Story by Maxwell Harden
When he was a child, David Baldwin would help his grandfather tear down buildings and salvage as much wood as possible.
Little did David know that his grandfather helped lay the foundation for what would become a life brimming with building.
“The grandkids that lived in the neighborhood, we’d all pull nails for him,” David says. “I was pulling nails and putting them in jars according to size, because you couldn’t run out and buy a whole bunch of nails at one time. That kind of got me going.”
After building mobile and modular homes for years, David, 70, transitioned into the band instrument production business following the births of his children. The Edwardsburg resident retired in 2016 after 31 years in the business.
After retiring, David needed to keep himself preoccupied and productive. One day, he took a picture frame he had built to Sweet Comfort Gift Shop in Edwardsburg to see if the owner was interested in it, and the rest is history.
“She liked it real well,” David says. “She asked me, ‘well can you do this?’ I told her I could, and then she says ‘well can you do this?’ So I basically started building for her.”
David builds and repairs small furniture and sells raw to Sweet Comfort and Restyled Furnishings in Granger. David makes the items raw, meaning that the stores David sells them to will paint them however they like. If the shops have an item they would like David to make, they make an illustration with the desired dimensions and give it to him. David has built and repaired tables, chairs, bookshelves, birdhouses and more.
“They’re my outlets,” he says. “This keeps me from getting bored. I was always liked building so I got back into this. Since I’m retired, it’s just keeping me from being bored, and it keeps me out of the house. It’s fun, you know, and I like it.”
He could make more money if he made and painted items by himself, but that’s not why David builds and repairs.
“I can do that, but if I did, I wouldn’t have my finger on the pulse of what people want, you know for colors and stuff like that. I give it to them like this, and then they go ahead, and they find the painter or they paint it themselves exactly.”
David says that he gets most of his reclaimed wood from his son’s work.
“The railroad cars that come in with lumber on them, the boards that are nailed on the sides to keep them from shifting, they throw them in a stack and throw them away, so I picked them up, I pull out the nails, and then I cut them and turn them into everything.”
David has built a lot of things over the years, but the projects he is the proudest of are the three houses he built for he and his wife and each of his two sons, one of whom is his next door neighbor.
“My grandpa had a stretch of property in Mottville Township [Michigan], and he built houses all along there for his kids,” David says. “I thought well if he can do it, I can do it.”
According to David, it took roughly 15 weeks to build each house.
“We built them ourselves,” David says. “My wife ordered the material, and my sons and I built them. When we’d get home from work, we’d work until night and then do it the next day and the next day.”
In addition to the houses, David is also proud of the cross he built for his church, Grace Bible Church, in Elkhart. David also helped build the church’s welcoming center as well as a restroom.
“I love that [the cross] turned out really nice,” he says. “It was something they asked me if I could take on, and I took it. I was really pleased about doing that. The church projects I was a part of were rewarding.”
David is a self-taught craftsman, having learned the tools of the trade after years of hard work and trial and error. He says he would love to see more youth pursue trades.
“I’ve developed all these skills over the years,” David says. “It just kind of comes natural, you know. A lot of kids these days don’t even know how to read a tape measurer and it’s kind of sad.”
He may be getting up there in years, but David doesn’t plan to stop building anytime soon.
“I really enjoy it,” he says. “It’s more fun, than anything else. This is just kind of a hobby to keep me from getting bored. Each piece is different, so it stays interesting. I get a kick out of it.”