Holidays are big for Makers.
Established Makers are in crunch time for holiday commissions and last minute gift requests. Others are trying their hands at being Makers for the first time in the hopes of creating both cost-effective and perfectly handmade gifts for the special people in their lives.
This holiday season, we chatted with Derik Penny, a Maker in Denver, CO, who creates one of kind pieces for his passion project: Pennywood Co.
Derik’s destiny into the Maker Movement started long before he was born. Woodworking is in the Penny family genes, starting with his great-grandfather in Ireland and being passed down through generations. Derik’s dad was also a carpenter and taught his kids to start tinkering with wood as early as childhood.
But Derik was reluctant to follow in the family footsteps at first.
“Post-college, I started working with my brother who was a carpenter, just apprenticing and learning from him. I did my best to avoid it because I did not want to be a carpenter, but it sunk its teeth in.”
Once he was bitten by the woodworking bug, Derik went all in.
“I got a job at a design firm called Spark Design. It has just opened up a whole world of concepts to me because it's a design-build firm, so all different kinds of mediums and styles.”
With the help of Spark Design founder, Adrian Tucker, Derik found the perfect opportunity to grow in a dynamic design firm and still nurture his passion for woodworking.
“Adrian, talk about a mentor. That guy is awesome. It’s like working within a contractor’s world but Adrian is an artist so it’s kind of the best of both worlds. He lets me come into the shop on nights and weekends to work on the big cuts and dirtier stuff for Pennywood. I’m very fortunate.”
When he’s not at Spark Design, Derik works on his Pennywood projects from his home shop.
“Carpentry is an obsession. Five or six years ago I began Pennywood which is where I get to do all the fun prototypes. I’ll be focusing on that a bit more coming up in my world.”
Derik's Pennywood business relies mostly on referrals and word of mouth.
“I’ve received an amazing amount of support from friends and the community so I’m very grateful for that.”
Whether Derik is working on commissions or making unique pieces of his own to sell, he’s always up for a challenge.
“I think every Maker’s dream is to make a one-off of something and sell it but it’s easier said than done. It’s always nice to do commission stuff and find out what people need and find out what style works while still maintaining the integrity of your vision.”
Derik likes to use commissioned projects as an opportunity to become even better at his craft; an admirable quality of a true Maker.
“There is a maker out there, her name is Ava Goldeberg, she does amazing leather work. She commissioned me to do a reading table and as a personal challenge for this reading table, I told myself that every single step of it had to be something I had never done before. So, like a tapered leg, a very slightly curved radius table top, I inlaid some of her leather work. I think that has been the most challenging and most satisfying project I’ve done in the last 5 years.”
Not every commission is quite as challenging, however. Derik said he had a blast when he was commissioned to make these dozen custom slingshots for all of the groomsmen in a wedding party.
If Derik had to choose a favorite medium, though, it would have to be the coffee table.
“I think the coffee table is a Maker’s best friend because it can be a vision of a dinner table or a conference table. It can also be a vision of something smaller, but it’s just so obtainable.
“My favorite thing about all woodworking is trying to find something that’s a little more tangible. That you can see from start to finish without months going by and without ten other crafters on it. And that’s what I see a lot of in my industry. We do a lot of business build outs, so bars and restaurants, and you might start doing something really fun but most likely you won’t finish it. So Pennywood has always been the more tangible makes for me.”
Seeing something through from the beginning to the end is the essence of being a Maker. It gives a feeling of satisfaction and, as is the case for many Makers, Derik views his Pennywood work as a labor of love.
“It’s like a dilemma or a disease to where you wake up in the middle of the night and think about these things. It’s an itch that you have to scratch until it’s done. So, whether that be, you know, one year I made 20 different wooden Christmas trees for the people in my life and it was just an obsession and took forever and I hated it by the end of it but it felt good to be done. It seems endless.”
As a customer of DIY Furniture Store, we asked Derik to share some insight, from a seasoned Maker, on what he looks for in a metal table leg that needs to complement his craft.
“I love the hairpin look because it allows for focus on the table top. As a woodworker, I really appreciate anything that can bring focus to that. But I love simple legs that are strong, that you don’t have to think about design-wise.”