Randy Drysdale wanted to make a unique gift for his brothers-in-law. Something that wasn’t mass-produced. Something that couldn’t be bought off the shelves at Walmart, where he works.
Despite not having much woodworking experience – “I took some woodworking classes in junior high and had a little bit of experience with a lathe in junior high, but nothing really,” he said – he went to work on hand-crafted, cigar-box guitars. That sparked something in Drysdale, who has spent the past four or five years making everything from pens and bottle stoppers to clocks, wooden signs and toy cars in the shop he set up in the garage of his Tooele home.
This originally was just a hobby and it’s just grown,” said Drysdale, who started off with a straight saw and a band saw and has since seen his collection of tools grow. “A lot of the time, this is like my stress reliever after a normal day. On my days off, I’m good if I can spend three or four hours [in the shop]. I spend no more than about 10 hours a week.”
Drysdale started off just doing the cigar-box guitars, but eventually was encouraged by his brother-in-law to start “turning” – putting a block of wood on a lathe and carving it into a pen, a bottle stopper or the handle of an ice-cream scoop.
“My brother-in-law says when you put a piece of wood on the lathe, you have an idea of what you want it to look like, but half the time, something happens where you get a catch in the wood, something changes or you mis-cut a little bit,” Drysdale said. “So you never know what that piece is going to look like until you’re completely finished with it.
A bottle stopper can take him an hour to make, while more ornate, detail-oriented projects like a guitar will take weeks, he said.
“There’s a lot of finishing and a lot of shaping on the guitars to do,” Drysdale said.
Drysdale was encouraged to start displaying and selling his work at local craft shows and boutiques, as well as at events like Stockton Days, by friend and fellow crafter Rebecca Lee. A lot of his sales also come via word-of-mouth from friends and family. He also helps other crafters by creating elements that they can add to their own work.
When Drysdale is getting ready for a craft show, he said it can be difficult to figure out how much of each item to make.
“A lot of this stuff is stuff that I’ll do on my own and just say, ‘this’ll be a good item, they might like it,’” he said. ‘Sometimes it works really good and sometimes you don’t really sell it at all. Sometimes it’s a gamble.’
It can become particularly difficult around the holidays, when he’s trying to work ahead to make sure he has enough product to sell. He said he begins working on Christmas ornaments in September in an attempt to keep up with the demand.
“A lot of times, when the holidays get closer, it does feel like a part-time job,” he said. “You try to get everything built up, but you can never plan. Something you have no idea if people are going to want, they’re going to go crazy for. I had a layered ornament – a Nativity one I only made 10 of them to begin with, and I told my wife to tell people that she knew that they could buy them. Her cousin wanted 20 of them. Between her and selling them through shows, I’ve sold 30 or 40 of them over the holidays. Then, I could mass-produce something and think, ‘people are going to love this,’ and it just sits there. You can never tell.”
Toy cars are also popular items, Drysdale said. Most craft shows don’t have many products aimed at children, and Drysdale prices his cars between $5 and $10 to draw them in. Once their parents buy a car for their child, many of them come back for another car the next year, he said.
“Just knowing that somebody likes something enough that they’re willing to pay money to have a piece of it [is rewarding],” Drysdale said. “There’s people at work that will come up to me that bought a pen and they’ll say they’re still using it or that they love the pen. My wife has a lot of Facebook friends, and that’s a big part of my sales. She’ll tell me how much her friend likes the pen or the seam ripper I made for them. That’s probably the most rewarding thing.”
Drysdale also enjoys supporting and being a part of Tooele County’s small-business community through participating in craft shows. He hopes that local residents continue to support him and his fellow crafters.
“Even if it’s not through me, I like people to buy local,” he said. “Shop small businesses. Even though I work for a big-box store, I like that people still want to shop and spend money on something hand-crafted.”
Drysdale’s work can be seen on his Facebook page, Bear Claw Workshop.