Architecture & Design, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

Metal fabricators forge dual focus

EA-Craftworks, run by Kendall sculpture grads, creates limited-run aesthetic and industrial products.

March 9, 2018
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Craft
EA-Craftworks uses its limited-run, custom metal fabrication process to create items such as this kitchen island. Courtesy EA-Craftworks

Mark Schentzel and Alex Kallio have fused their respective metalworking backgrounds to create a business they call “a unique beast.”

EA-Craftworks, 957 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids, is a custom design and metal fabrication company that makes limited-run industrial products, signage, fine stainless-steel work and sculptures.

One of their steel-and-wood sculptures, Era-Alter, was an ArtPrize entry on the lawn of the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building U.S. Courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids last fall. 

Within the past few months, the business moved to its current space — a sparse office up front and a small shop in the back with welding stations, CAD equipment and a Di-Acro machine for bending metal.

Schentzel, co-owner and designer/fabricator, and Kallio, co-owner and design engineer, said their business has two halves.

One side focuses on aesthetic work, such as architectural and decorative products, and the other half is utilitarian, including industrial guardrails, carts, tooling and shelving.

“You can see our work in a custom home, a restaurant, a bar and … in your industrial factories,” Schentzel said.

When they opened their business in May 2017, the partners said they hadn’t found a company in the area that could offer what they do — and they still have not.

“We feel being able to provide that array of services is our strong point — being able to capitalize on not just the art market or industrial market but everything,” Schentzel said.

Kallio said they can engineer, prototype and produce solutions to challenges.

“The hole we fill is we offer design services and problem-solving for a variety of industries. A lot of the problems I am working on are industrial tooling for the coating industry,” he said.

“We offer a one-stop shop because we take a part and run it through raw design all the way through production, fabrication and end product.”

The partners’ paths first crossed at Kendall College of Art and Design about 15 years ago. Both switched programs a few times; ultimately, Schentzel earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture, while Kallio double-majored in sculpture and industrial design.

The two of them have since picked up skills in graphic design, tooling, welding, blacksmithing, CAD, and sheet metal design and forming — while maintaining ties to the art world. 

Before launching this business, Kallio was doing design engineering for sheet metal forming and also had worked as a CAD technician and programmer. Schentzel worked as a welder in structural steel construction, as a designer for the furniture industry and also held a couple of teaching roles at KCAD.

They attribute their growing business to their complementary skill sets.

“Mark’s the process side, and I’m on the tech side with CAD work and analytical design,” Kallio said. “In the middle, we overlap with problem-solving. We play off each other in a good way.”

Added Schentzel: “Where I’m weak, you’re strong and vice versa. So, we said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Schentzel said EA-Craftworks is “not interested in mass production” because if batches are small, it’s easier to control the quality and craftsmanship of the work.

“Craft was something pushed at Kendall, and that’s something we rely on in setting ourselves apart from the others. We want our work to speak for itself,” he said.

Kallio gave an example of an etched steel kitchen countertop they produced for a residential client.

“With the island top, there (were) Mark’s skills with his custom etching that contributed to the finished product that made a very high-end piece of work,” he said. “If you go to our architectural site, with our stainless-steel railing, custom countertops — we’re not going to mass produce those; it requires a high level of skill.”

At the same time, the partners are willing to consider just about any request.

“I’m always open to ideas other industries might have, where they look at us and say, ‘Can you make this for us?’” Kallio said.

“If we don’t think it would be a good fit, we can talk about that,” Schentzel added.

“We’ll do our best to accommodate … unless someone told me they wanted to develop a levitating couch. I’d say, ‘Probably not.’ But we’ll hear you out,” Kallio said with a laugh.

EA-Craftworks currently has occasional part-time help, but with a growing workload, its co-owners expect to hire full-time employees in the next six to 12 months.

“Starting a business, it took us a few months to get the t’s crossed, the i’s dotted,” Kallio said. “Now, we’re on an accelerated growth period, which has been interesting and exciting. I don’t see that slowing down.”

Schentzel said, financially speaking, the company is “exceeding” the co-owners’ expectations.

“We need to swallow that and be proud of it and use it to grow our company into what it’s going to be 10 years from now,” he said. 

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