Hillsboro man crafting a business in wood products

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
While fighting off the grip of winter’s harsh, cold winds, try to remember warm summer days and nights.

Having trouble? Maybe one man can jog those cozy memories.

He’s G.W. Bean of Hillsboro, and he makes porch swings so people can spend summer evenings swinging to the rhythm of the crickets’ chirping.

“Everybody likes to be out in the backyard in the summer time, sitting on the patio and ‘charcoaling’,” Bean said.

Bean handcrafts porch swings and owns Country Crafts, a home-based business located on South Ash.

A retired machine operator for Koch Industries in Wichita, Bean also builds and sells other wood-crafted items, such as what-not shelves, children’s rockers,coffee tables, small carousel horses and painted toy soldiers.

Wife Betty is also retired, and their blended families include nine children, 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

That means Bean has plenty of youngsters around to give a thumbs-up approval to his children’s rockers.

Effused with a love for “tinkering” with wood, Bean earnestly began his wood-making as a hobby about eight years ago.

“I started making carousel horses in about 1995 after we went to the arts and crafts show in the Kansas Coliseum,” Bean said.

He was intrigued by wood-crafted carousel horses on a pole. They were about 24 inches high and sold as a decorative item for about $85.

“I told my wife, ‘Shoot, I can beat that,'” Bean said. “‘I can make one and settle for about $35 to $40.'”

Relying on shop skills he learned in high school, he drew a pattern and began making the horses.

“I took one down to where I worked at Koch and got started selling them to some of the ladies and the guys, too,” he said. “I sold quite a few down there.”

Before moving to Hillsboro, the couple lived in Newton for about 29 years. During that time, Bean built a workshop in his back yard and put a sign out in his front yard.

People driving by would stop and ask if he would custom make wood items for them.

“And I said, ‘Yea, just show me a picture, and I’ll try to duplicate it for you,'” Bean said. “Whatever the customer wanted, I would try to make it for them. And that’s the way I got started.”

Business was good. But when the couple heard a rumor that a four-lane highway was going to come in front of their house and take about two thirds of their front yard, they decided to move to Hillsboro.

By this spring, they can count three years in their Hillsboro home. In that time, Bean has turned his garage into a workshop and built a 14-foot by 20-foot display area next to it for customers to browse through his crafted items.

In his display area, Bean has several styles of wooden what-not shelf units. They range in size and have from two to five mirrored shelves on them.

Even the back of each what-not shelf unit is a mirror designed to show off the items on display. And Bean has added a unique touch to the sides of some of the units-they are decorated with cut-out designs of tulips.

But as unusual as the shelves are, the biggest-selling item is his swings, Bean said.

The porch swings are made of white pine, and he offers A-frame swings made with pressure-treated wood. All his wood is purchased at the lumberyard just two blocks from his home.

Most of his porch swings are 65-inches long.

“The swing will seat three people as big as I am, and I weigh about 260,” Bean said.

And that’s the key that sets his swings apart from those purchased in retail stores. His swings are built with bigger pieces of lumber and can handle more weight.

“The ones they sell at the lumberyards, the material is made out of 3/8-inch-thick material all over, except the braces underneath the seat part,” Bean said.

“Those are usually 13/4 by 3 inches for the frame, but I use 2 by 4 inches for my frame,” Bean said.

He also uses 5/4-inch wood for the seat and back slats.

In 1994, a customer in Newton requested a custom-made porch swing and asked Bean to go to a local lumberyard to see what she wanted. She needed one made wider than was available at the store.

“I got back to the house, and I called her and asked her, ‘How much does your husband weigh?'” Bean said.

Bean discovered that the husband weighed about 250 and the wife was about 150.

The math didn’t work.

“I said, ‘Lady, I won’t make you one out of 3/8 inch lumber like you saw at the lumberyard,'” Bean said. “‘I’d be afraid both of you on there, you’d bust the bottom out, hurt your tailbone and come back and sue me.'”

Bean offered to make a sturdier swing that has now become his standard.

He also increased the weight limit on the chain from 300 pounds to 1,000.

“That’s when I started making the 65-inch swings,” Bean said. “That was the first swing that I made with the 5/4-inch lumber.”

Bean sells his porch swings for $175. The treated-lumber swing costs $190, and the A-frame costs $100.

But if a customer opts for the A-frame and swing as a unit, that can be purchased at a savings for a total of $275 for the set.

Bean does not have scheduled hours to work on his crafts, but he can be found in his workshop putting in four hours a day during the summer months.

“I get out there and work for 30 minutes to an hour and come in, take a Diet Pepsi break, and stay in the house for an hour,” Bean said. “I just work at my leisure.”

Betty usually helps him by taking on the job of applying Early American stain to certain items requiring that type of finish.

But Bean does not work on one wood project at a time. Instead, he chooses to make several items at once.

“I make about six to ten shelves at a time,” Bean said. “I cut them all out, get them sanded, and my wife does the varnishing. When she gets through and the stain dries, I put them together. Same way with the swings.”

Making multiples comes in handy when preparing for the local craft fair in September.

“I don’t rent a booth,” Bean said. “I just run it in my front yard, and I do pretty good. The busses shuttle them up here. Hundreds and hundreds walk by and stop out here, pick up an item or two and go on to see what’s downtown.”

And he continues to sell from his home through the remainder of the year.

The hours listed on his business card are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week. But Bean said he’s always willing to show customers around after hours.

“I’m not going to turn anybody down if they want to buy something or even look around,” he said. “I’ve had half a dozen out there at one time to look and see what I have.

“They might not buy anything, but they see what I’ve got and they tell their friends. And that’s the way you get started.”

Bean said he’s looking forward to business increasing in the Hillsboro area as it did in Newton.

When asked about future plans, he said if Santa Claus is listening and making a list for next year, Bean could use a planer and a shaper.

Betty, sitting nearby, just smiled.

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