Camille Storch is a woodcrafter. The off-the-grid mom of two lives with her husband, Henry, a farrier and avid gardener, in a tiny, rustic cabin they built on a wooded property west of Philomath.
When she’s not chasing toddlers Levi, 3, and Charlotte, 1, she’s often involved in homemade pursuits of all sorts. In addition to running her company, Red Onion Woodworks, she bakes her own bread, raises Nubian dairy goats, and makes fresh cheeses.
Storch sells her handcrafted cutting boards on Etsy.com and at Gathering Together Farm, where she worked for many years.
All the wood for her projects is salvaged from industrial logging operations, backyards and storm-damaged areas in Benton, Polk and Lincoln counties.
The majority of her cutting boards are made of bigleaf maple, and she seeks out pieces with relatively rare fiddleback, quilted or burled figure. The wood machines well, and each piece is unique.
“The nature of figured maple, however, is that its beauty is a product of irregular patterns in the grain (crotches, burls, etc.), which are the areas that have the most cracks, bark inclusions and strange knots. I find many of these supposed defects to be aesthetically pleasing, so I often leave them unadulterated in my serving trays,” she said. “My favorite part is the last step, putting on the finish, when the figure suddenly pops into 3-D.”
Storch inherited an appreciation of wood and all things handmade from her father, Cameron Muir, a forester for Starker Forest Inc., and mother Nancy Muir, who runs her own one-woman bakery, Oven and Earth.
But, she didn’t set out on her own creative endeavor until after graduating from Oregon State University with a degree in geoscience.
Longing to have a more physical, tangible job, she began working part-time for Hemphill Angus/Coast Range Forest Products, splitting firewood by hand, helping operate a small sawmill, and organizing a barn full of rough-sawn lumber.
She also apprenticed under her in-laws at Storch Woodworking, using different power tools and spending a lot of time finish sanding custom furniture.
As her skills developed, she fell in love with the craft of woodworking.
“The concept of producing something that was beautiful as well as functional was a bit of a revelation and a motivator for me,” she said.
Storch started Red Onion Woodworks and opened her Etsy shop last May. She made her first online sale a week after listing her first item.
In 2010, Storch’s gross sales were about $15,000, a sum that the stay-at-home mom said she could not have earned at a part-time job, assuming she could even get one in the tough economy.
Etsy has some big advantages: “I can work on production and marketing aspects of my business more or less on my own schedule, and I don’t have to maintain a lot of retail infrastructure, unlike being involved in the craft fair/festival circuit,” Storch said. Etsy and PayPal fees combined total about 6 to 8 percent of gross sales, which is significantly less than she gives up doing wholesale orders.
The drawbacks: “Good product photography is essential and for someone like me who has no previous experience in this area, it can be a challenge,” she said. “Shipping items all over the county has its own set of issues: correctly estimating shipping costs without knowing the destination ahead of time, packaging products securely but aesthetically, and being held responsible for postal mishaps.”
Storch spends time updating her Etsy shop every day, sometimes several hours. For many sellers, Etsy provides some aspects of a social networking site, connecting people from all over the world through their teams feature and other tools that encourage relationship development among members. Even on slow days, her website still gets more than a hundred visitors on average.
“It can be hard to make a clear distinction between working and fooling around because networking and promoting others often benefits my own shop,” she said.
Storch has become an avid Etsy shopper herself, and often comes across handmade items she never knew she “needed.”
“I am happy to support and have a direct connection with folks doing it the handmade way and giving back to their own far-flung communities,” she said.
Most of Storch’s cutting boards range in price from about $60 to $120. Read more about Red Onion Woodworks on Facebook, www.facebook.com/RedOnionWoodworks. See the Etsy shop at www.RedOnionWoodworks.etsy.com.
Online editor Nancy Raskauskas also covers city government and business for the Gazette-Times.