Playing with Knives

Dennis Martin breaks all the “Mom Rules” --- he plays with knives for a living.

A moulding operator at our L.J. Smith® Stair Systems in Puyallup, Wash., Martin routinely makes and grinds as many as 300 different knives for our company’s machinery. They’re all used for creating custom handrails and mouldings.

“Our team is in the business of making anything a customer wants,” says Martin, a resident of University Place, Wash. “Whether it’s a replica of a historical piece or an entirely new design, we can create it.”

The custom process starts with drawings and computer renderings. Then Martin downloads a template. He cuts and creates steel knives that are needed to grind the custom pieces.

The knives are a quarter-inch thick, high speed steel. Their heights vary from two- to 10-inches depending on the size of the piece being created. And, the weight will vary from 10 pounds up to 50 pounds.

“I put exact knives in the left, right, top and bottom sides of a machine to create an accurate reproduction,” says Martin. “This is very intense work, but it’s fun. We make adjustments for any minor miscalculations with the goal of crafting the perfect piece.”

Custom Pieces in Demand

The demand on our L.J. Smith team is heavy for custom pieces. More than two dozen requests come in each year for completely customized handrails and mouldings.

“One of the most unusual projects we’ve worked on recently was for the Louisa Hotel in Seattle,” says Martin. “Bear Wood Windows came to us during the restoration process of the historic 1909 hotel. They requested very old, unique and original profiles in clear fir for the handrails. We were able to exactly replicate the pieces they needed to help renovate the hotel.”

The lure of uniqueness in the job --- plus the ability to play with knives --- keeps Martin interested in his work. “I’ve been in woodworking since 1996,” says Martin. “What’s best about this job is that each day we’re tackling something different.

“We make a positive impact on a project and fulfill the needs and dreams someone has for a railing system. That’s a great career to have for more than two decades!”

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