The following was written by Dennis, an Amish woodworker living in the Midwest. In this piece, Dennis addresses myths and realities while considering the question of whether to purchase Amish-made furniture.
Buying Amish-built Furniture
A while back I was reading in our newspaper and came across the question a person had written to the “construction advice” column. It asked, “I am considering buying custom cabinets for my home. Should I consider buying Amish-made cabinets?”
The expert’s answer made my day. He wrote, “Wearing a hat and having a fascination for hooks and eyes instead of buttons doesn’t make anyone a better woodworker. Look for dovetailed drawers, full extension slides, and other quality items to help decide who will build your next cabinets.”
Some of the “outside” people of our day think we Amish embody time-honored values, which includes hand-crafting everything we own so it doesn’t fall apart the second time it’s used (think plastic import items at Walmart). The truth is: Many of us do make sure to pass on heirloom quality furniture and tools to our offspring when they “leave the nest”, but most of us also know exactly how far it is to the nearest Walmart. We are people who laugh, cry, and love their families just like you.
Someone is wrong to think a cabinet made by a suspender-wearing Amishman is automatically superior to any other product out there. Anyone who has an interest in learning and woodworking can create beautiful and durable furniture.
Pride, Family, Principles
The more recent exposure to our craftsmanship has been a two-sided benefit to our economies. The negative side to this is the tendency to take pride in the name Amish to sell a piece. Pride has been discouraged in our culture ever since it began in 1525 and was an abomination to Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets of the Old Testament. Satan himself lost a “seat in heaven” to pride (Isaiah 14:12-15).
We do appreciate the chance this opportunity has given us to operate more shops at home, allowing us to work with our sons and daughters more closely. After all, if I were the most successful businessman or farmer, but would not have time to teach my children of the Way of Light, and of the teachings of Jesus, I would consider myself a failure.
What we don’t really appreciate is the worship of almost “anything Amish”. Rather, by living more simply and trying to hold fast to the Biblical principles, we hope to be a witness for the Father above.
What to Expect from Amish Furniture
So, what can you expect if you’re looking for Amish-made furniture? There are many furniture stores out there who can easily direct you to an Amish Furniture section in their store or on their website.
Looking at the furniture, you might notice the various popular styles, such as Mission, Shaker, and Contemporary, and the many features available. Dovetail drawers are often standard with full extension drawer slides. Veneer plywood isn’t used much except for cabinet and drawer bottoms, and for applications like curved drawer fronts. It’s also used more in kitchen and bath cabinets. These are just a few of an array of many typical product features.
Why is quality such an integral part of the Amish furniture? Listening to the market has made many a shop owner successful. The market asks for high quality, and almost anyone can deliver that, if they’re willing to go the second mile. Going the second mile means doing more than what is expected.
Many woodworking shops do wholesale only, allowing them to focus on doing what they like, and letting someone else do the sales. Many of our shops are small one-to-five-man shops. Customizing is often done, even if the shop runs production in groups of five or more.
If you’re looking for a general item with not too many changes, you can go to a retail furniture store, order your item and in six to twelve weeks (sometimes longer) it will be delivered. In this day of instant gratification, some customers forget that building quality furniture takes time.
If you’re looking for something very custom, or in the line of cabinetry, there are many shops willing to sit down with you and build what you want. It would not be wrong to inspect the showroom or ask to see a previous job. After all, you are investing time and money in this and you want it done right. We also know that if you would want something immediately and cheaper, you would be in Menards.
Hidden Costs and the Value of Service
Let me tell you a story. A customer ordered cabinets from me and to save money they ordered countertops at Menards. An Amish-owned countertop shop had a higher quote, but it included sinks and installation in the price, and they refused to quote without the installation. You will see why.
By the time the custom countertops were ordered from Mendards, the price was the same as the countertop shop’s quote. The sinks and $70 delivery fee brought the Menards price up to it. No installation. Three weeks waiting time, which was fine.
The countertops came out wrong. They redid the countertops right the next time–with an additional $70 delivery fee, and three more weeks. We could have avoided this by ordering templates of the countertops–for an additional $50 each. I will add this, Menards did otherwise stand behind the issue.
This is how the small shop does their countertops. They refuse to come out and take any measurements until the cabinets are all set in place. A week or two after measuring, they come out with the countertops and install it themselves. Any warranty issues are dealt with promptly.
Why don’t they take measurements before cabinets are in place? It’s expensive to make changes to countertops and sometimes an object on the floor or wall can cause the cabinet to be redone (changing measurements also for the countertop).
Service makes customers, but service is also the Golden Rule.
Amish man photo: wcn247/flickr