Texas twist of fate - Gearing up

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“A guy I know set up a veneer press and then transformed his entire business to working with veneer only. When we had a situation when we needed veneer work done, I’d call on him. But I’m a control freak. If I can’t control the situation, it drives me nuts, and we went through a couple of jobs where I was not in control in that particular end of the project. So, number one, I need to be in control, and number two, that’s money that is not going in my pocket. So I’ve made the investment into a veneer press, and now we do all that work here.

“If a customer calls to bitch about something, and it’s something I don’t have control over, it frustrates the hell out of me.”

The spacious 6,400-sq.-ft. shop contains a variety of machinery. Loper is of the vein that if a procedure can be performed by a machine, and the result is the same quality as if it were produced with hand tools, then he definitely uses the machinery.

“My unofficial motto is if it doesn’t have a motor, we don’t use it. I’ve never been versed in hand tools, and I just like to see our machinery [in use]. Our dovetails are all cut with a router and a dovetail jig.”

His machinery inventory includes a Powermatic table saw, 20" planer and mortiser; Crescent 12" jointer and band saw; Oliver 16" jointer; Rockwell shaper; Woodmaster 50" drum sander; Mini Max duplicating lathe and a well-used forklift.

He buys most of his wood — the majority being quartersawn oak — from Mason’s Mill & Lumber in Houston.

Gearing up
These days Loper is working in the shop more than he’s used to; training his new employee until he can get to the point where he feels comfortable leaving him alone. But he hasn’t reached that level yet.

“Once again, if I’m not producing, I’m not making any money. The new guy can’t do it at this point. He’s a good assistant; it’s just going to take probably six months to a year to get him trained.”

El Dorado Woodworks recently landed a large millwork job for a 1930s Prairie-style house.

“The Prairie style is one of the prevalent styles from the Arts and Crafts period and we’re going to do all of the built-in cabinets and trim work in the two-story house, and it’s all going to be in a Frank Lloyd Wright style,” he explains. “With that job and all the furniture [orders] we have in-house, we’re busy for the next 12 months. This house would be about a six-month job. Every room has built-in cabinets, and we’re going to build them here in the shop.”

Loper’s passion for the Arts and Crafts style will always remain; there are no drastic design or career changes on the horizon in terms of his woodworking career, nor are any expected. He is fully aware of how tough the road was to reach the level of success he has achieved, and he is equally aware what he needs to do to remain as a top furniture maker.

“You have to learn to be poor for a long time, establish yourself, have a good product and stand behind your product,” Loper says. “And also learn how to run a business. It probably took me at least eight years to get over the hump where I was living more comfortably, plus I had my photography career back then to help pay the bills. I’d say after eight years things started to turn around.”

Finally, what about El Dorado Woodworks? What’s behind the name of the business?

“El Dorado means the golden or the gold, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my business at all. There was one guy I knew who was my designer, he did my logo for me, corporate identity. We were going to get together for lunch one day and talk about names, and as I drove up in my 1974 El Dorado convertible, he goes, ‘This is it — El Dorado Woodworks.’ ”

Contact: El Dorado Woodworks, 3603 Polk St., Houston, TX 77003. Tel: 713-529-3880. www.eldoradowoodworks.com