ST. ALBANS –– Craig Cowan’s years-long hobby and de-stressor from full-time work has turned into a part-time business.
Ever since taking a high school woodshop class in the mid-1980s, Craig has been a wood turner, and he has always made sure to keep learning his craft – and staying passionate about it.
“It’s thinking on a different level,” Craig said recently, during a chat at The Traveled Cup, in downtown St. Albans. “It’s not like an office job, where you have rules and regulations to go by.
Two years ago, Craig launched Cowan Custom Creations, which is based at his Highgate Center home. Craig lives in Highgate with his wife, Amy, who is on the staff at Vermont Adult Learning.
His business name is a play on his initials: CCC – Craig Conrad Cowan.
At home, Craig has two lathes, and he loves the freedom they give him. “Whatever your mind can think of with them,” he said, “you can do it.”
Craig’s current focus is custom-made, heavy, high-quality pens made of wood or acrylic castings; he turns them on a lathe and then assembles the insides with parts he orders. All of his pens are refillable.
A plastic-shelled, boilerplate pen makes him cringe.
“I hate to see things made cheaply,” he said, “and then you throw the plastic in a landfill. It might sound strange, but I make my pens to outlive their owners. I’d rather see them passed down than thrown in the trash.”
More recently, Craig has started turning bowls and is starting to take orders for them, as the holidays near. He makes a line of impressive “natural-edge bowls” that have a bark-like ridge on top.
Craig collects his wood from his property, and his friends. Customers can also bring wood to him and request a piece with it.
Until recently, Craig had sold his items through special orders. He is now vending at craft shows and is open to talks with potential retail partners, especially in downtown St. Albans, where he thinks his pens have a market.
Back in high school, in upstate New York, Craig used a lathe to make pens in woodshop class and discovered a talent he never knew he had. This past June and August, he took classes at the Vermont Woodworking School, in Cambridge. Outside of those two settings, he is self-taught.
After Craig graduated from high school, he spent four years in the U.S. Army. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and has been a federal employee in St. Albans for 13 years – his primary reason for moving to Vermont.
All the while, woodturning has been in Craig’s life. After spending years making pieces for friends and relatives, as gifts, he decided to take his customer base and launch Cowan Custom Creations.
If he could retire and turn his lathe for a living, he would.
“I hope that’s what this is going to bring,” he said.