Local fabricator teaches his craft online
By Christian Betancourt
When Liberty Hill fabricator Joe Pieczynski recorded himself untangling a wolf spider by removing fuzz from each one of its legs one fateful morning, he never dreamed he would be viewed millions of times around the world. His YouTube channel has racked up over 26 million views.
“I had a buffer out in the shop that puts out a lot of cotton fiber,” he said. “One of these three-inch-long wolf spiders walked through and got all tangled up. He looked like a little fuzzy snowman just walking across the floor, and I felt bad. I didn’t want to see him die. I leaned down on the floor with a sharp piece of steel and some tweezers. When I pulled the stuff off his first foot, he stood perfectly still and raised each leg one at a time and let me do all eight legs.”
At that time, the thought of recording the incident was nowhere near Pieczynski’s head. He said he was amazed by the interaction and pleasantly surprised when he was able to replicate it, this time with his camera at the ready.
“Another crawled up under the road one day, same situation all tangled up,” he said. “I put the camera on the floor with a scale and X-Acto knife, and I filmed it. It went viral. The spider video got 2.8 million views. That was just an off-the-wall sensation. The rest of the videos all have north of a quarter-million (views) each.”
Of the more than 300 videos on his channel, only a few contain arachnids. The vast majority display his 47 years of knowledge in fabrication and machining and how to build anything from a screw to fully functioning replicas of steam-operated machinery from the 1800s.
“They’re not going to teach you these things in trade school,” said Pieczynski. “You’re going to learn this over 40-50 years of doing it. It is specifically designed to help new and existing machinists, garage guys, hobby guys, upper-level guys learn things that are not in the book.”
The channel’s inception came to Pieczynski after he saw other videos on the subject that just did not sit well with him.
“I was eating my lunch one day, and I was watching a video on what they call threading,” he said. “I watched so many videos that were just giving bad advice. I put my sandwich down, grabbed my Go-Pro, and I shot my first video. That video just turned into thousands of comments, thousands of questions, and thousands of views. I realized there was a demand for some type of tutorial or mentor in this field.”
About 130,000 people are subscribed to Pieczynski’s channel, with his videos seen in 127 countries worldwide.
“I get emails from Russia, New Zealand and South Africa,” he said. “I have a lot of supporters in the UK and all over the US. They have received me very well, and I am humbled by it. I had no expectations at all. I just wanted (to show them how I did it). I’ve done medical, I’ve done aerospace, I’ve done military. I have done parts that are in orbit and parts that are circling the bottom of the ocean. I have filled the gamut.”
Pieczynski knew from a young age he would spend his life making objects out of blocks of raw material. He was fortunate enough to be able to learn the craft during his formative years in school.
“My school was a very technical high school,” he said. “When I walked into my first machine shop in 1970, and I saw the machines cutting wood and cutting steel and just chunking away. I just fell in love with the fact that if you can run that machine, you can make anything. A block of steel can just sit there and rust for a million years and remain a block of steel. If you can run that machine, you can turn it into something cool.”
Originally from New Jersey, Pieczynski and his wife decided to move to Central Texas 25 years ago and live in Round Rock.
“I have been in the same house since I moved to Texas,” he said. “My wife just got tired of the cold, and I got tired of shoveling snow at 3 a.m. six months out of the year, and I said ‘we have to do something different.”
After a successful career as a designer for an orthopedic company in Austin, Pieczynski ventured out eight years ago and opened a shop near US Highway 183 in Liberty Hill. His shop Advanced Innovations LLC serves an array of customers in the medical field.
“I customize, repair, and modify surgical tools to make them more comfortable and ergonomic for surgeons during the procedure,” he said. “I was former new product designer associate engineering for Sulzer orthopedics here in Austin. When word got out that a designer now has his place, I started getting requests. One turned into several thousand and turned into a full-tilt business.”
Pieczynski makes and uploads about eight videos a month for his fans. He says he will continue making videos, but his customers will always come first. At age 63, he says he will continue tending to his viewers and customers until he can’t do it anymore.
“Maybe in five years, I will scale down,” he said. “Maybe I’ll be retired. Maybe a shop behind my house. A much smaller shop with AC and just take my time with what I’m doing. I can’t imagine myself not doing it. I will do this as long as I’m breathing. I just enjoy the creativity of making something from nothing. I hope everybody is as happy with their day job as I am.”
To check out his videos, look for the English Bulldog avatar and search for Joe Pieczynski on YouTube.