Still waiting for word, but I found this feature story on him written for a local paper. I thought y'all might enjoy the story.
Woodworking hobby turns into career for Sommerfeld
Thursday, January 27, 2011
By LeAnn Johnson
Local craftsman Marc Sommerfeld has designed dozens of woodworking tools and techniques. His business, Sommerfeld's Tools for Wood, has offices in Remsen, but its products are sold all over the United States and in Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.
From soap box derby cars to world-renowned Steinway & Sons pianos, master craftsman Marc Sommerfeld has come a long ways since his childhood love for woodworking first began.
Not only has he started his own company, Sommerfeld Tools For Wood in Remsen, but his woodworking products are manufactured and sold all over the world.
When asked if he ever thought his love for woodworking would bring him to where he's at today, Sommerfeld simply replied, "No, not at all. Not at all."
Growing up in Odebolt, Sommerfeld never planned to turn woodworking into a career.
He attended Wayne State College in Nebraska, graduating in 1970 with a teaching degree.
In 1971 he began a 17-year career as an industrial arts instructor and basketball coach at Remsen-Union High School.
Even as a teacher, he incorporated woodworking into his job. In 1983, he launched a special woodworking program through which students designed and built grandfather clocks for their families. This program eventually created heavy demand for an adult education class that Sommerfeld taught in the evenings.
His enjoyment of woodworking continued to grow, especially after his brother got a patent on a jig.
"I started being interested in building cabinets, so I quit teaching and started a cabinetmaking shop in Le Mars," Sommerfeld said.
He developed dozens of new cabinetmaking methods, including better ways to build angled and curved cabinets.
Soon people took notice of his cabinets and woodworking techniques.
"Some of the tools I was using people got interested in," Sommerfeld said.
He started going to trade shows every weekend, eventually demonstrating at woodworking shows in 30 cities each year.
"The people were just thirsty for knowledge, so I just took my teaching and kept on going, made some videos on how to build cabinets," Sommerfeld said. "And we started getting more and more tools."
To date, Sommerfeld has completed 10 woodworking videos/DVDs to show people how they can implement his techniques.
In 1997, Sommerfeld began working with the Italian company CMT, one of the world's best router bit manufacturers according to Sommerfeld, where he was hired to design router bits.
"They were sold all over the world," Sommerfeld said, adding that CMT put his name on the boxes of router bits that were shipped worldwide.
"That kind of got my name going in the United States," he said.
He worked with CMT for seven years. CMT manufactured not only his router bits, but also his router tables, pockethole jig and Tongue & Groove Cabinetmaking System.
"After a while, some of my ideas they didn't like," Sommerfeld said. "So I said, 'The heck with it. I'm going to go on my own.'"
He started his own business and began manufacturing his own router bits.
"And that's where I'm at today," Sommerfeld said.
However, things run a little differently now compared to when he first started.
Sommerfeld said in the beginning of his business, he shipped all his products from his house using UPS.
That's not feasible now since Sommerfeld's customer base is around 75,000. Most of his products are sold in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, but he has a few customers in Europe, too.
The countries his products are manufactured in are even more widespread.
"Some are in China; some are in Taiwan," Sommerfeld said. "Some of our materials come from Switzerland. Some of our materials come from Luxemburg. It's a global economy now."
One of his most famous customers is the piano-making company Steinway & Sons. Their pianos can cost up to half a million dollars a piece, Sommerfeld said.
"We sell router bits to them to manufacture those pianos," Sommerfeld said.
Sommerfeld also has an entire catalog of products available for sale. He said he currently has three or four patents.
"The major thing that makes me go, makes our company go is all the new ideas that (we) come up with on doing stuff," Sommerfeld said. "We're coming up with new ideas every year."
There is one person in his life whom Sommerfeld feels doesn't receive enough credit for the new ideas -- his wife and business partner, Linda.
"She has lit a lightbulb on a couple of great ideas," Sommerfeld said. "She says, 'Well, why don't you do it this way, Marc?' And she doesn't know anything about woodworking, but she plants the seed in my head to come up with some of these ideas that we've come up with."
He is very grateful for all that his wife has sacrificed to help him and their business.
"She quit teaching to go on the road with me to do these shows," Sommerfeld said. "She was an excellent teacher."
His wife taught middle school English in the Le Mars school system for 21 years.
Currently, he and his wife are building a house in Pismo Beach, Calif., where they can live during the winter.
"I'm kind of getting to the twilight of my years," Sommerfeld, 62, said.
Despite his semi-retirement, Sommerfeld still thinks up new ideas and projects, with his most recent being a book that shows people how to build cabinets.
The book will be based on the kitchen Sommerfeld is building for his California house.
"I'll probably build the kitchen back in Iowa and then haul it out here," Sommerfeld said, adding that Robbie Schorg, who used to work for Sommerfeld at his cabinetry shop, will probably help him build the kitchen and cabinets at Schorg's Custom Cabinetry in Remsen.
Sommerfeld and one of his marketing directors are planning to write the book together.
"The DVDs are fine, but you can't take them to your shop," Sommerfeld said. "You can take a book to your shop."
Between building a house, running a business and writing a book, Sommerfeld's schedule stays pretty full, but he fits in a little free time, too.
Sommerfeld enjoys golf and playing with his four dogs. And he's picked up another hobby, too.
"I'm starting to get to really love landscaping," Sommerfeld said. "I love working with rocks and landscaping out here."
The reason for this new pastime?
"Woodworking is not a hobby anymore," Sommerfeld said.