It all started with a baseball bat. That’s what Daniel Martin tells me as I sit with the tousle-haired 21-year-old and his mother, Tina, in the family’s garage in Greer, surrounded by the tools of his trade: two lathes, a large dust collector, and tables and shelves piled with pieces of wood in various stages of production.
In 2015 when Daniel was a senior in high school, he and his younger brother, Matthew, got a part-time job with Dapper Ink. Their young boss did woodworking as a hobby, and taught the two boys how to turn wood, with the thought that perhaps they could help him with projects on occasion.
The brothers took to woodworking, and with $300 they had saved, purchased a benchtop lathe and a small dust collector—equipment they have since upgraded. “We took an old computer cabinet and screwed it to the wall [in the garage], then we screwed the lathe on top of that. When we turned a piece of wood, it would make the whole house shake,” Daniel says.
At the time, Daniel and Matthew were playing baseball, so the first thing they turned their hands to was a baseball bat. The boys made personalized bats for themselves, and when their teammates saw them, they all wanted one too, spurring the brothers to produce bats for the entire team. “After that, we ran out of clients for bats,” recalls Daniel, laughing. “So since we had the tools, we decided to see what else we could make.”
Similar in shape to a bat and likewise crafted from one solid piece of wood, a rolling pin was the next thing the brothers attempted. As their skills improved, they crafted thin, tapered French rolling pins, then branched out into ink pens and honey dippers, and eventually cutting boards. It was all trial and error. “To this day, 98 percent of everything we make is self-taught,” Daniel declares.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey
The Martin family business arose from a fortunate act of serendipity. In fall 2015, Daniel’s maternal grandmother entered the boys in a small holiday market in her hometown of Cowpens. “She came to us and said she’d paid $10 for the boys to sell their things at the market,” Tina explains. “She just wanted to show off her grandsons.” “Mana,” as the boys call their grandmother, wanted them to make Christmas ornaments, but they demurred, saying they had never made ornaments. Not to be dissuaded, Tina’s mother insisted they could teach themselves how to do it.
Rising to the challenge, the boys created small snowmen, twirly ornaments, little lightbulbs, and miniature baseball bats they hung on a tabletop Christmas tree at the show. “People loved the ornaments, but they could have cared less about the rolling pins and cutting boards the boys also brought to sell,” their mother recounts.
That show, however, planted a seed, and Tina signed her sons up for the Very Merry Local Christmas Market at Trailblazer Park in Travelers Rest that December. The French rolling pins were a hit there. “We were so excited because we made $200 at that market,” says Tina.
When we started out, we didn’t even know where to get wood,” Daniel remembers. “One of our neighbors cut down a sweet gum tree and put the stumps out in front of their house. So I went and asked them if I could take some wood to work with. They said ‘sure,’ and we got four stumps and put them in the backyard. I went out with a chain saw and a hand axe and started cutting up the wood.” Daniel came up with the name Split Woodworks owing to the fact that the first wood he worked with was split-up firewood.
The fledgling company, which was officially formed in January 2016, had yet to take flight when one night at dinner that month Daniel’s mom and his older sister, Kathleen, both avid viewers of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ show Fixer Upper on HGTV, announced the celebrity couple was opening a European-style bakery in Waco, Texas. Tina jokingly suggested to her son that perhaps Joanna would be interested in using his rolling pins at her new bakery.
“I remember we just laughed about it and moved on,” recalls Daniel. But the next night, he looked online for Magnolia Market, the Gaines’ home-décor company, and emailed their customer-service department. He related the brief history of his foray into woodworking—all three months of it—along with photos from Split Woodwork’s new Instagram page. “I’d made maybe 10 rolling pins at that time. Since they were opening a bakery, I thought the bakers could use our French rolling pins. I figured maybe they’d buy 20.”
Two days later, the family was sitting around when Daniel suddenly came racing downstairs. “He ran down the steps, white as a ghost, but grinning,” his mother says. “They answered back, they answered back!” Daniel exclaimed, but his family had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that he had sent Magnolia Market an email, and that they replied and said Joanna Gaines wanted to see five of his products. They boxed the items up and sent them off, and have been working with the Magnolia team ever since.
Between January and March 2016, Daniel worked with the Magnolia staff to design the rolling pin the way Joanna wanted, choosing the species of wood (maple—Joanna’s choice and coincidentally Daniel’s favorite), the dimensions, and the logo (Silos Baking Co.) she wanted burned into the rolling pins.
At the time Daniel sent the email, Magnolia Market was a young venture too, so the timing was impeccable. “That’s why it worked for us,” Tina observes. “It all seems so crazy when we look back.”
Since then, the family has been invited to participate as vendors in several of the big fall and spring shows that Magnolia sponsors each year in Waco. The Martins were one of about 80 vendors at their first Magnolia Market show in 2017. “It’s so much fun because we get to meet people from all over,” Daniel says. “That first show we brought 150 items and sold out in a day; now we bring over 500.”
Daniel, who is beginning his senior year of college online at Liberty University, plies his craft some 80 hours a week. He was enrolled at North Greenville University, but balancing the commute and schoolwork with his woodworking proved too stressful.
Luckily, he has plenty of help. Daniel, the family perfectionist, does the wood turning and burning, while his brother, Matthew, cuts the wood and sands the pieces. His mom has the eye for design, deciding how the products should look in terms of color and texture. Daniel’s sisters, Kathleen and Rebekah, help with the prep and finishing work, while dad Jason builds all the displays and wires the lamps. Creative time as a family is most often chiseled out at the dinner table.
“We all just jump in,” notes Tina. “We’ve always done that with everything. That’s just how we operate as a family.”
If you gave me paint and a canvas, I’d make something there. I just like to see something come from nothing. — Daniel Martin
Split Woodworks’ line of products has grown from those first French rolling pins to an array of kitchenware and furniture. This year, Daniel, a huge Harry Potter fan, started making wands. “I don’t make any two alike,” he says. “Some look like they belong to a fairy, some like they belong to a wizard. Essentially they’re just toys, but they’re really special and a lot of fun to make.”
This past Christmas, Daniel fashioned a replica of Harry Potter’s wand. When someone snapped it up online, he was loathe to part with it. “It was the hardest thing I’ve had to give up, among the thousands of things we’ve made so far,” the woodworker concedes.
Some ideas for new products result from necessity, like the egg tray Daniel whipped up to hold the eggs his mom set on the kitchen counter one day while she was making a pound cake. “Friends and family also bring ideas, and sometimes the beauty of a particular piece of wood inspires a piece,” Daniel says.
Holidays aside, roughly 15–20 percent of Split Woodworks’ business is custom. The majority is wholesale, with Magnolia as their biggest partner. Local retail clients include Swamp Rabbit Café and My Sister’s Store in Travelers Rest, with more in the works.
To date, Daniel and his family have made 4,000 rolling pins for Magnolia Market alone. They made 2,000 of those in 2018, and that’s only one-third of their total production for the year in an always-evolving product line that ranges from rolling pins and cutting boards—their bread and butter—to candlesticks, cake stands, mirrors, and tables.
“I love working with my hands,” remarks the young artisan who plays guitar in a band with his brother in his scant spare time. “If you gave me paint and a canvas, I’d make something there. I just like to see something come from nothing.” Given the success that Split Woodworks has enjoyed in three short years, it appears that Daniel Martin is quickly carving out a name for himself.