They’re having a blast

Brent Manley combined his custom sign-making business with his partner Mark Erickson’s door business in 2002 and created Great River Door Co. Based in Brainerd, Minn., the company has a real niche in the residential market with its custom sandblasted doors, especially for log home owners whose front doors have a reputation to live up to.

“We kept seeing these beautiful log homes with metal or fiberglass doors and knew ours were better,” says Manley. “The door gives such a visual first impression and, at the very least, should be in keeping with the rest of the home. When you’ve got a really nice log home or custom home, you need a door that reflects that.”

About two decades ago, one of Erickson’s customers wanted a design on a door. Erickson subcontracted the design and sandblasting to Manley. The project went over well and similar business started to pick up.

Manley and Erickson have three employees and a 4,000-sq.-ft. shop, and make traditional mortise-and-tenon doors. “We generally work with softwoods,” says Manley. “The sandblasting process works best with pine, cedar, fir, redwood, cypress and alder.”

The designs are cut into a rubberized resist material, then sandblasted. Manley says the trick is having enough pressurized air to complete a project. He uses a 130 cfm compressor that allows him to go through one full design in about 45 minutes.

About 90 percent of the work is residential. Manley says the commercial side presents challenges, such as fire code issues. The company produces about 50 orders per year. Wildlife is the most popular decorative theme.

“Right now, elk are just really popular,” adds Manley. “The trees and backgrounds are usually drawn freehand, but for the animals we work off of photographs and clip art that we have accumulated over the years. It’s so important to get the animals right.”

A single panel door sells for about $3,000.