John Walter and Cruz Chavez are business partners, brought together by their love of woodworking and a shared vision for creating a community woodshop. Sawdust Studios, located at 2207 Nelwood, just off Route B and Vandiver Drive, is introducing Columbians of all ages and skill levels to the rewards of woodworking in a friendly environment. “Actually, we think of this as a gym for woodworkers. It’s like Anytime Fitness, where you get 24-hour access to work on anything you want to,” Walter says.
“We also have classes,” Chavez says, an experienced contractor, who has been enjoying woodworking for as long as he can remember. Sawdust Studios members must first take one of Chavez’s safety classes before being given free reign of the workshop.
Woodworking can be an expensive and solitary activity, the partners explain, but Sawdust Studios changes the hobby into a quite affordable one that can be shared with others. Although it can cost more than $1,000 to buy a quality table saw and other essential woodworking power tools for a home workshop, Sawdust Studios offers access to more than $50,000 worth of new, safe equipment for the cost of a membership, which is $35 for two weeks. Not only can members save money on tools, but they also get to experience top-of-the-line equipment with advanced safety features.
Pointing to one of the two table saws in the woodshop, Walter notes, “If this sawblade is touched while it’s running, it stops almost immediately. It makes the difference between having a minor cut or a serious accident.” Fear of spinning blades stops some people from even thinking about woodworking, “but we’re trying to overcome that and educate the community as well,” he says.
Cruz estimates that the space can handle 20 woodworkers at a time. “We want you to come here and to feel that it’s your shop,” Cruz says. Pegge Pherigo has done just that. After moving recently to Columbia, she took the safety class taught by Cruz, then became a member. She is excited about the workshop and proud of the projects she has already completed. “I’ve made several cutting boards and boxes. Because of the pandemic, there’s not much you can do — but you can go to Sawdust Studios and have fun woodworking,” she says.
The workspace in Sawdust Studios is anything but dusty. It’s clean, bright and spacious. Miter saws, a planer, a router, band and jig saws and an assortment of other professional woodworking equipment fill but don’t crowd the workshop. In the center are several worktables, and for those members who want to bring some of their own tools, electrical outlets and compressed air lines are within easy reach, hanging from the ceiling. Several bins along the wall are filled with wood for projects. Through an arrangement with Cardwell Hardwoods in Jefferson City, members can purchase just about any species of wood they like and have it delivered to the workshop.
Starting a new business in the middle of a pandemic isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, but Cruz and Walter follow all the standard protocols necessary for risk management. Masks are required in the workshop and Cruz wipes down equipment religiously. How will they know when their new business has established itself in the community? “I don’t live far from here, and for me, success means that when I drive past this place, I see people working on different projects,” Cruz explains. “I want a community of woodworkers. I want Boomers talking to Millennials about their projects and helping each other out. We want to continue making our members’ experience even better each time they come to the woodshop.”