The man behind Veneer Supplies, a soup-to-nuts vendor of both veneer and the tools to handle it, is Joe Gorleski, Jr. It’s impossible to spend much time on his website without discovering its companion website, dedicated not to selling products, but to sharing a ton of information and lessons, all for free. How these sites came about, and in fact how Joe got into woodworking at all, is one of those stories that solidifies one’s faith in fate. As for the erasers, we’ll get to that story later.
“In 1994,” Joe recounted, “I was working for a company repairing jukeboxes and pinball machines. They were doing a building renovation. The contractor was fired in the middle of the job and left behind some tools, including a scroll saw. The owner of the company let me take the scroll saw home. About year later, I drew a pig on a pine board, cut it out with the scroll saw, and fell in love with woodworking right then and there. From then on, woodworking was my hobby, and it eventually became my vocation as well.
“By 1998 I had started the Joe Woodworker website to share my information and ideas about woodworking, and show off some of my projects on the Internet. Later, I got into veneering and added that. After people started emailing asking how I did certain things, I added that information to the website, and it soon became more of a teaching tool than anything else. There are at least 30 articles teaching everything from how to handle veneers to building your own vacuum press.
“That, too, came about because of my own work. I was buying a lot of veneer and decided the vacuum press was the way to go. I could not afford one, so I built my own, then put the instructions up on my website. People started emailing and complaining that they could not always get the parts I was suggesting. To be helpful, I started offering parts people had a hard time finding. Demand swelled, and I needed a method to sell beyond emails, so I set up Veneer Supplies as my ecommerce website.
“At the time, we had veneer stored everywhere: under the couch, under the bed, above the garage. My wife said I would never use all that veneer, and suggested we add that to the website. At first, what we sold was located on one part of the Joe Woodworker website, but as business grew, we separated it to make it easier for search engines to find us. The veneer business grew to the point where we now offer more than 2,000 types of veneers. By 2004, my wife Christine and I left our jobs to devote all our time to our business.
“The two websites really are companions and facilitate one another. Joe Woodworker teaches how to do things with wood and veneer, and Veneer Supplies helps you find and buy what you need to do it. We do have some commercial customers, but mainly we sell to hobby woodworkers. Rather than forcing customers to buy large batches or flitches of fancy veneers, we will sell even a single sheet of the fanciest and most exotic veneers. It’s perfect for the hobby woodworker who wants get into fancy veneering without spending a fortune, but still have access to the rare and beautiful.
“We are still a small company consisting of me, my wife and one helper. That means we can treat our customers personally. Every item we ship out and every invoice we send has either my fingerprints or my wife’s on it. We are personally involved in everything, from handling emails to handling orders. I feel more like I am speaking to friends than customers. I never think about customer service; I see it as one woodworker helping out another.
“Our goal is to get more hobby level woodworkers into veneering. If we do it right, our customers, or rather friends, tell us. When we do it wrong, they also tell us, and we make changes. Our website changes constantly, often in response to comments and suggestions from our customers.”
Oh, yes; I promised to tell you about the erasers. Read Joe’s website carefully enough and you will notice that he mentions being a collector of erasers. You can even peruse some of his collection online. What, you may ask, possessed him to start collecting erasers?
“I started collecting in junior high,” Joe explains. “The class went on a field trip to the aquarium. That day, my mother gave me five dollars to spend. She told me whatever I didn’t spend I had to give back, so I spent it all on the erasers in the gift shop. I bought one of each thing they had, and my eraser collection was born. I currently have over 2,600 novelty erasers.
“It used to be that every store you went into had a display of erasers at the front of the store, but those days are gone. It’s getting harder to find them, especially ones I don’t already have. These days more and more are flat cutouts. I collect true three-dimensional pieces, and they are very hard to find. On the helpful side, I have an army of friends on the lookout for unusual erasers, some of which come from those visiting overseas.”
There you have it: veneers, vacuum presses, tooling, free woodworking advice and an eraser collection. That combination of website items certainly seems interesting enough to be worth a visit.