According to a recent National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 millions homes. Those households account for 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs based on data gathered from the survey. Americans are expected to spend almost $51 billion on their pets this year, almost triple what they spent in 1994.
No wonder things that have to do with pets are popular items in my store.
People don’t hesitate to buy catnip toys and beds, dog treats, collars, leashes, and shampoo soaps for dogs and cats. But the best-selling pet-related products by far are wooden signs that have messages about our pawed companions. Whether comical or sentimental, the sayings on these imprinted pieces of wood always get a reaction from pet-owners and just about anybody who knows one.
From the Gifford family’s tidy little woodworking shop in New Hampshire’s White Mountain region, Ox Pond Press has been handcrafting nostalgic wooden signs for customers all over North America. This year marks their 20th anniversary, and despite the economic ups and downs since 1991, all signs are good for their business. Especially those that have messages pertaining to dogs or cats.
Though the signs look quite simple, there’s a lot of hand work that goes into making each one…
It all starts with the wood – white pine boards that they source from local sawmills. They get what are called “shorts.” These are boards that are too short for the lumberyards, which usually want lengths of 6 feet and up. It would be a shame to take a long board and cut it up into small pieces, so this arrangement works out well for Ox Pond Press and for the sawmills. (The Giffords do everything they can to be environmentally conscious.)
All of the wood is kiln dried, and then carefully inspected to use only sections of the boards that are free of knots. In working with white pine the greatest challenge is to avoid pieces that will warp, split, or bleed sap. Wood is subject to change, especially with temperature and humidity fluctuations that occur throughout the year. But the Giffords put in the extra effort because they believe white pine makes nicer looking signs than pressboard. (I agree!)
Once the “clearest” pine pieces are selected the actual sign-making process gets under way. There are over ten steps involved in making the signs beginning with cutting the pieces to the exact lengths for the various sizes of signs Ox Pond makes. Next the wooden pieces are ripped to the proper widths, and then each piece is routed on the back with a key-slot for easy hanging.
Now they are ready to be painted before having the lettering and graphics screen printed. Once the printing is dry, the edges are belt-sanded and then finish-sanded by hand. An antique wash is applied to give the signs a vintage look and protect the paint and lettering. The edges receive a protective finish as well, before each sign is wrapped in clean newsprint and packed in re-used cartons.
As you can tell, the whole process is quite labor intensive. The Giffords do use power tools for the woodworking, but the rest of the steps are done entirely by hand. The folks at Ox Pond Press wouldn’t do it any other way because they know their signs bring smiles to people’s faces – just like being greeted by their four-legged friends.
Founder and Proprietor, New England Everyday Goods & Farm Market , Jaffrey, NH.
Just a stone’s throw down the road from The Old Farmer’s Almanac headquarters, Jim and his wife Susan operate a sprawling retail store that specializes in useful and unusual products with interesting stories behind them.