Community Feature Focus Series: New Beginnings Woodcrafts
For Justin Sallman, giving his grandfather’s tools a new beginning is a way of honoring a legacy of hard work and determination cultivated by his grandparents and parents.
New Beginnings Woodcrafts began in June 2016, when Justin sold his first paid piece. The name – New Beginnings – is derived from Justin’s grandfather Ralph’s own woodworking business of the same name. Grandpa Ralph mostly constructed birdhouses, toys and other small items with the very tools that Justin now uses to create furniture – tables, stools and cabinets.
Growing up in Concordia, Justin’s father owned a small construction company. That is where he learned to use a circular saw as early as 7 or 8 years old, he said.
“He taught me the basics of woodwork and cabinet making,” Justin said.
As an adult, Justin spent many years working in the retail furniture industry, reviewing and assembling furniture and learning specifics of what goes into making a piece.
All of that – combined with Justin’s grandfather’s woodcrafts – sparked a love for building and creating that has always been in his heart. It was only recently that Justin was able to make his dream a reality.
More than a year ago, Grandpa Ralph moved into a home in which he had no room for his tools. When Grandpa Ralph offered everything in his shop to Justin, it was an opportunity Justin could not turn down.
“The opportunity to carry on his work and expand it was one of the best ways to honor a man who is so important to me,” he said.
The first thing Justin built with his grandfather’s tools was a Montessori stool for his niece.
“I found some plans online and had it ready by the next weekend,” Justin said. “That was the first piece that kicked off my version of ‘New Beginnings.’”
Since then, Justin has built several tables, Montessori stools, end tables and cabinets. In the next few months, he will build a poker table, some recipe boxes and an indoor dog kennel.
While Justin finds plans online and tweaks them to fit the customer’s exact specifications, he also loves a good challenge.
“The most fun for me is when I get nothing but a picture from someone and they say, ‘Can you build this?’” he said. “And, I get to challenge my abilities by drafting it out from scratch.”
Justin recently recreated a bathroom vanity for a customer. Using a picture, he drafted the dimensions and put it together for a fraction of the retailer’s cost.
“The problem solving aspect of it really draws me in. I love to figure things out,” Justin said. “Whenever someone asks me to build something that I have never done before, I get kind of giddy.”
One of his favorite projects was a 12-foot butcher block table with a custom steel base that he delivered on Christmas Eve. The customer wanted a rustic/industrial look.
“That project was so fun,” Justin said. “It started with no pictures, just some talking back and forth and bouncing ideas off each other.”
Most of Justin’s pieces are built from pine or fir, though he has used other types of lumber when requested.
Justin’s favorite process in woodworking is the finishing.
“There’s a calm that comes with the process, and it teaches patience and that shortcuts are a no-no,” Justin said. “Starting with a rough cut of lumber and ending up with a smooth, beautiful piece is what it’s all about.”
Freshly cut boards find new beginnings in the Sallman family’s garage. The piercing sound of the saw blade slicing through lumber and the humming of the drill, mixed with the laughter of a young family are the sounds you hear when walking into the shop, and Justin wouldn’t want it any other way.
His family brings inspiration and joy to him, and they are often in the shop with him when he works on a project. He and his wife Gina have four children – Danny, 14; Ana, 11; James, 7; and Colin, 3.
“Involving my children and wife in my process helps keep me inspired,” he said. “Whether it’s asking my wife about style or color or having my 14-year-old son help assemble, my 11-year-old daughter cutting wood or my 7-year-old and 3-year-old sons driving in a screw.”
Justin describes his workspace as an enriching and inspiring place when it is filled with his family. Having his grandfather’s tools within arm’s reach makes the process even more meaningful.
“My family is always on my mind when I’m in the shop,” he said.
“I love seeing the beauty in the wood when he is staining a project like the farmhouse tables,” Gina said., “But I also love how he creates things that center around family – dining tables, benches, Montessori stools, and even the laundry console!”
“My wife Gina is amazing,” Justin said. “She has been an amazing and patient partner, supporter and cheerleader and voice of calm and reason for me – not just for the woodworking, but everything in our life.”
Inspiration also comes from other woodworkers, Justin said.
One in particular whose work Justin admires is John Schmidt of Olathe who runs The Raven Workshop.
“He does some beautiful wood turning projects,” Justin said.
Justin started following John on Facebook after his wife hired him to make a custom replacement wedding ring out of wood last year.
“Pens, rings, toys – everything he does is absolutely gorgeous!” Justin said.
“I’m flattered that Justin would mention me,” John said.
John’s advice to Justin and others who pursue a craft like woodworking is to read, watch videos and find mentors.
One of the things Justin loves most about woodworking is that he can see the work he is doing in real time.
“In life, we do a lot of things and we barely notice that anything has been done,” Justin said. “The improvements we make on the struggles we toil with are so incremental that it’s only when we step back and we reflect upon where we started that we can see the difference.”
“Every ounce of effort I put into something is visible immediately – and there’s real satisfaction in that,” he said. “Being able to look back after a few hours of work and say, ‘I did that. I accomplished that today.’ It gives you a real sense of gratification.”
Among the many tools he uses, Justin’s “can’t live without” tool is a block plane, which is a small woodworking hand plane. It is designed to cut end grain and is typically small enough to use with one hand.
When New Beginnings began, Justin had a single lightbulb and one working outlet in his garage. Justin’s landlord has been “amazing” to help grow the business by installing ample lighting and electricity.
“I taught myself how to do as much as I could with the little I had early on, which included planing table tops down by hand,” he said.
This type of work ethic was ingrained in Justin through his grandparents.
His paternal grandfather was a “jack of all trades” – traveling across the country during the Depression and teaching himself various trades when he saw a need.
“The important thing for him was to always work hard and never sit idle,” Justin said. “If there was something that he could do to provide for his family, he did it.”
Justin’s maternal grandfather was very similar, also working several trades.
“He is a born ‘tinkerer’ and his ability to figure things out and his skills with his hands helped keep him busy all his life,” Justin said. “They both were raised with a firm work ethic and strong hands and quick heads.”
Growing up, both men were very close to Justin and helped impress the importance of hard work in him, just as his parents did.
Still a Hobby
“If you can dream it, we can make it,” is the motto by which Justin operates New Beginnings. Justin wants to ensure he delivers quality custom items for a reasonable cost and make them available to everyone.
With every new piece, Justin’s ultimate goal is to make sure the customer is completely happy with the piece. To help achieve this goal, he never charges a deposit for projects.
“I want to make sure that everyone loves their piece before they pay a dime for it,” he said.
Justin’s dedication to providing quality pieces to his customers has helped grow his hobby into a business more quickly than he or Gina could have anticipated.
“It has been crazy the response that he has received,” Gina said. “It was supposed to be a hobby – something to give him an outlet to use his creativity. Next thing I know, he has a project lined up almost weekly.”
But Justin still treats woodworking as a hobby.
“It’s something I love to do that is productive and keeps my hands and mind busy,” he said. “By treating it as a hobby, I’m allowed to take my time and make sure I deliver the best possible piece to my customer.”
As a hobby, Justin said, it does exactly what it is supposed to – relax and distract – and allows him to be creative.
“Justin is so creative, and this has been a real learning experience that has stretched him in a good way,” Gina said.
Justin said the biggest compliment he has received is when someone stops him out in public to talk about something he has built for someone.
“Knowing that one of my pieces has spilled over out of a customer’s home and left an impression in someone else’s mind is exciting,” he said.
Justin and his family moved to Sabetha four years ago when he was hired as manager of the now-closed Alco. Justin is employed full-time at Crosswinds Pet Food as an inventory/supply chain specialist. Gina works as the Director of Faith Formation for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sabetha, St. Augustine in Fidelity and St. James in Wetmore.
For more information, follow New Beginnings Woodcrafts on Facebook or contact Justin at email@example.com.
Krista Wasinger100 Posts
Krista Wasinger is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2011. She specializes in city reporting and feature stories, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Krista is a 2004 Fort Hays State University graduate with a degree in communications studies with an emphasis in journalism. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and four children.