For Kim Dailey, it all started with a pen.
Maybe that’s unfair — it didn’t exactly start there for Kim. The pen was more like a coming together of all the roots he’d laid over the years. It was a coming together of family, upbringing, profession and community.
That’s a whole lot of awesome to attribute to a pen, so let me back up a bit. For years Kim worked in the far west of Maine as an on-the-road, heavy duty parts salesman. He racked up over a million miles in his travels, and he got to know the loggers, truckers and repairmen established across and around his community.
In the meantime, Kim and his wife built their home in Carthage from the ground up, and Kim putting many of the finishing touches (cabinetry, furniture) together himself. So it’s no surprise that when he decided to make his two daughters a bunk bed in the early spring of 2000, he found his own lathe to turn the spindles by hand.
But he never finished those bunk beds. Actually, he never even started them.
“It got to the point where I made my first pen and it was like, wow. This is pretty cool,” Kim said, shaking his head and chuckling at the thought of bunk beds that would never be. He fell in love with the lathe that day. What started as an attempt to hone his spindle skills quickly turned into a business he’s spent 16 years establishing.
The next time Kim hit the road and met up with his logger friends and customers, he had a cool new pen to hand over when he needed their signatures. This really cool pen inevitably sparked conversations about other really cool things Kim could make on his lathe, if only he had the wood to turn.
So without every really striking a deal or working out the details, Kim’s customers, his local loggers, his friends, started putting aside wood for him. The loggers would sometimes run into these large growths on trees called burls; useless in making wood veneer and a headache for local chipping companies. Perfect for Kim. So they’d put the burls aside and toss them into the back of Kim’s truck whenever he stopped by.
A few weeks later Kim would come back with about 50 percent of whatever he could make out of the wood he was given, he says.
“They get a piece of art or something they can give to their wife or their husband later on that they can actually say, ‘This came off this piece of land and I cut this out,’” Kim said. Plus, Kim was friends with many of these people, so there was also the added bonus that they could say, “And, oh, hey, Kim made that!”
Pens, bowls, bottle-stoppers, pepper mills — Kim would use every piece of wood to make a range of objects in all sizes. It’s deep in his upbringing, deep in his bones not to waste a single piece that can become something else.
Also based in his upbringing is the only theme to the products he chooses: function.
“Being in New England, it’s just in my nature because of the way we grew up. We didn’t have money. So every you had had to have some sort of function, it could be simply something to look at,” Kim said. “To me, everything that I make to be as beautiful as it can be, I want it to be outstanding, but I want it to be functional.”
That waste-not-want not attitude made the extra wood during his early years even more invaluable. The mistakes he made — and as a self-taught turner, Kim says he made a lot of them — didn’t cost him anything. “If there was a cost involved at all I probably would have been more reluctant to turn it,” Kim said.
Kim also says it makes the process of turning the wood more “intimate.” Even now he gets his wood from his community. Besides his logger friends, Kim’s local lumber yard knows his preferences and puts things aside for him. Even his colorful laminates come from a local company that Kim works with to create custom color combinations.
Because of this, Kim can explain everything there is to know about a piece, from the land it came from, to the person who cut it down or glued it together, to what else he created from it. Which, according to Kim, is a story well worth sharing.
He hopes that 40, 60 years down the road his products are still there, still useable, so someone will pick something up and say, “Who is Kim Dailey and where the hell is Carthage, Maine?”