When the pandemic started last year, Jeff Hicks decided to turn his passion into his career.
“Basically, when COVID hit last year, I had to quit my job and the hobby became an income.” Hicks said.
It had been his hobby for the past 15 years or so, but the spark was lit much earlier than that. He took woodshop in seventh grade and has been hooked ever since.
Having made the decision to start his own business, he went in 50-50 with his son. He used to do his woodworking out of his garage, but when it quit being just a hobby, the space no longer fit his needs. Now he has a dedicated space has allowed him to become more efficient and do more. With his dehumidifier, he can now dry a one-inch-thick piece of wood in 15 days. Letting nature take its course would have taken a year. Hicks Custom Woodwork and Milling is located at 21713 County Road E34 outside Anamosa and is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They can also be reached at 319-206-5144 or by Facebook.
As the name of his business would suggest, he does both custom jobs and mills wood for people. The custom wood work can be anything from signs, to intricate clocks, tables or chairs—the vast majority of which are constructed without the need for any screws, just wooden dowels and glue.
The signs can be customized with a bunch of different things printed on them and are some of the simpler pieces he can create. Some of the more interesting pieces he’s created include a custom table where the top can come off and he’s even made a bench that can transform into a table. For the latter, there’s a kids’ table version, which is a viral video, but trying to make that into an adult version created one of his biggest challenges. While he likes the challenge of trying to figure out the necessary angles to make a piece work, he had to call in help from his brother, who has a degree in mathematics, to figure out the necessary dimensions.
The milling, which can go mobile, accounts for about 30% of his business.
When it comes to the variety of wood he works with, it can run the gamut, from oak, to cedar, to maple. Maple can make milling difficult, due to its high sap content. When it comes to custom products, other woods stood out for Hicks.
“I find the most fun to work with is walnut because of what you get out of it, how pretty it is when you get it cleaned up and sanded down,” Hicks said, whereas cedar falls on the other end of the spectrum. “It is so soft. One mistake, and you’ve ruined the whole piece.”
He prides himself on his quality when he puts out a product and with wood, an item can be sturdy and made to last.
He’s enjoyed the opportunity to go into business for himself, but that isn’t he greatest joy he’s gotten from the opportunity. His work as an electrician kept him busy when his kids were young, forcing him to be away a lot.
He didn’t want that to happen with his grandkids. It’s being able to go into business with family and spending that time with his grandchildren that is the best part of being a new business owner.
“I started building stuff for [my grandkids]…When my two boys are in the back milling on a Saturday and I’m here with my granddaughters playing on the floor with the blocks and I look out and watch [my sons] working while I’m playing with [my grandkids], it does my heart good,” he said.
“Ever since I’ve started this, I haven’t worked a day.”