For twenty five years Smoke-Wood was a fixture in the Elgin Business Community. After the owner, Al Smolkowski, passed away in May of 2013 his son Kevin had to figure out what to do with the business. “When my dad passed away, we weren’t sure how Smoke-Wood would function without his wealth of knowledge and abilities”, said Kevin. Many people might have simply continued with the existing product lines, or quietly liquidated the business. It wasn’t Kevin’s way. Instead he decided to expand.
As Kevin explains, “we are moving away from our retail wood working and focusing more on commercial laser services. Smoke-Wood has always done laser engraving, but now with the new capabilities we can focus on higher volumes. In the past, an order of several dozen of a single item was a large order as much of the work was for custom trophies or awards. Now we are getting into the hundreds or thousands of pieces range. In the last couple years, we have significantly increased our capacity, adding a 120 watt laser, CNC cutters for circuit boards and larger plastic milling, plus Annie’s machinery.”
Annie is Anne Ogborn, who was just starting a small laser shop and engineering firm in Sweet Home. When the two met, they quickly decided to join forces and become The Elgin Works. Kevin put it this way, Smoke-Wood is still a family business, by teaming up with Annie and forming The Elgin Works, we just made the family bigger. Ogborn laughed at that . “I think I’ve become an honorary Smolkowski.”
Ogborn’s contribution added a larger laser, a urethane casting line, and another CNC router. “I drove up here one weekend, spent a few hours with Kevin, and by the time I left we’d reached an agreement. A few weeks later, my next trip to Elgin was when we brought a truck loaded with most of my industrial machinery. It all happened really fast.”, remembers Annie.
With new capabilities the company is expanding into new areas.
“We’re actively looking for local partners,” says Kevin. “We’ve been making boxes for custom knives, and kits for model railroaders, and labels for fire engine control panels. Most of these things we’re doing in collaboration with other local industries. If you’re fabricating complex products from wood or plastic, in particular, we can probably do it cheaper and better than you can do it in house.”
One of the new areas is custom plastic shields for industrial circuit boards. With more and more industrial controls using specialized electronics, protecting those boards from damage and tampering while allowing operators to observe the hardware is a growing business.
“Our products find their way into the harshest environments, typically mines and tunnels.”, explains Kevin. “While most of the monitoring and troubleshooting occurs by remote access, sometimes it’s necessary to have someone physically inspect the boards and check the indicators. By protecting the boards with a clear cover, an inspection can be done even by relatively untrained individuals.”
Another growth area is consulting services. Before he passed away, Al would talk on the phone at length with anybody who called up with a laser engraving question. He even published a “Sharing Secrets of Smoke-Wood” guide to retail laser engraving of plaques and other trophy parts. Over the past year, Smoke-Wood has moved to a paid consulting model. In depth knowledge of laser cutting and especially how to setup the computer equipment that drives it is a specialized field. Rather than fumble around, we can set them up and get them running quickly. Frequently this turns into a long term engagement, with Smoke-Wood handling most of their computing needs.
As well as machinery, Ogborn also brought her engineering skills. Kevin explains, “I was attracted to the idea of having another engineer in the space. Between Annie and myself, we’ve got all the skills and connections we need to do something high tech. She was doing robotics work before, and that’s an obvious area for us to move into. Having our own manufacturing capability gives us tremendous flexibility. We can dream up a product and produce much of it without leaving the building.”
The idea of building robots in tiny Elgin seemed a bit mind blowing. When I asked what kind of robots, Annie pulled out her smart phone and showed me a picture of a robotic boy. “This is what I was working on, for another company, last summer. But it’s the sort of project we’re well positioned to handle here.”
Smoke-Wood and The Elgin Works are co-located in Elgin, Oregon. See and for contact information.