Rural Missouri - June 2016 - (Page 18)

Lasting Memories From log to finished product, Hardwood Xpress makes the next generation's heirlooms by Jim McCarty | jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop K im and Les Cardwell can quote you chapter and verse on the population decline in Knox County, which ranks 111th out of Missouri's 114 counties in number of residents. They sadly recall when the farm crisis hit northeast Missouri with a vengeance, nearly killing once bustling communities like their hometown, Edina. But the two Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative members never gave up on their hometown. Today, people from all over the world find tiny Edina in person or on the Internet to order a host of personalized products from the Cardwell's unusual business, Hardwood Xpress. "I had a chance right out of school to go to the city and work," Les relates. "I graduated in the early '80s. The economy was the darkest I've ever seen it. But Kim and Les Cardwell were looking to add value to the wood this is where I wanted to live. We are fortunate to raise our kids in a place like products they create, so they invested in a laser engraving this. I am proud of our community." machine that can personalize just about anything. Like most small business owners, the Cardwells had to weather another downturn in the economy in 2008. They ran a logging and lumber business that took timber from northeast Missouri and scale, their first consideration is price. Here, we try to go with quality first and then figturned it into quality hardwoods. ure out a way to make it at a good price." When the crash came, they looked for something to add value Edina They also have imaginations that to a seriously depressed lumber industry. create lasting memories for their "We still had a good market," Les says. "What happened, soft customers. One example is their maple and red oak went to half of its price. Instead of selling lumrecipe boxes. Lots of people make ber way below market prices we decided to do it a different way. these, designed to hold index cards That's why we started this business." with favorite recipes. But the Cardwells take a Working for a time out of his basement, Les crafted unique items beautiful wood box and then engrave a recipe on the lid in from lumber he took from his own sawmill. It was a lot like every Grandma's actual handwriting. other woodworking shop with one big difference. The two bought a Another big seller is the $30 baby blocks made from Missouri red oak. These computer-controlled laser engraver that could be used to make every item percan include the baby's initials, date of birth and any image the customer wants. sonal. The machine burns a precision image into wood and other materials. Quickly, the business moved to the courthouse square in Edina. This let the Many families buy one of these blocks for the baby's birth, then continue them two expand into large volume work. They also for just about every life event. "Really, it's a memory block," Kim says. "By the added a second piece of equipment that time they are 18, they take their first steps, they made their first communion ensured Hardwood Xpress could do what or maybe they were the fair queen." The best sellers for the small-town business are breadboards, cutting boards few others could - take on big orders and keepsake boxes. These typically are made from hard maple or cherry and without sacrificing quality. Here, you will see the band- are personalized with family names, logos or just about any image. "People say saws, sanders and table saws they are too pretty to use," Kim says. "But everything we make is designed to that are typical of most wood- be used. They will hold up well with normal use." Another favorite is the name benches made for kids. These cost $50 and working shops. But in one corner there's another machine feature large letters painted in bright colors that drop into the bench. One of their best customers is Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative. the old timers might stare at in wonder. It's a computer-con- Travis Mathes, manager of member services and government relations for the trolled router capable of match- co-op, approached the Cardwells when he became frustrated trying to find ing any pattern with amazing American-made products to give away at the co-op's annual meeting. "We wanted something that was not just made in the USA, but also in our precision. It can even change tools on its own to reproduce service area," he says. "I checked with them and they went above and beyond what I was looking for. We did breadboards one year and the next year I asked with incredible detail. With Les creating the prod- for trivets. They worked four months coming up with that. It is great seeing ucts and Kim adding the per- someone rejuvenating a community." The business can make one item for you or it can turn out hundreds. They sonal touches, Hardwood Xpress gained a reputation as the place to routinely work with FFA chapters, churches and others that need something go for quality products and custom- for a fundraiser. Many brides and grooms make a stop at the store in Edina to find gifts for their wedding parties. While the focus is on wood items, the Cardized orders. So how has this business suc- wells also can personalize glass and metal. "We like for it to be something they will give to a child, and they will give it to ceeded when so many others have fallen victim to overseas compe- their grandchild," Les says. "It's not throw-away stuff. We are making the next tition? "The first secret is it is all generation's heirlooms." our own wood," Les says. "We have Hardwood Xpress is located at 112 N. Fourth St. in Edina and is open Monaccess to the first choice on lumber. The next thing is, when most people day through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or on Saturday by appointment. You look at making a product on a large can call 660-397-2602 or order off the website at www.hardwoodxpress.com. http://www.hardwoodxpress.com

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Rural Missouri - June 2016

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