Eight years ago, Coby Johnson was a carpenter making furniture out of his garage. Today, instead of working with wood, he works with a material called Corian, which he shapes into customized cutting boards for his customers. How did he go from carpenter to cutting board maker? It all started with his wife, Denise, who came home with a bunch of Corian which she started to use as a cutting board. While Coby wasn’t initially on-board with Corian cutting boards, he warmed up to the idea after he realized the material’s potential. Sensing a business opportunity, he made a few to sell at the local farmer’s market.
“Some people bought them and I was surprised they bought them,” Coby says. The buzz was just getting started.
He knew he had a good idea with one particular repeat customer. She approached Coby at the market and said “I got it home and my friend like it so much she just took my cutting board!” The following week, she returned again. “My sister wanted it so she took it. Now I got to get another one.”
It’s that kind of customer feedback that inspires Coby to keep making cutting boards.
“I just love it when they tell me how much they love, it,” he says. “That’s where my pride comes from. It motivates me to work extra hard and do one better than somebody else would do.” His pride shines when he talks about his cutting boards.
“I had one lady come to the show. She had a tone to her and it made me a little nervous. Said she bought a cutting board from me, and I said okay. She says, ‘I’ve been using it every day.’ I said okay. I’m kind of waiting. Then she says, ‘But I do have a problem with it.’ So I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ She said, ‘I can’t wear it out and I’m tired of the color. So I have to get a different color.’ ”
Choosing a color seems like the easiest part of selecting a cutting board, but the available colors vary depending on what Coby can supply. Coby acquires his materials from a local countertop fabricator. He gives the company a crate for them to fill with scraps, and they call him when the crate is full.
“I never know what color I’m going to get,” Coby admits.
That’s part of the fun of it. At one point, Coby had a bit of orange Corian—not much, but enough to make a couple cutting boards. When he went to show them at a farmer’s market, the man in a neighboring booth started teasing him about the orange cutting boards. It was all in good fun. According to Coby, if you circuit around area arts and crafts fairs and farmer’s markets, you get to know your fellow artisans as if they were your co-workers at the office. So when the neighbor’s wife secretly purchased an orange cutting board for a Christmas present, Coby was in on the joke.
“They had so much fun,” Coby says. “When I saw him next, he talked about it right away. He was laughing.”
Corian is the colloquial name for Corian Solid Surface, a composite product used for kitchen countertops, sinks and toilets. It’s hard to stain, won’t pick up an odor, and is difficult for bacteria to grow on. Working with Corian is similar to working with lumber, which is beneficial to Coby who has been a carpenter since the 1970s. While Corian is commonly found in the manufacturing trades, it has its uses in the art world as well.
“I learned this from a guy making countertops,” Coby says. “He was making forming sinks out of Corian. He just had a house oven and you put it in the oven at 350 degrees and then in about 15 minutes it was rubbery. He took it out and formed it over a form, so he could make a sink out of it.”
That kind of pliability is a goldmine for artists. “They’ll twist it, tie it, knot it, whatever it is they want to do.”
Close to home for Coby is his wife Denise, who’s an artist. She recently started using Corian as a canvas for some of her paintings. The same pride Coby feels about his work also extends to his wife.
“She sells her work at the craft shows but she’s also, we’re doing just a strict art show because her stuff is so good. She’s getting into high end art shows that the cutting boards don’t quite fit with. She’s got so known in the marketplace now she’s doing workshops, teaching people on how to do it. And then she does it, she paints it all on the Corian.”
As much as Denise inspires Coby in his work, it all comes back to the customers.
“I can’t sell anything that I don’t believe in myself,” Coby says. “I have customers that come back and say ‘I got one from you last year’ and ‘I gotta get some for my friends as Christmas presents.’ They’re coming back and tell me me how much they love them.”