The Journey of Personalized Woodworking: From Mistakes to Masterpieces

The Journey of Personalized Woodworking: From Mistakes to Masterpieces


I have written before about my woodworking, starting about 10 years ago.  I didn’t think I was any good at the craft when I began.  A major turning point for me was learning to adjust for and or hide mistakes.

My most common early mistake was mismeasuring.  I nailed my first project with one minor misplacement that was easily fixed.  The next few projects were rough, until I learned to throw out the plans and adjust on the fly.  No one knows that you missed the first leg of a table by ⅛” and got the other three dead on.  But everyone knows when they are different.  So just make the next three ⅛” short as well.

As with any craft the more you do it the less mistakes you make.  I heard recently that most every hobby or pursuit takes 10,000 hours to master.  I have no idea how close I am to that level, maybe halfway.  My mistakes do get less frequent these days but that might mean I need to try harder projects.

When I look back on all the projects I did before we went into business I realize that they all had a similarity in them. Aside from beautiful wood grain nearly every one had custom artwork on it. We were in a medieval reenactment group and heraldic art work (coat of arms or family crest) was the name of the game. I did and still do enjoy applying customization to pieces.

When we started out to share our work with others one of my first investments was a Cricut machine.  I envisioned using it to apply artwork to pieces, to maybe cut some wood for decorating other pieces I made, maybe making signs.  I learned pretty quickly that vinyl just wasn’t the medium I wanted to use.  I have used it quite a bit for templates on a couple of the flags and signs I have made but I have moved past it.

I then bought a CNC machine with the intent of providing custom engravings.  I have made a few but really haven’t focused too much on that.  I use the CNC to add features to parts and cut some parts out.  Some projects are entirely CNC based like pumpkin or santa shaped catch trays.  Sometimes the CNC is used to add handles to trays, I have even made a few trays with 3d engravings on them.  But the CNC lacks the resolution for some of the customizations I want to apply and it is also quite destructive.

This past spring I discovered the ability to attach a laser unit to the CNC head.  This opened up a whole new world for us.  We were having a rough show one Saturday and I saw that a few vendors had sold some Mothers Day themed pieces.  I went home and found some Mothers Day artwork and applied it to a couple of our boards.  Both those boards sold on Sunday and the customers were thrilled with the items.

Since then we have shifted a lot of our business to applying custom and personalized options to our cutting and charcuterie boards.  We have been able to add coasters emblazoned with art and logos relating to pop culture.  We have added magnets and keychains which relate to pop culture.

One of the most amazing things that can happen as an artist is when someone finds one of your pieces and connects with it.  I believe that has happened to me twice in 18 months.  In one case the lady buying a charcuterie board said she had no idea who it was for but someone was getting it for Christmas, the other a younger lady beelined to the back of our booth to pick out a breadboard made of purple heart.  In both cases there wasn’t really anything we could have said or done to stop them from buying the piece. It was a pretty amazing compliment and an almost magical experience.

With both CNC and the laser we have the ability to customize most any of our products and have been doing so since the spring.  In some cases these products also walk themselves out of the booth with ease.  It is very nice to be able to provide small coasters with Zia symbols, or roadrunners for people wishing to share and celebrate our culture.  It is also great to make a catch tray with the symbol of someone’s armed service on it. These are usually gifts and it provides the gift giver a way of connecting with their loved one.  It is a lot of fun to provide that for people.

What Makes Personalized Wood Decor Special

All of the above got me wondering about why personalized wood decor resonates so well with people.  I did a little research and came up with a few reasons.

Uniqueness: Some people just love the idea of owning items that are truly unique.  With wood decor this is often and easy task since no single piece of wood looks exactly like any other.  Sure, walnut is always chocolatey brown, and maple is a very light beige color.  But no one else has a charcuterie board with your name and wedding date on it, or your family tree, or maybe your wedding vows.  

It can be quite the eye catching detail to have a welcome sign on your front door with your last name and the names of your family neatly arranged.  Or having a charcuterie board with a funny saying like “if you can read this the party is over” or maybe charcuterie instructions.  Having something else no one else has does not have to be limited to the utlra rich, with current technologies the imagination can run wild with customization and personalizations applied to your decor.

Cherished Gifts: Gift giving is already a very personal process.  So imagine when you can add to that and personalize the gift even more.  A lot of the products that we make are already very specific to certain customers and people.  We buy people things that we know they will enjoy and hopefully use.  But how much more special it can be when we personalize it with their names?

I was recently able to make a bread board for a lady whose husband is addicted to sour dough.  I had some bread artwork in my library and we applied that.  We then borrowed their personal logo which they last used at their wedding and put that discreetly on the loaf.  You might miss it if you visit them but they will be sure to show it to you when you look at the board.  She was so excited to give it to him she said she might not wait for Christmas.

A family monogram, the names of family, a date of an achievement or special event, or just a reprint of Grandma’s favorite recipe.  Theses personalizations can live beyond the item to which they are applied.

Craftsmanship: I am of course biased but I think that the right personalization elevates a piece of wood decor.  Applying a border of flowers and leaves around a charcuterie board makes it look so elegant.  The customization can also set the tone of a piece.  A humorous saying probably isn’t going in the formal dining room nor is a utility cutting board with measurement conversions.  However an average board with quality assembly and finishing can look above average with seasonal decoration for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  A plain charcuterie board showing some wine bottles and glasses in front of a bushel of grapes becomes a wonderful centerpiece of any table.

Emotional Connections: When it comes down to it the personalization does enable an emotional connection. There is a board we did detailing how to barbecue and every other step involves an increasing amount of beer consumption, followed at the end by throwing the charred mess away and ordering Pizza. Who hasn’t burned dinner and ordered Pizza?

As we discussed in gift giving, personalizations amplify the connection between the gift giver and recipient, especially when the personalization details remind you both of a shared experience. And the best part is you get to relive and rekindle that experience with the gift.

Expressing Your Style: Now, more than ever before, we can express our style on most if not all of our possessions.  Some items of the very highest quality need no embellishment but we can embellish nearly anything today: key rings, the tumblers we drink from, the t-shirt we wear, the ball cap with a leather patch proclaiming our loyalty to John Deere tractors or Peterbilt trucks or Duff Beer.  I can wear my Batman T-shirt, or ball cap with a patch depicting the wild chickens on Maui, or the Darth Vader keyring fob I have.  Let’s not even start talking about coffee mugs.

We really like providing you the exact product you are looking for, and we also enjoy making it custom and special just for you.  I am so glad I stumbled upon this aspect of woodworking and that we are able to see and imagine the joy that people receive when they finally get the gifts that we have made.

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1 comment

Thank you for sharing your process. I have bought a few items and you can tell that they are made very well. I need to check out the website and get my Christmas gifts ordered very soon.

Jenny Williams

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