Rockler founder dies at 98
January 4, 2021 | 8:15 am CST
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Norton "Nordy" Rockler founded Minnesota Woodworkers Supply Company in 1954, which evolved into the highly influential Rockler Woodworking and Hardware of today. He died December 28, 2020, at the age of 98.

Norton "Nordy" Rockler, who founded an influential woodworking supply company that eventually took his name, died December 28, 2020. He was 98 years old.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 22, 1922 ("2-22-22!"), Rockler founded Minnesota Woodworkers Supply Company in 1954 as a mail order business based in Minneapolis. That outlet evolved into The Woodworker’s Store when the first retail store was opened in 1977. In the 1960s, the company moved to a new facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Further expansion came in the next decade, as the company moved to Rogers, Minnesota.

Always introducing innovative jigs, tools, and finishing supplies, many of them proprietary, Rockler partnered with legendary furniture maker Sam Maloof to sell two finishing products used by Maloof in an exclusive arrangement.

In 1989, the company launched its own magazine, Today’s Woodworker. In 1998, the company bought Woodworker’s Journal magazine, blending the previous Today’s Woodworker into it.

 In 1996, the company was renamed Rockler Woodworking and Hardware as it continued to expand nationally and internationally, supplying tools, hardware, and other supplies to both professional and amateur woodworkers. By then, it’s catalog was going out to more than 6 million woodworkers and featured more than 4,000 products.

Nordy Rockler was recognized as an innovator in supplying the woodworking community, regularly spotting and capitalizing on new trends in woodworking and furniture making. Company officials and family said he loved developing and selling great products, especially finishing, woodturning supplies, and furniture hardware. He is credited with introducing hobbyists and DIYers to specialty items that formerly were only accessible to professionals. His first catalog included many of the same products the company still carries today.

He and his late wife, Bert, supported many arts organizations and charities. A spokesman said he was committed to doing good in the world with his family, friends, business, community, and others.

The business he started continues to be a family operation through the leadership of his daughter, Ann Rockler Jackson, her children and many employees over the years who have made successful careers at the company.

Nordy Rockler was preceded in death by his wife, Bert Rockler, and son, Gary Rockler. He is survived by daughters, Janie Rockler (Allan Schwartz), Ann Jackson (Robert); grandchildren, Jill Thies (Dan), LiLi Jackson, A/J Jackson; and great-grandchildren Henry and Charlie Thies.

A Zoom funeral service was held Wednesday, December 30, and a Zoom Shiva was held the same day. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the donor's favorite charity or the Norton and Bert Rockler Family Fund at JFCS (Mpls). Arrangements were handled by Hodroff-Epstein Memorial Chapels.

 

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William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.