Barry Wiskel had a knack for building since he was a kid growing up in Peterborough. He came by his passion for metalworking honestly: his parents ran a fabrication shop and he worked in the summers for his uncle who owns a metal distributing facility.
“I grew up around fabricating metal. In my spare time and during the summer when I was attending university, I would build things for myself and for others, mainly tables and hand-forged railings,” says Wiskel, co-owner of Black & Smith Ironworks.
“Word of mouth got around and next thing I knew I was taking a lot of orders and making all sorts of stuff.”
Although he comes to the table with a degree in accounting, Wiskel found his true calling in custom furniture design. In 2017, while he pursued his post-grad career, metal fabrication became a side hustle. Suddenly, orders continued to grow, so Wiskel decided to leave behind the 9-to-5 grind to take his hustle full-time as an entrepreneur and started Black & Smith Ironworks.
Seeing the potential in her partner’s startup, Michaela Brown, a native of Cavan, also left her career to blaze the trail with him and became the company’s co-owner.
Black & Smith Ironworks is a woodworking and metal fabrication business based in Cavan, Ontario, that designs and handcrafts superior custom, industrial, and modern-industrial furniture, furniture components and store fixtures.
Wiskel and Brown primarily focus on building heavy-duty table legs, bench legs, hairpin legs and shelf brackets. They also build and install hand-forged railings, steel-framed pergolas, fences and gates.
They’ve introduced wood furniture, creating dining tables, coffee tables and benches, but currently put their efforts into metal fabrication and installation until their new wood shop is ready for production.
The chic industrial style designs are all hand-made and built to order.
The couple are proud to have built lasting relationships with local artists and masters of other trades whose work shows the same high level of care. Through these valuable partnerships, they are able to purchase their raw materials locally and have their finishes done professionally by various coatings companies within Ontario.
Black & Smith Ironworks has the resources and technical expertise to help customers realize their vision from concept to installation, ensuring that any project they tackle is structurally sound and seamlessly integrated into a finished space.
“People will come to us with a vague idea or a photo of something they want and we build it,” says Brown. “Others come to us because the pieces available at stores won’t fit their unique space—that could be a table that’s too large or a shelving unit that’s the wrong size. Our pieces are also very high in quality compared to some you’ll find in lower end box stores.”
Wiskel adds that customers are thrilled to find a local company who does custom metal work, particularly for specific projects.
“We have a lot of customers who come to us saying they can’t find anyone to create a specific project for them,” says Wiskel. These clients are excited to find someone local who does custom metal work. “Because our overhead is relatively low, we’re able to charge a reasonable price for custom work,” he says.
Customers can choose from a library of samples showcasing the uniquely handcrafted furniture and fixtures on the company’s website or on Etsy, an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies, as well as unique factory-manufactured items.
“Our main selling platform is Etsy where we sell mainly to do-it-yourselfers working on individual projects and to woodworkers. If someone comes to us with a wooden table top, we can offer a variety of pre-designed table legs that they can use to complete an original piece of furniture that will bring character into their home,” adds Brown.
“A lot of our customers from Peterborough have found us through Etsy. People don’t know that we’re in the area especially because we’re a fairly new startup. We would like for our business to gain more awareness in Peterborough.”
In December 2018, Wiskel and Brown moved their fabricating process to a 3,000 sq. ft. workshop in Cavan. The new shop is larger and equipped with the essential tools and equipment required to create complex pieces.
The artisans credit part of their success to funding they received through the Eastern Ontario Development Program through Community Futures Peterborough.
“Like any job, challenges sometimes arise. Because of the high volume of custom orders, we realized that we needed financial help. So, we turned to Community Futures to help us grow our business,” says Brown.
“A big challenge for us was that we had both left our jobs, so we were 100 per cent committed to the business at that point and it was our only source of income. We had to be frugal with our spending.”
That meant, she explained, being limited on what kind of equipment to buy due to the hefty price tags. Plus, they were in the process of building a new metal shop.
For Black & Smith Ironworks, the funding through the Eastern Ontario Development Program has had a positive impact on the business. Wiskel and Brown put the money towards a saw, a welder, and a fixturing table.
“It helped us equip our shop better than it was before and made it more efficient,” says Brown. “We wouldn’t have been able to purchase that equipment sooner in the startup stage of our business as we didn’t have the funds.”
As for the application process, Wiskel says “it was attainable.”
“It was actually pretty easy dealing with the applications, the paper work and the meetings with Pat (Peeling) and Ryan (Plumpton) at Community Futures,” says Wiskel. “For anyone feeling intimidated about the process, it’s definitely worth the try. We’ve been recommending it to our entrepreneurial friends about the programs in Peterborough, like the Eastern Ontario Development Program, that may give them guidance to help their business grow.”
While Black & Smith Ironworks is gaining traction in the market, Wiskel and Brown have big plans for 2019. In January, they started selling their products to U.S customers due to the demand for metal works. They also plan to hire more employees and increase their volume to supply local retailers.
“It’s great making pieces for people locally instead of having everything imported,” says Brown. “People should have the option of buying local if they want to.”
Learn more about Black & Smith Ironworks:
Phone: (905) 396-7303