A light layer of saw dust coats each workspace as machines chip, cut and sand away at wood pieces. Daily, between 30-50 individuals prepare custom wood orders for clients, in addition to producing several standard furniture items. Incarcerated individuals have an active part in the whole process, from drafting designs for the clients to sending finished projects off for installation.
Custom Wood has been producing a variety of wood furniture such as seating, tables and office furniture since it opened 1983. The shop also produces creative pieces to meet a client’s specific needs and works with other IPI divisions to create custom products, such as awards and plaques. In total, the shop’s sales range from $1 million to $2 million annually.
“The individuals bring a wealth of knowledge to the table,” said Lucas Timpe, a State Industries Technician working in the Custom Wood shop. “That creates both a quality product and helps create new ideas.” Producing such a wide variety of items requires using a wide variety of tools, which allows incarcerated individuals to learn many machining and woodworking skills.
“I’m able to take a pile of lumber and make anything I want from it, like a roll top desk,” said Steve*, an incarcerated individual who completed the cabinet making apprenticeship in the Custom Wood division. Steve said he has learned how to operate equipment in the shop and read a set of blueprints during his time with IPI, in addition to understanding the overall process of making business.
“The willingness that they have to both teach and help one another and also assist staff encourages and motivates me,” Timpe said. Timpe said he hopes incarcerated individuals in the shop gain experience and a skill set during their time with IPI.
In the Custom Wood division, incarcerated individuals are learning different aspects of the industry’s business process. Some clerks use computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop project blueprints and renderings, others prepare bids for big projects, and a few learn how to use IPI’s ERP system to track orders.
“What you put into your training is what you get out of it,” said Kurt*, an incarcerated individual working in the Custom Wood division, reflecting on the lessons he’s learned from IPI staff. Kurt said in his time with IPI, he has received his Braille transcription certification and is currently training in Solidworks, a CAD software, and learning to prepare bids.
“I enjoy learning something every day different than the previous day,” Kurt said.
Other individuals in the shop have a similar feeling. Will*, an incarcerated individual training in the Custom Wood division, said that the mindset of continuous improvement “is a valuable learning experience and allows everyone to explore their own abilities.”
Timpe said he has seen several incarcerated individuals grow personally and professionally during their job-training. “Their passion in the production of the product, maturity, and accountability of themselves grow,” he said. Incarcerated individuals working in the custom wood shop are expected to develop a set of practical skills, but Timpe said one of the most valuable things about their training is that after their release they can further develop those skills to be successful in society.
To learn more about IPI’s Anamosa Custom Wood Division, please contact Plant Manager Al Reiter at 319-462-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.