Company Owner Talks Products and Family Legacy
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
English poet John Dryden said, “Mighty things from small beginnings grow.” As for Silver Lake-based Whetstone Woodenware, its might began with a single wooden spoon in 1978.
“Dad was making kitchen cabinets as a hobby,” Sam Whetstone, current company president, says of his father John. “Mom asked him, ‘Hey, can you make me a wooden spoon that wouldn’t break?’”
The end result became a commonly used utensil in the Whetstone kitchen for years to come.
By 1984 John was ready to quit his day job as a truck driver and start his own business building furniture. The name of that initial business was The Carpenter’s Shop. Even as it paid the bills, turning out kitchenware on a lathe remained a hobby for John. One evening John invited a client from Chicago over for supper. Upon seeing the spoon, the client became enthralled with the craftsmanship.
“He said, ‘Hey, do you mind if I take one back with me to Chicago? I think I have some friends who might be interested in it,’” Sam says. “They were, and they ordered a few, then a few more.”
Seeing the interest people had in his hobby, John quickly added wooden kitchenware to his company’s product line.
By 1991, John’s kitchenware products were doing so well that the company was rebranded for kitchenware and custom work only. It was also renamed Whetstone Woodenware at that time. As his customer base expanded worldwide and grew more enthusiastic about the products, John hired some local help.
“God blessed him and it just took off,” Sam says. “That’s where we are to this day.”
Currently, the company’s products are sold not only in its brick-and-mortar store and through its website, but also in stores and museum gift shops across the nation.
As the business grew, so did the range of products, all of which are polished and treated with mineral oil for preservation. The company’s online store offers forks, knives, rolling pins, biscuit cutters, mashers, cutting boards, spatulas, scoops, and a wide range of serving utensils. The physical store houses an even wider selection. All the products are made by Whetstone Woodenware’s artisans, from maple and walnut wood locally sourced from Pike Lumber in Akron, Indiana.
The inspiration for these products came from a variety of places including customer requests, early American history books, museums, and pure imagination.
“I have to give credit to a long-time employee who is no longer with us, Dwight Hammond,” Sam explains. “He was one of dad’s right-hand people for a long, long time. Sometimes it would be just a matter of ‘Hey, here’s a scrap piece of wood. What can we do with this? What could we make with this instead of just throwing it away or burning it?’”
Some of Whetstone Woodenware’s products have received national recognition in publications such as the New York Times. The company’s French rolling pin was even described as the best pin for most bakers by the website Wirecutter, an unsolicited designation that gave great pride to John.
It’s no surprise that woodworking has a special place in Sam’s heart, since he grew up watching his dad turn the wood lathe.
“Woodworking is always something I’ve loved,” Sam says. “It comes somewhat easily to me.”
Since John’s passing in September of last year, woodworking has also provided a way for Sam to honor his father’s memory.
“I think preserving dad’s legacy is the biggest motivation for me,” Sam says. “Dad trusted God to guide him and I’m very respectful of that – very grateful that God has given me the opportunity to carry on.”
Since taking over the business, Sam has been busy fulfilling a two-part purpose – continuing John’s legacy and serving his customers.
“(The business) was his life, his love,” Sam says. “He was very humble. He didn’t want to take a lot of credit for the things he had done and accomplished.”
John was also pleased to know Whetstone Woodenware would continue in good hands.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You know, I’m glad that you’re taking over,’” Sam says of John.
For Sam, serving his customers has been the best part of the job, especially when someone comes in with a specific piece of heirloom wooden kitchenware that they would like to see replicated.
“To see the joy on their faces of having that memory kept alive is probably the biggest thing,” Sam says.
Visit Whetstone Woodenware at 108 East Main Street in Silver Lake. Call 260-571-5450 and visit whetstonewoodenware.com for more info.