From Teaching Wood Shop to Owning a Wood Shop
A former industrial arts teacher uses his woodworking and metalworking knowledge to take on a variety of jobs.
By Sam Gazdziak
The Woodwork Shop of Ft. Worth, TX, has a reputation for being flexible. It can remodel an entire house or build a single piece of furniture. Owner Martin Grunow can make custom hardware or turn a piece of wood on a home-built lathe. It’s that kind of versatility that has kept the company busy with work from local contractors.
“We’ve done everything,” Grunow explains. “I started out mainly in construction, but then I started building small pieces of furniture here and there. One thing that has kept me in this one contractor’s employ is the ability to do all sorts of different things. He comes up with a problem, and we’ve always been able to solve it.”
Grunow started his woodworking career as an industrial arts shop teacher covering woodworking, metalworking and plastics. After earning a degree in Industrial Technology at Texas A&M, he started The Woodwork Shop in 1985. His first project was a remodel of his mother’s historic house. He did almost all the work on the house, which attracted the interest of local contractors. He has since added two employees, and the company has stayed busy since then. Its output runs the woodworking gamut, from windows and doors to millwork, furniture and cabinets.
The company does many reproduction pieces, particularly pieces that need antique hardware. “I have a machine shop to support my woodworking habit, complete with a forge,” Grunow says. He has a 1,200-square-foot garage at his house to build all the hardware pieces he needs. “It’s expensive to do one-offs and very short production runs. But when you’re on a job and someone asks if you can do something and you say, ‘Yes,’ it makes a difference.”
Grunow’s custom hardware-making abilities have helped him with numerous jobs, including one where The Woodwork Shop had to make 12 outswing casement windows in quartered white oak. He needed to recreate the window crank hardware that the customer had seen in a 1928 Rickson catalog. “They were made of ‘unobtanium,’” Grunow jokes. “Nowhere in the world did anybody have them, so I did the machine work and put the product together.”
Creating the perfect wood shop (again)
Grunow says he had rebuilt three shops for the public schools of Ft. Worth when he was a teacher, so he knew exactly what layout he wanted. Raw material enters the back of the shop and is kept on shelves mounted on the walls. One side of the shop is for lumber storage and rough planing, while the other is for cutting, sanding and assembly.
Adding more machinery was another benefit to moving into a larger space. The Woodwork Shop bought an SCMI sliding table saw and a radial arm saw through Ameritek Machinery of Dallas, TX, in 2001. Then four months ago, in the new shop, Grunow bought an SCMI sander and a 24-inch planer, also through Ameritek.
“Those were the four big-ticket items,” Grunow says. “I figured that was what we really needed to launch us into being able to produce stuff in a fast manner.”
The new machinery joins several existing pieces, including a Powermatic single-end tenoner from the 1960s, a Williams & Hussey moulder and a 36-inch scroll saw from Yates American. Grunow also built a turning and copy lathe from scratch. With it, he can do everything from one spiral turn every 6 inches to a spiral turn every 8 feet. “I built this back in 1987. It’s built from bits and pieces from other machines and put together on a platform,” he says.
With the expanded space, Grunow says he hopes to get more private customers. “Before, there was no reason to advertise, because we were completely swamped [with work from contractors],” he says. “Now we have production capability, and we’re starting to look for more work.”
Grunow and his employees are able to turn a job around in a matter of weeks now, depending on the size of the project. A single piece of furniture can be done in two weeks, while a large set of cabinets can be done in five weeks.
The company shares the shop with Lindsey Wilkes, who does custom glasswork. Wilkes adds custom stained or etched glass to some of The Woodwork Shop’s pieces, and when things get really busy, he lends a hand with the woodworking.
“We have a really high-skilled employee force,” Grunow says of Borkes and Kramer. “I can’t do without those two guys. I just get them going and turn them loose out in the shop.”
Grunow does all the designing by hand, and he says he does his best work when customers come to him with pictures or sketches of what they want. “I like being able to work with other people’s ideas and make a finished product that works,” he says. “That’s what really gets my juices flowing.”
One piece that he designed recently was a hutch that featured an inlay pattern the customer had found in an old marquetry flooring catalog. Grunow resized the pattern to fit the hutch. The interlocking design repeats throughout the piece and is hand-carved into the hutch, inlaid into the drawers and included in the stained-glass windows made by Wilkes. The drawer inlay uses walnut crotch, mesquite, ribbon-striped maple and purpleheart. All the individual pieces were glued together and sandwiched between two maple drawer backs. The whole block was resawn in half, so the drawers matched perfectly.
Grunow says he would like to do more furniture, but the millwork projects take the most time and make up the bulk of his yearly sales, which range around $250,000.
It is common for the company to build a batch of custom doors or windows for residences, with some having arched tops or cutouts for specialty glass work. The Woodwork Shop’s millwork projects have also included historical renovations on two Dallas homes, entry doors and a staircase for a storage company and two 22-foot-tall columns for a residence.
“We do whatever work walks in the door,” Grunow says. “But we have the flexibility to do that.”
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