Colemans turn puzzling hobby into business
Published 6:33 pm Friday, December 9, 2016
Think “Coleman” in these parts and you’ll likely think “Realty.” Coleman Realty is a business fixture in downtown Greenville with Connie and Mark Coleman’s faces smiling down from billboards around town.
What you might not know is there is a passion for woodworking among the Coleman men.
It’s an interest that has passed down through the generations, says Mark.
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“My grandfather was a doctor in Fort Deposit, but he also loved woodworking, too, and did a lot of carpentry. My brother Toby makes furniture and has a frame making business, Shadow Catchers. I guess it just runs in the family,” he says.
Mark and his son Andy, who lives in Trussville, have been collaborating for more than a year now on puzzles crafted from a variety of woods from around the world, everything from cherry and pine to Baltic burch and African mahogany. The pieces range from simple designs for children, painted in bright primary colors, to much more intricate puzzles perfect for a special spot on a office desk or on display at home.
“We started out taking family photos, wedding pictures, things like that, and turned them into jigsaw puzzles. And then we decided to take it further,” explains Andy.
Mark has a workshop on their property where he puts the skills he’s developed with his scroll saw to good use.
“The first pieces we did were just tests to learn how to control the saw,” Mark explains. “I remember that first design seemed so hard, and now there’s nothing to doing it.”
Learning just how the wood responds to the saw is half the battle in making puzzles which will fit perfectly together, he says. “The more you do, the more you get used to the speed of the blade and learn the right rhythm to move the wood. You really have to learn how to control the process.”
Working with each type of wood is a different experience as well.
Mark points out two of his dragon puzzles. “This dragon made of purple heart took about three times longer than the pine dragon with the same design, due to the density of the wood. You had to go so, so slow. The fact is, each puzzle is unique, even when you are using the same pattern.”
Mark holds up one of his intricate eagle puzzles. “I did this piece a couple of months ago. A year ago I would have been too intimidated to try to do something like this,” he says with pride.
As the Colemans’ woodworking skills grew along with the variety of puzzles offered, they saw the potential to turn a much-enjoyed hobby into a side business: Coleman and Sons Woodworking, LLC.
“My brother Jeremy gives us marketing ideas so he is definitely involved in this endeavor, too. It really is a family affair,” says Andy.
With Christmas just a few short weeks away, the Colemans have been focusing on creating holiday ornaments for sale.
“If you look at the tulip with its petals, it is a compound cut puzzle, and we are using compound cuts with some of our Christmas ornaments,” says Andy. “We have traditional ornaments and also items like our State Rivers of Alabama ornaments, with a portion of those sales going to great causes like the Cahaba River Society and the Cahaba Riverkeeper.”
While the Colemans initially focused on using designs in the public domain for their puzzles, Andy has branched out into creating some designs of his own such as the Alabama rivers ornament that could be utilized to give back to causes important to him.
“For example, I designed this sea turtle puzzle along with the Alabama Rivers ornament and magnet,” Andy says, adding, “As someone in the conservation field, I was looking for a way to raise money for some of these causes with which I work directly or simply support. It’s great if you can have an enjoyable hobby and also give back to a good cause. As time passes, we will be doing more and more of our own designs.”
The Colemans have their own Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ColemanandSonsWoodworking where you can see additional examples of their work, and are considering additional online marketing opportunities.
“We would also like to be at Calico Fort in 2017 and possibly other local arts and crafts events,” says Andy.
Both father and son say they enjoy trying new things and their puzzle-making hobby turned business has already brought them great personal satisfaction.
“It’s fun trying new ideas,” Andy says. “As we grow and expand, we will be looking at different ways to display our products and creating new patterns.”
As they move forward with Coleman and Sons Woodworking, they also look fondly back to their past.
“It’s just a really good feeling to be carrying on a family tradition now for several generations,” says Mark.
To learn more about the numerous conservation causes supported by the sales of certain of Coleman and Sons’ ornaments and puzzles, visit www.cahabariversociety.org, www.cahabariverkeeper.org, www.saveloraturtles.org and http://turkeycreeknp.com/friends-of-turkey-creek-2. Contact the Colemans via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.