From dining room sets to a “little library” for book exchanges, Tim Hatlestad has created hundreds of wood structures throughout his lifetime. Just this past summer, the 55-year-old teacher occupied himself by making a couple of dining sets (on which he spent three or four days each), as well as 40 chairs, including gliders, and more than 100 one-foot-square planter boxes for decks, balconies or porches.
“I’ve been woodworking for nearly 40 years, so I have no idea how many things I’ve made,” he said.
Hatlestad, who lives in North Mankato, displays and sells his custom-made pieces, including the dining sets, at the Mankato Farmers’ Market.
“I’ve been at the Farmers’ Market about 15 years,” he said. “People don’t usually come to the Farmers’ Market looking for a dining set, but they see the table with chairs, and many people are interested.”
Growing in his craft
Growing up in Watford City, N.D., Hatlestad actually had his first woodworking experience in third grade, when his parents bought him a bird house kit. Putting it together was a heady experience for a young boy.
I’ve been woodworking for nearly 40 years, so I have no idea how many things I’ve made.Tim Hatlestad
“I used hand tools—a saw and a hammer—and then I sanded the bird house and painted it red and white,” he recalled.
Some years later, Hatlestad was inspired to make a bedframe in his high school wood shop class to replace the metal frame of his bed. He also started making wooden boxes. His interest continued to grow as he became acquainted with his father-in-law, Jim Rethwisch, who lives near Frazee, Minn., in the Detroit Lakes area.
“My father-in-law cut down trees on his land, took them to a sawmill and then used them to make hay wagons,” Hatlestad said. “I suggested to him that we could make nice furniture from the wood. I want people to be aware that I really got started in wood working after I married my wife, Sandy, and I saw her father’s work. Working with him, I made the furniture for our home—dressers, book shelves, end tables, a desk, a curio cabinet, an entertainment center and bunk beds. About 25 years ago, my father-in-law and I both began building enough things to sell.”
A careful process
Hatlestad begins with white oak, buying 3,000 to 4,000 board feet of a variety of widths from a saw mill. Then, he has to dry the wood and plane it before he can use it. He stores it at his father-in-law’s home and works on it in his shop in North Mankato, which is in a triple garage. The shop includes a miter saw, a table saw, a router, a planer, a drum sander and a pocket hole machine (which is a fancy drill), as well as other drills, sanders, a band saw, a scroll saw and various hand tools. All of the larger tools are on wheels.
The final step, finishing the wood, gives Hatlestad the opportunity to show off the wood’s natural grain.
I never use paint. I finish all products with an exterior oil-based stain because oak is too pretty to paint.Tim Hatlestad
“I never use paint,” he explained. “I finish all products with an exterior oil-based stain because oak is too pretty to paint. The wood grain of the oak shows through the stain. I try to do a quality job at an affordable price.”
To bring his specialty products to potential customers, Hatlestad loads a 16-foot trailer with a variety of custom-made items to take to the Farmers’ Market. His main inventory includes four styles of chairs; a couple styles of dining tables and benches; end tables; and footstools to go with the chairs. Prices run from $35 for planter boxes to $1,000 for a dining set. His most popular items are Adirondack chairs, which sell for $189.
Expanding his market
Hatlestad originally consigned his custom-made items at Edenvale Nursery, a garden center south of Mankato. He made the switch to the Farmers’ Market about 15 years ago.
“I thought I could probably sell more items at the Farmers’ Market and have 100 percent of the sale, rather than the 50 percent of consignment sales,” he explained.
This move turned out to be a smart one, since he was better able to connect with customers face-to-face.
“People get to meet the person who made the item,” he said about the Mankato Farmers’ Market. “And I enjoy talking with the people. I’ve thought about more marketing, but this is something I can do during the three months of the year that I’m not teaching. After I retire in a few years, I plan to increase my production and will look at additional marketing venues.”
[At the Mankato Farmers’ Market], people get to meet the person who made the item. And I enjoy talking with the people.Tim Hatlestad
Hatlestad’s wood crafts are available at the Mankato Farmers’ Market from May through October, 8 a.m.-noon every Saturday and 3:30-6 p.m. every Tuesday in the Best Buy store’s parking lot at 1895 Adams Street in Mankato.