Black Forest is into the woods
It’s not often that a store can cater to both the customer who thinks nothing of dropping up to $30,000 on a custom-manufactured, solid wood door system for the front entry, and the hobbyist with a 10 spot in search of the perfect block of recycled wood for a carving project.
But it all comes together at the Black Forest Wood Co., where a keen appreciation for the inherent properties of wood is very much a common denominator among everybody who comes through the door.
“To me, there’s not a lot more intimacy that can be created with a piece of wood than by manipulating it with hand tools,” said company president Brad Thomas.
Black Forest carries what’s likely the largest variety of wood in Western Canada, custom manufactures solid wood doors and sells speciality woodworking tools and machines.
The store has a classroom where it conducts woodwork- ing workshops, specializing in woodturning, carving and traditional joinery techniques.
Guest instructors, many highly respected among the woodworking crowd, come to the store from around the world to teach.
Business is evenly split between the custom door end, which is handled by Thomas, and the retail side, which falls under the tutelage of his business partner, Terry Golbeck.
Golbeck’s influence on the business can be seen in the wide variety of woodworking tools the store carries, including special hand chisels in a Northwest Coast native style to suit a particular type of carving, such as for masks and totem poles.
On the wood side, the selection ranges from wood recycled from manufacturing to high-end veneers recycled from the custom aircraft industry.
“There’s a company in the U.S. that hotrods 747’s for Arab sheiks,” Golbeck explained.
The aircraft veneer is commercially flattened and packaged, and can be reused by hobbyists, sports car afficiona- dos to fix up a dashboard or instrument-makers.
Black Forest specializes in woods for instrument-makers, too, especially guitars and violins, and has wood for boatbuilders and canoe-makers.
There are pieces of rare burl and an assortment of funky exotic woods, including boards with zebra-like stripes and another that’s purple.
Smaller pieces of wood are destined for carving or can be used as a base to mount a carving on.
The door side of the business is decidedly more hightech. Black Forest uses a CAD system in designing its highend, custom, solid-wood door systems for the private sector and high-end builders.
The door system is designed into the structure at the very early stages of construction, so rough opening sizes are properly created, Thomas said. That’s important, given the grand scale of some of the doors — the largest Black Forest has completed to date measured 5.1-metres high and 2.7metres wide, and was for a corporate office headquarters in Calgary.
The company will sit down with the homeowner, look at the blueprints for the home, go through the door styles and panel configurations to get a sense of what the customer wants, then produce a computer assisted drawing and a complete custom-designed door for the home, he said.
It’s the type of detail-oriented custom work a lot of people are looking for these days, Thomas said.
“If they’re building a $2-million or $3-million house, they don’t want a door that looks like the door down the street,” he noted.
Thomas started the business in 1993 with two partners and an initial investment on his part of $10,000 — consisting of $5,000 in tools and $5,000 in cash.
At that time, Black Forest was primarily a solid wood door manufacturing facility, and sold a limited amount of wood.
Thomas described it as a “humble beginning,” and one that saw him work without a paycheque for an entire year.
When the two partners lost interest in the business, Thomas bought them out and became the sole owner.
He’d previously met Golbeck through woodworking clubs — an avid carver, Thomas still carves with hand chisels in his spare time, as evidenced by the wooden masks, bowls and figures in his office — and the business itself as Golbeck was a customer at one stage.
The two struck up a friendship and Thomas soon invited Golbeck, then a consulting engineer with a passion for woodturning, to become a partner in the business. It wasn’t a hard sell.
“When I first walked in here, I wasn’t three feet inside the door and thought, ‘Gee I’d like to be an owner of this place,’ ” Golbeck recalled.
The business evolved naturally from there, Thomas said, as Golbeck brought some different ideas to the table that helped build the retail side of the business.
Annual revenue has doubled in the past five years and is in the low millions.
Also, to improve upon the already high-quality of their solid wood door product, the company recently brought in a top-of-the-line computerized piece of machinery that can stile, rail, profile, drill and dowel “with an accuracy that’s unsurpassed and a quality of cut and finish that we have never been able to achieve before,” Thomas said.