Wood-turning business born as Arctic hobby thrives on Kenai Peninsula

perbinder Avatar

Among the grocery stores, gas stations and fishing tackle shops along Sterling Highway in Soldotna is a 5-foot-2-inch-tall handmade wooden bowl that signals your arrival at Three Guys No Wood. More than 500 bowls are made here each year, and these days the owner even considers the business “profitable.”

“It’s paid for itself,” said Paul Johnson, dressed in a forest-green overalls. “I have zeros in both columns.” His wife, Shanna Johnson, added that not being in the red is a good improvement and “a new thing.”

The couple have promoted their home “in a variety of ways,” but say their most effective marketing tool, aside from word of mouth, has been the oversized bowl, which took three weeks to build and is now located at the 100-mile mark on the highway. They say the bowl “piques people’s interest” among tourists and locals alike.

“Most of our businesses open in the summer when tourists come, so we will have more visitors, but people are coming from all over the world, they’re from Germany, Australia, the UK, all kinds of countries,” Paul Johnson said.

Three Guys No Wood opened in Soldotna four summers ago, but it’s come a long way geographically: The idea was hatched in Barrow, an Arctic community where the Johnsons lived and worked as teachers.

Paul Johnson says the wood-turning hobby started as a “boys’ Saturday club.” And it was a bit of a big undertaking. “We had to ship all the materials. The nearest wood was 800 miles away,” Johnson said. The North Slope climate also wasn’t conducive to imported lumber. “After you’d left it out there for a while and the humidity dropped to one percent, it was like turning concrete.”

And that’s where the name comes from: According to Paul Johnson, they were three or four guys with a passion for a hobby that wasn’t suited to the harsh Arctic climate.

These days, the shop is open six days a week in the summer, when fish and tourists drive the local economy. During the school year, hours are limited to Saturdays when the Johnsons are full-time teachers. Operating out of a former model log cabin, the “three guys” sell their working art and teach wood-turning skills to Alaskans and tourists alike.

This year, through the end of July, 27 woodturning classes had been held in classrooms and workshops across the Kenai Peninsula, with some classes having just one student and others having as many as six.

At first, Paul wanted to open a restaurant, but she nixed the idea, Shanna said, but then he decided to open a bowl place.

“I told my wife it would cost less to buy the timber because we wouldn’t be transporting it (to Barrow), but she didn’t know I would end up buying 10 times as much,” he said.

On this particular Friday, three Alaskans were hard at work, wearing the same forest green jackets as their instructor. All three were taking a basic-level wood-turning class, using aged green Alaskan birch.

Rose Marie Daly, 74, sighed, the sound drowning out the whirring of machines in her workshop. “He wouldn’t let me do it on the left side,” Ms. Daly said.

“There’s no such thing as a left-handed person,” Paul Johnson replied with a laugh.

“I know, I know,” she said.

Dailey, a Homer resident, was on the trip with her husband, Dave Dailey, who was “really keen” to learn woodworking techniques.

“This is just something on my bucket list,” said Dave Daly, staring intently into his bowl as he spoke. “Maybe one day I’ll want to do it. I’m getting older, so I need to do these things before it’s too late.”

The small but friendly class, which paid $75 each for a half-day experience, started making bowls at 9 a.m. and finished for the day around 12:30 p.m. But they still had homework to do: They had to let the bowls dry slowly, wrapped in plastic wrap, while they applied more coats of finish paint.

Paul Johnson says all the bowls made at the workshop are “100%” food-safe, and the oils in foods like popcorn, potato chips and nuts are actually good for the wood.

“Oh, you can take it to the movies!” Rose Marie Daly said. “You can bring a bowl to the movies and they’ll fill your bowl with drinks for a certain fee, no matter how big or small the bowl is.”

The log cabin-turned-woodworking shop is Paul Johnson’s “personal Zen box,” and he says it will be his full-time job once he’s able to retire from teaching in a few years. For now, nurturing young minds and teaching his craft is just too much to juggle all at once.

“It’s going to be exhausting,” he said.

Johnson said he just wants to enjoy his business and this is just a retirement plan to go a little greener.

“Coming from a machine shop background, I always felt very confined to the XYZ axis. With wood turning, you can use all the same principles,” he says, “but you have the freedom to move the wood and the tool in any direction you want.”

Source link

perbinder Avatar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Author Profile

John Doe

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam.


There’s no content to show here yet.