Keeping the art alive
It started out as a hobby and turned into a side job. From there, his love of woodworking took him to work on projects he never could have imagined.
Mel Sicheneder, of Delavan, has not only built everything from new floors to grandfather clocks, but has also built a reputation for his attention to detail in woodworking.
However, it is by word of mouth, not advertising, that he has found years of work helping people in the area refinish floors, cabinetry and build or rebuild various wood projects.
“When I was a kid I?would find scraps of wood and save up my money to buy little cans of stain,”?he says. “I’ve always liked doing that.”
Then in 1965 when Sicheneder and his wife Alice were married, they moved onto a farm and started farming.
“I had a little shop on the farm where I?would just putz around on some projects,”?Sicheneder explains.
It wasn’t until 1984 when they decided to quit farming and move into the town of Delavan that Sicheneder finally decided to pursue his love for woodworking as a career.
“I started working for Goodrich Construction in Mankato,” he says.
Sicheneder has a lot of memories of his time spent working with Goodrich, including a variety of unique projects.
“Goodrich really has a reputation for working with the historical society,” he explains.
That means whenever a project came up with a house or building which was on the historical registry, Goodrich was often times who they would call.
“When a house is on the historical registry, you have to repair it to the way it originally was,”?Sicheneder says.
This means using the same type of wood, the same style of paint and much more.
He remembers being involved in multiple historical projects during his time with Goodrich, specifically one in St. Peter.
“It was the year the tornado went through St. Peter,”?he explains. “We had to restore a house that was on the historical registry.”
Often times summers, especially ones like that year in St. Peter, kept Sicheneder very busy. However, the same could not be said for the colder seasons.
“There wasn’t much work in the winter for them so I would do my own woodworking on the side,” he explains.
And, that’s how Mel’s Custom Woodworking began to take off. He started out refinishing floors and furniture, with an eye for detail that has built and kept a steady customer base throughout the years.
In fact, he was with Goodrich until 2010, after which he was able to keep busy with customers of his own business, Mel’s Custom Woodworking.
He still managed to find a few projects of his own that had a little history as well.
One of the most memorable projects for Sicheneder was doing some woodworking at the Catholic Church in Easton.
“I?think that was the biggest project I have done,”?he says. “The original altar was built with wood planks and so over time they had shifted and warped.”
So, Sicheneder remade the altar out of a thick piece of plywood and remade it with the same design as it had before.
That project also included redoing the two side altars, making a new table to go in front of the altar and reflooring the area where the altar stood.
After that he did work in a Catholic church in Good Thunder and a Baptist church in Mankato.
“I had to do it good because I was doing it for Him,” he jokes. “I told God, ‘you’d better help me with this one.'”
Churches were not the only history steeped project he has worked on, either. One time he received a box full of pieces and those pieces were supposed to be a grandfather clock.
“It was a clock from 1760,” he says. “The wood was so old it was like crackers.”
The details of the clock included decorative wood inlays which he had to remake instead of buying.
But by the time it was all done it became a precious part of a person’s family history again.
“I like how you can take something someone might see as a piece of junk and then you restore it and it becomes an heirloom,”?he says.
Now throughout his years of working with wood, he has become most well known for the work he does refinishing wood floors.
“I usually figure a floor will take me 12 hours per 100 square feet,”?he explains. “So if a floor is 200 square feet it will take 24 hours.”
He adds that you can’t work for 24 hours straight on a floor. There is some wait time as he goes.
“You have to wait between stain and finishes for them to dry,” he explains.
And that’s something he does differently than most others who refinish floors, and perhaps what makes him stand out from the competition.
“I?stain wood floors before I finish them, most others don’t do that,”?he says.
The reason most people don’t do that is because staining requires a very, very thorough sanding.
“I have to be very particular when I?sand it because the stain shows much more of the grain,”?Sicheneder says. “So, when you don’t take as much time sanding it, the stain will show marks in the wood.”
The extra sanding means extra cost, but it also means a much more beautiful end result.
Sicheneder has a sanding machine he uses to sand down the floor. Then, he will stain the floors. Each of those tasks require precision and dedication.
“After I stain I?add two coats of sealer and two layers of top coats,”?he explains.
The end product is what leaves customers satisfied and willing to pass along his name to friends and family members who may also need floors, cabinets or other wood refinished.
But, woodworking is not the only thing Sicheneder spends his time doing. When he has free time he enjoys spending it with his family.
He and Alice have two children and two grandsons. So they enjoy visiting their kids and grandchildren.
And on the weekends the Sicheneders can be found doing what they were doing when they met old-time dancing.
“We used to go three or four times a week, now there aren’t as many places to go,”?he says.
But they still manage to find places to square dance together on Saturday evenings.
And, it seems now, Sicheneder is able to enjoy time with his wife and spend time woodworking.
“Woodworking is a dying art,”?he says. “But I really enjoy doing it.”