We sat down with Army vet Zach Smith to talk about his growing woodworking business, life in the service, and more.
A few months ago, we wrote up an article on U.S. Army veteran Zach Smith, who creates beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces out of his garage in Colorado Springs. (If you haven't read it or simply need a refresher, you can find the article here.)
And, because we wanted to learn more about his woodworking business and the 750-plus works of art he's commissioned over the last two years -- yes, 750! -- we had the opportunity to sit down with Zach and have him answer some of our questions.
Check out our interview with him below!
OCN Interviews: Zach Smith of US Veteran Woodworks
So, how did you get started in the woodworking business?
SMITH: I just had an idea. I needed to construct a flag, but in order to do so, I had to develop a system to find out what looks the best. What you're seeing now is two years of failures and experimentations, but at first, they were a little rough. My customers began challenging me -- asking if I could make one thing or the next, in sizes all the way up to eight feet. I remember painting and reading textbooks at the same time during medic school because my time was zapped. There wasn’t a single customer I turned down on any design, and that’s the tone I made a commitment to run my business by.
How long have you been practicing the craft? (Both for fun and professionally.)
SMITH: It’s been about two years now. Before that, I never had access to the tools until I finally made the decision to invest in my own. I would take what little profit I had left over and add more tools to the arsenal. It was certainly a struggle because this stuff has to be learned with experience. I’m sure you could read about it in a book or watch videos -- but actually finding out what works takes many failures.
Which piece are you the proudest of, and why?
SMITH: The Standard flag for the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, hands down. I’ve never had so much respect for a man, especially one that I’ve never met. He’s my role model, and I’m inspired by his professionalism during the 44 years he’s served this country. I’ve got that picture hanging in the shop as a daily reminder.
Courtesy of US Veteran Woodworks LLC (Facebook)
On average, how long does it take for you to complete a single piece?
SMITH: It depends on the piece, to be honest. I like to keep flags and “blanks,” as I call them, on stock for those rare last-minute birthday gifts or for funerals and such. Some others take upwards of a few weeks to really refine them.
How many works would you say you've completed since you started the business?
SMITH: I stopped counting at about 550, and that was over three months ago. I suspect there are 750 beautiful flags out there. One in each state and in eight different countries.
It's a lot of work; do you have anybody assisting you in these projects, or all they all done on your own?
SMITH: I have two awesome team members that also are my best friends. We have great synergy in the shop and are always looking out for each other. Having a good crew is so important for morale -- we keep the tunes playing during the day to stay on our toes and have lunch together. It’s a great time!
You've made so many incredible pieces over the last two years, but is there one that you haven't created that you'd like to in the future? In other words, what does your dream project look like?
SMITH: Anything with a concealment gun box in it, and I’m pretty content [laughs]. I just think they are so awesome!
Where do you see yourself, and your business, in 10 years?
SMITH: I will be employing hundreds of veterans that are looking for camaraderie in the workplace, somewhere that encourages ingenuity and the desire to better your skills. I’m extremely excited about it, especially seeing the type of growth we've had up to today. I've just received news that my business is within the top seven percent of stores that launched during the same time mine did, so the hard work is certainly evident.
Now, this is where we get a bit personal and talk about your time in the Army. What inspired you to become an Army medic?
SMITH: My family is full of medic firefighters in San Diego, and I decided to be the black sheep and do something different [laughs]! I got the opportunity to pick between Alaska, Fort Carson, or Germany -- so I chose here!
How long did you serve for?
SMITH: I served four years Active Duty from the age of 18 to 22. I was super young when I left.
Courtesy of US Veteran Woodworks LLC (Facebook)
How did your military experience affect your life today?
SMITH: It gives you strength. I know that once you're a soldier, you're always going to have that soldier mentality. The professionalism carries over to civilian life, for some of us. I still make task lists with priorities and carry out regular shop maintenance and cleaning. I went from working in an ER to working with customers, which if you think about it, share a lot of similarities. I treat my customers the same way I treated my patients, and I think that’s a great mindset to have.
All right, last question before we dive into our Rapid Fire round. Are there any fun stories about your time in the service, that you don't mind sharing, of course?
SMITH: I suppose that depends on your idea of fun [laughs]! They had us do all sorts of crazy stuff like mop the ceiling and sweep the rain. My idea of fun was 30 to 50 IVs a night and sewing people up. It’s all relative! The whole experience was a hoot!
Okay, so this is when we get into some questions where I'll give you two options and you pick one. Ready? Bud Light or Coors Light?
SMITH: Neither, I’ll probably throw up. Dueces Wild Brewery Blood Orange is my kryptonite.
Cats or Dogs?
Skiing or Snowboarding?
SMITH: Skiing, for sure!
Coffee or Tea?
Spring or Fall?
SMITH: Gosh, that's such a tough one because they both have great temperature ranges ... I’ll have to go with fall on this one [laughs]!
Star Wars or Star Trek?
SMITH: Star Wars, final answer! :D
Big thanks to Zach for taking the time out of his day to sit down and talk with us. Also, don't forget to check out his Facebook page to learn more!