The Bio

Chad Houseknecht has a thing for hats. 

Raccoon hats, cat-in-the-hat hats, military hats, hats with bells or horns, safety hats and lighting hats, pirate and clown and santa hats. 

He is, both figuratively and literally, a man of many hats.

He often refers to himself as "fabricator", but most days his response to the question "what do you do?" depends on what he was just doing... like just now, or, maybe this morning. 

If he's rewiring a building he's an electrician. Last summer, while working for the Smithsonian's Folk Life Festival he was a set engineer. That winter?  A welder -- except on weekends -- on weekends he was rigger. One year he manufactured one-off weapons for a cable tv show -- that was tricky: arms manufacturer or tv star? (He preferred the former.) He once swore he was not a mechanic, three weeks later a blown engine and bad transmission made him a liar. 

He is drawn to predicaments of structure, science, mechanics and engineering, the more muddled, the better. He collects fire hydrants, knifes and calibrating tools. He prefers working with metal. 

Raised by artists (dad is a woodworker, mom a weaver) in the suburbs of Washington DC, young Chad had the benefits of both nurture and nature: a home workshop full of tools and parents encouraging the kids to use them.

Today he reigns over a happy collection of lathes, mills, drills, cutters, welders, burners, saws, compressors, forklifts, power tools, engines and shelves full of metal -- housed in a 6000 sq ft machine shop that is also home to two robots and a tabby cat. 

Chad is self taught, preferring to learn how to do something moments before he actually has to do it. His methodology is unconventional, innovative and often a little kooky. 

When Chad presents a finished commission to his client, the response is always the same. Astonishment, thrill and wonder -- it works, its beautiful, and the science is genius. Without the restraints of a formal education, his mind is unencumbered with standard notions.

His curiosity, creativity and determination have culminated in years of experience designing, fabricating and engineering steel, iron and aluminum creations in industries ranging from art to armaments.

After high school he took a job with the iconic 930 club. He spent the next 15 years there -- maintaining the property, building sets and dressing rooms and bars, managing the contractors working at the facility, and basically ensuring everything worked. 

The club moved to larger digs in 1996. Chad designed the interior, managed the crews, and fabricated custom components used throughout the venue. But something was missing -- the new club could accommodate large crowds for the more popular shows, but the space became cavernous if not filled to capacity. The owners were determined to recreate the intimacy of the original space, for all shows - but how?

Wheels. Chad proposed placing everything inside the building on wheels -- the stage, the av equipment, the bars -- now the interior could shrink or expand. And the experience of a crowded, energized rock show in an intimate space would be duplicated for 100 fans or 1000. In a recent article commemorating the 30 year anniversary of the club, the owners credit Chad and his rolling walls as key to the club's continued success.

Merriweather Post Pavillion, an outdoor venue just outside DC was Chad's next assignment. He was designated "director of ambiance and atmosphere" and tasked with updating signage, grounds, dressing rooms, seating, traffic flow and more. He recruited local artists to donate pieces for display, creating a sculpture garden on the grounds. Several of the pieces are Chad's work. 

He built a new structure, a bar called 935. He built the porch and the seating using trees felled from the property. He created a outside VIP lounge with picnic tables, hammocks and basketball court surrounding a pond full of ducks.

At the same time, he stage managed festivals, multi band shows, and other events at venues all over the DC area; while also taking on the odd prototype or fabrication job from a loyal cast of clients. (including Smithsonian Institution, George Washington University, Race for the Cure, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

In 2006, he was discovered by a talent scout, and was soon cast in a cable tv show. (weapon masters, military channel) After only one month of filming, the producers were directed to rewrite the show, expanding Chad's presence. Discovery Channel's focus groups rated Chad second only to Mike Rowe.

And no wonder ... here Chad is in his element, goofing for the camera and obviously enjoying the ride. For the show, he was responsible for researching, designing, building and testing weapons. Weapons he created using his methods, to compare with the original, historic version of the same weapon. 

He built a flame thrower that shoots 70 feet of three spickets of fire, a repeating crossbow, a rocket, a musket and a katana samuri sword. Looking like an escapee from a chain gang, he interviewed scientists, engineers and other experts, all a bit taken aback at first, only to be completely won over in no time.

A true pedagogue, he rattles and rambles as he works, leading his audience through a labyrinth of physics, engineering, chemistry… explaining this and defining that… a hyped up, hyperactive "show and tell" with props and sound effects.

When a complicated concept requires explanation, Chad prefers the multiplex method: in the middle of demonstrating a point he'll suddenly swerve off on an completely unrelated story, joke, ancient recollection. (sometimes, all three).

Then, just as suddenly, the odd interruption concludes with a smack of clarity -- he hits it home -- the fragmented, manic monologue ignites into a brilliant interpretation. 

The science emerges lucid and sensical, obvious and predictable. And seriously entertaining.