ďBusiness Spotlight - Man's passion has turned into a toymaking dream come trueĒ
published in "Windsor Now!"
Monday, August 25, 2008
It started when he was a little boy, tape measure in his hand, ready to tackle the next furniture project with his father.
At the age of 12, he was allowed to run the table saw by himself.
Windsor resident Mike Pientkaís passion for woodworking has carried through his entire life, and today he is making toys that not only his own children adore, but others think they are pretty cool, too.
ďYou do it because you enjoy it,Ē Pientka said. ďItís a really fun hobby that pays for itself.Ē
Pientka, who is a mechanical engineer for Hach Chemical Company, founded his own business, Original Approach, in 2004 and sells blue prints of his wooden toys. He has been awarded honorable mentions for his work and most recently is the "featured artist" and his work is displayed in a cabinet at Sears-Trostel, 1500 Riverside in Fort Collins.
Windsor Now sat down with Pientka to discuss how much time goes into his hobby, his favorite piece of work and why woodworking has been good for his health.
Windsor Now: How long have you been woodworking?
Mike Pientka: I would help my father with his furniture. That was the starting point, learning to hand sand stuff and eventually progressed to using all the tools on my own. Ever so slowly, I gained skills and made a lot of decorated pieces of firewood along the way. Eventually I got good enough and thought I could start giving away these as gifts.
In the end, donít give up the day job, these are very labor intensive things to do.
What my business is I sell the blue prints. Thatís the product I sell. My business is literally my laptop. The toys I make in my own shop, on my own equipment, I give them to my kids and relatives. Iíve donated a variety to places.
When you make something and it gets an award, you say, ĎAh, this got an award, do you want to make one of these?í Thatís what Iím working toward.
WN: Why woodworking?
MP: The toys. It wasnít until I started having kids, 16 years ago, that I started making them for my kids. They really seemed to enjoy them, and I got a sense of satisfaction out of it.
Some people make furniture, some people make a great variety of things, I just ended up toward toys because, well my day job I design mechanisms with moving parts and you think a toy can have this and do this. It was easy for me to visualize.
They take a long time to make (on average 10 hours).
We had a career day at the preschool, and I started off with saying, ĎAll right kids by day Iím an engineer and by night I make toys.í I whip the box out and started rolling the toys out. My son was in there saying, ĎMy dad makes toys.í
WN: What was your very first toy?
MP: It was a little car that wobbles with people on it. I made it for my 16 year old when she was 2.
WN: How did you get your worked displayed at Sears-Trostel?
MP: In addition to buying materials there, they have one of the annual woodworking show and Iíve gotten an honorable mention there a couple of times. The manager there said one of my toys was so well received and said it was a different kind of niche. He said he would like me to display my toys in the back of his store (through the month of August).
Itís a small thing in a small place and it meant something to me.
You have to start somewhere. I kind of envisioned starting my own business four years ago, as a social security supplement. If you look at my Web page now all you see is the gallery, for anything else call me and we will talk.
WN: What lessons have you learned along the way?
MP: Iíve worked in product development for 30 years, in several different states and several different industries, but there is the big picture of what does the customer really want?
It gives me a better appreciation of the big picture running my business.
WN: Whatís the hardest part of your business?
MP: Starting up is a whole set of articles itself.
The hardest part for me right now is I have three kids under the age of 4. Finding the time (to do woodworking) with a young family is tough.
WN: Whatís the most beneficial part of your job?
A few years ago I had blood pressure problems and I had to monitor it a lot, several times a day. I found every time I came out of the workshop, regardless the time of day it was, it was lower. I knew I enjoyed woodworking, but didnít know it was good for me.
(Also) Seeing the smile on kidsí faces.
WN: What is one of your most favorite toys you have made?
MP: When it comes down to it, it is the originality and design. Originality in how you use the materials, and the design is how you go about creating it.
The Chinese Checkers set that I did was the first one I got an award for. I made that as a gift for my wife.
WN: How do you compete against other businesses like yours?
MP: Itís very collaborative and (other woodworking) folks will refer you.
Nobody makes money doing this. You do it because you enjoy it and help promote it.
We all have a certain level of craftsmanship to get into the door.
I think it comes down to the areas of interest. Some folks like to make tables and chairs, entertainment centers, kitchen cabinets and I happen to like making toys. Mine tend to have a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of talented folks out there.
WN: What are your goals for your business?
MP: The long range goal is when I retired in 15 years, I can buy a pair of shoes, a tank of gas, and have a supplement to social security. Thatís the ultimate goal. You got to enjoy what you are doing, that seems to directly tie to life span.
The short term goal is to continue to make my blue prints and enter competitions. There are things that I want to do to my Web site, but you have to start somewhere. If you sit there and wait, until you got it perfect, youíll never do anything. One step at a time.
WN: What advice do you have for others who are looking to start up a business?
For those who are trying to start something that will make income right away, have a business plan. That business plan is not for the bank loan. Most companies are under capitalized and they donít have any market share.
Original Approach, LLC, www.original-approach.com; (970) 222-7006; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ďWindsor man gets a kick out of wood workingĒ
published in the "Windsor Now!"
Friday, July 20, 2007
There are no fences between neighbors in one Water Valley subdivision, and the children get to run freely from house to house playing in the sand boxes, on the swing sets and jungle gyms.
The Pientka's yard has a unique feature that all children are always eager to play on.
Windsor resident Mike Pientka has constructed a wooden teeter totter that was built for the entertainment of his children and their neighborhood friends, and each child has left their mark in the wood.
After spending more than 10 hours building the play structure with scrap wood and metal, Pientka has allowed all the children to play and more than 15 have signed their names on the base of the structure.
"You don't really see these in backyards," the 49-year-old said. "Just tried to add to the community. We wanted something different."
The idea of building the teeter totter started when Pientka was looking for a quality structure online and at different stores, and couldn't find anything he liked.
"I said I could do better then that. I've built many wooden toys for my kids. This was a little different scale," he said. "This is industrial duty. Stuff that you find online and in stores, it's pretty cheesy junk. This one's built like a tank."
Pientka, who is a mechanical engineer, said kids are playing on the teeter totter every day and each time they proudly show each other their written names.
"It's a little sense of ownership," he said. "They even knock on the door and say 'I have a new playmate, can they play?' You can fit almost every kid in the neighborhood on it," Pientka said.
The children have even learned a little bit about sharing as well.
"They've learned real quickly it's a sharing toy," he said. "It's a cooperation toy."
The teeter totter was not the first project Pientka has built for his children. Constructing toys like wood wagons began for his oldest daughter Ariana. Even house items like candle holders, cutting boards and candy dispensers have been constructed in his basement.
"It's stress relieving," he said. "After a long day in corporate America where everything is done under 100 reviews and it takes so long for progress, here you can just do it and build it."
"It's pretty darn neat," said Ariana about her father's work.
The best advice Pientka can give for other people who'd like to construct hand-made toys is to pay attention to detail.
"Pay attention to the finishing you use," he said. "A lot of finishings are not something you want your kids to put in their mouth."
Pientka looks to build a merry-go-round next and is even looking to sell his blue prints to other individuals who may be interested in his works.
Breakout: Checkout Mike Pientka's work at www.original-approach.com or contact him at (970) 222-7006.