Photos provided by JMF Woodcrafts
“I may have to go get a job,” John Fisher of JMF Woodcrafts in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, jokes. “Retirement is killing me.” Fisher had a 28-year career in the U.S. Army before retiring in 2012. He said he has always had a passion for woodworking and has made everything from a foot stool for his wife to a deck on his house. “Being able to say, ‘I made that’ gives me personal joy and satisfaction,” he says. But it was an event in the Army in 2010 that served as a catalyst for him opening JMF Woodcrafts, first as a hobby and then as a full-fledged full-time business.
Fisher explained, after being assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, “A couple of friends and I were having lunch and the discussion on a need for a table stand to represent our unit at the Post Leadership Night came up. It didn’t take long before I was tasked with the challenge.” Fisher created a design, found a local vendor who made laser plaques and worked with him to make the plaque while Fisher made the stand. He later took a class on custom framing and orders started pouring in for plaques from soldiers who were departing active duty or transferring locations.
In 2011, John’s wife Ann, an accountant, persuaded him to “legitimize my new-found income”, as he recounts, and JMF Woodcrafts, LLC was born. JMF Woodcrafts’ motto is “thinning the line between limitation and imagination” and focuses on building plaques, furniture, pens, engraved bourbon barrel lids, coin racks, and miscellaneous memorabilia. All of the products are made from Baltic birch, reclaimed timber, and Kentucky bourbon barrels.
After retiring from the Army, Fisher spent time on his woodworking business part-time while holding down a full-time job. But in 2014 he and his wife had a conversation about his woodworking passion and she encouraged him to focus on building his business into his full-time job. Before the end of 2016, his business had grown big enough to hire his first permanent, part-time employee for the production side of things so he could spend more time on the design and administrative side of the business. Now he has three employees, plus he hires temporary employees to help at his busiest times, and his business keeps growing. “We’re up 500 percent so far this year,” Fisher says, which is what prompted his “retirement is killing me” comment.
Fisher credits his military career with instilling in him and refining the skills he needs to run his business. “I had the opportunity to serve in various ranks, positions, and organizations,” he explains, “culminating as Human Resource Sergeant Major. I learned how to manage, forecast, direct, and distribute personnel assets on both an individual and an organizational level.” He said he learned from his peers and his leaders by observation, taking note of what works and doesn’t work and where there was room for improvement. The Army also supported him to go back to college to earn an associate’s degree in business management and a bachelor of science degree in accounting and business management.
“One of the most important things I learned, especially towards the end of my career, was networking. As large as the Army is, you are bound to run into someone you were stationed with or worked with at some time in your career. Maintaining those contacts and friends provides useful resources when it comes time to finding your next job or career path. Networking helps with my business too by giving me more opportunities to get my product out there.”
Fisher also uses those networking skills to source his materials. He purchases timber from local lumber mills and says, “Reclaimed lumber adds such a unique character to anything. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment when you can take a piece of rough cut lumber or fallen timber and cut, plane, sand, route, and assemble it into a finished product.“ He sources bourbon barrels from the local industry, saying the local market is flooded with them.
Fisher says he has reliable sources he’s cultivated for barrel components, but when supplies are scarce, he’s resorted to Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or other “area online yard sale-type websites. I have even done some networking where trading skills and materials has resulted in acquiring resources,” he says.
Since everything JMF Woodcrafts makes has been custom-ordered (through their website or in person at JMF Woodcraft’s studio), no two items are ever identical. They’ve made a display case that makes a military beret look like it’s floating inside the glass. They’ve custom-designed wooden plaques to celebrate all sorts of special occasions. And they’ve made benches, tables, and chairs. Fisher jokes that his favorite item to make is “one that sells.” Then he adds more seriously that he likes to make bourbon barrel pub tables. “I have always liked the old, distressed look. I like cleaning up used barrel pieces and leaving a little bit of those distinguishing distillery markings and the char that seems to go with any type of décor, in my guy opinion. But the custom-lasered plaques have to be a real close second. I get to use complete creativity with imagination, customer input, and computer graphic design software to wow most of my customers.”
Fisher admits that he’d love to add other furniture items to what they make, for example cabinets, beds, and different types of tables. But with the way his business has been growing, he says he just hasn’t had the time to design anything. He’s hopeful that he will in the future, though. He’s excited to be hiring new employees and that his business is growing, and he is honored to serve both those in the military and in civilian life through JMF Woodcrafts