Pretty sharp job and business

Pretty sharp job and business

Dennis Martin plays with knives for a living.

A moulding operator at L.J. Smith Stair Systems in Puyallup, Martin routinely makes and grinds as many as 300 different knives for the company’s machinery that’s dedicated to creating custom handrails and mouldings.

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

The custom process at the plant in Puyallup’s industrial area 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,” said 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.”

For the L.J. Smith team, the demand 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,” Martin said. “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, so to speak — keeps Martin interested in his work.

“I’ve been in woodworking since 1996,” he said. “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.”

L.J. Smith — whose products include wooden and ornamental iron balusters, stainless steel cable and tube infills, metal panels, newel posts, hand rails and accessories — is owned by NOVO Building Products, manufacturer and distributor of mouldings, stair parts, doors and specialty millwork. Smith is based in Bowerston, Ohio.

Dennis Martin makes and grinds knives for machinery that creates custom wood products.