Since I wrote my first Woodworking Spotlight, I discovered that there is one common trait that all of the woodworkers have – a determination to grow in the craft.
So, when I had the opportunity to exchange e-mails with David Life, well, I just knew I had to do a spotlight on him.
The woodworking story for David begins in 1990, when he and his wife moved to a little house at the edge of a farm. A neighbor up the road stopped by one day and asked if David would be up for earning a little extra money picking up some hours at his nearby cabinet shop. That brief meeting eventually led David to quit his job as a delivery driver and take up cabinetmaking as a full time vocation. “While working in that small shop for a couple of years we built all kinds of cabinetry for homes and many commercial pieces for radio/television stations, retirement homes, colleges and other places. It was a great experience and working with that guy showed me that it was possible to really enjoy building something from scratch and get paid for it.”
D’savid enjoyed it so much that after 12 years of working, he struck out and opened his own cabinet shop – Life’s Custom Woodworking – building European style frameless cabinets and countertops. “Building cabinetry and countertops that enhance both the surroundings and the clients lives is what we do.”
David’s shop is a bustling place. “Initially, I built a shop about 30’ x 30’ with everything in its place. I designed it so all aspects of cabinet building could happen with a good flow – including finishing which takes place in the back of the shop with an industrial exhaust fan. Our reputation has attracted a number of repeat clients and referrals. It got so busy that we recently added a 26’ x 30’ addition providing a staging area for materials, completed work and a bathroom.”
David’s shop has all of the basic tools you would expect to find in a cabinetry shop – a Unisaw with an Excalibur sliding table, air compressor, commercial pocket hole machine, a Blum hinge boring machine… the works. Oh, and his workbench is a few stacked sheets of MDF standing on a pair of saw horses. “My workbench isn’t glamorous, but it sure is easy to replace the top when it gets banged up and nasty.”
Currently, David’s company is undertaking a huge countertop project at a local seminary. The project involves building solid surface countertops for a 100-unit townhouse development, with each unit needing three countertops in each kitchen and two or three vanity tops in the bathrooms. “It’s great to have such a huge job right now and I look forward to doing more commercial jobs of this size – as well as getting back to building cabinets for homes.”
David still manages to keep a number of employees on the payroll, but his mind is constantly looking ahead to the economic recovery. “The biggest challenges have been to stay afloat in the past couple of years with the economy on the brink. Having a faithful group of customers is great in a good economy, and today it is more necessary to bid on as many jobs as possible in order to keep the business coming. Our greatest success has been in doing good work and most always getting repeat business or referrals.”
Up to now, you must be wondering, “gosh, Tom, this sounds like it could describe any one of a thousand cabinetmakers.” But, there’s something unique about David.
He’s legally blind.
“Yeah, I found out about two years ago.” David has a rare form of macular degeneration known as cone-rod degeneration. “It was at this same time that I quit driving and couldn’t read printed materials. I knew my eyesight wasn’t perfect but I had no idea that in just a few months it would come to that point. I went to the eye doctor expecting glasses and was told that glasses would not help me at all and that I should find a new profession.”
But, David didn’t let this slow him down. “A few months after this all hit, I came to the realization that I really couldn’t just lay down at forty years old and quit. I decided to search out ways to make it work. I have to say that part of my inspiration comes from my parents who both had polio when they were young and my mother is now blind from the same condition that I have. My parents never allowed their handicaps to stop them. My father just retired from over thirty years of teaching college level French. He wrote his entire doctoral thesis with his mouth and drives without using his arms. My mother worked for many years as a secretary and keeps house while walking with crutches while being completely blind. They have taught me to never give up and to continue to get things done.”
David has had to make some changes in order to keep his shop in production. “I now do all my design work on a special computer with cabinet design software. I have hired employees to do finish work and other tasks around the shop and I have teamed up with another local company to help with installs. Other equipment helps in the shop such as a talking tape measure, special lighting, equipment that magnifies objects onto a screen, etc. My speed at building cabinetry is not what it used to be, but I am still able to do it and I really enjoy creating cabinetry and countertops as I used to.”
And, while you may think a disability such as David’s wouldn’t give him any reason to be thankful, he is quick to point out, “I am very thankful to my family for all the help they give me. My wife and older children are even more an integral part of the business today, which happens to be one of our original goals for the company.”
David leaves with these sage words of advice, “Find a way to go after your passion. If it is important to you, then you will find a way to do it. Some things might not be possible for some, but there is a whole lot that is still attainable no matter what disabilities you have.”