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Meet Jonathan Hawley of Hawley Handmade Leather & Lumber in Lakewood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonathan Hawley.

Jonathan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Some of my first projects were from broken pieces of furniture found in dumpsters or on the curb during bulk trash. Dressers, chairs, coffee tables, ottomans, buffets, bookshelves, etc. Broken pieces were replaced, a fresh coat of paint or stain, and some TLC brought these pieces back to life. I ran out of space in my tiny apartment so I started giving it away to family and friends. It progressed to people requesting specific pieces or bringing over their own pieces to be redone.

One summer, a friend sent me a photograph of an antique leather mailbag and asked, “Can you make this?” I said, “Sure.” Made a paper template. Bought the leather. Each piece was cut, folded, and sewn by hand. I posted a photo of the final result and received an enormous response. Most were offering compliments and asking questions, but a few asked if I could make XYZ they’ve been trying to find.

The carpentry portion of Hawley Handmade Leather & Lumber had a similar beginning. A friend had recently seen a table in a big box store but it was too large, the wrong color, and constructed out of engineered wood (aka not real wood). We designed exactly what they wanted – size, height, stain, etc. After it was delivered I snapped a quick photo and got another immense response from social media.

Both of these events happened in Summer of 2014. I had student loans like most students and still needed to take out more to continue my education. Luckily, these first projects led to keychains, wallets, notebook covers, purses, bags, wooden signs, ring boxes, Texas cutouts, bookshelves, and more. I launched my website in the Fall of 2015 to help keep up with orders, which started to offset the cost of school and continues to keep my student loans at a minimum.

Today, a vast majority of my orders are custom orders for events like birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, or new homes.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Smooth road depends on how you define success. Success to me currently is finishing the last two years of school without taking out any more loans, spending time with my family, and making some quality leather and lumber products along the way. Time is the ultimate struggle. Sometimes projects have to be postponed because of school responsibilities. Or worked on late into the night after my family has gone to bed. The average project right now takes between four and six weeks to complete. Larger projects can take four to six months, depending on the size of the product. It’s definitely a balance between accepting a large amount of orders and completing them in a timely manner. I try to communicate in the beginning an estimated time of completion and throughout the process where the order stands in the order cue. A close second struggle is space. My workspace for leather projects is a small antique desk with a small piece of granite resting on top and an antique wooden four-drawer filing cabinet from a local Texas newspaper. My carpentry area is tiny compared to most carpentry shops. It’s one-fourth of a one car garage. That means I don’t have room for large machinery like table saws, planers, jointers, etc. Both time and space have limited the size, number of simultaneous, and speed of completion of projects but it has worked well for the past four years and is currently working well for now.

Hawley Handmade Leather & Lumber – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
A few years ago a friend of mine told me about a YouTube series sponsored by Balvenie Whiskey called Raw Craft with the late Anthony Bourdain. The opening dialogue Bourdain says, “The term ‘handcrafted’ gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s become a movement. A trend. That can obscure the passionate folks how can actually make amazing things by hand. Their remarkable stories need to be told. And I’m going to find them.” The mastery level of the craftsmanship by Frank Shattuck, Steve Goodson, Bob Kramer, etc. were awe-inspiring. This type of craftsmanship and mastery is the level I aspire towards but have years and years of practice before achieving. I’m by no means a master craftsman of leather or lumber but if our goals seem unobtainable then they are probably set to an appropriate level. My hope for each of my items is for them to outlast things bought in a big-box store. Ideally, I would like to see the personalized leather notebooks or a pair of custom-made bookshelves to be passed on for generations.

My most popular items for leather have been customized sleeves for the popular metal tumblers. These have typically been purchased as wedding party gifts for bridesmaids and/or groomsmen. I’ve had a lot of single orders for them also. My most popular item for carpentry has been the Texas cutouts. I have a small collection of reclaimed lumber to cut out different sizes of Texas wall hangings. The smallest I’ve made is one inch out of Zebrawood and the largest is thirty-six inches across (El Paso to Sabine National Forest) made from reclaimed White Oak. I try to upcycle as much lumber as possible. Collecting trashed wood from demolition sites, bulk trash, remodels, etc. from areas around the metroplex. Unfortunately, my limited storage space confines the amount of material I can keep on hand at any one time.

My favorite project to date I’ve worked on was a commission for a rancher in west Texas. He had a unique story with the waterways around The Lone Star State and wanted something to represent it. We discussed ideas for a while and agreed upon a design. At the time I had a stockpile of White Oak from a remodel in Ft. Worth, Texas. I assembled it into a 4-foot square and each river of the state was sketched, chiseled, and painted by hand. The total project took near fifty hours to complete. It’s titled “Texas Rivers” and pictured below. Of course, it could have been completed with a CNC machine, but I prefer doing things by hand. I put on some good music and zone out everything else – similar to most of my work this is how I relax and recharge. Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, it was never delivered to the rancher. But it worked out in my favor and is now sitting in my living room. Although I’ve received other offers to buy it, I doubt I’ll ever sell it.

I love Texas and anything Texas influenced. From wooden Texas cutout wall decor to tiny leather keychains. All of my products are made to order. Nothing is pre-ordered or cutout until the order is made. Custom orders are the majority of my business and always welcome.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
A lot of my initial inspiration comes from cities I have lived. Growing up in my hometown of Abilene, Texas, I frequented stores like Luskey Ryon’s Western Wear (now closed), 5D Custom Hats, and James Leddy Boot Custom Boots. Once I moved to Waco, Texas I explored similar places like Standard Hatworks (now closed) and Uptmor Saddlery. In the metroplex places like these were difficult to find, but I found a few like Weldon’s Saddle Shop in Denton and Peter Brothers Hats in Ft. Worth. Now with social media it is increasingly easier to connect with people with the same interest to ask questions, share products, or offer advice. One of my favorite accounts is Jake Thompson (@lifeisworthcompetingfor) with Compete Every Day consistently offers motivation to maintain the good things in life.

My biggest support has come from family and close friends. I have one close friend who has consistently had something ordered with me since I started taking them years ago. I just finished some hunting bags for him and he’s already talking about the next order. The saying goes, “Friends will ask for discount prices. True friends will pay full price to support you, your time, and your work.”

Also, my wife’s photography hobby compliments my hobbies. All my photos on my social media accounts and website were taken by my wife. She tolerates hammering, sawing, whiskey drinking, and loud music while I work. She has a good eye on how to stage each product and I’m grateful to have her help.

I mention all this to say, my proudest moments for Hawley Handmade Leather & Lumber are when people ask me to make a custom project when they could easily buy it quicker and cheaper elsewhere. Compete Every Day ordered a couple dozen keychains with their logo. Another customer recently bought a new house and wanted some custom built-in bookshelves. And I could list dozens of examples. I’m proudest when customers see the final product and ask “How did you do that!? It looks great!”

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Emma Hawley

Getting in touch: VoyageDallas is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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