We had the good fortune of connecting with Dave Stencil and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dave, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
To be honest, this entire ride has been all serendipity! I wasn’t a woodworker, I was a graphic designer. I started with an idea for a silly zombie cutting board kickstarter campaign that luckily funded at over 700%, buying me my first laser.. the thought at that point, is maybe this side hustle could pay my car payment every month? I never thought past that point at first. Having the laser in house warranted the need for my own drum sander, and then my own table saw, and then my own bandsaw, so the shop rather quickly built out due to necessity. Then, as i got everything together, I think i had my first real viral moment online, and my thought maybe moved up to perhaps this can do $1,000 a month? Shortly after, i had to rent space for my own shop, and the viral attention persisted. I was featured in food x wine, george takei, dude i want that, the awesomer.. you name the blog, I was probably there. At that point, my focus was on much more than side income, and more on building out my workspace, tools, and abilities. During this time, I actually had a pretty comfortable ride through the evolution of my woodworking, design, and technical capabilities. Each product led to the next, but each one also took me one step further into a full fledged business. I never approached this with some “take over the world, i’ll have X number of employees within 3 years” sort of plan since i was still working full time during a majority of this growth, but really, the scope of it was slowly expanding and skill, ideas, and opportunities slowly rolled out, and continue to do so.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I actually started out as an engineer in college at UW Madison, and ended up with an Art degree with Graphic Design Emphasis. Professionally, I spent several years doing graphic design and press production. The ability to put everything together graphically has been such a leg up when it comes to designing wood products and decor. I’ve also spent many years working as a contractor, which has also exercised my engineer side. Figuring angles, and the physical ways things go together has given me technical skills for assembling wood products. Altogether, its made a great combination for woodwork, because I can combine creativity and design with technical skills. A huge part of me and my line of creations is my sense of humor. My favorite part of what I do is being able to apply silly dad humor with quality wood products. I think the best thing I can advise, is to always stay creative, and always practice what you do! I write down my creative ideas into a folder in my phone, and the thought is, if I write a LOT, maybe a small percent of it will be good ideas. I don’t want to be trapped into one product, (which always gets knocked off anyway). So, it’s my approach to constantly get better with what I do, and stay ahead of crowd creatively. Ultimately, I’m able to do things that are complex enough that knockoffs are more difficult, and I’ve certainly reached a level where my portfolio and sales volume ensures a delivery of quality. In the last few years, my products have focused a lot on reclaimed wood. Rather than tossing the trim off my cutting boards, I recycle it into new items. I also reclaim lots of wood from landfill bound furniture I typically get off craigslist for free. I hate to see waste, and I love the character a piece of wood has when it has some scratches, nail holes, or patina earned with age. In fact, my best seller wood book coasters have been made exclusively from reclaimed wood since 2018!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love San Diego and moved here when I was 23. Some of my favorite things here… If you want to go for a walk, the boardwalk in PB/mission beach or the bay is great. Downtown during Comicon is fantastic. The embarcadero is a great walk. Hiking Cowles or any of the trails you’ll typically see in eastern san diego is fun, and laguna mountains are a fun visit. I also love balboa park, especially around dusk/evening. If you want to eat, Little Italy is packed with good stuff, and especially fun during their farmers market. I love the Fish shop, wings at Dirty Birds, and burgers from Rocky’s. Many of my other favorite places have actually gone out of business in the last few years sadly. There’s so many brew pubs around, and I love the Liberty Station Market for a great variety of food. If you want a drink, (i dont want to blow this place up), but i love the Top of the Hyatt downtown. Its never crammed, and a great high up spot to pop in. Breweries like stone, society, etc are fun to visit. Shoreside places like Lahainas, shore club, Dukes or Georges are always great for a sunset drink. If you want some action, The zoo, seaworld, and petco are fun. Try out surfing, scuba dive if you can. Theres a lot of boat charters if youd like to do some fishing, or just ride on a sailboat during sunset. San diego is all about outside, which is why we only allow it to be sunny 😉 The best thing about San Diego, is that there is something everywhere. I’d always base a friend’s visit on where they want to hang out and we can find the best stuff to do there.. Downtown? Del Mar? North Park? PB? Point Loma? Hillcrest? They all have their own thing and no shortage of fun stuff to do, and it seems like everything is no more than 15 min away! I really hope all these great places can weather the Covid storm, because it hasnt been favorable to most of them.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I never would have gotten started if I wasnt a member at Makerplace, a shared space workshop (now out of business). They gave me a place to play with tools and learn a thing or two about woodworking, lasers, etc. If fact, I sort of see my own shop as a mini, private version of that. Kickstarter also deserves some praise because it worked! If i didnt succeed there, I probably never would have committed more to designing new products.