you appreciate the curly maple Shaker-inspired Dresser on the cover
of our June print issue
and wonder where the devil you can get some
figured maple like that to build your own, I was asking myself a
similar question back in February when we were designing the project.
Time was getting short, and I needed a quality source for some
handsome maple in a big-time hurry. I'm still thanking my lucky stars
that C.R. Muterspaw Lumber
in Xenia, Ohio, had just what I needed.
Muterspaw founded his lumber business back in 1999, and he traces
that love for wood all the way back to his ninth-grade shop class.
Chad recalls his first school project: a sassafras dartboard cabinet
that he remembers "sanding on for weeks."
brought it home and Dad put it up. Wouldn't you know it: it didn't
fit a standard-sized dartboard. We looked and looked before we
finally found one to fit it, but I still blame my old shop teacher
for that one," Chad recalls with a smile.
that little setback didn't curb Chad's appreciation for woodworking
or teaching others about it. A fascination with woodworking stuck
with him right through college at the University of Dayton, where he
majored in education. He recalls that while his roommates were
subscribing to sports magazines, Chad would pore over the latest
woodworking publications. His buddies thought he was a little nuts,
but he didn't care.
graduating, Chad taught physical education for a few years in the
Xenia school system, but in his spare time he was still building
furniture for friends and family. The "pull" of woodworking
was strong enough to actually make him consider quitting teaching and
pursuing the craft full-time. But an industrial technology teacher he
knew advised him to consider otherwise. His suggestion: rather than
change careers, just change focus -- go back to school and become
certified to teach industrial education. His dad also cautioned him
to not be too quick about turning a passion into work. Chad took the
hints and, about a year later with certificate in hand, he began
teaching industrial arts at Xenia High School.
been there ever since, teaching as many as six periods of woodworking
and construction classes each day to high schoolers of all ages.
Projects have ranged from shelves to end tables to a series of Thomas
Moser-inspired pieces, all churning out of the school's 40 x 50 ft.
wood shop. Chad says that, while the school has invested in a few new
machines in recent years -- a Grizzly 24-in. planer and a SawStop
table saw -- most of the machinery is vintage Powermatic that
continues to service the need. Muterspaw is proud of the fact that
his chosen teaching specialty does more than just teach kids how to
read a cut list or decipher fractions. "My kids learn critical
thinking skills, and many times I see a lift in their self-esteem by
accomplishing projects. It gets them up and moving during the school
day; for a few kids that are 'on the margins,' industrial education
is the only thing that really keeps them interested in school."
doesn't completely remember what motivated him to consider opening a
lumberyard with an already busy teaching schedule. He admits to
always having wanted to own his own business. Evidently, that impulse
was enough incentive for him to take out a loan from his in-laws a
dozen years ago and invest in that first U-Haul trailer of lumber. "I
knew nothing whatsoever about the lumber business, but I told my wife
Betsy that the worst thing that could happen would be that I couldn't
sell it and would just end up with a big pile of lumber. How bad
could that be for a woodworker?!" She bought that logic
(incredibly, some might say), and the two invested in poplar and oak
to get things started. The inventory has been increasing in variety
and quantity ever since, although it's taken a long time to become
established in what Chad has learned is an incredibly competitive
hardest part about getting a lumberyard going is developing
relationships with wholesalers who will take you seriously when you
are small and just getting going. Many of the suppliers I tried to
deal with early on wouldn't give me a chance or didn't want to create
a new source of competition for their other long-time clientele. A
few just hung up on me ... they could tell right away that I was new
at this, and that's all they needed to hear."
admits that, to this day, his three main wholesalers are
out-of-state, although some of those early naysayer suppliers call
him now and again, trying to earn his business. While he takes those
calls, he hasn't taken them up on the offer yet. Most of his
inventory of more than 13 common and figured domestic species comes
from suppliers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He and Betsy still
drive to their sources to pick up new shipments, but now they buy
about 4,000 board feet at a time. And, when it comes to highly
figured maple, Chad's favorite wood among what he sells, he buys
everything they have on hand.
2004, the couple purchased their current property as a new home base
for the lumberyard and to raise their three young children. Formerly,
it was a house and a single outbuilding. Since that time, and thanks
to the help of family and friends, the Muterspaws have added 30 x
40, 40 x 50 and 40 x 60 ft. outbuildings to the lot. At any given
time, Chad estimates that his total inventory is around 20,000 to
25,000 board feet.
Lumber continues to operate by a decidedly small-business approach.
The couple have no debt related to the business and resist the option
of loaning money in order to expand it. Most of their profits go back
into purchasing more lumber. In the past few years, Chad launched a
website, developed by his brother-in-law and, most recently, he's
added an online store. Incidentally, that online store was what
motivated me to drive down to Xenia in February. I ended up sorting
through many, many stacks of prime curly maple, and Chad obliged to
move skids of it around all afternoon to help me select the boards I
needed for the dresser.
customers are clicking through Muterspaw's website and online store,
too. Chad is shocked at the amount of web traffic and calculates that
"about 40 percent of my business these days is from
out-of-state. It continues to grow. I have months where I sell more
lumber out-of-state than here in Ohio." The company's figured
lumber is what distant customers tend to buy most, although some will
even pay to have poplar and red oak shipped to them many states away.
C.R. Muterspaw is open for business most days after 3 p.m., when the
day's teaching obligations are finished. But, that scenario could
change in the next year. Chad revealed that the school system
discontinued its CAD course last year; next year, traditional
metalworking is on the curriculum's chopping block, along with
woodworking. Muterspaw anticipates that if his position is
eliminated, he may need to resume teaching physical education at the
local elementary school instead. Muterspaw says that low enrollment
numbers in industrial technology courses are the reason for these
program changes. "Instead of asking the question about why those
numbers are low, though, the axe falls on the program; our
administrators don't always address throughly enough what's best for
joke with my customers that when the lumberyard hours change to 9 to
5, they'll know what happened to me." But, Chad will regret the
lost time with kids who are interested in learning about woodworking.
That, and his ability to help them build projects each day.
he's confident that the lumberyard will see the family through
whatever happens over the next year. Betsy continues to work
part-time as a school psychologist, as well as helping out with
Chad's business. Chad's dad helps out some days as well. And that
love of being around wood never gets old for the
teacher-turned-lumberman, who doesn't seem to mind the thought of
spending even more hours in his backyard lumber barns. "I tell
Betsy, when I retire, I'll just spend all day every day building
projects for my kids. From oldest to youngest, one at a time, I'll
just keep building them whatever they need."
even a properly sized dartboard cabinet or two ...