Imaginative Furniture Created with Evocative Veneers & Finishes

Budding shop owners in Clearwater, FL, veneered their way into the hearts of designers with their creative furniture pieces that boast lasting finishes.

By Lisa Whitcomb

     
Buck Wyllie Woodworking Inc.

Clearwater, FL

www.buckwyllie.com

Year Founded: 2001

Employees: 3 full-time

Wood Shop Size: 2,000 square feet

Finishing Shop Size: 4,000 square feet with 200 square feet of this space devoted to a new showroom.

FYI: In January, 2002 the owners rented another facility and began a second business that caters to finishing processes only.

 
   
     

When Buck Wyllie Woodworking’s owners, Leslie Buckman and Brian Wyllie of Clearwater, FL, met at their previous job, it was creative destiny.

Wyllie, who is currently 28 years old, and originally an airbrush artist, was hired straight out of college to paint freelance for a company called Effects International, which created sets for WWF wrestling. Since Wyllie wanted to be available to paint for Effects whenever they needed him, he also worked at Black Dog Woodworking, located in the same building, where he learned the basics of woodworking by building commercial displays. He eventually was hired as a full-time painter at Effects. The company was bought out soon after by another firm, Creative Arts, which is a company that builds store fixtures and other creative displays.

In the meantime, Buckman was very involved in building sets for plays during her high school years and received a scholarship from Creative Arts. After graduation she went to work for the company, first as a furniture builder and then as a finisher. While working for Creative Arts, she met Wyllie and they worked on a lot of finishing projects together.

It was not long before the two developed a relationship and knew that they wanted to go into business together. “After a while we decided that we wanted to do something else. We wanted to take a risk,” Wyllie recalls. ““At the time I was building furniture on the side, so we decided to go into woodworking.”

The two were so committed to the notion that they began setting aside money for the venture. Buckman left her job and got a part-time waitressing position. Two months later Wyllie left his job, and they both jumped into the new business, no holds barred. “We did not know what we were going into,” says 22-year-old Buckman.

“Things got pretty rough for awhile, “ she adds. “I moved in with Brian to save on rent money because he owned his own home. When we still did not have enough capital [for the business], we ended up selling all of our furniture and then decided to put his house up for rent and move into the shop to cut down on our expenses.” At the time there was only a platform, so walls had to be added and plumbing had to be modified. That was a year ago.

       
 
The diamond pattern on this jewelry chest is the shop’s design “trademark.” Buckman says that Wyllie tries to incorporate it into every piece when possible.  
       

Reinvestments Lead to Eventual Growth

Today the two are debt-free and are eagerly awaiting termination of Wyllie’s home’s lease in February, when he and Buckman anticipate moving back in. The shop’s first year of business grossed $105,000. “We got some really good work from interior designers and things have really taken off,” says Buckman.

However, she knows that the road to business ownership is not an easy one. “It has really been a lifestyle change and not just a job because of the crazy hours that we had to work, including weekends, she says. “We still work a lot of hours because we want to be known for our creativity and not just as a basic wood shop.” Buckman also notes that when a woodworking couple has to live in the shop the way they did, there is just no getting away from it (or each other), and that can be stressful.

That is why Wyllie and Buckman would occasionally treat themselves to one nice night at a good hotel or spa. “We like to go occasionally to break up the monotony and treat ourselves to a little bit of luxury — because there isn’t any here,” Wyllie says.

By living so frugally, Buckman and Wyllie reinvested all of their profits back into the company. They hired three full-time employees to help with the project load. There was even enough capital left to begin another business venture in the same industrial plaza — Buck Wyllie Finishing, a shop marketing finishing services to other cabinet shops and furniture makers in the area. With the addition of this new business, Buckman and Wyllie expect to gross $250,000 to $300,000 this year,” Wyllie says.

Buckman says the hardest thing she has found in starting up new businesses is having to learn how to manage money and people. “I had to really cram my head and learn how to run the businesses efficiently, because we don’t have a lot of money to spend,” she says. Aside from hiring a professional accountant, Buckman does all of the marketing, project tracking and minor bookkeeping, as well as managing the employees. She also manages the finishing company and finishes furniture pieces when she has time.

     
 
This dresser’s creative base design is achieved by mixing different maple wood grain directions. The top is a solid piece of mahogany.  
     

Wyllie is in charge of designing and building furniture pieces. “I am more book smart and Brian is more creative, so our strengths and weaknesses balance each other out quite well,” says Buckman with a smile.

Finishing Becomes a Promising Niche

Since opening Buck Wyllie Woodworking, Wyllie has focused on mastering his veneering techniques and creating unique grain patterns. “Our signature is a diamond veneer pattern that we try to incorporate in most of our pieces. It looks like a diamond inside of a box,” he says. The “diamond“ grains converge in the center of the shape and the “box” grains span outward in the opposite direction, making for a spectacular visual piece. The most requested veneer species are cherry and curly maple, but wenge, mahogany and other exotics are gaining in popularity, Wyllie says.

Wyllie has had furniture orders for such pieces as entertainment centers, libraries, desks, tables and file cabinets. He also offers a unique jewelry chest that he designed. It stands tall with flowing curves and has an oval mirror inset into one of the curves. He adds that many of the entertainment centers he fabricates are for master bedroom suites and cost, on average, $9,000 to $15,000.

He lays up veneers on 1/8-in. bending ply with Titebond glue and presses them with a VacuPress veneer bagging system. Other machinery utilized in the shop includes a 10-inch Delta Unisaw table saw, an 8-inch Powermatic joiner, a 15-inch Jet planer and a 10-inch Hitachi slide/miter saw. The shop uses full-extension Hafele undermount slides for all of its drawer applications. European-style face-frame hinges are purchased from Blum and Salice.

While most work is in veneer, the shop occasionally works with laminates from Chemetal, Pionite, Formica and Wilsonart. “We have an ongoing order to make black laminated pedestals for an art glass blower,” Buckman says. “It is a steady source of income for us and it gets our name out there.”

Buck Wyllie also concentrates much of its efforts on producing furniture with curves. Wyllie says that creating radiused pieces is what makes the shop stand out against its competitors, in addition to the high-quality finishes it offers.

Some of its finishing specialties include distressing, glazing, toning, crackling, staining, clear coating and painting with automotive finishes.

     
 
This living area entertainment center is veneered with cherry. The columns are veneered in curly maple and dentil moulding is gold leafed and glazed.  
     

Finishing is done either in the shop’s custom spray booth or in its new 20-foot-long by 20-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall Binks spray booth. The shop uses M.L. Campbell stains and Chemcraft’s opaque lacquers.

Both Buckman and Wyllie learned and mastered their finishing techniques from their previous employer. “When I worked at Creative Arts, I learned to spray metallics, polyesters, gel coats and work with other kinds of finishes. I was able to learn a lot about the finishing process by working with the different finishes,” Wyllie says.

“There is not one area in woodworking where we lack experience between us. I like to bring creativity to a project. I have the technological know-how to produce a custom piece of veneered furniture, and we both have the experience to make different finishes,” he adds.

Both believe that the future looks bright, with one foothold in the finishing sector and the other in custom woodworking. “It seems like people in general are moving more towards using wood these days,” says Buckman. “They want to get back to a more natural product. More and more people want solid wood or veneers, and the market is changing to meet this demand.”

“It is weird how things have worked out,” reflects Wyllie. “I only took up woodworking to get an airbrush job, and now I have opened up my own woodworking business.”

Buckman adds that she and Wyllie do not intend on growing the shop too big. “The business is like a machine that we have put in motion. From here on out we are going to be tending to what we have created and develop its capabilities.”

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