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Hands-on education in wood leads to small business

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | March 16, 2023 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — A nice cutting board can be a thing of great beauty.

But that’s no reason to be gentle with the cutting boards made by Samantha and her husband A.J. Simmonds and sold in their store A Plus Woodshop, the newest addition to the Downtown Moses Lake Association’s Obra Project business incubator at 205 S. Division St.

“It’s hardwood,” Samantha Simmonds said. “It’ll blunt the knife edge before it scores the wood.”

The cutting board Simmonds holds up is nearly a rainbow hue of colors — brown, tan, magenta, orange — all from the fairly exotic hardwoods the two have learned to work with over the last several years.

“My favorite is blue mahoe, it’s the national tree of Jamaica. It only grows there, and it grows so fast, they use it for reforestation,” she said. “It’s got some unique streaks of blue in it, and it’s got blue, greens and grays. And so it makes a really cool pattern to use in some of the designs.”

And that includes using blue mahoe as an accent piece in cutting boards, like the one she is holding.

“It’s the only naturally blue wood without absorbing minerals or colors. It gives it a little extra,” she said. “That’s why it’s an exotic wood.”

Simmonds said she learned about wood over the last few years simply by working with it and making things. She said her husband started the business right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wanting something he could do at home to care for her and their kids while she dealt with bouts of Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammation of portions of the large intestine that can cause pain and lead to infection.

As she recovered, Simmonds said she started helping her husband, simple things at first. Eventually, he asked her to burn someone’s name onto a frame.

“I did, and I discovered I really liked it. So I started doing art,” she said.

Her shop space in the Obra Project is full of things she and her husband have made — bookmarks, keychains, precision-carved earrings, puzzles, plant signs, a few cutting boards, and other products of their extensive home woodshop. Simmonds said their product line grew over the last couple of years as they bought new tools, including a computer-controlled cutter and a laser cutter.

Simmonds even holds up a laser carving she made of a moose on the paddle of a moose antler

“The two of us were pretty eclectic about what we liked,” Simmonds said. “We want to do new things all of the time. … I run the laser, he runs the CNC. I do the wood burning, he does the woodworking.”

Until they opened the shop, however, they both did the retailing, taking their wares on the road to shows every weekend, Simmonds said.

“This year we’re going to turn it back because we have a location,” she said. “The first year, it was every weekend everywhere in Washington and Oregon that we could find a show. Last year we toned it down and we only did shows within two hours of us. So, Spokane, Tri-Cities, Coulee City, places like that. But we were doing them every weekend up until the weekend before Christmas.”

While Simmonds said the earrings she carves with the laser are the best-selling items, A Plus also does a pretty brisk business in rubber-band guns as well. Based on a design her husband used to play with when he was a child, Simmonds said they discovered the value of the guns as a way of keeping children entertained one year at the Prosser Balloon Rally.

“The rubber band guns sell out, sold out both years. I mean, we brought 75 rubber band guns and had to go home and make more and bring them back the next day,” she said. “Once (most children) watch the hot air balloons launch, that’s it for them, it’s no longer fun. And it takes forever to fill the balloon, so they’re sitting there bored.”

Woodworking has become a full-time endeavor for the entire family, Simmonds said. They are teaching their teenager to operate the equipment and their five-year-old daughter tests all the toys to ensure they are sturdy and has learned to identify wood from all over the world.

“She knows more about exotic hardwoods than lots of adults do,” Simmonds said.

Even as she works the retail end, Simmonds said she still likes wood burning and using the laser to carve and create earrings.

“My wood burning is kind of a zen thing for me. I like to pop in an audiobook and just start going on it. And I can sit there all day and wood burn and feel awesome doing it,” she said. “And it’s something that even when I’m sick I can still do so that makes it even better.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald

A collection of wooden Moses Lake keychains made and sold by A Plus Woodshop in their new storefront at 205 S. Division St. in the Downtown Moses Lake Association’s Obra Project business incubator.

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald

A sample of some of the wood earrings Samantha Simmonds carves and sells at A Plus Woodshop in downtown Moses Lake.

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald

A brace of wooden rubber-band pistols made and sold by A Plus Woodshop in downtown Moses Lake. The rubber band guns are top sellers for A Plus, according to shop owner Samantha Simmonds.