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Artist of the Month - February 2005

Labor of Love...Woodworks
By Carrie Switzer

Michael Fisher

A former Navy pilot with an overdeveloped left brain found a niche in precision carpentry after getting in touch with his right side.

That’s one explanation Michael “MEF” Fisher gives for his craft that currently entails steel reinforced wood gates, among other creations from his shop in Castle Valley.

Labor of Love Woodworks is a specialty business MEF runs with a partner in California, John Soderquist, that is not likely to be surpassed anytime soon by new creative upstarts. Labor of Love is one of probably only two operations in the country that uses wood and steel to create the longevity of a wrought iron fence with the beauty of natural wood. In California the specialty is redwood; in Moab, it can be pine or on the higher-dollar end, imported mahogany from Honduras.

“The kind of wood the gates are made from are pretty much decided by the area in which they are made,” MEF said. “The gates made in California don’t leave California. They are mostly made from redwood and there is precious little of it left – it doesn’t leave the state. Gates in Moab are probably going to be made of pine.”

But not the gates made for a neighbor in Castle Valley. This is where the Honduras mahogany was used for a simply elegant, but fortress-like stable gate that adjoins a sandstone wall around a home at the end of Miller Lane. Inside, MEF was asked to build a few furnishings: speaker tables, a corner shelving unit and another corner piece that is a cabinet, table and lectern. One of those things that are best illustrated rather than described.

MEF also engineered a patio roof with pillars that was measured bolt for bolt, fitting by fitting, and section by section in his shop. He showed up at the home site with all of the pieces, which then went together in very little time like tinker toys. Make no mistake, however, these “toys” are practically indestructible.

“The gate has a welded steel skeleton,” MEF explains, showing his conceptual drawings that look like house plans. “I do all the welding.”

He also fabricates the hinges and fittings. He treats the steel beams that come in so they are more receptive to the glue that will hold the wood in place over them.

“Wood is organic, and in any weather – but particularly the heat – they will bend and twist and change,” he said. “When they are reinforced with steel it subdues the wood. It holds it in place. Mother Nature is brutal on wood, the steel keeps it from moving.”

So a well-fitted gate stays well fitted.

“It’s a dependable alternative to wrought iron.”

MEF said he made a living as a woodworker for 30 years after his stint with the Navy, as a cabinetmaker, a rough and finish carpenter and a project manager for someone who built residences in Washington State. He was a residential construction instructor one year for Olympic College, where he spent the first few months teaching carpentry skills, and another six months supervising 18 students in the construction of a home.
“I was familiar with how things work in the building trades,” he said.

About 10 years ago MEF said he moved to California and met a carpenter “cut from the same mold,” who turned out to be John Soderquist. They formed Labor of Love Woodworks and because of Soderquist’s long-term residency in the Redwood City area and Labor of Love’s subsequent reputation for high quality, the business took off and continues to be successful.

MEF came to Moab in 1998 and has since contracted six jobs – five in Castle Valley and one in Spanish Valley. MEF said the Labor of Love gate is a high-dollar proposition, running about $1,000 a square foot. But the repeat business is indicative of the fact that contractors have few problems installing the product, there is very little ongoing maintenance and repair and the job comes in on time and ready to install.

“It’s almost like furniture making but it’s extremely important to deal with the exterior nature of the gates,” MEF says. “It’s pretty sturdy, no question about it.”

What works well for MEF is he can do most of his work, i.e. design, manufacturing and actual part building, at his home in Castle Valley. Then he can get the gates anywhere in the country. It may only require one or two on-site trips.

MEF characterizes himself as “hopelessly precise,” but rejoices that art classes he took at Olympus College helped him find an artistic outlet for that precision.

“The degree of meticulousness I developed as a navy pilot, coupled with artistic creativity makes it so I can’t do anything that isn’t hopelessly precise,” he said. “It isn’t in my nature.”
Hence the name of the company: Labor of Love.

“Everything I do is a Labor of Love for me because I want it to be perfect,” he said.

MEF can be reached at 435-259-3676 for an appintment to discuss the design, fabrication and installation of Labor of Love’s unique gates. Most of his jobs involve a large gate with a pedestrian gate or two, but each is designed with a particular homestead’s needs as the basis. Photos and brochures are available upon request.

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