Forest 2 Home team member, Madeleine, sat down with Mike Legregni to discuss his woodworking journey. Not only is Mike an incredible woodworker with some amazing workshop projects to prove it, but he is a U.S. Marines veteran and a retired law enforcement officer. Mike has built his past in the U.S. Marines and law enforcement into his woodworking by working with veteran woodworkers and donating projects to local precincts and departments. As he continues growing his woodworking business, supporting veteran woodworkers, and establishing a woodworking non-profit, how does he balance it all? Mike shares how he established his woodworking business in this blog, part one of his conversation.
Mike’s start with woodworking
Mike: We’re getting right into it aren’t we? I’m 38 years old and I’ve been working with my hands for most of my adult life. I guess its taken me 38 years to get where I am today. I’ve been woodworking for two years now, starting in July of 2019, starting Veteran Wood Co. in July of 2019. I never really expected to go full-time for myself-did it as a hobby the first few months and then when I saw where it was taking me in terms of business and how much fun you could have working for yourself, I made the plunge head first. Everyday it’s fun, it’s stressful, but if you know me, I like to make a good time out of it. I like to have fun with the social media, I like to be interacting with the community. We did some charitable donations this past year-I do a lot of donations to nonprofits throughout the year.
What else? Veteran Wood Co…I have a big CNC machine behind me! I use a lot of CNC stuff, I have a laser, planer, jointer, all that stuff. A nice blend of new age technology that allows me to blend graphic design with my woodwork.
I do all my own graphic design now and I actually teach a webinar about every other week, sometimes once a month, regarding CNC design and its been a great journey. It’s only been two years, so I don’t have a ton of experience in terms of this industry but I’ve been working with my hands for the majority of my adult life so there’s a lot of where my experience comes from.
Madeleine: What made you transition those two years ago, making you go “I’m going to go right into woodworking.”
Mike: I was leaving law enforcement, I left in December of 2019. I was working part-time-I always held a part-time job as a cop, even when I was working full time as a cop, I always had part-time jobs, I ran a jiu-jitsu school for a number of years as a coach and a general manager and then once we moved to that area, I had to kind of resign my position of the manager. And then I had a friend of mine reach out to me and say, “Hey, if you have some free time-“ because cop and fireman, we had very flexible schedules, like you work a couple days a week, have a couple days off. So I started working for that friend of mine doing low-voltage electrician work-data centers, cameras, CCTV, networking and I did that for about a year and a half.
I left law enforcement and began doing low-voltage electrical work full time, but it was a lot of stress. I was working in Brooklyn, Manhattan…not the nicest commutes [from where I live in New Jersey] to work, expensive cost of living and at that time, that’s when my wife asked me to start making things for the house.
I was lucky enough to have a garage and I just started doing some trim works and molding work, you know cute, rustic, farmhouse flag for the house. Once my wife was like, you know, you should really think about doing this for a living, whether its working with your hands or just being a contractor, you could do fairly well if that’s what you want to do. So, I had shared some of my work online, strictly as like “Hey, this is what I made for the house” and right away, I started getting orders. Friends and old colleagues were reaching out saying “Can you make me a flag? Can you make a badge? Can you make a table?” and then one thing led to another! I realized that I had more money essentially stacked up in my garage than I was earning at my job. Between tolls and taxes, time and stress, easy pass and wear and tear on your car-it didn’t make any sense. I eventually made the plunge. It took a lot of money, I didn’t just acquire the equipment overnight. It was something that I consciously made, but only because I kind of saw the need for it. I had a lot of customers that were asking me for bigger and better projects, so I had to jump in with the equipment that I knew I could handle in the space that I was given. I kind of just went headfirst.
Essential tools for a woodworking business
Madeleine: That’s pretty awesome and it is cool that you navigated that path, found what you wanted to do, are now doing it and are doing it successfully. You mentioned a big haul of tools that you invested in. What tools were the necessities that you needed in the wood shop to get your woodworking business started? I know you mentioned the CNC machine, but what else is there?
Mike: So what I have now is actually CNC number two, the first one was much smaller. It was a small Inventables CNC machine, 30 x 30. The way it started was with the wooden rustic American Flag. I was doing rustic farmhouse shutters, doors, trim; stuff like that. And people were asking “who built this” and my wife was telling them “My husband did.” So, I started building flags which led me to a guy down the street who has a larger CNC machine, who works for an actual company-he’s the employee that runs the CNC machine. He’s also the one that told me, like, “Hey man, I can cut stars for you all day long on this but like you can buy your own very small CNC machine. You can just do it at home, it’s going to cost about two grand.” So I was like, “Great.” He sent me a link, and I bought a small CNC machine. Then it was: table saw, planer-small planer, like a DeWalt planer, small full table saw, a chop saw-a non sliding chop saw, a miter saw and a work bench and that was it. And that got me through the first six months. Then, within a matter of six months, I had orders stacking up, orders that surpassed the size requirements of my material or my equipment.
People started wanting things that I couldn’t do, I started having to cut boards down that my miter saw couldn’t handle. I’d have to flip the boards over and think, this is becoming a pain. So then starts part 2 of Veteran Wood Co.
At that point, I already had the LLC, had a very basic Etsy store but no website and I was just kind of feeling out my way. I may have been still working part-time doing the electrical thing. But once I realized this could potentially go somewhere, that’s when like with any business, you have to invest in it and either you’re going to get investors or you’re going to invest in it with your own money. So nobody’s going to invest in me going, “Hey, I got this great idea for a little wood company and it’s just me, give me your money.” So I’ve taken the approach of you gotta spend money to make money, so to speak. So the CNC here is number two. I gave the first CNC away, I donated it to a young man who turned out to be my landscaper. I’m mentoring him how to use it and he gets to it every once in a while.
CNC number two I bought used from Stepcraft, from a contactor down the road. Stepcraft allowed me to pay the upcharge for them to take it back, refurbish it, and do a few upgrades-only because it was local. If it was across the country, the probably wouldn’t have done so.
Then I wanted a table saw. Safety’s big for me because you know, most important tool are [my hands]. Technically, I can’t operate anything if I lose a finger, lose a hand, lose a tendon. So when it came time for the table saw…there’s a lot of table saws out there that are really nice, in terms of horsepower rating, voltage, size capacity and then the safety aspect, the SawStop was very important for me to get because God forbid I take a finger off or accidentally slip. So the SawStop is very important for me.
For those that don’t know, the SawStop is a table saw, and it has a brain, it has like a little computer and its looking for an open current, a very, very low voltage open current, like a battery. You can’t shock it but you can short it out if you want, like if you took one end of the battery and stuck it to the other end it would melt-that’s essentially why batteries blow up. The SawStop operates the same way, it has an open current. It’s looking for a way to pass through voltage and humans are conductive, hence why we can get electrocuted. So you touch the blade and you’re standing on the ground-you’re grounded out, grounding the SawStop out. Within a 10th of a second, the SawStop is going to retract the blade. The blade gets a metal cartridge that comes out and easts into the blade but the blade retracts. You might get a little nick on your finger and pay another $80 for a new blade, but you don’t have to go to the ER that day, right? That was important for me.
Woodworking workshop safety
Madeleine: So we’re big on workshop safety?!
Mike: Big, BIG on workshop safety. I’m always wearing my goggles; I always have hearing protection. You have to do it…
…When I found the contractor that was selling this machine, was also had in his shop a planer, 20 inch wide, jet planer-you feed wood through it and smooth it down on both sides, really fancy. So, I picked up that from the contractor. And then when it came time for the outfitting, I wanted a joiner and a band saw and a drill press. I kind of like to make things match, I didn’t want a mish-mosh of equipment. So I just went with all Jet equipment because the planer was already jet brand.
Madeleine: Well it seems like you’re also big on woodshop organization. Your shop looks to be a lot cleaner than others I’ve seen! Is that part of your method for woodshop safety, or it that just you wanting to keep thing regimented, knowing where everything is?
Mike: It’s more of practice. Old habits die hard, whether it’s Marine Corp or God knows…like my basement is kind of messy but I don’t ever go in my basement so its okay that its kind of messy. I’m in here [the woodshop] every day. If its more cluttered or more messy, it would effect my attitude or my cognitive ability to keep track of things. So for me, this is about as messy as I want it to get. And there has been times where I’m mid project and I’ll start slinging things left and right to just get through the project. But as soon as I’m done: clean up, vacuum, sweep, wipe down. I usually mop in here one every two weeks, I’ll wipe down my monitors, wipe down the cabinets because they gather dust really quick, so I’m always wiping down with a vinegar mixture…making sure it’s clean, very clean…
I like keeping things neat and organized, it contributes to an overall better workshop experience.
The next part of Mike's conversation with Forest 2 Home team member, Madeleine, can be found on our blog page. Want to be apart of these conversations live? Head over to the Forest 2 Home Instagram page @shopf2h and stay tuned for our next Instagram Live with another incredible woodworker!
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