This is the first "Meet our Makers" article, featuring Split Woodworks, a family owned company from Greenville, SC. Starting out making baseballs, they are now a well established business. If you have been to the Magnolia store in Waco, you have seen their lovely rolling pins used in the bakery! Following interview is with Daniel.
You have a family business, and I was fortunate enough to meet the family at a vendor fair. Can you tell us a little about the roles individual family members perform?
- Of course. I love working with my family and I honestly don’t think we would've taken this business as far as we did without each other. They push me to be the best I can be in every aspect of the business. We’ve still got a lot to accomplish together, but I love having everyone involved.
There’s six of us in my family. Mom (Tina) and Dad (Jason), my older sister Kathleen, then me, my younger brother Matthew, and the youngest Rebekah. I do the turning and the shaping of most of our products, but the whole family helps each other with any prep work and finish work. Which is great, cause I didn't even realize how crucial the prep work and finishing steps were until we decided to branch out into some finer looking pieces, and I’m so glad that it’s not just me doing it all. Mom picks out all of the coloring of our pieces. From natural wood, to anything painted, she's calling the shots on those and I think she’s the best one for that job. She’s always had an eye for matching colors. Both of my sisters and my Mom handle a lot of the finish on our kitchenware and the distressing of anything that’s painted. They come up with a lot of the ideas and aesthetic of our pieces, and I think they are killer at it. I call my Dad my “math man”; he is a professional engineer by trade, and he plots out a lot of the cutting and shaping for us. Which is a huge time saver and safety factor for us, cause I’ve learned a lot of “what not-to-do’s” on my own by hurting myself in various ways from working with wood, but we’ve always leaned on him to keep us safe. My brother is my main shop help. Him and I are the two who are mostly in the garage setting up and running the tools. Matthew and Kathleen also take a good number of our photos for us, and that’s a huge help for the marketing side of things and it really puts our followers into our shop with us.
You started your business as a baseball-bat making hobby. So which came first, the love of sports or the love of woodworking?
- For me the love of baseball came first. I had never even imagined working with wood for my career as a kid growing up, which is so crazy to think about today because it’s so prominent in my family’s day to day life. I played 13 seasons of baseball up through the end of high school. I actually had a couple of opportunities to continue playing in college, but I felt that setting up a career was where I needed to be, and I don't regret that decision at all. I started working with wood and making baseball bats at the beginning of my senior year in high school which was only 2 years ago, and since then I have loved every minute of it. But out of the two, baseball definitely came first. My whole family loves baseball and we all have played a part in whatever team we’re a part of at the time.
What is the most treasured piece you have ever made as a woodworker?
- That is super tough question, but also an easy one at the same time. When I was first learning how to turn bats, I had a friend, an older gentleman who was spending a lot of his time investing into me to go to college. Mr. Sautter was his name, and I had known him for a handful of years up into this time. Mr. Sautter lived alone, his children had moved away to other states, and his wife passed away just before we met. Him and I got to talking about baseball in one of our first conversations together and ever since then we had always talked stats and historical facts about the game. Closer to the end of my junior year, Mr. Sautter had been diagnosed with cancer. That was tough, especially because of how close we had grown as friends. During some of his earlier stages of chemo therapy, I had a bat made for him with his name on it. As time went on, his health continued to decline, and he passed away around March of 2016. When we went to his funeral, his family had come up to us to meet us. They told us that while he was in hospice care, he sent one of his children home to grab the baseball bat that sits beside his chair at home and bring it to him there. They told us it was the bat that we gave him with his name on it. That story had such a huge impact on me. Just to know that I made something that meant so much to someone was so humbling. That is what I consider the most treasured piece I made.
So tell us about how you connected with Magnolia Market in Waco?
- That is another crazy story, but I’ll keep this one short. My mom and my sisters found out about the bakery (Silos Baking Co.) opening up and we all joked about “what if we actually got to work with them.” Then about a day or so after that, I figured I’d take a shot at it and send customer service an email offering up some products. I checked my inbox a few days after that and some of Magnolia’s buyers had responded and requested samples of our work. We were blown away. From there we went into a design process and the rest is history. They are such a great company, everyone who works at Magnolia is so kind and professional. Being able to work with them has been such a blessing to our company.
Take us through a typical workday.
- A typical workday never looks exactly the same here. We’re always doing something brand new, and it’s super exciting to be in an environment like that. Sometimes we’re in the shop cranking out boards and turnings, other days we’re meeting with some of our contractors or clients. We are always on the lookout to make something new, so somedays are spent researching and designing. It’s always refreshing to be mobile in a workday.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
- I spend a lot of my time outside of work playing sports or music. All of my siblings play or have played a sport so we all get together and play games like volleyball and such. My brother still plays baseball and I am one of the coaches for his team along with my father. I attend North Greenville University as a full time student, so I spend a decent amount of time outside of work there. I also just like to invest time into people and be involved in their lives, and to hear their stories and be a friend.
What do you love best about being an entrepreneur?
- Definitely the people that you get to meet when being an entrepreneur. I have met so many very talented people along the way of building this. Everyone that is involved in making a business work has been so encouraging and inspiring to me and my family.
Can you tell us about any new products that might currently be in the works?
- Totally. We are always coming up with something new. But we have our fingers crossed that by summer 2018 we’ll have a couple of furniture items to add to our catalog. Nothing fancy, but we have been discussing very intently about getting a line of furniture in the works. It may not come exactly as we plan it time-wise, but we are heading in that direction without a doubt.