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Woodworker artisan shares passion with novices and fishermen

A.L. Swanson grew up in New England where he learned woodworking from his family.  He sustained a back injury in 1992 and couldn't continue his golf course management career.  Woodworking had always been a passion and labor of love so he slowly evolved it from a hobby into his vocation. He also returned to college and studied business. He realized he was good at marketing  and loved to create unique pieces of fine art furniture. He started his business in downtown Helena in 2004.

In the last few years he began to notice a major shift in the way Millennials spend money so he decided to change course.

He wanted to bring clients to the end of the process. He started offering classes like Make a Table Over the Weekend. He was incorporating woodworking and his love for design and relationship building at the same time growing his business.

He also tapped into his constant reserve of creativity. "I got an idea one day seeing the drift boats at the downtown hotel near my studio," he said.  That's how the idea to make custom fly boxes came to him.

During his growth phase he received mentoring assistance from Helena SCORE and also received two small 7(a) loans. His advice to others who would like to start a small business:

  • Be persistent
  • Work hard
  • Follow your dream
  • Seek advice
  • Surround yourself with good people
  • Be community minded and share your talent
  • Competition is good, always play offense (create product or a new line)

Swanson has secured a major recurring contract with the outdoor retailer, Orvis, for the custom fly boxes he makes. He recently expanded into a new studio and also started making custom fly rod carriers for Orvis. 

"I love going to work every day. The opportunity to create pieces that will be loved and used for generations is very meaningful to me. Sharing my passion for and knowledge of woodworking with folks who want to explore the craft is also very rewarding. To do both -- help students make something to take home that will be loved and used for decades -- is a rare gift. To tap into my creative side and explore the nuances of a craft I love so much is beyond meaningful," he said.