Furniture manufacturing has become such an important piece of the fabric of life among the Amish in northern Indiana, it is hard to remember how different things were less than two decades ago. In the early 1990s, woodworking was mostly a hobby among the Amish. It was something to dabble in after a day's work on the farm or at the RV factory. Most of the woodworking businesses were "Dawdy shops", retired grandfathers turning out a few pieces for neighbors or the occasional lone wolf who produced custom furniture."Woodworking" was often part of the job description of carpentry crews who not only constructed a home from the ground up, but also built the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and sometimes even other furniture to furnish the home. Furniture in Amish homes was utilitarian, where function played a bigger role than form. It was more important that a table could stand up to the rigors of half-a-dozen hardworking farm boys than how it looked.
By the early ‘90s some Amish men became dissatisfied with life in the RV factories. Full-time farming with horses was no longer a viable alternative for most. Instead, a few turned their woodworking hobbies into businesses. As money became more plentiful in the booming ‘90s more people sought custom furniture and cabinets, making woodworking an attractive occupation.
One of the early pioneers was Noah Bontrager of Amish Impressions. Noah grew up on and worked on the farm until he was eighteen. The family farm consisted of 120 acres and was worked with draft horses pulling farm implements. Corn was husked by hand, manure was forked onto manure spreaders by hand, cows were milked by hand and wheat and oats were put in shocks and put through a thrashing machine. To use a telephone meant walking or riding horseback a few miles to a payphone, so very few calls were made. After turning eighteen, the lure of making some money at an RV factory was too great, and thus began a career, of life in the RV industry. At the age of 22, Noah began to build furniture as a hobby and learning the fine points of construction through trial and error. Never having training in woodworking, this was a period of time where valuable lessons were learned in building all types of furniture and cabinets. Factory life proved unsatisfactory and boring so in 1993 the plunge was taken to take on woodworking as an occupation and Amish Impressions was born.
Fast forward to today, all employees are Amish and most are neighbors or live close enough that they commute to work with either horse and buggy or bicycle. Many also have farms at home or chores they do after work. Employee turnover is low, many have worked at Amish Impressions for 10 to 15 years. Noah and Margaret have a family of three. Marcus is 24, Maria is 22 and Allen is 17. Marcus is in charge of the finish shop and warehouse and is General manager of Amish Impressions, Maria and Allen work in the office. Amish Impressions is a family owned operation and is operated as one and corporate America attitude doesn't exist here. Many questions have been asked regarding the Amish and what we represent or why we choose to live as we do. Amish is not a religion, rather a way of life we feel is patterned off of the teachings of Jesus Christ. We profess to be of the Christian faith and a follower of our Lord and Savior and to Him belongs all honor and glory.
Our power source is a diesel generator to produce electricity to power our machinery and hand tools, although many steps of production are done by hand, such as handplaning. The hardwoods used are harvested mostly in the surrounding states such as Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania and sent to mills where they are cut into dimensional lumber. After that, lumber is stacked into dry kilns where it is dried down to approximately 8% moisture content. Finally the wood is cut into staves, glued together in order to make wider panels. The wood shavings and sawdust is used for mulch and animal bedding to ensure that as little waste is produced as possible. Amish Impressions buys in the solid wood bent pieces from another Amish shop that specializes in this unique process. To make the bendings , they steam wood that has not been dried down. Then after a certain amount of time they place the steamed wood into forms and clamp the pieces to hold it in place. After that they are placed in a dry kiln so that the pieces stay in the shape they were bent.
Furniture construction is a process of first milling out parts and pieces, assembly, and then final detailing and sanding before the finishing process. Most times an employee has a certain job to do in each piece of furniture, rather than constructing the piece from start to finish. This is because talents vary from one to another, as some are more detail oriented than others. After construction the furniture has the stain sprayed on and wiped off by hand, to better bring out the grain. A sealer coat is then applied of high quality conversion varnish which is then sanded lightly to eliminate grain raising followed by a finish coat. Some finish processes are much more intensive such as paints, glazes and multistep finishes and the end result is dependent totally on the talents of the craftsman applying these processes.
Because of building every piece to order, we have special order capabilities such as changing sizes and product configuration up to a certain extent. Any of our collections can be made in any choice of our wood species or stain colors although some styles lend themselves more to a certain specie or color than others. It is very important, therefore to be thorough when placing an order to make certain all pertinent information is supplied.
In our experience throughout the years, it is crucial to learn some of the following points to be successful in selling solid wood furniture.
- No two pieces of wood are exactly the same because it is a product of nature. With this in mind, you must expect variations in colors and wood grain.
- Wood will expand and contract because of retaining a certain amount of moisture.
- Plank tops will show offsets at the tongue and groove joints depending on the humidity. This is a normal occurrence.
- Never apologize to the customer because of certain characteristics in the wood. Remember this product is not fabricated in a machine somewhere. Instead, use this as a positive point to bring out the beauty and uniqueness of an heirloom piece of furniture.
- Many salespeople do not talk about these points, for fear of scaring a customer and losing a sale; however in our experience if a customer is educated about solid wood, they embrace the concept. If they are lead to believe that this will have the same uniformity as a piece of plastic or veneers, that is usually when problems occur with the customer.
- Have a firm belief and excitement about the solid wood story and American made product!
See catalog for more details on properly cared for furniture.
Our Mission Statement
- A solid belief in quality and satisfaction in a job well done
- A work ethic instilled by generations of Amish craftsmen
- A dedication to honor the past and design for the future
- These are the principles that guide Amish Impressions