When Ralph Benson retired, he took up woodworking as a hobby. Then, when a chain woodworking retailer closed, he decided to open up his own store selling woodworking supplies and teaching woodworking classes.
“I felt the community needed a store like this,” he says.
His store, which opened in February 2010, is called The Woodworking Source. It’s located off Virginia Street in south Reno, but the sign is visible from US 395, which Benson credits with as a big source for walk-in traffic. The store sells tools and supplies for small-scale woodworking projects, creating clocks, bowls, jewelry boxes, pens and toys, among other things. Benson says their target customers are people who make things for the love of doing it, not contractors who buy in bulk.
“I love the medium,” says Benson. “Look at some of these pieces of wood. This is nature. It’s beautiful. It’s not manmade. … A lot of us here are wood junkies. We really admire the beauty of what happened naturally. And no two pieces of wood are the same.”
The Woodworking Source conducts classes five or six days a week on subjects like “Woodturning,” “Scroll saw basics,” and “Cabinet making.” The instructors, like Jeanette Cleaves and Peter DeBay, are people who share Benson’s love for woodworking.
“The only people we hire are people who actually are woodworkers, so they know the answers,” says Benson. “And if they don’t know, they call one of the rest of us.”
He says that there goal is not sell customers a set of bowls, but rather to sell them the tools and the knowledge that they can then use to create their own custom set of bowls.
Every Saturday, the Woodworking Source presents free demonstrations beginning at 10 a.m., and three or four times a year they present a “bash,” a free barbecue, with free seminars and demonstrations, and raffle prizes. The next bash is Sept. 14.
They sell kits to make things like bottle stoppers, ice cream scoops, cheese knives, razors and more. There’s also woodcarving equipment, measurement tools, finishes and stains, dust collection and safety equipment. Benson says that whenever possible he tries to stock American made products from family-owned businesses. He also buys woods from a variety of sources, often in Oregon and California.
He employs three full-time, and four part-time employees. Most of the classes are $50 to $180, depending on the time and materials used. The classes are small in size, usually restricted to just six or seven people or as few as four, depending on the class. They offer discounted family classes between Christmas and New Year’s, and they partner with different churches every year to create unique toys for charity.
Students and customers range from young people just getting into woodworking to retirees rediscovering it for the first time in years
“Some of them are retiring, and they took shop when they were kids but haven’t touched anything since, but [they] think it would be fun,” says Benson.
He says that many of their students go on to sell their handmade objects at craft shows and on websites like Etsy, but that there’s a positive reaction even among the students who just take the classes for fun.
“We offer them the option to fill out a critique sheet after a class,” says Benson. “I’ve wondered if I needed to change the scale because almost everything comes out all fives.”