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One good turn after another

Trends change all the time. Whether it’s fashion, design or woodwork, nothing stays the same. That’s abundantly clear to Peter Hunter, owner of Master Craft Wood Turnings in Elmira, who’s seen many trends come and go over the last two and half decades. Hunter is constantly re-inventing his business to accommodate the changes in fashion and product demands.

Master Craft’s roots were formed in the 1920s under the name Kitchener Buttons, which would produce intricate wooden buttons for the fashion industry, particularly for suit jackets and overcoats. With the introduction of plastic, the company’s focus turned to producing wooden tuning and volume controls for the radio industry in the 1940s. By the 1960s focus again had changed as the business became the national producer of the famous Yo-Yo.

In the 1970s, Master Craft was incorporated to produce wooden knobs, amongst other wooden turnings, using the specialized technology that had been developed over the prior years. Today the company is a supplier of face-grain knobs and specialty products such as rosettes, key tags, and other forms of discs. They are also well known for their wooden cabinet and furniture knobs. Master Craft’s specialty is the production of face-grain turned wood products, offering more than 20 different styles of wooden knobs, from classic to contemporary, in a variety of woods.

Face grain means the products come out of the face of the wood, with the grain in a plug to run the same way as a board would, which allow the plugs to be covered up easier. Stair and flooring companies use the product when they need to hide screw holes and want something to blend in easier.

“That is a part of our uniqueness, the fact that we make face-grain products,” said Hunter.

The company ships more than 50,000 plugs a month.

Master Craft is also a supplier of wooden screw plugs, wooden dowel rods, hardwood dowel rods, and custom wood turnings. They also offer specialty products, such as rosettes, key tags, table legs, chair legs, novelty items and grandfather clock parts.

“When Canadiana was in its height in the 1990s, there were a lot of chairs in the country-style that we were making lots of parts for but that trend has changed to square legs and backs. It is just a fashion change and now we do not do as many chair legs as we use to do,” said Hunter.

The company uses custom-built equipment that work 10 or 11 hours a day churning out screw knobs and floor plugs.

“The largest, most expensive machine in the shop makes the smallest part,” laughs Hunter.

The business still uses many of the original machines from the 1920s to fill smaller custom orders.

“The old machines are very labour intensive and very slow but the reason we keep them is for little jobs that may require only 40 plugs, it is easier to start this up the old machine than one of the larger machines that we have now. Plus the older machines can actually make larger parts than our CNC machines cannot. The old machines allow us to manufacture up to a three-inch disc.”

The business operates with five employees who keep a close eye on the machines in the shop. Each employee is responsible to fill orders for start to end.

“I find it works better to have one person complete a whole project because they know exactly what must be done and when it has to be finished,” said Hunter.

One of the main customers for the business is Home Hardware, for whom they fill dowel orders that are all UPC coded and painted for diameter recognition. Master Craft keeps ahead of the dowel orders by about six weeks, which allows them to ship the same day they receive an order.

All the dowels are manufactured from soft maple brought in from Quebec and New York.

“The nice thing is that is it white, it is straight and strong; some of our competition does not have those qualities to offer,” said Hunter.

The business works with all kinds of lumber, including cherry, oak, ash, walnut, and maple for turning jobs like legs or spindles and knobs.

This May 1 the company will be celebrating a couple of anniversaries. It will be 25 years since Hunter bought the company back in 1987 and 10 years of it operating in Elmira.

The company moved from Kitchener to Elmira when its lease was up in 2001 and Hunter decided the business needed more room and a more modern setting that would create a better flow for his workers. Elmira had the land to be developed and Hunter found the perfect spot in the South Field business park.

“We were the very first ones in the business park and have watched it grow over the years. Elmira is a great little community to do business in.”

Hunter, who worked as a mechanical engineer, always knew he would own his own business and was eventually offered Master Craft.

“The business was a profitable one and had a strong business plan with many clients and it seemed like the right fit at the time,” he explained. “It was easy to step in and carry on with business.”

The company had seen some low times in the early 2000s just after they moved into the new building.

“In 2001 we were very busy making knobs and turnings, and then just after 9/11 the bottom seemed to fall out of our market. Trends changed and when that happened we got lost on the downside, which led to some lean years. It wasn’t until 2008 that we really reinvented ourselves and got the doweling going for our business.”

During the recession of 2008 Master Craft started to pick up more and more business as their competitors closed up shop.

“We managed to pick up customers from businesses that closed and that helped us through the recession. It was their bad fortune that caused us our good fortune. We had to adapt and change with the trends and found our way.”

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