deals with a lot of right angles, this was more like a sculpture.  He constructed his own rig to be able to precision-drill the socket for the rosette while keeping it absolutely steady.  See how it was mounted here before drilling.



And here it is after the drilling, some sanding, and testing for a finish.

After settling on the finish, he gave it his final touch.


Oddly, something else had happened.  Another vision of the Star Wars metaphor appeared before my mind’s eye.  I wasn’t really building a lightsaber.  I realized the weapon I was building was actually The Death Star.  Something in me is turning to the dark side.


Link to John’s site: http://www.johnames.net
SmallRig: http://www.smallrig.com
Arri: http://www.arri.com/home/
Rockler: http://www.rockler.com/